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, October 14, 2008

Lanie's Story

I knew from about the age of 13 that I would have my babies at home, if I had any. I had a sister who gave birth at home and I knew immediately that was what I wanted to do. So when I was expecting our first child we found the only local licensed midwife and sought her services. I liked her right away and felt comfortable with her, though I dreaded the appointments that would include vaginal exams. The pregnancy was uneventful other than nausea throughout its entirety. One fear I had was having a girl. I wanted a boy very badly and would even become nauseated at the thought of having a girl.

I went past my due date and had to go to the local clinic for fetal monitoring and a nonstress test. I became very frustrated and upset. I was very afraid of having the baby in the hospital, but was unable to voice my concern and frustration. The doctor who I saw was someone the midwife recommended but I felt uncomfortable with him. I was given permission to go further overdue and still be a homebirth candidate, which both relieved and frustrated me. I was frustrated that I needed permission and that I had no control over when this baby arrived.

On the 17th day past my original due date I took castor oil to induce labor. Labor began that evening about 6:00. The midwife arrived the next morning about 6:30, however it was a long, slow labor and 30 hours after labor began the decision was made to move to the hospital. My husband did not like the idea at all and voiced his concern. I was so tired at this point that I agreed because I thought it would be nice to not feel any pain for a while and get some rest. My midwife and her assistant had been wonderful throughout this long labor and I trusted them completely.

The first time I felt frustrated and frightened was at the hospital, when a nurse was pushing me into a room in a wheel chair. I felt a contraction coming and asked her several times to stop so I could relax through it. She ignored me and did not stop until the midwife positioned herself in front of the chair. Once in the room I felt frustrated at all of the people coming and going and not explaining who they were. There was a disagreement between a nurse, the midwife and myself over the position I was laying in and my comfort. After a heated moment the midwife left the room and asked that the nurse be removed. I agreed totally.

When the doctor came in to check me I felt he was very rough, and I was very tense. It hurt and I cried out from the pain. The next time he checked me he was a lot gentler. I was given an epidural and pitocin. I really did not like the anesthesiologist. I asked him to wait until my contraction was over before beginning and he ignored me. The midwife asked and he ignored her. Finally my husband told him to wait and he left me alone. I cried while the epidural was being started and became very apologetic for my behavior. I struggle very much with control. I wanted to be able to control the situation and my behavior and could not. My midwife sat in front of me and held my face in her hands. She made me feel very safe and I remember that moment fondly.

Six hours after our arrival at the hospital my son was born. He arrived gently and we were ecstatic to have a boy. He was born five minutes after a shift change so there were several strange faces in the room and that frustrated me. I felt that some of the nurses who helped after his birth were rough. What frustrated me most about being in the hospital was all the people who were touching my body, or taking blood and poking me without taking the time to explain why. We left as soon as we were allowed and were home by 6:30 that evening. After his birth I really struggled with feelings of failure at having to go to the hospital and was frustrated at myself for not speaking up and portraying my concerns and feelings better. I longed to have another child and do it “right” at home.

I became pregnant again when my son was almost two. I hoped for another boy because I was so afraid of having a daughter, though in the back of my mind I longed for the experience of a daughter. At this time another midwife had joined our original midwife. They saw clients on an alternate basis so every other appointment was with Brenda, the new midwife. For some reason I did not open up to her or trust her like I did Laura, the first midwife. I am still unsure of where my uneasiness came from, though I believe she too was aware of my feelings. A few months into my pregnancy I learned that Laura had to be out of state around the time of my due date. I really hoped to have the baby early so that she would be able to be there. I also learned that the person who had abused me had moved back to our town and was living close to us and working at a location that was hard for us to avoid.

I began having nightmares about the abuse during my pregnancy. I struggled greatly with intimacy with my husband and physically hit, scratched and pushed him to get him off of me at times. We have a good marriage and he loves me dearly, and has been my greatest support, though this time was very hard on him as well. I never mentioned any of this to the midwives; it never even entered my mind that I should. I did discuss it with a close friend, who came to the birth. I went a week overdue, but by this time I was feeling more comfortable with Brenda, and was happy that the assistant who had been at our son’s birth would be with us again as well.

When I was about 8 months pregnant we met with a counselor to discuss some of the issues we were dealing with and some of the details of my abuse. It was just a one-time meeting and I don’t think it really helped a whole lot. I had worked with a counselor to deal with the abuse about 8 years prior to this. It was extremely frustrating to me that I was having to deal with things all over again.

I had another long labor, most of which was not difficult. The last three hours were extremely hard for me and I felt as if I cried and screamed through most of that time. I felt like I was fighting very hard for control and failing miserably. I wanted the assistant with me, next to me all the time. I think I made her my safety net. I remember being very angry that labor was taking so long again and that it hurt so much. I was so uncomfortable and needed to keep moving. I got out of the bathtub and onto the bed. At that point I stood up and my body began to push. I remember feeling very afraid, that I did not know what to do, how to give birth. They quickly got me back on the bed and propped up by pillows. The baby’s head was right there, so Brenda instructed me to just push her out very gently and not to push when they told me to quit pushing. I said, “I can do that”. However, when the contraction hit I screamed and closed my legs and called out for my mommy, which is strange because I have not referred to my mom as mommy since I was just a little girl. I remember Brenda yelling over the top of my screaming to stop pushing and open my legs. I said they were open. At that point she told my husband and the assistant to hold them open for me. I screamed louder and tried to push away from her. I ended up almost flat on my back with my legs held open.

My baby had arrived. They placed it on my stomach and I said give it to Jared, my husband. I asked him to please take the baby. I remember someone said no, take your baby, here is your beautiful baby. At this point I think I just needed to get away from the whole thing and so I just sort of left, went somewhere safe in my mind. My husband said later it is the same place I go when I am afraid of sex. Fortunately, Jared knew I wanted to announce the sex of the baby so everyone encouraged me to look. I discovered I had a daughter and was very happy. I said over and over, it’s a girl! And then I hemorrhaged, I felt myself bleeding. When the midwife realized it she said, “Lanie, I want you to stop bleeding right now.” It was just her first reaction, but it scared me. I needed to be assured over and over that I was okay. They were trying unsuccessfully to get an IV started and ended up giving me pitocin in my thigh. They also wanted me to try to get the baby to nurse, but I couldn’t, they always had one arm poking it and I just did not feel connected with the baby yet. I quit talking and responding and just wanted to be left alone. After the bleeding stopped I asked them to just leave me alone for a while. I had torn quite badly but they had not looked at that closely yet. I was not ready for that.

About an hour after she was born they stitched me up. That was worse than labor and extremely painful for me. I cried through the whole thing. It took a long time. I kept moving and jumping so the assistant held my leg still between her legs. My mom held my crying baby, my husband held his crying wife; I made him promise to never let me forget how horrible the experience was because I never wanted to do it again. He sang to me to help calm me, and that helped a lot. I kept asking how many more stitches, and Brenda would say, “just one more,” and I kept saying I could handle it, but I didn’t. She warned me before she checked my rectum, but I knew what she was going to do even before she finished telling me. I just wanted to be left alone; I remember at this point burying my face in my husband’s chest. The smell of him, his clean shirts have always been comforting to me.

After I had been stitched up was the first time I realized that I was naked and felt uncomfortable and asked for something to cover me with. I got into the tub after that and really wanted to take the baby with me, which was okay and that was good, I had held her so little. Brenda helped us bathe, and I felt proud of my little one as she relaxed in the warm water. It was nice to see Brenda smile at her, too. I think I made quite an impression on the midwives, not necessarily good, I think I might have scared them a bit. I felt really bad about my behavior.

It was late when they left, and everyone was tired. I was so happy to have this baby, but I felt a little afraid of her after everyone had gone, and I felt alone. At my six week check up Brenda asked if there was something in my past that had made me react the way I did. I was floored; it had not even crossed my mind that this horribly disappointing birth and my abuse were connected. The more I thought about it the more it made sense. The fear of having a daughter made sense too. I really hate that I did not want her after she was born; I was just too out of it at that moment. My feelings were just too intense.

I am very thankful that Brenda brought it up. Now it’s no longer such a big secret. The whole thing has always been this big secret I have to live with. It affects me in so many ways, which makes it a hard secret to keep. I know that when and if there are more babies, everyone involved will be aware, and hopefully I won’t have to have that kind of birth experience again. I really want more babies, and part of me knows I have to birth again to experience complete healing. I am still afraid of birth.

My sweet daughter is almost a year old and I have fallen completely in love with her. She is so full of joy and always happy. I worry about protecting her as she grows. I don’t ever want her to be ashamed of being pretty or being a woman, like I was. I am thankful for her birth because it has opened doors for me, and made me more aware, it has made me want closure on that part of my life. I see another birth as one more step I have to take toward closure and am happy that will have caring midwives, friends, and my husband there with me.

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

1 comment:

Baby Keeper said...


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