Welcome to the survivor moms speak out blog!

While practicing full-time as a community-based midwife, I had the opportunity to work with many women who were survivors, either of childhood sexual trauma, rape, or both. The experience of being their midwife, and witnessing their challenges and triumphs encouraged me to learn more about the effects of trauma on the body, and on the experience of childbearing specifically. So just as I felt "called" to practice midwifery, I felt "called" to shed light on issues that survivor moms face during the process of becoming a mother. That calling led me to begin the "Survivor Moms Speak Out" project. We surveyed many women who were both moms and survivors; and 81 of those women completed a narrative or contributed a poem for the book "Survivor Moms: Women's Stories of Birthing, Mothering, and Healing after Sexual Abuse."
Read more about the book, or order a copy, at http://www.midwiferytoday.com/books/survivormoms.asp.

Because of space constraints, not all of the narratives that women contributed to the book project were able to appear in full in the final version of the book. So I would like to take the opportunity to share some of the whole narratives in this blog, featuring a narrative at a time.
About reading survivor stories:
Although the stories are encouraging because they represent survivors’ triumphs over adversity, they can also to be hard to read, because of the intensity of the issues and events. I encourage you to check in with yourself while reading survivor stories, especially if you are a survivor of past trauma, and limit your exposure if you become “triggered”. Feeling triggered might take several different forms. You might start re-experiencing a past trauma you have had before, by not being able to stop thinking about it, or dreaming about, or just feeling like it is happening all over again. You may feel distress or have physical symptoms like feeling your heart race or sweating. If you start to experience these things, you may benefit from talking to someone who understands how trauma works and how to help you with post-traumatic symptoms.

To read more about trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder you can check out the National Center for PTSD website: http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/.

The Sidran Foundation offers an information and a referral resource on-line: http://www.sidran.org/

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Melanie's Story

When I was five years old, my mother started dating another man. Some time after that, maybe when I was seven or eight, he started sexually abusing me. I don’t remember many things clearly such as when and how it started or exactly what took place over the next several years. I'm also not sure when it ended. I don’t have clear memories of abuse after I was about 14. When we would visit him at his house he would tickle me, or at least that's what he said he was doing. While tickling, he would touch my breasts and my crotch in very sexual ways and would rub himself against me. When I told him to stop and tried to move away, he told me to hold still and insisted that I liked it. Often he would put his hands inside my shirt or pants. I would tell my mom to make him stop tickling me, but never told her what was really going on. I didn't know how to say it, and I just assumed that she probably knew.

My parents divorced when I was in junior high, and he moved in with us. The abuse continued for at least a couple more years if not longer. I don't remember an actual end-point, but I think there may have been things that I’ve blocked out. I do clearly remember one night when I was probably about 16 when he came into my room in the middle of the night. I woke up and realized he was at the door of my bedroom. I was terrified that he would come in, so I pretended I was still asleep. He came into the room, sat on the side of the bed and put his hand on my shoulder. I didn't want him to know I was awake and didn't want to be that close to him, so I rolled over onto my other side, at which point he got up and left.

I don't know why this episode scared me so much or why I remember it so clearly compared to some of the actual physical touching. The only thing I can figure out is that it was one of many times that he came into my room at night but the only one that I remember because nothing actually happened. As I said before, I don't remember a lot of what happened, but over the years I have come to believe that I've repressed some things. There were physical sensations that I felt sometimes as a teenager that I couldn't explain. I never really knew where they came from, but they occurred in what I thought was a half dreaming/half waking state. After becoming sexually active as an adult, I realized that these were sensations of a sexual act and that I would not have recognized them as such as a teenager because I'd never experienced them before. Now I wonder if these things actually happened to me and I somehow removed myself from the situation by entering something of a dream state and refusing to acknowledge what was really happening.

When I was a senior in high school, the relationship between my mom and this man was deteriorating. Late one night, after they'd had a big fight and he'd gone back to his other home, my mom asked if he could give me a hug and kiss at my graduation. I said that I didn't want him to, and she asked if he'd ever done anything out of line. I told her he had and gave a few of the details. She was surprised, said that she would end the relationship and asked if she could confront him with this accusation, to which I said yes. When she talked to him a day or two later he denied it and said I'd made it up, but my mom defended me and refused to see him again. I don’t think we’ve talked about the abuse since shortly after she confronted him because it’s a difficult subject for both of us. I've often wondered how she could not know that it was happening, but I believe that, at least consciously, she really didn't. I know that it’s helped a great deal that my mom believed me without hesitation even when he accused me of lying.

It was difficult for me to see the real effects of this abuse in my daily life, although I know that it definitely affected who I was and what I did. It wasn't something I thought about every day, but over time I came to realize that I needed to think about it, deal with it and try to put it behind me. That is easier said than done. It's a painful process that I’ve been working on for probably 15 years now, and I'm still far from done. I've read a couple of books for survivors of sexual abuse, talked to a few close friends about what happened to me and spent a lot of time thinking about how to move beyond this experience and grow from it. I think that counseling would probably help me deal with it more quickly and fully, but have not found the courage to go that far yet. I’m still afraid of digging too deeply. I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to blame myself and not be ashamed of what happened. I do think that talking to others about it and admitting that it happened has helped a lot. Somehow, just letting it out and telling others what happened takes away some of the power it has over me.

I'm now married and have two beautiful little girls, and I believe that has really sped up the healing process. An intimate relationship with my husband has not always been easy. Fortunately, I'm married to a wonderful man who has always held me and let me talk about the abuse when I've needed comfort and support. He has tried to understand when my past interferes in our sex life and has been completely supportive of my doing anything I need to do to heal.

Having children has been a wonderful experience for me. In unexpected ways, it has helped me overcome some of the effects of abuse. Before my children, I really disliked having my breasts touched, which I attribute to the abuse. Once in a while I didn't mind it, but generally breast touching was not allowed in our relationship. This was frustrating for my husband and disappointing for me. Interestingly, I really wanted to breastfeed our children, and wasn't worried about my experiences interfering with it. When my first child arrived with health problems and was unable to breastfeed, I used a breast pump to express milk for her. This became physically painful for me, but otherwise was not difficult. After I stopped expressing milk and our sex life returned to something more normal, I discovered, much to my surprise, that I was not only no longer turned off when my husband touched my breasts, but that I actually enjoyed it.

Since the birth of our second daughter, I seem to have become even less inhibited sexually. I’ve also stopped thinking quite so much about the abuse and how it has affected me. Maybe this is because I’m busier or because my focus has moved to my children as I try to be a good mother to them. Or maybe it’s because the parts of my body that were violated, that I associate with these memories, were the parts involved in producing, nurturing, birthing and nursing two beautiful children I love more than anything.

As a mother, I think the biggest fear I have about the abuse I endured is how it will affect the way I treat my daughters. I’ve read statistics about how often those who have been abused, in turn abuse their own children, whether sexually, physically or emotionally. I can’t believe that I would or could actually abuse my children, but it scares me to death that I’m at a higher risk to do so because of my past. Every time I get upset with them or yell at them I hate myself for it and wonder why I react the way I do. Is it because of the abuse? Am I headed for something worse? I guess that fear is a good thing and remembering and acknowledging it will hopefully help me to keep from doing anything to hurt my kids. I try very hard to be the best, most understanding mother I can be, but the fear is real and I resent that it’s there.

I wish this thing had never happened to me, but I try sometimes to look for good that may come from it. It’s pretty difficult to imagine anything good. I guess the best I can say is that I survived it, and I really do like myself. That in itself is really something.

To learn more, order Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse

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