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, February 3, 2009

Laura's Story

I was raised in a family of ten children, eight girls in the middle and brothers on each end. Many people have romantic notions about what it would be like to grow up in a large family, but our household was full of chaos. My mother suffered from depression, and was largely unavailable to us. Both of my parents were consumed with caring for my older sister, who was hospitalized for a large portion of her childhood and died at the age of 12 from cystic fibrosis. Often they would put my oldest teenage brother in charge of the rest of the children while they went to the hospital. He was resentful and angry about this responsibility and took his anger out on us, first by physically abusing us and later sexually abusing us. I did not know till I was older that 3 of my other sisters had also endured his abuse over the years. The abuse began around the time I was 5 and ended when he moved out of the house around the time I was 7. When I tried to tell my mother about the abuse, she said I was dreaming.

I am not sure I would have ever dealt with the emotional scars of my abuse had I not had children. I never would have expected the changes in me that occurred after the birth of my first child, a boy. His birth was difficult and long and I was extremely tense as soon as we arrived at the hospital. Though I liked the midwives who helped deliver him there, I did not feel as if I had any control over the birth process and it brought a lot of emotions to surface. Nursing my son was incredibly difficult and painful for me, and without much support at home, I gave up after a few weeks and began bottle-feeding. I still regret this lost opportunity to bond with my son. He became a very colicky baby and it seemed that I could not comfort him in any way, and because of my frustration and feelings of inadequacy, I pulled away emotionally. I slipped in to a deep depression that went undiagnosed for a year and a half, because I was too exhausted and overwhelmed to seek help. I reluctantly began therapy, and through the help of the therapist, was able to finally make some connections between my childhood and what I was experiencing as a young mother.

I continued therapy through the pregnancy and birth of my second child, a girl. The circumstances around her birth were very different, as I chose to have a homebirth with 2 incredible midwives, whom I spent many hours with in the months leading up to her birth. When I envisioned a water birth as the most soothing and peaceful way for me to give birth, they supported my instincts. Her birth was gentler and easier than my first, and I felt in control and supported during the whole process. Nursing my daughter was again very painful and difficult for me at first, but I had a lot of support this time around to help me stick with it. I ended up nursing her for 2 years and having no problems with depression after her birth.

When my third child, a girl, was born 3 years later, we had moved to a new city, and since a homebirth was not possible, I birthed at a local hospital. Though I prepared myself as best I could, my fear and anxiety returned with this birth and I had my longest labor yet. I nursed my daughter through the painful period, but weaned her after a year, when my depression became so severe that I needed to begin taking medication. I also began therapy again and in conjunction with the medication, I was able to make a lot of progress in dealing with the ongoing pain of my abuse. I had many dreams during this time that were incredibly insightful, and I also did a breath-work session, which I would highly recommend to other survivors. It allowed me to reach a part of myself that I never could through regular therapy.

I don't think that I could have anticipated the enormous changes that came about for me after the birth of my first child. But in retrospect, the journey would have been a much healthier one if I had been sure to surround myself with nurturing, familiar caregivers in a non-stressful environment during his birth. I also wish that I had been better prepared for the difficulties I would encounter through breastfeeding, perhaps by having a familiar support system set up beforehand, rather than talking to strangers about my difficulties when my frustration level was so high.

But most importantly, I believe it has been a strong faith that has carried me through these difficult years. Prayer and meditation give me calm and a sense of peace that I can find nowhere else. My belief in God has helped me see that in spite of what has happened, I can love and I can forgive and I can grow from my past experiences. As difficult as the journey has been, I am thankful that the pain has not been buried but has been freed, for it allows me to open myself up and be free as well.

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

No comments: