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/

Monday, September 7, 2009

Jennie's Story


I grew up in an alcoholic home, the second of four children (three girls and one boy). We were all one year apart in age. My father was violent and abusive, my mother extremely needy and passive. As a little girl I learned to take care of my mother; cooking, cleaning, nursing the wounds on her ulcer-filled legs caused by varicose veins, and soothing her emotionally after one of my father's tirades. Although we lived under the same roof, my parents, siblings and I lived in separate worlds. We kept many secrets; we had no voice. Needless to say, I followed the protocol of a child living in an alcoholic home where there was no connecting or bonding, only disconnection and confusion.

I can't remember my mother ever telling me "I love you." I do remember her always shouting at us "You kids are driving me crazy"! I'll never forget what she taught me about death. She said, "When you die, worms will come and eat up your entire flesh. Only your bones will remain in the coffin." We did not live far from the only funeral parlor in our neighborhood. Whenever we passed by it we would go in and she would make me kneel on the kneeler in front of the coffin and asked me to pray for the deceased stranger. Today I continue to struggle with some fear of death. I now know that my mother tried being a "good" mother according to the way I suppose she was raised. She would buy us new clothes for Easter and sacrificed a few dollars so we would have toys for Christmas. Today I know that for the most part only our custodial needs were met.

Growing up in this environment with the dynamics of my family life as a role model for living, I never questioned if we were a "normal" family. I never felt loved in my family. Love? What was that? I was too busy trying to survive. As I got older there was a part deep inside of me that said "There's something wrong with this picture." I began to tell myself that when I grew up and became a mother I would not be like her (my mother).

I was in grammar school, perhaps eleven years old, when a classmate of mine introduced me to his uncle who was thirty years old. I became enamored with him. He was charming and paid so much attention to me. I visited his apartment with a group of friends several times.

One night when everyone was gone leaving the perpetrator, his friend, and myself, he took me into the back room where he raped and abused me physically. He threatened that if I didn't let him do as he wished, he would have his friend do the same. This happened on more than one occasion.

The first time that it happened I was numb, in a daze. After it was over I went home. It haunts me to this day that I cannot remember how I got home. It was about one a.m. I had not arrived home from school because the perpetrator kept me prisoner the entire time. My parents thought I had run away so they were waiting up for me along with my aunt. They were all frantic. When I entered our apartment my father pounced on me, beating me. My aunt had to pull him off of me. In all of the screaming, beating and chaos, I don't remember what my mother was doing. Anytime there was violence and terror inflicted on us by my father, I can never remember what my mother was doing. As I see it today, I was violated by my perpetrator, then again by my father, all in one day. The next day I woke sore all over my body. I went to school as if nothing had happened. I dismissed what happened to me and buried it in the deepest part of my conscience. I never told anyone for years. Today, my mother still does not know.

During my adolescence I rebelled, skipping school, drinking, and attempting suicide twice. No one ever asked me why I no longer wanted to live. I was depressed and didn't even know it. I dreamed of the day I would meet my knight in shining armor who would take me away from the hell in which I lived. At the age of fourteen I met my husband, Roberto. He came from a family of ten children; a family who was also dysfunctional. We were the blind leading the blind. Two ships lost at sea.

At the age of eighteen I married Roberto. The one who rescued me. Although he loved me, like my father, he too was emotionally unavailable. Three months later I was pregnant with my first child. I was elated because I knew that with this child I would be the mother that my mother was not. From the time she was in my womb I whispered to her, "I love you. I love you." I was ill with this pregnancy with morning sickness and kidney infections. When I went into labor my husband dropped me off at the hospital, leaving me there and going off to work. He didn't even wait in the waiting room. Back in 1972, the fathers were not allowed in the labor and delivery rooms. I was very afraid.

When Amanda was born, my heart knew no greater love than the one I felt for her. The joys of motherhood those first few months had no measure. When Amanda was nine months old I enrolled in school to become a registered nurse, leaving her in the care of my favorite sister-in-law. Shortly after I began school I learned that I was pregnant again. The female obstetrician whom I had at the time had convinced me to try a new I.U.D. which was experimental at that time. I was not informed about this experiment. When she told me I was pregnant she was upset with me for ruining the experiment. She humiliated me, leaving me to feel used and lonely. After I got over the initial shock of the entire matter, I eagerly awaited the arrival of my new baby. When Alicia was born, I looked into her beautiful eyes and knew that this child was meant to be. She was a pure joy. At this time things were not well with Roberto and I, and I continued to suffer from depression.

In 1976 I graduated from nursing school and became employed. All was well until 1977 when I suffered a mental collapse; I was severely depressed, ridden with anxiety and in and out of hospitals for various physical ailments. That period of time was to be the beginning of a period pf psychotherapy, which included a string of therapists. I was treated with antidepressants and tranquilizers. Gradually the depression improved but I was left with the enormous task of facing many issues in my life.

I continued to battle the demons of depression and care for my two girls. I wanted to be the mother that mine was not. I used what little strength I had to drive them to school, dance classes and joined the P.T.A. in their school.

I 1979 I became pregnant again. Although I was ridden with tremendous anxiety, I wanted desperately to have a son. I was very ill with this pregnancy and spent most of the nine months in bed. On Dec. 6, 1980, God blessed me with a beautiful, healthy son. We named him Eduardo Roberto.

Several years later a scandal erupted in a day care center in our neighborhood. It was alleged that several of the workers had sexually abused many of the children there. I remember being filled with anxiety. I couldn't sleep. When my husband made love to me I felt as if he was raping me. I didn't know where the feelings were coming from. I mentioned to two of my therapists that I "thought" I might have been raped when I was eleven. They looked at me and changed the subject. Naturally, based on their reaction, I figured that the abuse was not the cause of my depression and that perhaps it was due to the fact that I was raised in an alcoholic home. For years afterwards I continued in therapy and read a lot of material on adult children of alcoholics.

In 1992, Amanda disclosed to me that she had been sexually abused when she was five by her cousin, who was age 16 at the time (my favorite sister-in-law's son.) I cannot put into words what I felt at that moment. In total shock, I felt the pain, mortification and despair that come from hearing news of immeasurable harm done to a loved one. I could only tell her how sorry I was. At that moment I wanted to lie down and die.

Amanda's disclosure slowly brought to the surface my own sexual abuse. I began to toy with the idea that perhaps what happened to me was not my fault, that I too was abused. I quickly dismissed that thought.

What ensued was an all-encompassing obsession with what happened to my child. I felt as if we were Siamese twins. I couldn’t separate myself from her pain. I grieved, mourned, cried out to God of the injustice that was inflicted upon my precious child. I declared vengeance upon the perpetrator. I wanted blood; I wanted death. My grief and my insanity was such that I pressured my husband into selling our deli business, putting our home up for sale, and moving to Florida in 1994.

Thirteen months later we returned, almost broke, as our home in N.Y. didn't sell and it was difficult paying two mortgages. In one year I buried a sister-in-law, a brother-in-law and my father-in-law. I was surrounded by the death of my loved ones and the slow death of my soul. I continued to grieve for the pain and trauma of my child.

I wanted Amanda to begin to deal with issues arising from her incest. I wanted her to heal; for I saw what a self-destructive path she had taken in life. I began inquiring about support groups for survivors. My efforts were rewarded when I received a flier announcing a conference for survivors, which was to be held in N.Y.C. in Jan. 1999, sponsored by the Incest Awareness Foundation. I immediately planned to attend with Amy.

The night before the conference I couldn’t sleep. Many questions were dancing in my head. "Should I attend the conference for myself?" "Am I a survivor?" "Can I face the pain of what was done to me?"

The first day of the conference I was there for Amanda, but by the second day the bubble of my denial burst and I came to admit the truth that I, too, was an incest survivor. By the last day of the conference I had set up a meeting with Amanda’s perpetrator’s parents, my husband's brother and wife and their daughter who was also molested by the same person. We disclosed to the parents what their son had done to our daughters. Today I do not have any contact with many relatives, who have formed a support group for the perpetrator.

With the strength and confidence that I received at the conference, I began seeing a therapist specializing in incest survivor therapy, attending a few 12-step programs, reading literature on the subject of incest and doing everything I possible could to help myself on my healing journey. Throughout this entire process my greatest source of strength came and continues to come from the higher power that I call GOD. I began to learn to separate my incest from Amanda's. I learned to detach, so that I could work on my recovery and she could work on hers. I FOUND MY VOICE, which was lost for the majority of my life. I spoke to all who would listen about what happened to Amanda. I told relatives, friends, and clergy. My two sisters have become my dearest and most loved supporters. I wrote letters. The shame surrounding this tragedy began to slip away. What a gift! The taboo of incest is being dispersed, although we have a lot of work to do as survivors. As I continue to tell my story more people are learning about incest.

Last year, due to the excessive stress of my struggle to find my voice, I became very ill and was hospitalized for almost one month. I was diagnosed with systemic lupus. Today, due to my illness, I am not driven as if I were on a treadmill to pursue justice for myself, Amanda and other survivors in a state of frenzy. Today, I peacefully work in a pro-active manner to share my strength, courage and hope with others. Healing has come from sharing my story. All of my life I have minimized the traumas of my childhood. It has taken me over forty-five years to find my voice. Because I have found my voice, I can help others do the same. I am currently working on starting a support group for mothers of survivors called "M.O.S.A.C. (Mothers of Sexually Abused Children)” and working on a newsletter, which I will call "Find Your Voice." Amanda is working hard on her recovery, attending 12-step meetings and reading literature on incest recovery. She's moving slow, but she's moving. I've learned that everyone's recovery must come on his or her own time.

Today I continue to work on my recovery with the guidance and strength I receive from God. I continue to grieve for the loss of a mother. Despite all of the pain, struggles and tragedies in my life, I rejoice today because I am becoming the person God created me to be. I've only discovered this through my healing from my abuse...what a way to discover yourself.

Because my husband has been in psychotherapy for the last two years, our marriage is becoming the union that God intended for it to be. I do love my husband very much. I rejoice and am grateful for my three wonderful and oh so different children, Amanda, Alicia and Eduardo. At times I lament about who I could have been if I had been born into a "normal" family, but I don't regret being a mother to my children. Motherhood has been the most joyful and fulfilling role in my life, a true gift from God. Despite any imperfections and mistakes I have committed, I believe I have been forgiven.

To those mothers contemplating motherhood I say, don't be afraid. Ask your higher power for strength and guidance. Much of your suffering will be rewarded with this tremendous gift. It will change your life. Your children's lives do not have to be like ours.

When I was a little girl I prayed to God, "Please let me be a good mother." Today I know that He has honored me with what I needed to fulfill this wish and continues to do so, one day at a time.

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