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 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.

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