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, July 2, 2009

Stacey's Story

I think it was Virginia Wolfe who said, “If one woman told the truth about her life, the world would explode.” I don’t know if my writing will articulate what it is that I would like to communicate, but I will try, as I tend to ‘disassociate’ whenever I get on this subject. I spent time in therapy on issues revolving around my mother being abusive, without really delving into the actual subject and how it created the field for other ‘problems’ I had. Also, I had not remembered the actual sexual abuses at the time of my ‘formal’ therapy. Interestingly, it is only recently that I have been able to look at how the dysfunctional parts of my life correlate to coping mechanisms, not something isolated. For instance, I had always been very down on myself for having whatever shortcomings it was that made me have really long, slow labors … I didn’t put the obvious together until reading an article about it on the web.

My abuse was most overt when I was a very young infant, between six to 18 months, up to three, but before I was able to speak. My mother choked me to near death several times. I still can’t sing today, not that I can’t carry a tune, or have an unpleasant voice, but I can’t make sound come out in front of other people (except children). Also, she was obsessed with private parts, including mine, and with penetrating me with objects. She spent the rest of my life with her abusing me other ways, sort of like a hostage situation… how can I explain? I was kept in a playpen all day, with no outside activities, experienced physical abuse, a lot of slapping, restrictions for no reason, emotional ‘stuff,’ was kept in inappropriate clothes, bad haircuts, et al… things that by themselves seem ridiculous…all the way to when I was a teen, and she wouldn’t sign papers so I could take advantage of a college scholarship I had won, with no explanation. So, you could say that I did not gather information about being a good, loving person and parent from my mother.

It seems a complicated conundrum why people do not want to believe that a mother is capable of such cruelties, and that it is far more common than people think. Is it partially because people want to ‘dump’ the responsibility of childcare onto the mothers, and if they can’t do it, that means they would have to actually think of a better system, like taking a little pressure off women?

I am still not sure how I got from there to here in as good shape as I have! It’s not always easy. I believe my worst problems have to do with self-esteem, my ability to assert myself in the world, confidence in my ability to ‘do,’ difficulty trusting other people, and most of all, a skewed thinking about the nature of the world. I am looking at the world again after giving the rightful name to things, you could say.

Of course, I went through several abusive relationships. The topper was my divorce from my ex-husband (who was a lot like my mom . . . surprise!). I put him through law school, had to divorce him, and he fought me for custody of our five-year-old son, who was the center of my world. This lasted for four and one-half years. I could have had it over with sooner, but I was so devastated and dis-empowered that I could not assert myself very well.

I’ve never had sexual problems, either over or under doing it… I feel comfortable with all that. Never had menstrual problems. But, my sense of self and body image was devastated, especially as far as being seen by others goes. I was anorexic and bulimic for a while as a teen/young adult, but just stopped. When I hit puberty, I felt like a piece of meat. I always felt extremely lonely and sad, empty, and angry as a child. I felt I was not loved. I had a lot to offer, if only I had the chance. Most strongly, however, was the feeling that no one should ever have to go through what I did. I got pregnant at age 28, and was craving a child by that time. I was dating my ‘ex’ for only a few months. He was ‘wrong’ for me as a husband, but due to a personal crisis at the time (my beloved older brother had just died), he was comfortable for me, outgoing, took care of things, talked about a ‘future.’ If I had not gotten pregnant, I would never have married him, and almost didn’t.

I absolutely loved being pregnant! I was ecstatic about having a child. While pregnant, I felt ‘filled,’ not alone. I had a purpose to serve another in an honest and unconditional way. I enjoyed the ripeness and fullness of my body. I felt more ‘real.’ I was, and am, a real ‘earth mother’ type, a huge fan of Mothering magazine. I was extremely healthy during the pregnancy, had no morning sickness or other problems. My family and now husband were all happy and supportive. In fact, it was the most positive time in my life until then. Even my mother treated me well.

The 38-hour birth was different, however. I had a great medical support team. The Chicago Women’s Health Center has been here since the 70’s, completely woman-centered, into empowering women, making your own decisions. I found it after the gynecologist I was going to (a woman) seemed to be giving all her patients the very uncomfortable colposcopy procedure that she invented.

Anyway, my doctor was wonderful. My bag of waters broke at 1:00 a.m. I was sleeping on the squishy couch as I had been all month because I was so big; I couldn’t get comfortable in bed. My contractions were five minutes apart from start to finish. My labor, which started out in the hospital birthing center, ended in the delivery room with a dosage of pitocin, and five to six hours of pushing. My doctor never gave up on me; bless her a thousand times. She knew how much I didn’t want a cesarean. She even spent the night at the hospital to be near me. Staff would come into my room and say, “Oh, it’s so peaceful in here, and the lady across the hall is screaming and going crazy.” I comforted myself with the fact that my son was in such great shape, and had great Apgar scores. They told me the babies like it nice and easy.

Looking back, my other support people were a nightmare, my ‘ex’ chasing after me with a tape recorder to tape my moans for posterity, his family being there for his support and making fun of the way I cursed softly, and his brothers and sisters filing past me as I labored naked in the shower, him watching the ball game during the birth. But, I was not able to make it different. Pushing was my favorite part, because I was active and doing something. I didn’t like sitting around waiting, and in pain. The nurse that helped me during pushing was great. I was tired and she was pushing on my perineum to focus me and yelling for me to push. From what I gather about the activities of abused women, that sounds opposite from what one should do, but she was perfect. She was real and right there with me, even though it was difficult.

After extricating myself from this bad relationship, I went through a lot of growth and learning. I subsequently found a wonderful partner and mate who is a gentle, sensitive, beautiful soul. We have been together over nine years. We decided to have a child; she is now three years old.

Despite being in a great relationship, and this being my second child, I was not more successful in having a quicker birth. This one, in fact, was longer – three days. I went into labor Friday night, and gave birth Monday morning. I had a midwife this time, and tried my best to have a home birth. My main midwife, to be honest, wasn’t all that great for me. She was kind of distant, not warm. If it had been my first birth, I would have been really unhappy with her.

Again, it was a healthy pregnancy, even though I was older. I got really big again. Even though I had remembered about my mom at this time, I didn’t relate to it much. I felt very alone, not connected to anyone attending this birth, like I was not being taken care of well enough. This is actually the first time I have said this.

My mate, however wonderful, was not as comfortable with the birth in that it was so new for him, not that he wasn’t happy about it. For my ex’s credit, he was the oldest of six kids, and all the birth stuff was old hat. I had lost touch with my old friends during my long divorce, due to me not wanting to burden them, and now I was kind of alone in the friend department. I would have loved to have some of my old women friends there for support, but they had moved away.

We had some younger artist friends there, who weren’t on the same wavelength either. In fact, there was a lot of partying in the kitchen while I labored alone in the bedroom. Do you see a pattern here? I still was not able to assert my needs, even with a supportive partner. The midwife kicked the extras out immediately, thank goodness. I got stuck at nine and one-half centimeters and stayed stuck, even though some of my contractions were really long, five, six, seven minutes. The world would turn white; with a ‘tear’ pattern in the middle, the worse the pain, the bigger the hole. I threw up a few times. I still can’t drink lemonade with honey.

Again though, I hung in there, remaining calm, and for the most part, really positive. We packed up for the hospital on the coldest day of 1997, and during the bumpy ride, the baby was already in the birth canal. A few moments of pitocin and five (count them) pushes and she was out!

The hospital was great, beautiful birthing rooms, and the doctor in charge was great. He said, “I know you were trying for a home birth. I’ll let the midwife run the show.” Amazing, huh? Unfortunately, he had to run and do a cesarean, and the second in-charge doctor came on board. She was not so nice. She had a need to assert her position and intervene. She put a scalp monitor on the baby, against my wishes, even though in the canal it was useless. I sat up and told her no. She lied and said it just rested against the baby’s head. It fell off, so she did it again! There were two scabby bumps on Elizabeth’s head.

My son, age 11, got to cut the cord, and everyone got to stay the night, unlike the first birth where, because I got switched to delivery with pitocin, I lost birthing room privileges. I feel that perhaps I needed the official ‘something’ of the doctors to get my body going. Because that is against everything I believe in. I am disappointed in myself. I wish my body worked better. It seemed to mirror my inability to make things happen in my general life, despite knowing what I want to happen. Well, everyone has to struggle with something.

I have breastfed both of my children. I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. I breastfed my son until he was two, and my daughter, at three, is still nursing before bed. I had to go out of town in order to wean my son. I practiced family bed with both of them, until they went into toddler beds, and practice non-violence. Spanking my son is one of the reasons I divorced my ‘ex.’ I try to keep to child-centered parenting, and respect the core being of these little (and now not so little) people. I obviously enjoy breastfeeding, though am ready to wean when the time comes.

I have noticed more ‘triggering’ with my daughter. I was awestruck with the natural purity of her little body and being, how free she is able to be, due to not being abused. It was, in fact, extremely painful, making me feel/see something I lacked, but joyful to see someone else have it, a sublime experience to be sure. That she can move her legs around in that 360 degree curve that babies do is amazing. I can’t relax my body like that. She has also taken her time potty training, and I noticed that I didn’t mind, that the covering of diapers made me feel safe for her. I suppose there is more of that kind of thing to come, but I will have to deal with it. I hope that my personality does not keep my daughter from anything in the world that she needs to experience. I hope I can manifest some of my dreams in the world that I want to, for her to see. I certainly have learned how a parent should not act, and because of this, the every day act of loving my children is healthy for me.

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