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, March 20, 2009

Margaret's Story

I will soon be 59 years old. As I reflect on my life, I have come to realize the effects of the abuse by my uncle.

I was in my early teen years when I had the encounters with my mother’s brother. Though I was not raped, the incidents involved fondling and digital penetration. My uncle is much younger than my mother. He was living with us, as my parents were attempting to give him a chance at “a better life.”

We had several of my mother’s half-siblings living with us at one time or another during my childhood. My grandfather died at age 85 when I was 12 years old. His wife was 40 years his junior, and was left with several children. They lived in a tar-paper shack in Indiana and struggled to make ends meet. Though my parents were far from rich, they both had good jobs and shared what they had.

My children can remember a great deal from their childhood. I cannot. I have come to realize that I have blocked out a great deal. Though I can’t attribute it all to the abuse, it certainly played a large role.

My parents divorced when I was five, and remarried each other when I was in the 5th grade. During the time they were apart, my sister and I lived with my mother’s aunt and uncle. We were separated from both parents during those years, and I believe it took a serious toll.

I had my first child about six weeks short of my 20th birthday. It was a long, painful labor, resulting in nerve damage involving bladder control, etc. When my second child was born four years later, labor was much easier, but the doctor told me I shouldn’t have any more children. I miscarried between the birth of my daughters, but it was early in the pregnancy and wasn’t as traumatic as it might have been later on.

I’ve never been a patient person. My children are intelligent, both with a terrific sense of humor. I feel I did a good job providing them with a moral upbringing, and they have always known they are loved. They are well-behaved, and they tell me it was because anything else wasn’t an option. I’d like to think that I always allowed them to “be children.” I’m not certain that is the case. I think I expected more of them than was fair, because of my impatience.

I can remember being at the doctor’s office with my eldest daughter when she was just a few months old, and she was crying because she had just had a shot. I felt helpless. I remember the doctor telling me that holding her was enough, that she would be okay. I didn’t believe him then, and I don’t believe him now. I never felt I had enough of what it took to be a good mother. I’m so glad my girls do have what it takes.

My girls are the adults I aspired to be. My daughter who has children of her own is the mother I always wished to be. My unmarried daughter has a way with children that is a delight to watch. Both girls are not afraid to let loose their “inner child.”

I’m not sure I have an “inner child.” I think my uncle stole that from me.

I never told my parents about the abuse when it was happening. I thought it was my fault somehow, and my uncle threatened me with harm if I “squealed.” My father went to his grave without knowing. I finally told my mother because she was adamant I go to a family reunion, to be held at my uncle’s home. She wouldn’t accept my excuses, so I told her the truth. She cannot understand why I can’t just “forgive and forget. After all, it happened a long time ago.”

I have forgiven ex-husbands, co-workers, supervisors, etc., but I cannot forgive my uncle. For this I feel no guilt. He doesn’t deserve forgiveness. Unfortunately, I have missed out on family gatherings, and have pretty much distanced myself from most of the relatives from that side of the family. I cannot chance running into him. I remember when my grandmother died, and he attempted to hug me at the funeral. I nearly vomited when he touched me. I have made certain I have not seen him since.

Until recently, I hadn’t reflected on the effects of my abuse. It was always in the back of my mind, but not something I talked about. Now I realize that it has had a large impact on my life. I have an issue with trust, and the main person I cannot trust is myself. I have not made good choices, and I know I would have been a much better mother had I not been afraid to trust myself. I lay responsibility at my uncle’s feet.

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