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/

Monday, March 9, 2009

Susan's Story

I am going to be 44 years old this June. I am a single mom raising 7 of my own children, who all live with me. The oldest is 20 years, a son, and the youngest is 5years, a girl. I have had a very complicated and sad life, yet in my belief in Jesus Christ and his mercy, He has led me to be able to find the true source of my troubles, and has led me to learn to not be afraid to love and raise my children.

What I knew…was that I always wanted to please everyone. What I didn’t know… was why. What I knew...was that many things made me so afraid I didn’t know that I was afraid. What I didn’t know…was that all my fears existed, and then later, that they weren’t the average fears of a young girl. What I knew ... was that I loved men and wanted to please them. What I didn’t know...was why...

I grew up in Anchorage Alaska. I never remembered any childhood. It was always just a blackness in my mind. Yes, there were pieces of here and there but they seemed not to be a part of me. I was very independent. I would let no one in my room or on my bed. They might mess it up and that was awful. I had one brother. We survived the Alaskan earthquake. I was very upset with him. Nothing in his room was messed up because it was already on the floor; whereas my room was perfect and after the quake settled it was a mess.

This may seem strange to you that I mention this but within its message is the key to my life. I had to be clean and I had to be in control. Otherwise my whole existence was threatened.

I thought I had a normal childhood. Everyone believes this. No one realizes until they leave home and gain new experiences and start to compare existences that what they lived may not have been the norm. In our current society normal doesn’t exist, but extremes of my existence are still somewhat unknown. You could call it “The Life of Secrets.”

I never lacked for any physical needs, only emotional ones. There were many children in our neighborhood. I didn’t like any of them as they only had one desire - to play sexual games. I now know that this was because of the unknown activities of our parents at the time. It also is another clue to the secrets of my life.

My mom never had to spank me. I couldn’t tolerate it, for one. Anyone who ever even showed any displeasure with my actions devastated me. I had to have all the people around me smiling and not silent or I was propitiating to them. I would make them gifts, and try to please them constantly. I think this drove my mother nuts at times as in her denial of things it made her feel guilt whereas she could only disassociate from her own pain and actions involved with me to exist.

I was in my thirties when I discovered what alcoholism meant. I never knew that my mom was one until after she died and my brother told me. He became an alcoholic too. She wasn’t physically abusive to me, but allowed others to be so. She labeled me many things. Labeling is discussed in therapy programs if you desire to learn about it.

We left Anchorage when I was in the 5th grade and moved to Portland, Oregon. I could make no friends with girls and chose to conquer the young boy next door. After 7 years of a relationship I finally let him go. His father was alcoholic and abusive and my relationship with him was abusive, but I didn’t know that until I was much older.

As a teenager I became involved with a cult. They showed what I thought was caring for me. I was involved with it for 6 years. They only wanted money.
While in the cult I had many relationships with men. Two relationships ended up with me having abortions. I had no conscious knowledge I was taking a life. And I had no one around me who cared enough to stop me.

My oldest child was born in between. I had met a man and was so down in my heart I wanted to have someone to love me. I met him and asked him 2 weeks later if I could get pregnant. I wanted someone to love me. That was the reason I got pregnant. We never married and had lots of experiences together. The father had his own problems but was never abusive to me. We are currently friends and he lives close by. And my son is my friend. What a miracle God sent me!

I was also blessed while pregnant with this child to meet a couple who taught the Bradley Method natural childbirth classes. They had both been blinded by the incubators they were placed in when born. They taught me to never trust hospitals, doctors, about meditation, taking vitamins, drinking pure water etc… a whole world of knowledge. I gave birth naturally with a male doctor in a "new" birthing clinic. I delivered without any drugs for pain, and I had lots and lots of pain, and no episiotomy. I was allowed to take my baby home just a few hours later. I have always been terrified to leave my children with anyone until they were old enough to talk for themselves. Now I know it’s because of my real childhood, “A Life Of Secrets.”

We did well for a while, and then I experienced postpartum depression but didn’t know that was what I was feeling until years later. I separated from the father and went my own way. I had many journeyings and we moved 20 times in 10 years.
I ended up back home when leaving the cult. It was awful. The cult members were very emotionally abusive. Details aren’t important. I was so shaken I went home to my mom, which I hated to do. I was totally incapable of doing anything except reading. My mom had to potty train my son. I was so afraid of people I didn’t leave the house for 3 months. The father moved to Oregon and I went to stay with him. I decided to overcome my fear of people and went to look for work. Well, I met a man who gave me marijuana again, and I followed him. Within two weeks I was his and he wanted a child. I couldn’t say no to a man. We stayed together. He went to another state to work, leaving me pregnant and alone with my son. We had a conflict of religious views and he threatened to throw me out onto the street. Well that’s when and how I found Jesus Christ. That was 17 years ago. We are friends now too. We had a daughter. She is very beautiful. The father was emotionally abusive and a drug dealer at the time and I didn’t know. In deciding to be “Christ-like” I decided I had to marry him and that he had to stop dealing in drugs. Neither were good ideas. After we divorced I learned that he had an alcoholic mother, who was also suicidal, and that he had been a dealer of crack at age 12. All of these were secrets until after our divorce. He is much better now but can’t even see how the drugs destroyed his mind. He is lucky to be alive.

My journey then went to another man, and another. I was compelled by fear to not be alone. I still have that problem. The daughter we had was born at home with a midwife. It was wonderful. I nursed all my children until I couldn’t, i.e. they needed solid food or my milk ran out. This gave me a sense of not neglecting them, which I feared greatly.

I never could understand why I couldn’t let my kids cry. It destroyed me. My Aunt told me a story a couple of years ago about how my mom, when I wasn’t even 6 months old, had come to visit them in New York. I was crying in my crib. I was soiled. My Aunt told me my mom just left me to cry and refused to change my diapers. As I think about it now, why didn’t my Aunt help either?

I always felt very close to my babies until they could walk. Then inside myself I changed totally towards them and was almost afraid of them. It’s a form of disassociation from my own pain. I know that now.

I was terrified to leave my babies. I slept with them in my bed. I never let them cry for any reason. I was trying to protect them, not realizing at the time I felt I was protecting my life as well.

Well, I found another man willing to marry me. We ended up together for 10 years, having 4 children. We are friends now. In order to heal from this break-up I attended a 12-week course on Mental Illness. So many people had treated me like I was crazy since I was a child (at birth the doctor told my mom that I would be mentally retarded. I always thought I was until about 8 years ago. We remember everything, scary, huh?!) that I decided to go get the help everyone said I needed. In simply attending the class, and listening to other families talk about their ill members, I learned first that I wasn’t crazy, and second that my husband of 10 years was manic-depressive or bi-polar. To this day he won’t get medical assistance of any kind.

In my attempt to flee my husband of 10 years I had an interlude with the Division of Family Services in the state we resided in. I had left there and went on a trip, and met an old boyfriend who later tried to kill a daughter of mine. This whole experience forced me into counseling in order to regain custody of her. It was horrendous. At the hospital she was at, a Nun had to come to me, as I was in shock, and tell me that someone had tried to hurt my daughter. My whole life changed from that moment on.

I regained my daughter and eventually divorced the father. In doing that I ran to another man, who turned out to be worse in many ways than the man I was with. The story of my life. We had a child as well. I had a compulsion to get pregnant, in order to keep the man happy so he wouldn’t hurt me or leave me. Had no idea how strong it was. It was only last month I finally got custody of this child. The father was sexually abused by his parents and allowed his children of a former marriage to have incest with no understanding how to cope with it. Yes, sad. Yes, true. Now I am free of them all, except to be friends at my choosing. All of my husbands were emotionally controlling, and at times physically abusive, except the first one.

I had given birth 6 times at home with midwives. I never had drugs. Was very good about keeping my body healthy (except emotional stress) and never smoked. I do again now. It’s too hard to quit for just myself. All the midwives were very supportive.

Each father had different reactions to my pregnancies. The last 3 fathers became violent during the pregnancy, which I learned is normal when they are sick themselves. It is called the cycle of abuse. I realized their own fears of increased responsibility brought on their anger. The father of the four, with the birth of our first child, did this during the time I was in labor. He went upstairs and got his gun, which I didn’t know he had. He was delirious. He said he was going to kill himself. I called the local church for help. They calmed him down. He had a fever of 106 degrees. After they came he changed completely. He waited on me hand and foot for 3 days with no problems. With the birth of the second child by him he did a similar thing. He contracted strep throat and wouldn’t get medical help. When our third daughter was in foster care he refused to help. I had to beg him for gas money to go see her. I think he is better now. He finally moved close enough to be able to come see his kids after 4 years of absence. Yes, it was awful.

Well, lets skip ahead. I left all my ex-husbands and moved to a place for a new start. I had been here one year and started working again after 20 years of isolation and abuse. I did well. I recover well. My kids were all in school and getting medical attention. I was trying to rebuild my life. I knew my natural father had sexually abused me, as it was confirmed in a very private way. I knew being the daughter of an alcoholic made me feel guilty for being alive, as that is a part of their disease you inherit even if you don’t drink. I can’t drink. It makes me sick. I have my own home, my own car, and my own money and have started to find out who I am, that I am not just a husband’s shadow. My kids started to calm down and not be excessively afraid of being put into foster care if I didn’t do just the right thing. They made friends. I got credit cards (too many!!) I stayed in the same town and same house. It’s a miracle I ever got this far. People in the community helped me with my ex-husband who accused me of child abuse. After 2 years he was proved a liar and an idiot after 7 hours in court with no proof. I can’t even tell my kids no, and would never hurt them physically. I attended many parenting classes to try to learn what a parent is supposed to do and how children learn naturally and what they need to feel loved. So, now I was ready to rejoin my local church.

I decided to pray for forgiveness and ask the Heavenly Father to reveal to me what I need to repent of. I prayed, and He forgave. No one in my church understood except my pastor. He accepted me completely and never looks down on me even though I can’t live up to his expectations. He doesn’t understand how much Christ-like love he has given me. It saved my life in a way.

What I write next is abhorrent to most. I received 24 hours of Satanic Ritual Abuse Memories as an answer to my prayer. It took me a whole year to come out of shock. Knowledge has been my friend, so I started to research things on the Internet. Every memory I received was unique to myself. Sometimes after a memory came I would find a similar kind of act being talked about from others, but I knew mine were mine. I found in my memories reasons for many of my fears and could re-evaluate my choices in my current life.

In learning about SRA (satanic ritual abuse) I discovered most don’t believe it. It’s too scary and means man is really evil if they choose to be. It’s hard to look at society that way. It hurts too much. It’s commonly called Denial…
Until these memories came I always feared my death and that of my children. I never believed in any future. It’s still far away from me. Time was always my enemy. I had no knowledge that anyone I loved would be there the next day. When my journey of healing is done, the future will be my best friend for in it is hope of a new world for my children and me.

When I am stressed watch out. I learned to give myself “time outs” years ago. I never beat my kids but I did yell a lot. As more memories come I am calmer in many ways. I can even envision playing with my children someday.

Because I have chosen to learn from my experiences I can help almost anyone in stress. If they are willing to listen I can help at least a little bit. I can have compassion where many can’t. I do have pride though; it’s hard for me to tolerate those who chose to not grow. I need to work on that one. Learning and being analytical was my escape from my emotions. Emotions are very painful for me, thinking isn’t.

I have been in counseling off and on for 7 years, the last 3 more so than before. I chose my counselors and usually the course of the discussions. I can’t be hypnotized, and I have never taken any anti depressant drugs, they scare me to no end. I have never been institutionalized or hospitalized. I learned my way out of my pain.

Whenever one has a therapist who goes on and on about themselves or tells you they believe you but are lying, even if they think it’s in your best interest to do so, it’s very damaging. Trust is more important than anything. Anyone who truly cares can help you. Truth will set you free.

My support now comes from myself, in that I have to keep remembering all the wonderful things I have gained, as in the ability to forgive my mother, which took me several years to do. Secondly it comes from my oldest son, simultaneously with my therapist, and some on-line friends, who are all in similar situations as mine. I also get support in that when I learn something directly related to my healing, if I share that with someone else and they are benefited by it, its very validating to the whole experience.

Motherhood is the greatest gift, the most intricate way of learning about yourself, past, present and future. The only individuals I would tell to not have children are those who are following in the footsteps of generational abuse and have no desire to heal from it. Their offspring would surely want for love. If you can see your children as a mirror of yourself, both good and bad, and in that forgive yourself and your parents, you will come to enjoy the healing experience of it. Sometimes the pain you re-experience sets you in fear of continuing on in getting better. But remember, what you will learn today can set you free of tomorrow. If as a parent you find you are out of control there are many in your community who will help you if you have the right desire in your heart. Sometimes it takes patience even with those who do help you if they understand not the struggles you experience inside to control your emotions and feelings. If you feel bridled by society’s standards and that weighs you down, don’t feel alone. There are many new and old philosophies that would tell us that because we are not perfect we are not worthy to be parents. Just remember, most of those people themselves may not have ever had children or never experienced their own childhoods with joy. Joy and love and trust beget the same. Where it does not exist in the adult you will also find it lacking in their childhood. When one learns hatred as a child it is excruciatingly painful to unlearn that the love you knew was actually pain. It is very hard to retrain the mind, heart, muscles, emotions; the whole nervous system of a human being is geared to accept that which it experienced as a child. It takes tremendous effort for me to accept peace as love, when silence and “peace” meant I didn’t know what was coming next.

I survived because I was blessed to live within my mind and heart. I was given the courage somehow to never go against my own internal principals. This has brought me to where I am now.

Another thing I would advise is to allow others to help you raise, love, nurture and discipline your children, as long as you can agree with what they say the believe and actually do. A friend of mine taught me in these last two years that it takes a community to raise a child. This is true. Don’t get it confused with "group parenting" or believing that the biological parent is not necessary, as many are promoting around the world. It’s just a way to spread yourself a little bit better, as you are only one person.

To give you an example so there is no confusion, there is a college program in my town called Project Pals. For single parents, each child of the family, age 6 years or older, is assigned a college student to take them somewhere once a week for about an hour. With myself being single and having 5 little ones, this program has really helped all of us. It has taught my children much.

One last thing that I never learned and have great difficulty in accepting. First, a child’s self esteem comes from the love seen and expressed between his parents. If a child has a parent with abandonment issues that is almost impossible. Even if there is separation or divorce, never saying anything negative or fighting about personal issues regarding the other parent will greatly enhance your child’s self esteem. Then, it took many years for this next idea to come forth and many may disagree with me. If the parents take time for themselves, despite a lifestyle so busy they can't keep up, and show by this and other ways that they know that they are important; the children will grow up knowing that as well. When you are recovering from years of abuse, there are many times that you are so frustrated with your own behavior it feels really awkward to reward yourself.

Health care providers can help or hurt depending on their personal backgrounds and the view from which they enter your lives. Only truly compassionate people in whatever field will be able to understand what you are going through. It behooves one to learn how to kindly teach others about abuse and its effects. I had many help me and many hate me. I would ask them to be more open to not following standard, rote procedures and really be there for the individual at hand. Listening with the actual intent to hear can be a great kindness.

My children have learned much that only they know. They know very much so what insecurity is. They bonded together unusually strong for children. They know men are not supposed to hit and they know if they are scared to go to the police. I have tried to teach them to respect each other but haven't done that very well, as I did not know what it felt like myself. I guess I learned that how I allow my children to treat each other is how they will in turn treat their spouses and children. I hope I have given them a better start in life than what I had.

I want to mention boundaries. If you are a therapist reading this you will see that I had no boundaries. I was never safe. For a child, as I have learned, boundaries bring security. It’s what keeps them calm. I never had any, and the ones I did have were of my own choosing, as I had decided that the pain was too great to continue on in pursuit of that course of action. I learned in every instance that I was able to carry it out, that saying something, doing it, making it stick was the greatest gift I could give to my children. It is my greatest weakness. Every time I try to set a boundary, my past kicks in and fear and death and I usually give in to my kids’ desires. In my own way I am continuing the abuse here, yet I am not strong enough to overcome it. I must forgive myself this several times a day. I just can’t take away anything or deny my kids anything when it’s not a life and death situation. That is all I grew up with. Anything less is simply unimportant in my subconscious mind. So, if you have the strength in your heart to make boundaries and keep them, your children will grow up being able to function well within society’s bounds.

I would like to say that I have much yet to learn. That patience with yourself, forgiveness of yourself and your imperfections, that forgiveness of your abusers and hope they can change, in others words...
Forgiveness without Charity is nothing.

Wow! I am free to begin a whole new life.
An existence free from pain. Joy radiates within me.
Pain, I can no longer see. Yet, I am alone. Where can
You be? Oh! There you are; right beside me. Hello.
This is me. Will you come and share this new
Millennium with me? Wow! Let's Go!!!

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

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