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/

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lynelle’s Story

I had an extremely typical American pregnancy, you know the type: OB care from the start, all the necessary tests, and hospital-based childbirth educator. I had read every mainstream book I could get. After all my preparation, I was delivered of my 9lb, 6oz son in 1993 via cesarean section. A failed Pitocin induction because I was “big” added to the premature artificial rupture of membranes, leaving me with no other choice than to agree with my doctor that I couldn’t deliver vaginally.

I remember during the prepping for the c-section I felt very panicked. I had once seen a movie in college about a woman who was undergoing hypnosis and re-living a botched c-section where the sedative had worked so she was asleep but the anesthetic had not worked and so she felt everything. It was horrible, she was screaming and crying as they cut into her flesh, her body memories amazingly strong as she recounted that experience. I was terrified I too was going to be able to feel the surgery, even though I had a very strong epidural in place. The hospital staff seemed more annoyed at my panic and told me to “calm down and quit crying”. In an effort to appease me they re-dosed the epidural, which only served to completely over-anesthetize me. I couldn’t feel anything, not my face, arms, legs…nothing. I couldn’t even be sure I was still breathing. None of this helped to calm me down and my arms were tied to the table in a crucification pose to keep my numb arms from falling off the operating table. As I cried and begged them to wait just a minute before they started so I could calm down, my doctor made the first cut. I have a vague memory of praying to God to keep me safe and get me through this, and thoughts of my baby were nonexistant.

When my son, Ian, was removed the doctor popped him over the sterile drape so I could see him. After he was cleaned up he was given to my husband, Dave, who brought him over to me. Since my arms were tied down I asked my husband to rub my son’s cheek against mine. I smelled him, sniffing like some primal animal, it being the only way I could relate to my baby since I couldn’t move.

I don’t remember much after the surgery, I was very ill from being over-medicated. I do remember there being a room full of people, family and friends, all coo-ing over Ian in the corner. I was jealous. I was the one who was just cut open damnit –why wasn’t anyone paying attention to me!!

It was a bad start to parenting to be sure. The next few days and weeks were awful. I didn’t feel bonded to Ian at all. I didn’t know what to do when he cried; I didn’t know why he cried so much. I didn’t know why I cried so much. Dave took 1 day off work after the c-section and left me alone with this infant and postoperative pain. I felt so sorry for myself. I began fantasizing ways to hurt myself. Not kill myself, just wound myself enough so I’d have to be admitted to the hospital and no one would expect me to care for an infant and I could get some sleep. I also envisioned hurting Ian – throwing him against the wall in desperation for peace and quiet. Please God, just 5 minutes of sleep. Thankfully I did neither of those. My pitiful cries for help went largely unheard. Dave was never home, he worked all the time and when he was home he was mad that the house was a mess, dinner was not cooked and why was everyone crying?

Finally, a neighbor who had a c-section 10 weeks earlier called to see how I was. I burst into tears and she promptly came over. She forced me to go to a new-moms group at the hospital. It was a good start. A room full of women who were just as screwed up as me. So I’m not the only one who doesn’t know the first thing about parenting? The group leader recognized my signs of major post partum depression and had me stay after class for a one-on-one chat. Knowing that I may have a real illness made me feel better, since I thought I was just an awful person. The next day she called me at home and invited me to meet her at the hospital to meet with a lactation consultant. I wasn’t having breastfeeding problems other than normal engorgement but she saw what I couldn’t.

At that meeting the 3 of us decided that given my mental and physical states, what I really needed was some food and rest. I didn’t have the energy (or care to) pump breastmilk for Ian so I switched to formula. Dave’s mom, sister and aunt came to the rescue after that day. I still wonder if the nurse called one of them and told them how very serious my problems were. We had a schedule where either Dave’s mom or sister came over every day at 5pm and took Ian away until 10pm. During those precious 5 hours I could eat or sleep or do nothing at all. On Friday afternoon, Dave’s aunt would come get Ian and take him for the whole weekend, returning late Sunday afternoon. Dave never seemed to care that other people were raising our child. I watched the clock like someone waiting for a fix. I would tell myself “ If I can just keep it together until 5pm…I only have to survive until 5pm….”

I didn’t care about who had Ian as long as he was gone so I could be alone. It took about 4 months for me to be “ok” with Ian. I regularly attended the new moms’ group and had private chat-sessions with the leader. Things slowly got better. When Ian was 6 months old I discovered I was pregnant again.

About 6 months into the new pregnancy I heard about doulas. They sounded interesting so I checked it out. I decided I wanted to be a doula and during my eighth month of pregnancy I enrolled in the Seattle Midwifery School’s doula training program. Talk about an eye opener!! In a few short classes I had a whole new perspective on childbirth, breastfeeding and parenting. I developed an intense desire for a VBAC and knew I would breastfeed this new babe.

At one point in the class we were to watch a c-section video. I thought it would be interesting to see what had been done to me. Wrong!! Within the first minute of the video I began to hyperventilate and cry and had to run out of the room before I threw up publicly. Penny Simkin (an angel from God for sure) was teaching the class and followed me into the bathroom. I was curled up in the corner, on the floor like a frightened animal. She kneeled down and just smiled at me. I whispered that I didn’t want to go through that again, meaning a c-section. She reached out a hand and said, “Then don’t”.

I finished my training and the next day met with Penny for a private counseling session. One of the first questions she asked was if had I ever been sexually assaulted or abused. A few hazy memories leaped into mind, which I promptly tucked away where they had been for years and told her no, of course not. We chatted for a while and she gave me the name of an OB who was very pro-VBAC. I met with her and at 37 weeks pregnant switched doctors.

6 days past my due date labor began. This labor was very long and drawn out. I labored hard, all day long with the help of my mother-in-law who was very supportive of VBAC. Sidenote: Dave had fought with me about the dangers, he wanted another c-section; he didn’t want to see a baby come out of my vagina. After about 19 hours of hard, long strong contractions I was only at 1cm. My doulas were with me (I had hired 2, against Dave’s wishes: I was beginning to find my fire) and after I began begging for pain medication they advocated for me to get an epidural even though I was only 1cm. About 2 hours after the epidural I felt the urge to push. Anna was born, vaginally, in September 1994.

I immediately breastfed her and bonded like I had not known with Ian. I felt strong and proud and was ready to parent. I had a support system to help me if I began the downward spiral into postpartum depression again (which I didn’t). A few days after Anna’s first birthday I told Dave I was leaving him. His response was “no kidding”.

I began therapy because of depression around what I thought was the divorce. I saw a cranial-sacral chiropractor (Peter) and a hypnotherapist (Nancy) simultaneously. We began to explore experiences I had locked tightly away. In their gentle hands I allowed myself to relive a rape I had suffered when I was 15, my first sexual experience. I was at a party, drinking, and woke to find myself in bed, being raped by a young man who was at the party. I remembered that it had felt much like the c-section. I was so drunk it was like my brain was functioning but not my body. I was crying out “STOP STOP” but no sounds came from my mouth; no one was listening. I tried to move but my limbs didn’t work. The realization of the similarity of the two events was a turning point for me. Using hypnotherapy, I relived the rape, stopping it in my mind and reframing it. I fought off the boy and told authorities. The pain and shame and anger were diffused; it didn’t hurt so much any more. I used the same technique to re-do (my therapist and I call them “do-overs”) Ian’s c-section. I replayed the memory but this time the c-section was calm and quiet and lovely. I bonded to him and we were in love. It was a catalyst for change in my parenting and in my outlook.

Further down the road, Nancy and I worked on letting go of the shame I held from being molested by an uncle when I was a very small child. I realized I had been mad at my dad for not protecting me. He had known that my uncle was a pervert, yet he allowed me to be alone with him. This was especially difficult for me to let go of because I loved my father dearly and he was killed when I was 15. How could I be mad at my dad? He was dead for God’ sake; I had martyred him in my mind and allowed no room for human error. In hypnosis, I spoke with my dad and told him about what had happened and how I was mad at him about it. He apologized and I forgave him. We sat by a stream and talked. I devised little angel/demon people to take care of my uncle. I still saw him at family functions and confrontation was not an option for me. Now when I see him I also see these little angel/demon people sitting on his shoulders and flying around. It reminds me of how he’ll get his punishment – someone did see what he did-someone he’ll have to answer to someday.

The c-section reminded me of that molestation because I held Dave responsible for protecting me and he didn’t. Much like I held my dad responsible for protection and he failed me too.

All in all I spent about 2 years in intensive therapy. A lot of it was to resolve and let go of the c-section, the rape and the molestation. But I also learned patience and forgiveness. I became my own best advocate. I became my children’s best defender and biggest fan. I became a mother. Now don’t get me wrong, those were the hardest, most painful years of my life. I would NOT want to do that over again. I cried so many tears.

I created a guardian angel out of those hypnosis sessions. She’s still with me today. A big, strong Amazon woman who can beat the crap out of anyone and doesn’t take shit. She’s kind of like Xena, from the TV show (which I LOVE.) When I feel small or frightened or overwhelmed she pops up, carrying her sword and stomping around the room. I get strength from her; we’re good friends her and I.

Now I’m a new person. People who knew me years ago are astounded at the person I’ve become. I work in maternal child health as a birth doula and lactation consultant. I regularly pick fights with the medical establishment to test my resolve. I don’t let people push me around and I speak my mind regularly, much to the dismay of a few of my more timid family members and friends. I’m a bit of a bitch!

Oh yes, and Anna breastfed until she was 5 and a half years old and is the feistiest girl-child I know. Ian has the heart of an angel; always concerned for the well being of others. He tempers Anna and me when we get a bit shortsighted. We’re a great family!!

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

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