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 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.

1 comment:

debdor said...

I applaud your courage and bravery at speaking out and attempting to help others. Education must be our goal as mothers. Educate ourselves and our children to live free from abuse. Speak out until someone listens, helps and believes. Do not stand alone and do not stay silent. Bless your strength and efforts, and mostly believe in yourself. Have faith that there are people who care and who have been there, you are not alone. Be free from abuse and live proud. Your Friend, debdor