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, May 29, 2009

Ann's Story

When I was nineteen years old, I was raped by the man I had been dating for the previous ten months. He thought that I had been unfaithful to him (he was wrong) and deliberately planned the whole thing as a punishment to me. (I found that out later.) The first time it happened was a Saturday afternoon and we were alone in his house. At first I tried to get him to stop, pounding on his chest and yelling no at him, but it had no effect. I think that his total ignorance of my pleas, my reduction to an object instead of a person, was one of the most horrifying parts of the whole thing. It was as though I, as a person, had vanished, and in my place was left simply a void to be filled. When I realized that he was not going to stop, I separated myself mentally and emotionally from the whole experience. At first I was simply in a state of shock and could not believe what he had done.

I left his house and hit my car against the garage door jam on the way out, still so overwhelmed that I could hardly function. I drove to a nearby Catholic church, (I am Roman Catholic and have been so from birth) and asked to speak to the priest. The only one available was hearing Confessions, so into the confessional I went. I told the priest what had happened. He replied that in the Catholic Church there was no such thing as date rape (those were his exact words!) and that there must be something seriously wrong with me to try to harm this young man. In short, he said I needed to have my head examined. I still cringe at the memory. I should state here that I was probably remiss in not going to a priest that I knew and trusted. I did not know this man from Adam, and obviously there was something seriously wrong with him to say such outrageous things. He is the only priest I have ever told of my rape who responded in that manner and I have told the story to each one in much the same way, if not in the exact same words.

So... I left the church and went home. I tried to put it out of my head. I took the longest, hottest shower I ever remember taking, and then lay down on my bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering what in the world was happening to me. I was disturbed from my reverie by my housemate, who came into tell me that Mark (my boyfriend) was on the phone. I answered it and he asked if I wanted to go to the mall with him in a tone that said that absolutely nothing had happened. In a daze, and beginning to feel convinced of my own psychosis, questioning whether it had happened at all, I agreed. He picked me up a short while later. We went to the Gap and a department store, and he spent a few hundred dollars on clothing for me. He even bought panties, the memory of which still repulses me. I think he was trying to make it up to me, in the same sort of way that an drunkard beats his wife and buys her flowers, but a bit worse than that.

I had been in therapy for sexual abuse as a child by a neighbor, but I discontinued my therapy sessions after the rape. I could not face seeing the therapist, feeling that I had in some way let her down. Also, I began to think that I had never been molested at all, and that, too, was a figment of my imagination.

We were together for roughly two more weeks, until Thanksgiving break. During that time he raped me one more time. I think he enjoyed it - the domination, the power, the absolute absence of me (in his mind) as a person. In my own mind, as well, I had taken a sort of leave of absence, separating myself from all that was around me and everything that happened to me. Those two weeks were utterly horrible - I was convinced that I was, indeed, insane, and was too afraid to talk to anyone else about it, for fear of what would happen to me. While I was home for Thanksgiving, my best friend took me aside and told me that she did not know what was wrong with me, but that it was obviously something quite serious, and advised me to talk to a priest, or someone else, someone whom I could trust. I had told no one what had happened up until the point, and I did not break my silence with her.

Her suggestion planted a seed within me, though, a seed of hope that perhaps I was not insane. When I drove home that Sunday night, I went immediately to his house to question him. He raped me again. It was horrible - I did not move, save for my first efforts at objection, and did not struggle much to get away. The idea that I was powerless had been planted in my head, I cannot tell you exactly when. I believed that idea, and my belief made me powerless. This is very important - even then, the power to change and overcome him lay within me, and as such was utterly out of his grasp. Even at that low and horrible moment, the ability to win, to beat him, was inside me. I was, but only because I believed it, completely powerless against him and his abuse, and this threw me into a sort of despair. Unfortunately, my despair had made me blind to the fact that I could escape him, and very easily, too. I left his room in tears, overcome by sorrow. On my way out, I ran into his housemate, who expressed concern at my tears. I do not remember the response I made to him, nor do I remember leaving the house and driving away. I do recall the conviction that something was very wrong, and it was not wrong with me, it was wrong with him. I was not crazy, he was.

It was this conviction that led me to go and talk to a priest on campus the next day. I explained to him what had happened. He was shocked and appalled by what I told him, and said that he did not know who that priest was or what he had been thinking, but the Catholic Church did acknowledge the existence of date rape, and acknowledged it as a very grave evil.

Feeling vindicated, I left the church. The seed of hope my best friend had first planted was watered and warmed by the truth that Father Brian spoke to me. I completed the last three weeks of the semester at a grueling pace, as my coursework had fallen miserably behind since the first rape. It was something of a comfort to me to have something in which to so fully immerse myself, as that meant that I could not think of what I was not ready to deal with. I refused to see or speak to Mark.

The last day Thursday I was in town he took my car (he had a spare key) to have the oil changed. After my morning's final exam was over, I went over to his house to demand the key back and finally have it out with him. He did not deny what he had done; in fact he admitted it and explained to me why he had planned it in the first place. He said that, as I had not left him after the first time, that he saw nothing wrong with doing it again. I told him that I wanted nothing more to do with him, ever. He then opened a drawer in his desk, which was full of receipts from things that he had bought me or dates that we had gone on, and demanded that I repay him in full. Trembling with rage and disgust, I refused. From the same drawer, he withdrew letters from an ex-girlfriend. From the excerpts he read me, it became obvious that he had been two-timing me at least since the summer. I was stunned. He told me that he thought I had copped onto him, that I knew he had been cheating on me. That was why he was so convinced that I had actually cheated on him; he thought I had done it to get back at him for being unfaithful. I pointed out to him that although, in fact, I never done what he accused me of, he would not have been justified in avenging it, as he had done the same thing in greater degree to me. This did not perturb him, I do not think what I said even penetrated his brain.

After I left him, I went to the local crisis pregnancy center to ask their advice. I explained it to the woman there, who was very kind. She said that there would be no physical evidence left, but suggested that I take a pregnancy test, as my period was late. I had had a little bit of brown spotting around the time I expected my period, and had put that odd occurrence down to stress. I did as she suggested and the test was positive. In the moment that she told me I felt absolutely showered with grace and mercy. It was though Heaven had opened above my head and God's love for me came flooding down. I did not what I would do, but I did know that I could never hurt the little baby who grew inside me.

That night, I went to a friend's house and told her what had happened. She was sympathetic and kind. We, as well as about eighty other students from our university (including Mark), were enrolled to take the spring semester overseas in a branch of the university there. We were to be roommates, but she urged me to reconsider. I very much wanted to go, thinking that it would by my last opportunity of that sort. I gave her no definite reply. I left for Christmas break the next day, and was sorely tempted to discuss the whole affair with the young man who rode home with me. He was the brother of a good friend, amiable and easy to talk to. I resisted, because I was determined to talk to no one until I knew what I wanted to do.

It was at this point that I decided not to try to prosecute Mark. I had no evidence other than my word against his, and knew that I was not likely to win. Plus, the average sentence for rape was only a year and a half, which hardly seemed worth it. On top of this, I was aware that by prosecuting him I would make him very angry, and I was afraid that he would retaliate by trying to take my baby from me.

Over Christmas break, I went and was tested for AIDS and other STDs, as well as pregnancy, at my doctor's office. Everything was negative except for the pregnancy test. I then went to see two midwives who were in practice together. I told them the entire story, including the rape. They were the first real adults I had talked to who knew of the pregnancy and the rape. They were very helpful and extremely kind. They were supportive of me and my desire to go overseas, and even found a midwife there whom I could go to for pre-natals. The Thursday before I was to leave I told my parents, who were horrified, shocked and convinced I should not go. I ignored them (as, unfortunately was my custom at the time) and left on Sunday.

Europe was good. I loved it and have never regretted going. I told one of the chaplains my story, and he insisted I tell the man who was in charge of the program. I did it because of the chaplain’s insistence. This man (who was in charge of the program) was very kind. He told me that he thought that any woman, who carried a problem pregnancy to term in this day and age, when abortion is so readily available, was a hero in his eyes. He and his wife went out of their way to be kind to me while I was there and even drove me to my prenatal appointments.

Mark cornered me once again while we were there. I had avoided him as much as possible, but he made such a racket in the hall one Sunday that I agreed to talk with him in the privacy of one of the common rooms. He had purchased my plane ticket to Europe on his credit card, and he wanted me to pay him back. I thought he was crazy to ask for the money in light of what he had done to me, and told him that. (My parents paid him back when I told them about owing him the money, as they couldn't stand my owing him anything.) Everyone else was at Sunday afternoon mass or travelling, and there was no one around. At the end of the argument he advanced on me again, and I knew in the pit of my stomach what he was about to do. He was angry and I was terrified. Without seeming to think of it, I went into what I think of as my survival mode. I did not cry out, just wept and whimpered, "No, no, please stop" over and over. This of course had no effect on him. I think that my response of freezing in a feeling of powerlessness stemmed from my abuse as a child, but I will never know that for certain. The memories of being molested are very hazy, and concentration on them does nothing to enlarge or clarify them. I remain unconvinced of whether or not that (the childhood molestation) ever happened at all. Because of this, I have tried to put that part of my experience out of my mind or at least on the back burner.

So...being raped that fourth and final time was the last time I ever spoke to him, and that is where I mark the real beginning of my recovery. At one point while I was overseas, the midwives and doctors found what they believed to be a severe chromosomal abnormality with my baby. The doctors (whom I had been referred to by my midwife) advised me to have an abortion, as death for the baby was certain. I went back to her. She was busy with a woman who was in labor, but I talked to her husband, who was an O.B. He said that if I felt either way that this was my baby and "don't no one hurt it" (he spoke in English, not his native language) then to leave the city and never go back to that hospital or those doctors. I did that. After praying about it, I began to believe that if my unborn baby and I were to receive the Pope's blessing, she (I knew her to be a girl) would be healed. I traveled to Rome for Easter Sunday mass. A sonogram ten days later showed that the defect was beginning to go away. Another after my return to the States showed it to be completely gone. Was baby really healed or had the doctors made a mistake? I have no medical proof, as I had refused the diagnostic tests as they carried with them a risk of miscarriage. This whole thing made me bond with my baby even more. I was as determined to protect this baby from harm as I had been unable to protect myself.

The baby was born that summer, after thirty-six hours of labor including five hours of pushing, in my parent's house. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever done. My mother is handicapped, so my father was one of my primary labor coaches. His presence at the birth was very healing to me. He was as conscious of my identity as a person and as respectful of my every wish as Mark had been ignorant of them. I had always felt that this baby was a sort of gift of consolation to me from God, and could not give her up for adoption. In my mind, God is and always has been her biological father. Rape is an act of man, but the creation of new life is an act of God.

It was very difficult for me to birth that baby, to let go to the power of the life giving forces within me. I think that is related to being raped. I was certainly afraid to ever lose control of my body again. The comfort and assistance provided by every person at that birth was much needed by, and deeply healing to me. Everyone there was there to be a help to me; everything I needed or wished was done. No one was there who was not conscious of his or her role in assisting me. Even my sister's boyfriend made hot compresses for the five hours I was pushing. At one point, I was very low and exhausted and thought of going to the hospital to have a C-section. My midwife came in and said "Ann, if you went to the hospital now, you could not have an epidural because you're too far gone. They would not want to give you a section because the baby's head is engaged. The only way out of this pain is through it." My baby was born a half-hour later, and those words "The only way out of this pain is through it" have stayed with me on my long road to recovery.

Being totally in control of that birth situation and the two, which have followed it, has been essential to my well-being. I do not think I could have a baby in the hospital unless the baby's life was in danger. Being treated with respect and compassion during the births of the first baby and the next two was very important to me. I had to be acknowledged as a person and not merely as a body. I bonded with my baby immediately. It was she and I against everyone else, the two of us victims of that evil man. She was (and still is) exactly like me. We even have the same palm prints! I breast-fed her without considering any other option even viable, and was very content with my decision. I would like to add here that breast-feeding has been difficult for me at times, due to feeling that my body is not my own. I have had to completely control all nursing situations, and immediately put a stop to any uncomfortable sensations. For example, it is important to me that the baby not touch or twiddle with the other nipple while nursing. I need to be in control of giving of myself to my baby in that way.

I will never fully understand how my history as a survivor has impacted me as a mother, because I was never a mother without being a survivor. At times I think it has been negative, I am more angry and less trusting than I would otherwise be. At other times I think it has been positive - I always trust my gut instinct now, especially where men are concerned. My children are never alone with anyone who has not proved them self worthy of my trust. I am also more careful to respect the individuality and persons of my children than I might otherwise have been. They are always in control of who touches them, who kisses or caresses them, and are never required to submit to unwanted physical affection. As for therapy and recovery techniques, I have tried several. I have been in both individual and group therapy, as well as support groups. I am also now a member of Al-Anon. Some of these were helpful, some were not. The most unhelpful was the therapist who seemed to be pushing a homosexual agenda (She may not have been, but that was my perception.) I guess she thought maybe that I was a lesbian. I didn't agree and wasn't interested in that anyway, just in my own recovery. Needless to say, I did not go back to her. The most helpful therapies were one-on-one and Al-Anon. Finally learning to be in control of the things I should control and to leave alone what I cannot or should not control has been very good for me. I love Al-Anon - it has been a lifesaver for me. Through that group and the exercise of my faith I have forgiven Mark. I hated him for a long time, wished him in Hell or at least dead. I wish these things no longer. What he did to me must ultimately harm him most deeply, for in the end I will be healed and he will have harmed only himself. How can I deny him forgiveness when I have been forgiven so many things? Having said this, I can assure you I have no desire to see, talk to, or be associated with him ever again. I think that if he does not reform he will still be dangerous to himself and others, but that is not my problem.

Other things that have been helpful are prayer, both praying and having people pray over me, and having women friends. Good friends who can listen without saying a word to interrupt are essential to every woman, I think. I have remained Catholic in spite of that initial bad experience. I still believe that the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth, and that one priest has not changed my mind. There have been hundreds of things that have happened to convince me of the validity of my faith since I spoke to that first priest, and I choose to believe them instead of the voice of bitterness which at first whispered to me. I did try, at a later date, to find that priest and tell him how harmful his comments were to me, but he was transferred and I couldn’t track him down. Believing this does not make me think that everyone needs to agree with me, but to me what I believe is essential to who I am. I get the support I need now from my faith, my husband, my sisters, brothers and parents and my friends. I still go to Al-Anon, but can no longer afford therapy, as we have no health insurance to cover it.

I think I get along okay with what I have. Knowing that ultimately I am the person who controls me has been a great discovery. I believe it was Victor Frankl who said, "Everything can be taken from a person but one thing, the last of human freedoms, and that is to choose one's response in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." I believe this to be true. No matter what else may happen to me in my life, I can still choose my response to it; I can still choose my own way. My healing is within my reach if I will have the courage to open my heart to my God and allow Him to heal me. "For nothing can separate us from the love of God, no height, nor depth, nor creature that thrives...” (Romans 8:35-39) As for other women who have experienced abuse, I can offer you no advice save to tell you to follow your own heart. In obstetrical and gynecological situations, I think it is essential that the woman be ultimately in control of her body and that nothing be done to her against her wishes. When choosing a doctor or midwife, be certain that you are seen as a person and not simply as a body or medical problem. Other than that, I can say nothing of value. In situations such as this, what is good for one person may not be good for another. I can offer you only the contents of my own heart, my own story.

Being a mother has healed me in more ways than I could ever count. Producing something good from my body, my self, which had been so violated was restorative to me. I am not evil, and nothing I did made me deserve to be treated as I was. At times I have asked myself (as I am sure many women do) if I had fought, if I had only screamed louder, perhaps if I had tried harder, I would not have been raped. These questions will probably remain unanswered until the end of my life. In some ways I regard the rape as a strange mercy - before it (and almost unbelievable to me now) I thought I would marry Mark. Being raped by him was almost worth discovering the truth about him - and the truth about my self. I am not a thing to be used, to be filled up, to be thrown away. I am no object to be admired; my worth is not determined by my appearance. I am my own self, the woman I was created to be, and I will not be changed by someone else's idea of who I should be or how I should conform. I will follow my own path and in the end, I will answer only to my God. Never again will I allow my wishes, my needs, and my self, to be so utterly trampled upon. He tried to break me, but in the end it was I who won. I have healed stronger than I was before; I will never be broken there again. I am my own now, and no one can take that from me. I believe that I have beaten him at his game, for he no longer has any power over me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tami's Story

To outsiders and friends, I am sure our family looked like a perfectly normal, happy family. But, on the inside, it was hell. My parents were high school sweethearts, and my mother was pregnant with me when they married in 1965. I was born in August of that year, and my younger sister was born in 1968. As far back as I can remember, my father sexually abused me. Everyone thought it was great that he spent time with me, showing me how to fish, taking me hunting and camping. They didn’t know that it was all a front; it was a way to get me alone so he and his friends could abuse me.

My baby sister was born in 1975. While my mother was in the hospital with her, my father decided I needed to take on the motherly responsibilities of the household, including sleeping in his bed. I was 10 years old.

I would have girl friends spend the night at my house, and it always seemed that I got in trouble for something and was sent to bed early when I had company. My father would take my friends out for ice cream to make up for my misbehavior. In 4th grade, I was teased on the playground that my father “liked little girls.” It was then that I figured out why he always took my friends away from the house; he was molesting them too.

I tried to tell my mother, and she did not listen to me. My father would make me read ‘Hustler’ magazine with him, and my mom found them in my room just before my 11th birthday. She also found a letter I had written to a friend about the abuse. She came and took me out of school and finally listened to me. My father moved out that same day, and the divorce proceedings began shortly thereafter.

I had to go to the court and talk to the judge. When I tried to tell him what my father had done, he kept interrupting me, saying, ‘Your father wouldn’t do that,’ and ‘why are you lying to hurt your father?’ My father was granted visitation every weekend from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening. We went one time, and he raped me again. Every Friday after that, I would take my sisters and hide at a friend’s house until late at night.

I began therapy during the divorce. I was angry. I could not figure out why I had to be in therapy when he was the one who was sick. I was made to confront him in front of the therapist and my mother. After that, I totally shut down, and would not talk to anyone. I began running away, became promiscuous and tried drugs. My mother put me in psychiatric wards and girls’ homes; she had no idea what to do with me.

I still kept up on my father’s whereabouts, just to make sure he wouldn’t hurt anyone else. When I was 16, I found out he had remarried and moved to Wyoming, with two small stepdaughters. I took it upon myself to make sure he didn’t hurt those little girls. I ran away and went to his home. The first thing he said was, “No one here is to know about the past. If you tell them, I will send you to a juvenile jail.” Then he lit a joint and smoked it with me. I found that I had a 17-year-old stepbrother. The first night there, he and I took a walk in the mountains, and I told him everything. We talked to the oldest girl; she was 8. She said nothing had ever happened, and she shared a room with her 6-year-old sister. A year later, my father found out I had talked to my brother, and I was sent back to Kansas to a girl’s home. Several years later, my stepmother called my mother asking what to do when your daughters are abused. As hard as I tried, I could not save my stepsisters.

I met my future husband in high school. We dated for a while, and I became pregnant. He suddenly wanted nothing to do with me, and I moved back home to my mother. My mom decided that adoption would be the best for my baby, and for me. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Somehow, I knew from the minute I found out I was pregnant, that I would have a daughter. I was scared. I didn’t know how I could protect a little girl from all the abuse in the world. After many weeks of crying, and talking to my unborn child, I decided my mother was right. I could not keep my child.

My doctor induced labor when my baby was 2 weeks overdue. My mother was going out of town, and my boyfriend had deserted me, moving to Texas. It was as if the baby knew once she was born that I would lose her, so she refused to come out. After several hours of labor, with my mom by my side, I finally held my beautiful 7 pound, 9 ounce daughter in my arms. My mother held her and cried. I stayed in the hospital for 5 days, with the doctor’s help. He put in the medical record that my stitches were infected, so I had five wonderful days with Kari Dawn. She was born February 8, 1984. I had long talks with her, and never let her out of my sight. She slept in the bed with me the entire five days. I took several pictures, and tried to make sure we would remember each other.

On February 13, I had to leave my firstborn in the hospital. The only time my daughter cried was as I was leaving. For two weeks after I left her, I picked up the phone hundreds of times to call the adoption agency and change my mind. But, I never completed the call. I knew my child would have a much better life with other parents.

My favorite grandmother had died one month before my daughter was born. When I was released from the hospital, I stayed at my mother’s house. My father happened to call one day, saying he would dance on my grandmother’s grave when he came to Kansas City. I totally blew up. I told him that it was his fault that I was home mourning the loss of my daughter. He just laughed and hung up.

When my daughter was a few months old, her father called me and we re-established our relationship. I moved to Texas to be with him. Looking back, I don’t think it was as much to be with him, as it was to escape the memories of our child. I wrote the adoption agency every few weeks, wanting information, and getting very little.

My boyfriend and I ended up moving back to Kansas City, and had a son in July of
1988. I knew I was pregnant almost immediately, and I was so scared to tell him. Before I told him, we were fighting terribly. He had given me 30 days to move out of his mother’s house, where we were living. When I did finally tell him we were having a baby, we made up and decided to get married.

When my labor started, I was so scared. I knew I could handle the labor and delivery, but I was frightened that I would not be able to bring this baby home either. I did not let him out of my sight for one second. I really wanted a girl, I guess to make up for my daughter. I had a boy, and he was beautiful too, he looked very much like his sister. We were married when Daniel was 8 weeks old.

After Daniel was born, my husband would stay out all night with his friends, leaving us to fend for ourselves. I was very unhappy. During one very bad fight, he got physical. He choked me while I was holding the baby, and threw a plastic table at me. I was pregnant with our third child. I moved into a Safehome, and received counseling. I was told all the horror stories, which if it happens once, the violence will come back.

My father had me so conditioned to do what it took to please a man that I went back to my husband. He never did hurt me physically again, although the emotional hurt never stopped. He would choose his friends over our family and me; he did drugs regularly, and spent many nights away from home.

I went into labor with my third child two months early, when Daniel was 17 months old. I was alone with Daniel, and had to call all of my husband’s friends to find him. Labor lasted 18 hours, and Christopher was born very ill. He stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit on the brink of death for 14 days. Again, I left the hospital without my baby. It was devastating. In my head, I knew that I would bring him home, that no one was taking him from me, but my heart and arms felt so empty.

My husband had told me to get over Kari, to get on with my life. I couldn’t. I also did not understand why he was so cold and heartless, this was his child too, his daughter. She and our sons are full siblings. I had my tubes tied after Chris was born, and knew I had no more chances of having a daughter. With Christopher so sick, and not wanting to be held, along with the knowledge that I would never have a daughter, it was hard for me to love Chris. I knew he was an innocent child, and I was his mother. But he wasn’t the child I had dreamed of. Now, I feel terrible about ever feeling that way. He is 10 years old and the love of my life. He is affectionate, sensitive, and so funny.

In 1995, I decided that I really needed help dealing with my daughter’s adoption, and the sexual abuse. I convinced my husband to buy a computer, and I signed up with America Online. I found a wonderful adoption community. There was a board to talk to other birthmothers, and a mailing list. I jumped in with both feet. I also found my father’s new address. He had been divorced again, and remarried. I found him in Utah, doing foster care. I called the social services in Utah, and sent them court transcripts of the divorce from my mother. I was telling my aunt about it, and she told me he had raped her when she was 17. We told Utah that also. Shortly after receiving all the papers from us, my father was unable to do foster care anymore. That made me feel better, knowing I had saved some children from him.

I also found some support for my sexual abuse. I put myself in counseling. I finally came to believe that it was not my fault, my father was very sick, and I was an innocent little girl. Knowing that made me finally put the abuse behind me. Yet it still affects my life everyday. I am suspicious of men that are around any child. I am very protective of my sons, and talked to them very early about bad touching. I told them over and over that they can tell me anything, and I will not blame them, but I would help them. They do ask about my father. I have only told them that my father is a very bad man, and they will never know him. They accept that. One day I will tell them everything.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cassandra's Story

My healing story begins when I was in the third grade. My older brother (who is my half-brother) began to abuse me for his own curiosity’s sake. I was so young and didn’t really think anything of it. For some reason, I don’t think I ever realized that what we were doing was not normal, until I started abusing my younger brother. I would feel guilty after it was over and knew it was something I was doing that was bad, but couldn’t help myself to stop. Finally, five years later, I managed to stop myself from abusing my brother. I don’t think my brother ever thought it wasn’t normal because he told everyone he knew. Even with all the people who knew, no one ever intervened and tried to stop it and get us help. One night, my mother even caught us, and she just sent us to bed.

Many years later, I met my husband. We were together for one year, when the problems of what happened began to emerge. It was like someone opened an attic door and bats came flying out. One day, after having intercourse, all the emotions just burst out and I began to cry hysterically. At that point, I told him what had happened, but he didn’t know what to do or say. After that, I began to have severe mood swings, especially during pre-menstrual times. That went on for about a year. Finally, I began to have trouble controlling my anger and I sought help.

With the help of a very special counselor, I began the healing process. The first year, it was all I could think about. HEALING. Surely, none of my problems could have stemmed from the abuse. I had put that all behind me and out of my mind. But, it turns out that the more I explored the past, the more I realized it affected my present life.

After about eight months in therapy, I brought up the fact that I was in counseling to my abuser (who himself was going through a painful separation and divorce). I told him that I needed help to deal with what he did to me. His response was that it was just childish curiosity and he didn’t think he was really hurting me. I then told him that it hurt me so much that I abused our younger brother to help ease that pain. He said he was sorry for what he did. But I’m sure he doesn’t realize the full degree to which he hurt me since, to him, it wasn’t anything more than kids being kids.

I am not close to my family. My mother, father and brothers are closer-knit. I always wanted to be different from them. I always thought I was different from them, because I didn’t have any special situations that needed addressing. This makes the healing more lonesome because it’s apparent that my problems are not as great as my brothers’. So, I am grateful that I have a husband who, though he doesn’t understand, still loves me.

After nearly six years of therapy, on and off (mostly off, since the first year), my husband and I decided we were ready to start a family. How did we decide? I don’t know. He had never imagined himself being married, much less, having children. And after everything I had gone through, he was concerned for our children’s safety. Was I healed enough to be a good mother? I felt I was, but somehow, I think my husband needed higher authority to prove that to him. So, we posed the question to my therapist, who said that she, too, felt comfortable with the idea of me becoming a mother.

That did it, and the next fall, I became pregnant. We were both excited. As the expected birth drew closer, though, I became nervous. I had heard stories about how women “lose it” during childbirth and say things that perhaps aren’t meant to fall on stranger’s ears.

Another visit to my counselor…who said that that may or may not happen. She said that giving birth is the peeling back of the layers of the self until there is nothing left but your core. If that layer must be peeled back and “examined” during delivery, then that is what must happen.

Well, my fears were unfounded. Childbirth took a long time, but it was very empowering. I was in the best physical shape of my life prior to giving birth, so I knew what my body could handle, and that meant that mentally, I could handle it. After 40+ hours of labor, I gave birth to the most precious little boy in the world (to me, at least). We began our nursing relationship immediately, and have been together ever since. I believe that this was the best way to start his life and still love the cuddle time and being able to hold him, even at 18 months.

I can’t believe that with all that happened to me, I chose to breastfeed. And now, I’m allowing him to self-wean. The scariest part of nursing, though, is when he wants to nurse naked. All of me and all of him. I’m not lying when I tell you that nursing can insight some sexual feelings. Then you have this naked little person who also becomes aroused…. this to me was scary. But I was so aware of everything that was happening BECAUSE of the healing that I knew I wouldn’t hurt him. This has enhanced the bond that we share because it allows us to be free with one another. I sure hope this freedom of “communication” continues….

I know I’ve been able to be the kind of mom I want to be so far because I was able to break a chain of behavior that had started early in my life. I learned to be confident in my own ways, and have found new patterns of behavior that I may not have found without help. I haven’t heard myself say anything yet that reminds me of my mother. I’m sure there will be times, but I feel so good about myself in this role, that I am confident I will do this my way and that my way will be much different than how I was raised. I know that the abuse happened partly because we were usually left to amuse ourselves and our mother wasn’t very involved with us (even though she was a stay-at-home mother). I feel totally comfortable with the idea of doing things with my kids. It is a value I hold dear, not because I WANT to be different from my mother, but because I AM different from my mother. (Obviously, there was more hurt that happened besides the sexual abuse.)

I still need help with some of the leftover symptoms that I have. My counselor labels them as PTSD symptoms and they mirror many of the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. These symptoms are what I am trying to find help with now. I’ve had to change counselors due to insurance plan changes and this is difficult. These symptoms range from rage reactions to lack of self-discipline to forgetfulness. (I’m not just talking about little forgetfuls; I’m saying that I can forget what someone told me five seconds after it was said.) I can’t seem to get the clutter out of my head and that’s been there since the abuse. I think I used it as a mask to hide the parts that hurt. Now it’s time to get the mask out of the way and just be me. For myself, and for my baby! He deserves a mom who is stable and healthy. I’m almost there…I know I can make it. I’ve come this far, and with the push of someone else needing that from me, I’ll get to where I’m going!!!!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ruth's Story

The unfolding of my story began when my first daughter was seven years old. My sister-in-law came to me very troubled one day because my husband, her brother, had come to her to confide that he was sexually molesting our daughter. He knew what he was doing was harmful, but he couldn’t stop himself and he didn’t know what to do. He told her in confidence, but she was left struggling between her loyalty to him and her duty and love of her niece, so she told me. I seemed to receive the information calmly, but when my husband came home I went berserk. I will never forget the look on his face. He was like a frightened rabbit, and he ran from the house.

The days that followed were like a nightmare to me. I felt out of control and on the edge of insanity. I went to the preacher of the religion into which I had been born and told him. He was very kindly, but he said to me, “Go home and stand by your husband. Children soon forget these things.” I was in a state of deep shock as I drove home. I only knew she could not forget.

That night I sat up in the chair, staring out of the patio doors. The night was wild, with black clouds racing across the sky hour after hour. Finally, in desperation, I called the suicide hotline and told them. They made an appointment for me that morning, and I went straight to see them. They told me that it was very unusual for the man to come forward as my husband had done, and that was a good thing. I went for a series of sessions with them, and they helped me get clear on what to do. In going to them, I ostracized myself from my spiritual leader, which was a very scary thing for me to do. He told the group that I had turned my back on God and therefore he could not help me.

My in-laws’ story came to the fore as we began to piece together that my husband had not been abused, but had been traumatized when he was four years old through witnessing his father abusing his sister. This remained hidden and unresolved, and he perpetuated it through abusing his own daughter. We called a family meeting with his parents, and everything was brought out into the open. It was very painful, especially to watch his mother go through what I went through as she was faced with the revelations. In my Gestalt group at college, I tried to alleviate my distress, crying over and over, “My little girl, they hurt my little girl.” The tutor asked, “Whose little girl are we talking about?” Once more I was catapulted into a state of deep shock. There was something going on in me that was beyond this specific event. He suggested that I might like to consider doing a primal integration weekend away from my college peers so that I could have the safety I needed to explore what was coming up.

In the very first deep session I did on the weekend, I found myself choking and gagging on something too big in my mouth and with a horrible taste. I threw up and lay trembling and terrified, unable to move. Later I did my first sand play. I put it together very fast, without hesitation, but when it was done I could hardly bear to look at it. It was a nightmare scene with penises and a baby feeding bottle in all the wrong orifices. The sand plays are always photographed, and I remember feeling a measure of relief that at last I had proof. I kept it in my journal, still horrified by the images, but somewhat comforted at my secret ‘evidence.’

My husband and I both read Alice Miller’s, For Your Own Good – The Hidden Cruelty of Child Rearing Practices. He went into therapy also. I arranged for both our daughters to see a play therapist, and they saw her weekly for almost a year. I also wanted us to go all together to a family therapist and I searched around for this.

Eventually we went to a hospital clinic. This experience was awful. When we were shown into the room, we found ourselves in a viewing room with a huge one-way window through which, we were told, a group of specialists were going to be observing the whole session. Our daughters promptly crawled underneath the table where they couldn’t be seen by anyone, and no amount of coaxing by the therapist would bring them out. The session ensued. The therapist went next door to consult with his colleagues, came back and informed us that they had decided to inform Social Services about the situation. My husband leapt up yelling, “They’ll send me to prison!” and he ran from the room. The children were crying and pulling on me, picking up on the desperate energy. “Why are they sending Daddy to prison?” they kept saying. I was beside myself again. It felt like a huge betrayal. I turned on the therapist. “How could you? Do you know the statistics? Do you know how many fathers abuse their children and never tell anyone? How can anyone come for help if you do this to them?” In the end the therapist was close to tears and pleading with me to understand. “I have no choice,” he said. The decision had been made.

I took my daughters out onto the street, wondering where their dad had gone. We waited at the car and eventually he came. He was very frightened and we all hugged. We had a long discussion in the car going home, and I said you have to pack your things and leave as soon as we get home. We have a better chance of handling this if you’re out of the house. We agreed to this, and he moved out the same day.

A week later I was summoned for a meeting with the director of Social Services. I was sick to the pit of my stomach as I sat there and he spoke. He was very kindly, but I had the image of an iron fist in kid gloves. He had the power to take my children away from me, and I was terrified of that. Still, I engaged with him as best I could, and he finished by saying that he was of the opinion that I had done everything I could to protect my children. He went on to say that he was assigning us a social worker, not because I was a bad mother, but because he felt I needed the support.

We were dreading her first visit, but when she came we actually liked her, and it felt like something we could live with okay. She visited us for a year. We shared a lot with her and trusted her. Then one day she told us she felt she had been privileged to share our lives with us for a little while, that she was going to put in a formal request that we be removed from the records, because our healing process had been fundamental and profound, and she saw no reason to monitor us further. This request was granted, and it felt like a miracle to me.

It is almost impossible for me to describe the profound healing that took place between my daughter and her father. It culminated one day in the three of us sitting together, feeling better in each other’s company than we had in a long time. My husband asked our daughter, “Is there anything else you need to say to me?” She replied, “I love you, Dad, but I don’t love your little boy (which was who she felt was there each time she had been abused).” He responded, “It’s not your place to take care of my little boy. That’s my job, and I never should have put it on you.” She began to cry, and then to sob, and he took her in his arms like a baby and rocked her while she cried. The tears were rolling down his face, and he was a real father at last.

I did not think I could ever really convey what went down and why I knew he was now a trustworthy male. A couple of years later, my daughters had the option to live with their father and his new wife, and they wanted to. His wife was aware of all that had transpired and I needed no convincing that it was safe. Some members of the family questioned my trust in him, but I knew the level of healing that had taken place, and I knew how my daughters felt toward him. I had a dream in which he was mortally wounded and I had the cure. I awoke crying and understood immediately that the cure was for him to have the opportunity to father his daughters before they were fully-grown, together with his new partner who had been told what had transpired. They had two years under his roof, into which they crammed special times, wonderful birthdays, and shared Christmases. All that had been blocked and thwarted in their early childhood with him.

The most precious parts of this story I have been virtually unable to share, except with my most dear and trusted friends, because we live in a society that needs to punish the offenders, and will never concede that there are good people who have bad experiences, which lead them to do bad things. When there is no safe place to take these wounds, they remain hidden, as Alice Miller described, and the story is told, must be told, in convoluted and twisted ways, i.e., perpetuating the abuse pattern. I am convinced that an incensed public, calling for the blood of these ‘monsters,’ calling for ‘justice,’ has more to do with what is still unconscious than what is revealed. In my deepest distress over my own daughter’s sexual abuse, my father wrote to me and told me that he was molested as a boy by a boy older than him. “Not that it did me any harm that I can tell,” he said, but he wanted to let me know that he felt for me in my grief. He finished by saying you had better destroy this letter. I didn’t and, later, after he had died and I was raising these issues in my family, I was accused of being a liar and I at least had my father’s letter as proof.