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, June 12, 2009

Catherine's Story

I grew up in what I considered to be a pretty normal family. I had a mom, a dad, and a sister who was three years older than I was. We lived in a very nice middle-class neighborhood, and my mother stayed home until I started junior high. My sister was a very high achiever, and it seemed that she excelled at everything she tried. I, however, sat on the sidelines, afraid to try much of anything for fear of failing or not measuring up.

I am not sure exactly what happened, but sometime during the 9th grade, I started having trouble getting along with my friends. I went to the guidance counselor for help. He had me meet him for lunch every day in his office. At first it was nice getting some attention. But then he isolated me from my friends. If I would have lunch with my friends, he would punish me by not being there the next day. Soon my friends excluded me totally, and I was dependent on the guidance counselor.

Then he began to sexually abuse me. At first it seemed okay. He told me he wasn’t supposed to do it, but he would close his office door and give me a hug. At first it was nice. But then he would hold me too tight, his hands would roam, and he would rub himself against me. I attempted suicide less than two weeks after the first time he abused me. He said that if I promised not to do it again, he wouldn’t tell my parents. The abuse continued, probably on a daily basis. There were times I would try to escape his office without a “hug,” and he would keep me there until I put my books down so he could give me a “hug.” If I did manage to escape, he would not be there the next day. Just recently I remembered all the times he expected me to call him, always from where I was babysitting, and rarely from home. I did attempt suicide again two months after the first time, and then again one month later.

My parents finally figured out that “my” problems were not going to just go away, and they sent me to a mental hospital for seven months. I never talked about the abuse because he told me not to tell. My psychological evaluation stated that I was troubled with sexual stimulation, and they knew of the relationship with the guidance counselor, yet no one figured it out. Since they never brought it up, I didn’t think it was a problem. Plus, there were the threats to keep me silent.

When I came back home, the family dynamics had changed. My sister was now in college and wasn’t doing very well. I was in a new high school with new friends, and was doing pretty well. I dated some, and was pretty “easy,” but I didn’t enjoy boys. I dated one guy who was a lot older than I was. He would take me to church and lead me to a personal relationship with Jesus. But he wanted me to have sex with him, so I stopped seeing him. I graduated from high school, and that summer I started dating another boy. We continued our relationship after we left for separate colleges. I lost my virginity with him. I also became pregnant. He was not terribly supportive, and I was battling depression. I lost this baby when I attempted suicide.

I kept searching for someone to make me whole. I met my husband when we were in college. We began sleeping together almost from the start. I had met a great guy, and I was determined to keep him. We married three years after we met. We were not planning on having children. However, I did become pregnant after we had been married a little over a year. It was a good pregnancy. I often thought about this little person growing inside me. He was very active, and it was fun to watch my belly jiggle. I worked a temporary job for the state, which I really enjoyed. We bought a house and moved in one month before our son was born.

We had planned on a natural labor and delivery. It turned out to be anything but natural. My water broke and then nothing really happened. I was started on a pitocin drip. This made the contractions unbearable, so I ended up needing an epidural. After 14 hours of labor, they decided that I had not made enough progress and the baby’s condition was deteriorating. I needed a c-section. The surgery wasn’t that bad, and I was able to hold the baby in the recovery room. I tried to nurse him, but wasn’t successful. I was in the hospital for three days. The nurses kept bringing him to me, putting him in my arms. I repeatedly tried to nurse him, but never had much luck. It really hurt because the nurses had shown me incorrectly. I knew that this was my son and I was supposed to love him, but it seemed that somehow I didn’t know how.

I went into postpartum depression after coming home from the hospital. I had no clue how to take care of my new baby. Breastfeeding continued to be a problem. Each time he latched on it hurt because of improper attachment. This continued for three months until I finally consulted a lactation consultant.

It was now winter, and I didn’t know anyone in our new neighborhood. My husband was working very long hours and would sometimes go several days without seeing our son.
I began babysitting another baby that spring. This was a happy season for me. The boys were almost like brothers, and we did a lot of things together. The reason I wanted to babysit an infant was to keep me from wanting another baby. It didn’t work, and that winter I was pregnant again.

It was a fairly normal pregnancy, and I kept active with my son and the boy I babysat. This baby was different from the first. He was not very active, and I had to do kick counts every day. I am convinced that before he was born, he would suck his thumb and latch onto the umbilical cord with his other hand. I was able to VBAC with him.

The labor and delivery were pretty much normal. Breastfeeding with him went much better. He was very much a thumb sucker, and a “blankey” baby. As long as he had those two things, he was happy. I took this as rejection. Also, when he was three months old, he developed severe allergies. I had to eliminate milk, soy, peanuts and eggs from my diet because they passed through my milk. I put so much energy into keeping to this diet that I didn’t seem to have the energy to love him. I also pumped for six months after he weaned.

During this time, I knew that I wasn’t the mommy I wanted to be, but I didn’t know how to change. My oldest son was a bully, knocking other kids over. Neither son would obey me. I was embarrassed to take them anywhere. I enrolled the oldest in preschool, hoping that would help. It didn’t. I became pregnant again that winter. Looking back, I am sure I got pregnant because I was suicidal. Many years before, I had vowed that I would never attempt suicide while I was pregnant.

This, too, was a fairly normal pregnancy, with the exception of morning sickness, which continued halfway into the second trimester. The labor and delivery were very quick. My labor nurse was a very seasoned midwife. She was calm about everything until she asked where it hurt during a contraction. When I said that it hurt very low in my back, she yelled out the door that she needed a doctor, any doctor, RIGHT NOW. My doctor just barely caught our third son.

Three months after this baby was born, my husband went into a deep depression. He became suicidal and asked me what it was like before I attempted suicide. Those secrets of the past weren’t gone. They were just buried away. I remained strong while my husband was in the hospital. But after he came home and became more “normal,” my world came crashing down. I started seeing a therapist and began talking about the abuse, for the first time. I went into a very deep depression. I would spend days just sitting in a chair, unable to move. The kids were basically on their own most of the day. The older two were only four and two years old. The only reason I did not attempt suicide was because of the kids – they were always around, and I would never do it in front of them. I was resisting taking medication because I was still breastfeeding. However, it became evident it was necessary, so I was put on one that was safe while breastfeeding.

Seeing me so depressed was very disturbing to the kids, and we started taking them to a psychologist to repair the damage and to help learn how to be better parents. It helped, but there was a lot of work that we had to do at home to change everyone’s behavior patterns.

This, too, seemed to be a good season for us. My depression was under control. My husband’s depression was under control. All three kids seemed to be doing pretty well. So, what the heck – let’s have another baby!

It was a fairly good pregnancy, considering the trials we went through. My husband lost his job the day after we found out I was pregnant. We had joined a new church, and I was in a very supportive women’s bible study. The only complication with this pregnancy was the baby’s position. He was footling breach. I kept telling my doctor that something was different about this baby, and that it felt like with each kick I was going to drop him. No wonder – that was a foot against my cervix, not a head! The doctor wanted to do a c-section right away, but I told her that I wanted to wait until I went into labor to see if he had turned. Everyone prayed for me and the baby, and sure enough, the baby turned. I went to the doctor the next week and told her the baby had turned, but she wanted to do an ultrasound, just to check. Just then, the baby tap-danced across my belly with little feet sticking out just below my ribs. She believed me then.

My sister came to visit my parents toward the end of the pregnancy. We had a big dilemma – have her visit us here, or travel two hours up to my parents’. I discussed this with both my therapist and my doctor. Both agreed that traveling to my parents was the best option. Two days later, our fourth son was born. I was not very happy with this doctor, because I had very bad back labor, which she told me “wasn’t that bad.” Also, she told the nurse that she would not be doing an episiotomy because she didn’t think the baby was that big. He was nine pounds, four ounces. Breast-feeding went very well with this baby.

It was while nursing this baby that I think I understood God’s love for me. I looked down at my newborn son nursing at my breast and understood that this is what God wanted me to understand about Him. My son had “molded” himself into me and was drawing nourishment from me. This is exactly what I needed from God the Father.
It has been a long and difficult journey but I think I am finally learning what “normal” and “healthy” are all about. I have been in individual and marriage counseling for about four years. I have been in several sexual abuse recovery groups. Most important has been my personal and ever deepening relationship with God.

My boys are now 8,6,4,and 2 ½. I am finally enjoying being a mom. I enjoy being with my boys. It seems that whenever I sit down and put my feet up, someone is climbing up in my lap. The older two are reading and they like to sit in my lap and read to me. The younger two like to sit in my lap for me to read to them.

I still have days when the depression seems to get the better of me. I have explained to my boys that when I was a little girl someone hurt me very badly and sometimes it still makes me very sad. They are too young to know anything more.

We have made a big deal about teaching them about their “privates.” And that no one has the right to touch them there. We have taught them that we don’t keep secrets from each other. That no one should ever tell them not to tell Mom and Dad. We have taught them to trust their instincts. If something doesn’t feel right to them, then it probably isn’t right. Most of all, we are trying to love them unconditionally and develop deep relationships with each one of them. My biggest hope is that they will not be vulnerable to an abusive relationship like I was so many years ago.

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