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/

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Amy's Story

I don’t really remember a time when abuse wasn’t a part of my life. From the time I was born, my real father was abusive to my brother and I and our mother. He physically abused us, and I imagine he was emotionally as well as physically abusive to my mother.

About a year after they divorced, when I was six, my mother married Fred, and that’s when I entered hell. He was extraordinarily controlling about everything down to the way that we closed doors, and raked the yard, to how much toilet paper we used and how often we took showers. Breaking the rules brought punishment that might be as small as being grounded for a few days all the way to a beating with the belt. Beatings were carried out in the bathroom, with our pants around our ankles, and our hands on the bottom of our claw foot tub, as he beat us with his belt on our legs, butts and backs. My mother would go to their room, close the door and turn up the stereo so she wouldn’t have to hear us crying. She would run away, and leave us to him. A pattern she would repeat for many years to come.

As we grew older, he became more and more controlling. He would check to make sure the garbage was filled to just the exact fullness when we emptied it, and if it wasn’t, we were punished. He would buy dozens of boxes of cereal at a time when they were on sale, and store them in the basement, where they would invariably draw bugs. But that was ok, we could still eat it, just pick the bugs out before putting it in our mouths. I still won’t eat Cheerios.

This environment made it very easy for him to begin molesting me. I think his feelings of power and control made him feel as though he could do no wrong. He never threatened me with violence, or told me not to tell. He didn’t have to; I didn’t believe I could tell. Who would care?

I was nine when he began letting me take more frequent showers, but there was a catch. They had to be with him. We were a very open family, and often walked around nude, so this wasn’t that unusual. My mom joined a bowling league around this time that met every Tuesday night, and she wasn’t home until after I was in bed. He couldn’t have had a better opening. The sexual abuse progressed from simple back rubs and showers to him fondling me and masturbating in front of me. He never penetrated me, I think that was somehow going too far in his sick mind, but he did just about everything else.

I have something in me that helped me during that time, and that helped me to finally confront him. I remember very vividly how that confrontation took place, too. I had done something that had earned me a beating, and I became furious. I was about twelve, and had started to realize that what he was doing was very wrong, not just the stuff he was doing to me, but the beatings and the control issues also. When he grabbed my arm to drag me into the bathroom, I pulled away and grabbed a Time magazine off the table that I had read earlier. On the cover was a little girl holding a picture of a scary monster with big hands and teeth, all done in black with the words “Daddy” printed in a child’s hand on the front. I threw it at my mother and screamed,

“This is what he’s doing to me!”

“No he’s not”, she said. “This is totally different.”

I looked her dead in the eye and said, “No, that IS what he is doing to me, and has been for a long time.”

Well, she of course became very upset, and asked him, and he couldn’t say much, but his inability to deny it told her what she needed to know. She went into a rage and started to beat on him with her fists, yelling, “How could you?” the whole time.

Then she sat me down, and broke my heart and my spirit in one fell swoop. She told me that we could tell the police, but that that would mean Mark, my little brother, would be taken from us and we would never see him again. And that we would have no place to live, and would have to live on the street and go on welfare. And who knows, Will and I maybe taken away, too. And if the police thought that my mom knew, she would go to jail along with Fred. And then she said it.

“He did it to you, you decide. Should I leave him or should we just stay and pretend it never happened?”

I was twelve, and my mother forced me to make a decision that no adult should ever have to make. She betrayed me so badly that she might as well have been in the room as he fondled and violated me. I realized then that I was all alone. Totally, completely alone. No one cared enough, I wasn’t worth enough, for anyone to bother with me. I was an afterthought that was to be used when needed and then discarded. A part of me died that day, and I’d like to think I have resurrected it, but I just don’t know.

I became a model child. I did what I was told, I smiled and laughed at school and at home, I never did anything outstanding, or incredible. I just survived. And I slept with everyone. I had 8 partners by the time I was 15 years old. I contracted chlamydia from a one-night stand with a college kid who thought I was 18. I thought that sex was a way to be loved, and if I had sex with them, they must love me, right?

I had nightmares about running and running through a dark place with horrible monsters that looked like the drawing from that Time magazine. I flinched if Fred came near me. The sexual abuse stopped, and he was hesitant to even beat me, but he became ever more controlling and still found ways to refer to me as a sexual partner. He walked in on me one day when I was 14 and changing a tampon, and stood there and watched. He told me it was ok, he understood because he had taken them out of my mother before so that he could put something else in. And the showers continued. Often, it was the only way I had to take a shower, but he didn’t touch me. He would, however, masturbate in front of me.

Those years were hell. I had no childhood; I went from being nine to being 30. I often thought of suicide, but I realized that he would really win then, and that I would beat him, one way or another. And the betrayal by my mother hurt more and more every year. She was so weak, and so incapable of standing up for herself or her children. I was determined that I would not be my mother, and I think that stubbornness helped me to survive.

When I was sixteen, at Christmas time, I began to date the boy who would become the wonderful man that is now my husband. I had a reputation around school as being easy, but he dated me anyway. He was handsome and strong and sensitive, so unlike any of the boys I had been with. He actually wanted to talk to me, not just sleep with me. I think I began to heal with every passing day we were together.

After we had dated for a few months, I told him what had been happening at home. He was so angry; he wanted to hurt Fred, to just do anything to get back at him for what he had done. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that I was important enough for someone to want to protect me, and that someone cared about me enough and loved me enough to be so angry. I look back now and realize how horrible it would have been if Ray had done anything, but it was a turning point for me.

The following fall, Ray was leaving for the Navy, but we knew that we were going to be married someday, and we promised to wait for each other. And we did. He came home at Christmas, and gave me a ring.

My senior year, I finally told someone in authority what had happened. I had been put into a Pre-calc class that was a little too hard for me, and I wasn’t doing well. When I learned that I was going to get a D in the class, I went to the counselor in hysterics, and told her everything. When I was done, she brought in the school psychologist to talk to me. I cried so hard as she told me that none of it was my fault, that my mother was an awful person for not helping me, and that Fred was an evil man to have harmed me in such a way. I couldn’t believe that they were being so nice to me, and that they knew it wasn’t my fault. It was also a great relief to hear that my mother was an awful person, and that I could be angry with her, and hate her as much as I hated Fred. Someone listened, someone believed and someone helped me for the first time in my life.

They contacted the police and a child psychologist. The police said that I wasn’t in any danger now, so they would not pursue the matter, let alone press charges. That still bothers me to this day. I was well within my rights to press charges, but I was only eighteen, I didn’t know that then. And all they had was my word.
The psychologist was a little more helpful, thank heavens. I saw her for about three months after school without my mom knowing. They thought I was at work, and never questioned it.

They did eventually find out when I confronted my mom and Fred a few months later. My mother and I had been arguing, when it escalated and Fred intervened and started to hit me, that was it, I wasn’t doing this anymore. I turned around, pushed him away, and said very quietly,

“If you ever touch me again I will be at the police station faster then you can say your own name.”

He went white as a ghost and stepped back as if I had burned him. I told him to leave and he did. I packed clothes for work, and left without saying anything to either of them. I take a lot of sick joy in hoping that they sweated it out thinking that I was at the police station. Instead, I went to my future in-laws house and told them what had happened. They had had their suspicions about my home life, but now they knew for sure. I asked to stay there for a few days, and they asked if I would stay until the wedding.

I confronted them again after work about the abuse. Fred said,

“I don’t understand what all the fuss is about, I thought this was all done and forgotten about.”

The jerk. He really thought that it was nothing. He never really thought he had done anything wrong.

My mother was a little more sympathetic. She again went over why we needed to keep it our secret, and just forget about it. That’s when I quietly informed them that I had told the school and had been seeing a psychologist for the past few months. Of course my mother panicked, and wanted to know what had happened. I told her not to worry, she was going to be just fine, and told her what had been said. I then told Fred that he was to stay away from me for the rest of the time that I lived under that roof. He wasn’t to talk to me, touch me, look at me if at all possible, and if he did, I would be going to the police.

I knew that I wouldn’t stay with my in-laws until the wedding. I still had the need pounded into my skull that we needed to keep the abuse quiet. What would everyone think? What would we tell them when I wasn’t living there anymore? It would take many more years of therapy to erase all the brain washing they did, and I was far from that at 18.

We were married in July of 1989. It was and still is one of my happiest memories. I was free, and I was with someone who loved me. I won’t lie and say that my getting out of the house wasn’t one of the reasons we were married 3 weeks after my high school graduation, because it was. I was more than willing to just move in with Ray, but my mother wanted to pay for the wedding, and not have the disgrace of us just living together, so why not?

It was great being married, but something was still wrong. I realize now that I was in a very deep depression, and even wonder if I was dealing with some post- traumatic stress. Ray was wonderful during this time, as he always has been, without fail.

I finally made a good friend, Maxine, a year after we moved to New York whose husband worked with Ray. We quickly became inseparable, and we began to tell each other everything. She was also abused as a child and teen. She became my angel. I again started to see a psychologist, and even though it didn’t last very long, it was a big step. Maxine has been my counselor for many years as she has given me her love and support. She showed me that everything I was going through was ok, it would pass.

An incident in the second year of our marriage made me realize that I could overcome this, and that I had what it took to never let anything like that happen again. Ray and I were arguing and it became pretty heated. We didn’t fight often, and when we did, we rarely would become nasty with each other, but this was one of the worst arguments that we had had since we were married. So we were yelling and hollering, and he raised his hand to me. And it just hung there, above my head; time stopped and did a quick rewind. And it wasn’t Ray anymore, it was my father, and it was Fred and it was all the boys in school who had slept with me, and then made crude jokes about me. I stepped forward and put my face inches from his. Then told him,
“Touch me and I’m gone, and you will never see me again.”

It was as if time stopped for him, too. He looked at his hand as if he didn’t know how it got there, and then he just crumbled. He has apologized for that day a dozen times through the years. I don’t know if he would’ve hit me if I hadn’t said anything. I would like to think that he wouldn’t have, because he has never raised a hand to me again. Which is a good thing, because I would be gone. I will not be my mother; I will not let anyone treat me that way ever again. Or my children.

That was the day I realized I was strong. I was strong, and fierce, and I was not a victim. I was a survivor, and I knew that I would get through anything else that came at me. And I have.

In our third year of marriage, Ray had to go to San Diego with the Navy for an entire year, and I was alone for the first time in my life. I found myself doing a lot of soul searching that year. I confronted my mother again, and tried to impress on her the damage that had been done to my life, and how I was still struggling to get through it all. I don’t think she grasped it then, and I don’t think she ever will. I tried to make sense of my life and all the anger and hatred I had inside of me. I also became very independent, and started to comprehend how submissive I had been the first few years of our marriage. I realized that I had always deferred to Ray, and had felt that if I didn’t, he wouldn’t love me anymore. So many things tied back to what had happened, I was just beginning to realize how much I was letting my past control my life.

It was very hard when he came home after that year. We were almost separated at one point, and we weren’t sure we would make it through. My independence was a new thing for Ray, and it took us both a long time to adjust to our new relationship. It was worth it though, and we are both happier with the new me.

It was just a few months after he came home that I realized I needed to talk with someone about my anger, and the feelings I was having about my mom. I called the local rape help line, not knowing what I really wanted, but hoping that that was a start. It ended up that I had contacted our local chapter of Contact USA. They are a wonderful non-profit organization that centers around a telephone helpline for the community. They also have AMAC (Adults Molested As Children) and rape survivor support groups. What a gold mine! I attended the meetings for about 6 months or so, and saw an individual counselor occasionally. I realized that I didn’t have to forgive anyone for what was done to me. It was ok to feel angry towards my mother for not protecting me, and for being so weak. It was ok to be angry and outraged at what Fred had done to me, and for stealing my innocence and my childhood. It was as if a weight was lifted from my shoulders. And I realized that once I allowed myself to be angry, to be horrified, to hate them both, it all stopped. I wasn’t angry any longer, and I didn’t hate them anymore.

I will always be horrified at what was perpetrated upon my body and my mind, and I will never forgive them for allowing it all to happen. Because to forgive them is excusing what they did, it’s letting them off the hook, and not holding them responsible for their actions. Forgiveness is for the perpetrator, it doesn’t benefit the survivor. Think about it. What am I telling you if I forgive you? I’m telling you that I am forgiving you of your sins upon me, I am giving you absolution. I can’t do that. Only God can do that. I am not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination, but I do believe that we will have to answer in one way or another for the things, good or bad, that we have done. I will not give absolution for these horrible acts, and the inaction of my mother. I will not because I am a survivor, and to forgive is to excuse, and that is not an option. I will move on, and that will be a part of my past, but I do not have to forgive.
After coming to this incredible revelation during my group sessions, I realized that I wanted to give back some of the help that was given me. I left the group, and began volunteering on the phone lines. I then went through training to also help with the rape crisis counseling that Contact does. I went to the hospitals several times to console and talk with rape survivors as they went through the horrible ordeal of the rape evidence collection kit. I also talked with husbands, boyfriends and parents of these women and gave them information on what they could expect to happen next with the legal system, and with their loved one’s reactions.

This was an empowering time for me. I was making my life, and all that I had gone through mean something, and I was making a difference. I lived and breathed the abuse for days, weeks, and months on end. I examined it, dissected it, and held it up in front of myself like a badge of honor. I am a SURVIVOR. I am strong. I am healthy. And I will never allow myself or mine to be hurt.

This lasted for about a year, until I realized that I was defining my life by my abuse and my status as a survivor. This was a step that I needed to get through and that I feel was essential for my healing. But after awhile, I realized I needed to make a life for myself, a life that was removed from my childhood. I needed to put it where it belonged, in the past. I left Contact, and I cut ties to the people around me that I felt were having a hard time getting beyond their abuse. I know that sounds cold hearted, but I needed a clean break. I survived a horrible childhood, I came through, and now I have my own life. That’s what I wanted to portray to people, if I ever told them of my abuse. And I stopped telling people, for the most part. If I knew someone for a while and our childhoods came up, I may refer to it, but it doesn’t become the focus of our friendship as it would’ve before. I found I make a better friend this way, too!

We waited six years to start a family. With the baggage that was brought into our marriage, it only seemed fair that we clear our own minds and hearts before having someone join us. We were so young, we had some growing up and growing together to do, also. We had a hard time at first. I miscarried our first pregnancy at twelve weeks, and it scared me very badly. I had a few months of serious doubt whether I could handle being a parent after that. Wondering if I was worthy. A lot of my old self-esteem problems came into play. Ray was a rock for me, and helped me realize that we could be good parents, and that we could get through this hurdle. We planted a lilac bush in our front yard as a memorial, and I think of our little angel that helped us realize just how precious the children we do have are whenever I look at her. I talk to her on the occasion while I’m in the yard, and tell her about my day, or my life, or the children. I always felt that that first baby was a little girl, and that she is watching me now, knowing how badly I wanted her, and how badly I missed her once she was gone. I miss you Amanda.

I became pregnant again right away with our son Jacob. A beautiful, happy, wonderful little boy. I never felt that my abuse affected my birth or my nursing him. I do know that whenever I changed his diapers, I would wonder if I was abusing him when I cleaned him. I finally made myself stop and take a look at what I was doing. I was cleaning my baby! Not violating him or hurting him. Once I overcame that, things went smoothly.

I lost another pregnancy three years later when Ray and I were trying again. It was a blighted ovum this time, which is basically a false pregnancy. This time, I didn’t have nearly the emotional trauma that the first one caused. There wasn’t a baby there that I lost; it was just my body playing tricks on me. We were disappointed, but we knew we would try again. A few months later we became pregnant with Anne, our beautiful, tiny baby girl. She was such a joy, and came so fast; I grabbed her from the doctors and didn’t want to let her go. She is our blue-eyed baby, and I am fiercely protective of her.

I don’t feel that my abuse came into play with either of my children’s births. I feel that I had healed enough by the time they came along that it simply wasn’t an issue. I nursed both my children, Jacob for only seven months because I ended up doing hospice care for my grandmother, and lost my milk after she died. I was devastated because he was such a super nurser, and I wanted to nurse him for as long as he would want to. I’m still nursing Anne; she’s only ten months old. I hope to nurse her for at least a few more months, but she is a stubborn little girl, and is too busy to be bothered with nursing when she can grab cheerios and a cup.

We practiced a family bed with both our kids, although Anne would rather be in her crib. Jacob is our snuggly child, and even though he is four, he still climbs into bed with his dad and me several times a week. We do have a very open home, and we run around the house naked without a second thought. But we have also been very careful to keep any kind of sexual contact out of the sight of our children. Nudity does not equal sex, and that is an important lesson I want my children to understand.

I have noticed that since we have had Anne, I have had a few issues come up because she’s a girl. I look at any man who comes near her with suspicion. Ray insists that I am much more protective of her then I ever was of Jacob. It’s because I have so much hope for her, so much joy for her, I want to make sure she never has anything taken from her future, or from her childhood. I want all of this for my son, too. And I do know that boys are molested and preyed upon. But there is something about my daughter that brings out the mother lion in me, I just can’t explain it. I will defend both my children to the death, and the person that would ever lay a hand on my children had better be right with God because they won’t survive long after I am through with them. But with Anne it goes farther. I feel that I am making up for my mother in how I raise my daughter.

I refuse to spank my children, and I have already taught Jacob about good touching and bad touching. He knows that his body is his and his alone, and if anyone ever makes him uncomfortable, even mom or dad, he should say no, and tell mom or dad right away. He is a good, bright, independent boy with a bright outlook on life, and I will keep it that way.

I will break the cycle. My mother was molested, as well as one of her brothers, and her mother, and her mothers’ mother. This will not continue in my children. I will not allow it. It stops here, with me. So yes, my abuse has affected my motherhood. It has made me a better, more protective, more ferocious mother than I think I could ever have been if I hadn’t been shown what happens when a mother is not.

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

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