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/

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!!!!

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Just wanted to provide a link to a new website on rape-related pregnancy and pregnancy loss, which also includes sections on pregnancy, birth and parenting after sexual abuse. The site includes personal stories and perspectives from people who've experienced rape-related pregnancy, their partners, family and friends. I hope it might be useful, as these stories have been to me! Thank you -