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/

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lena's Story

When you remember, you remember...Sounds a bit like Yogi Berra in a TV commercial. But for me, the words ring a profound truth.

In the autumn of 1998, right after I began therapy for incest, I attended a conference for survivors. I felt so jealous of the people who had always clearly remembered their abuse.

If one recovers from an illness, this presupposes one becomes ill. I became symptomatic when my son was born; I began recovering after my mother died.

Before my husband and I conceived our son, I recalled my father being “inappropriate” with me as a baby. I also remembered a babysitter I had at the age of four whom I hated. Only after my mother’s death did I connect the two incidences.

My pregnancy was fraught with challenges. After a medical miscarriage in my mid-thirties, it took 6 more years to conceive and carry to full term. A positive AFP test resulted in an amniocentesis, which was rescheduled twice because the needle wouldn’t go in. My husband and I had a fight on the way to a party and I walked back to our apartment: 5 months pregnant at night, 48 blocks. The baby turned breech days before the window closed negating a vaginal delivery. He turned back around just in time! Finally three days and 23 hours of intermittent labor ended in a “dry birth” and my son was whisked off to ICU for 3 days.

Our baby was bright, beautiful, and high-strung. I saw his life fraught with unknown, unnamed perils lurking behind every door. Breastfeeding was easy but the infant fed every 2 hours. My family of origin was supportive but tiring- alcoholism, cancer, death, and heart disease. My husband’s finances spun out of control. I slowly dissolved.

When my mother died in 1998, I regained the courage to fight for myself. I looked up “incest” in the phone book and found a therapist who is one of the most knowledgeable, professional, generous, kind human beings I’ve ever known. With her guidance and the help of a support group, I finally recalled being orally raped when I was 4 years old. Afterwards, the babysitter (the perp’s wife) had knotted my hair into a hair-pulling braid to remind me never to tell anyone what had happened to me under her care.

So when I remembered, I remembered. The myriad, jumbled pieces of my life finally began to fit. When I remembered WHY my hair was done in a high fashion “do” that day in 1951, I could cease compulsively pulling out my body hair. When I remembered my self betrayed at a gut-wrenching level, I understood why I married a man who is emotionally unavailable. When I remembered the child sexual abuse, I knew exactly what my therapist meant by “Your life sounds so exhausting.” Yes, it’s tough running the marathon with a hole in your heart.

My greatest pain could be how erratic my parenting has been- to my pre-teen son as well as to my 30-year-old stepdaughter. So I talk with them- age appropriately- about alcoholism, compulsions, tricky people, self esteem, and so on.

A baby is a process, not a product. With the help of my therapist, husband, friends and support group I transformed myself from victim to survivor. I feel now I’m an adventurer. My life is not a scripted play. Every moment can bring surprises, challenges- the rediscovery of who I really am. It’s not easy coaxing adventure from chaos, but at least now I get to choose to do so.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hope's Story

My mother left my father, my little sister and I when I was 5 years old. It’s very hard for me to separate the damage that was caused by sexual abuse from the damage caused by my mother’s abandonment (especially when it comes to my mothering journey). Then I have to consider what damage my father’s neglect and emotional abuse following the divorce caused. I was a pretty mixed-up kid. However, I don’t think very many survivors out there are only dealing with sexual abuse. Life is never that simple. So I’ll tell my story as best I can, for this all part of who I am.

It was May 3, 1971. I was 3 ½ years old. While playing outside with a couple of older neighbor boys, I was sexually violated with a stick after being bribed with candy to remove my clothing. The pain was so intense that I was unable to pee for over 24 hours and was eventually taken to see my family doctor. After the whole story came out, my parents were shocked into silence. They didn’t speak a word to me all the way home and the incident was never referred to again.

My child’s mind knew exactly what was going on. I had done a very bad thing. Apparently there was something wrong with me and I had embarrassed my dear parents with the knowledge that their little girl had a defect. No one mentioned to me that it might not be my fault; no anger was directed toward my “playmates”. I was cast adrift in a sea of pain and silence. It was then that I internalized two very profound teachings. 1) It was OK for people to hurt me and 2) It was not OK to tell anyone about it.

I guess that was when I got the invisible “tattoo” that so many survivors talk about. The one that tells every creep and degenerate out there that I’m easy pickings. The “victim sign”. I was abused by my elders and my peers over the next 15+ years. When I finally gathered up enough courage to tell someone again I was 11 years old. I received such a long and abusive lecture from my father on how evil I was for spreading those ugly lies that I buried my secrets and went on in silence, again. I entered puberty under the impression that the sexual abuse had damaged me so badly that I would never be able to conceive. I now know that this belief is fairly common among survivors, in fact, two other survivors passed it on to me. One of them was my aunt. My mother’s little sister has accused her parents of sexually abusing her (among other things.) Her only “proof” has been that not once in her fairly promiscuous life has she ever conceived a child. My aunt and a school friend of mine both confided in me, separately, that due to early childhood sexual abuse their doctors had assured them that they would never bear children. I both believed and feared that the same fate had befallen me. Surely I was too badly damaged to become pregnant. I began field-testing this theory and proved myself wrong when I was 18.

I quickly made an appointment and got the abortion I desperately wanted. The procedure went well. I was well supported. I recovered easily. I have no regrets. The relationship I was in was turning abusive and I am grateful that I was able to leave him, no strings attached.

At 19 I met the man of my dreams. David was my only experience of love at first sight. We married quickly and decided early that we would never have children. We used to sit in restaurants watching young families and count the reasons why we did not want to be like them. It all seemed so noisy, messy and chaotic. We didn’t need the trouble.

Ben was an old friend of David’s. He was one of our roommates back when David and I first moved into student housing together. He was kind, eager to please and very attracted to me. It took quite awhile before I realized what was happening. David was absorbed in Graduate studies and a full-time job. I was a homebody who did a little theater work for “candy money” and watched too many soap operas. I didn’t want to sleep with Ben but I had no clue how to say No. He was persistent in his pursuit of my favors and, eventually, I allowed myself to be seduced. I was too ashamed of what I had done to tell my husband. I was also unable to extinguish Ben’s desire for me and unsure of my own true feelings for him. When I became pregnant with Ben’s child I was devastated.

I was willing to abort if Ben never found out. David refused to keep silent and pretend nothing had happened, so I chose to find a childless couple to adopt my baby. I spent one last highly emotional week with Ben early in my pregnancy while David was out of town and then cut off communication completely. I allowed David to convince me that Ben did not love me and that there was no hope of a future with him. I knew that if the child I were carrying were a boy, I would have no choice but to give him up. I was unable to imagine David raising Ben’s son as his own; it seemed too unpleasant for all of us. I prayed for a girl.

My pregnancy was awful and miraculous. I loved being pregnant even while I hated all the pain it caused David. I would stay awake at night holding my belly and crying. I wanted to be able to love my child without having it hurt everyone so much. Our families were dumbfounded by the idea of us giving our child away. My friends told me that I’d never forgive myself. My stepmother offered to raise the child for us as my half-sibling. I had to say something to her, something that would make her stop hounding me about my decision. I told her I’d been raped. It became my truth. It did have some truth to it and it became easier and easier to tell to people as time went on. I told it to my family, my in-laws, my doctor, our adoption worker, the couple we’d chosen to raise my child and eventually, my midwives.

I wanted to birth at home. I had attended a friend’s homebirth a couple of years back as a support person for their 2-year-old son. I had already developed an acute fear of hospital birth. I knew I would not do well under a doctor’s “control”; it still makes me queasy imagining it. I began prenatal care with a female OB while my search for a midwife began. I had already rejected one when I realized that the author of the book I was reading on birthing lived in my town. I decided that she was the one for me but she had serious misgivings about my having a homebirth when I did not intend to keep my child. Better to give birth elsewhere and not have to live with the memories of the birth in my home space. Lucky for me she happened to run a birth center not too far from my home. I decided to have my baby there instead. I met my midwife’s partner when I began going to the birth center for my prenatal care. I felt very blessed to have two such warm and loving women caring for me.

At some point in my last trimester, I told my midwives my cover story about having been raped by a friend. Probably to avoid some pointed question about my reasons for giving my child away. The effect it had was profound; it transformed our relationship. I became a special case, I suppose. I know that they really wanted to help me keep my child despite my husband’s objections. I don’t believe they had ever come up against a problem they couldn’t solve and they were determined that I would not be an exception!

I went in for my 35-week check and was given an internal exam as a matter of course. They wanted to get a sense of how my body was arranged before labor started in order to better gauge the changes I would undergo during labor. I don’t know how or why but I was found to be 50% effaced and 2 cm. dilated. Under normal circumstances this would have been a bad sign. I would have been advised to rest and try to avoid having the baby before 37 weeks. They might have begun to talk of transferring me into the care of an OB. Instead they took it as cause to rejoice. My belly was big enough for them to convince everyone (including me) that my dates had been wrong. I was told that my baby was full term and it seemed that David was most likely the baby’s father. I was told that I would have a baby by the weekend (this was a Wednesday). I went home in a fog. Deep down, I knew that my dates were right, I was keeping very close track of my cycles, but I wanted to believe them so much. I prayed and squatted and walked all week long trying to speed things up. By Sunday, I was a mess. I didn’t know what to think or who to believe anymore. David was only slightly more interested in his own child than he was in Ben’s. We did select our baby names during those days of waiting, but they were only chosen to look good on the birth certificate 18 years later when he or she found it.

Late Sunday night my backache began and we headed off to the birth center. Everyone was tense, edgy, waiting for the answer to the unspoken question, “whose baby is this?” My body fought giving birth. I didn’t want to let go. It was too soon. I’d only gotten 8 months of pregnancy and I wasn’t ready yet. I remember repeating the word “open” over and over through clenched teeth, a classic symptom of childbirthing fear. It’s a miracle that I was able to dilate at all. I stalled out at 9cm in my body’s last-ditch effort to avoid letting go of my baby. No such luck, the midwife between my legs reached in and pushed my cervix over the baby’s head. She was born with the cord wrapped around both her neck and her body. My body had done all it could to hold her back but here she was, a perfect little girl. As the midwife lifted her up onto my belly, I swear that she looked at me and said “Hi.” (I’m not the only one who heard her say it either.) She looked enormous to me and as I held her to my breast, I felt my heart burst with joy and break from pain all at once.

She was born at only 36 weeks. The midwives checked and double-checked every feature of her tiny body looking for signs of her being term. Finally they regretfully agreed on her age although the quickly added that while she was born early she was in no way premature. She weighed in at a very healthy 8lbs. 13 oz. They even sent a sample of her cord blood in to the lab to have it typed in case that could tell us anything about her true paternity. It was the same blood type as mine. No help there either. Looking back I can’t help but appreciate everything they did for me, for all of us. We called the adoption worker to come down to the birth center. That really flustered the midwives who were busy with another birthing mom at the time. They thought she was going to take her away right then and there but I wanted my baby to come home with me, and David reluctantly agreed to it.

The ride home was tense and silent. We both knew what an impossible choice we were facing. The reality of raising a child we didn’t even know if we really wanted was overwhelming but the idea of giving her away forever was like a knife in my heart.

She was born on a Monday. We brought her home Tuesday. On Thursday, we called our family to announce that we were going to keep our little girl. I knew that if I had given her away I would only want to replace her. Neither of us felt it made sense to give away the perfect child in our arms just to turn around and try again. I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for David to agree to keep her. I hope I never have to experience such a decision myself.

All of a sudden, I was a mother. I had not prepared for it. I had read no books, gotten no advice, made no plans. All I remembered of my own mother were the traumatic events that led to her leaving and the weekend visits when I was older. I had no clue what I was doing. I did know one thing, though. I knew that I was going to protect her from sexual abuse. My mother’s family has a history of sexual abuse that goes back into obscurity. It had touched every family member I knew, but it was not going to happen to my baby. I became the ultimate “attachment parent”. I never left her with anyone I didn’t fully trust. I slept with her in my bed for years. I taught her the word “Stop” and I made sure everyone respected it when she used it. I taught her that everyone has a right to their own space. I avoided any mention of sexual abuse persay, but made certain she was safe and strong. It was a lot of work. I didn’t go out alone much. I couldn’t take a job because I was terrified of leaving her in daycare. It ticked off more than a few people who didn’t think tickling a child was a big deal, even after she said, “Stop”. It wasn’t easy for me but I knew what I had to do in order to live with myself. I was obsessed, but happy.

Then, one day last fall when my daughter was 7, we were laying on my bed talking when the topic turned on sex. I can’t remember why or how, but my daughter pressed me in to giving her information on sexual abuse. I knew it would happen eventually. I’d been involved in survivor support groups on the Internet for 6 months or more by then. She couldn’t be kept in the dark forever. Anyway, she asked me questions for awhile before I broke down and decided to give her the information she wanted as simply and gently as I could. I told her that there were adults in this world who liked to have sex with children.

She was stunned. It took her a second or two to process this new information. She looked at me incredulously and said, “Mom, that’s so gross” or some other equally sophisticated comment like that.

That’s when I felt it. This power surge, this overwhelming feeling of success, of achievement. It’s hard to find the words to express how complete I felt at that moment, how triumphant. “I did it! I won! I broke the chain of abuse, here and now. It’s over.” My little girl won’t grow up with the shame of sexual abuse in her life. Even if someone raped her now it wouldn’t be the same. She would know she could tell, she would know it’s not her fault. Sexual abuse needs silence in order to thrive; it only grows in the dark. My daughter no longer has those vulnerable dark places in her soul. She is no longer ignorant about abuse; she can no longer be shamed into silence. She will never believe that it was her fault. She now knows the truth and somehow, that truth had set us both free. My years of hard work and dedication to her safety paid off big for me. I now hope to be able to help others work through the hidden wounds of childhood sexual abuse or, even better, protect other mothers’ children from ever experiencing it at all.

If I could give only one gift to my daughter, to all daughters, it would be for her to have all the knowledge, all the strength and all the self-assurance to allow her to choose if, how and when she becomes a mother herself. I feel that childhood sexual abuse took that choice out of my hands, and, while I feel very blessed to be a mother now, I cannot help but wish that I had been able to embrace motherhood willingly. If I cannot have that experience for myself, I will do my utmost to create it for my child.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kristy’s Story

I'm only 36 now, but I have shared my story with so many groups and people that the trauma has been diluted by the years and retellings. The pain associated with the original events has been replaced by insight, understanding, and reframing. I have come to regard those aspects as more important than my story itself.

My father first approached me sexually when I was 13, the summer between seventh and eighth grade. I had been washing dishes, with my two younger sisters playing with Play-Doh at the kitchen table behind me. Without warning, my father came up to me from behind, put his arms around me, and thrust his hands down the front of my shorts. I was shocked not only because my father was touching me in a sexual way, but especially because I was mid-menstrual period and still adjusting to the teenage angst and awkwardness of wearing maxi-pads.

My first thought was to yell or to fight him off, but I didn't want to alarm my younger sisters, who were only 7 and 9. Instead, I slipped from his grasp and walked through our laundry room to the back door. He managed to stop me before I could walk out, restraining me by running one hand back down my shorts, fondling one of my breasts with the other, and kissing my neck as he rubbed his penis against my butt.

I gathered my wits, shoved open the door, and extricated myself from his grip. As I stared at him incredulously, he uttered the completely unoriginal but completely predictable line, "Don't tell your mother.” What he hadn't bargained for was my quick response of, "That's exactly what I intend to do." I brushed by him back into the house to find my mother. He made no attempt to stop me.

I found my mother in an upstairs bedroom vacuuming out a closet. She was a high school teacher who used her summer breaks to catch up on housework. Later I came to realize cleaning was part of her unconscious strategy to keep busy enough to avoid dealing with more pressing household problems.

I turned off her sweeper and told her, "Your husband just put his hands down my pants." Although he was my biological father, at that moment I couldn't seem to bring myself to call him 'dad' or 'father." It was a feeble attempt to create some distance between him, me, and the event that had just transpired. Mom's reaction brought me back to the here and now.

"Are you sure?" I was more stunned by her question than I had been by my father's inappropriate sexual behavior.

"Of course I'm sure," I responded. "Why would I make up something like that?” But the damage had been done. She had managed to wipe out 13 years of mother/daughter trust with three words. Twenty-three years later, I still have not reassigned to her the trust she lost from me that day.

To her credit, Mom did stop cleaning the closet and went to find my dad. I have no idea what she said to him, but she immediately came back into the house and called a mental health clinic in a nearby city and got them an appointment for later that day. Mom took my sisters and me to my maternal grandmother's house a mile down the road, where they spoke in hushed tones for most of the rest of the morning. Not once did she ask me how I felt or even offer a platitude, such as, "Everything will be okay."

My older sister, 15, had spent the night at a friend's house. My mother called there and told the parents to drop her off at Grandma's instead of at our home. When she arrived, my mother took her aside, whispered what had happened, and she burst into tears. It turned out my father had been violating her sexually for the past two years, but she had been scared and honored his request to not tell anyone. My reporting of Dad's incestuous behavior had forced her secret out in the open. Instead of feeling relieved, she resented me for it. "See all the trouble you've stirred up," she hissed. "You and your big mouth."

Mom and Dad went to see the counselor later that day in what was to be both their first and last visit. Dad spent the night in a trailer we had set up by the lake at the back of one of our farms. He was back at the table the next morning for breakfast, sitting in his usual chair. It must have been some therapy session, to have "cured" the problem in only one hour. Even my 13-year-old's sensibilities bristled at the notion. Nothing was said about the previous day's incident. I found this unbelievable and maddening. My father emerged unscathed; while I became the villain for reporting he had molested me. Back in 1977, awareness of and treatment for child sexual abuse was virtually non-existent. The resources simply weren't in place to handle reporting and prosecution of the perpetrators, let alone counsel the victims. I had done what I could to the best of my knowledge and ability: I had told a trusted adult. Unfortunately, I had no control over what she did or did not do with the information.

Home life grew increasingly stressful. It was awful to live with someone who had molested me and my sister, especially when he knew nothing was going to happen to him for what he had done. Why shouldn't he try it again? I started carrying a knife with me everywhere. Bathing was especially traumatic, as we had two doors on the bathroom and neither of them locked. Part of me worried he would try and touch me again, while another part dared him to so I could have the satisfaction of using the knife.

In addition to being sexually abusive, my father was physically abusive. He always had been. When his temper flared, he would cuss a blue streak, throw things, and hit people. Naturally, I was his favorite target. While I could not prevent him from striking me, I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of crying when he did. It was one of the few family power struggles I won, if you could call it winning.

Once I tried to talk to my mom about taking us away from there to live somewhere else. Okay, what I asked her was, "Why don't you divorce the son of a bitch?” She looked at me as if I were crazy and asked me what people would think if she did that to my father. "He's worked so hard to buy these farms. It wouldn't be fair to make him lose them in a divorce." The irony of the situation didn't escape me. She was more concerned with the opinions of others and my father's career than she was with the safety of her own children.

About the only thing I had control over in my life was my attitude. I threw myself into my studies at school, sports, band, piano lessons, quiz bowl, student council, and anything else that would take me out of the house. To the rest of the world, I appeared to be a healthy, fun-loving, talented child. I did what I was asked around the house and farm, but treated my parents with a barely-concealed contempt. It was my way of creating distance between them and me. For their part, when my parents grew frustrated at me or feared I might share the family's secrets with outsiders, they would threaten to send me to the local juvenile home. I think they reasoned the threat of being sidelined from my school activities would make me more compliant. In truth, my real fear was that my father would take advantage of my absence and molest one of my younger sisters. I felt as if I were walking a tightrope. I reined in my blatant contempt for them and settled into a routine of quiet distain and bitterness.

My attitude effectively kept my parents at bay and restricted my father from trying to molest me again, save a couple of occasions. Both times I let him know to leave his hands off of me. I have no idea if he continued to molest my older sister, as she has never talked about it, except in the vaguest of terms. Ironically, Dad insisted on giving us dating advice. He would make comments like, "Men are only after one thing." Never one to miss an opportunity, I replied, "You should know."
I spent several years hating men and as a teen and young adult took great malice in sexually attracting men, using them, and then dropping them once they became emotionally attached to me. My over-sexualized behavior, along with the development of anorexia and bulimia shortly after I was molested, are now regarded as textbook indicators of underlying sexual abuse. But back then, I had no idea they were compulsive coping mechanisms.

To say I developed "control issues" would be an understatement. I had learned at 13 that I could trust neither men nor women. It was a disturbing revelation that led me to be highly independent. Most of the men I met and seemed intent on hurting (before they could hurt me, of course) were actually nice guys whom I had attracted via my good qualities. Even though that registered intellectually with me, I never allowed the knowledge to penetrate the tight hold I had on my emotions. I wanted to be close to people, but feared if I let them get close they would betray me as my parents had.

This changed when I was 23, following a vicious argument I got into with my older sister, whose family lives on the farm across the street from my parents' farm. I don't even remember what we were fighting over, but she had phoned my dad and told him I had come over and caused trouble with her. When I walked back to my folks' place, he stormed out the front door, eyes blazing, and punched me in the shoulder without asking any questions. I felt so angered by his aggression that I shoved him backward and kicked him. He yelled at me to leave his property. I surprised both of us when I yelled back; "I don't have to follow orders from anybody who would molest his own children."

My words completely took the wind out of his sails. His reply was, "Whew, I can't believe you still think about that." I turned and began the litany I had unconsciously been formulating for 10 years. "I think about it every day. I think about it every time I meet a nice man and can't let myself trust him. I think about it every time I'm afraid to think about having children because someone like you might molest them. I think about it every time when I wish I'd gone away to college instead of commuting from home so I could protect my younger sisters from you. I think about it every time I can't let myself relax and enjoy life like other people seem to be able to."

Those are just a few of the comments I recall from my rant. But as I rambled, my older sister walked over from her house, sobbing, and put her arms around me. My father suggested we not talk about it any more, but I told him I had waited 10 years to say these things and he was going to start listening to me RIGHT NOW. Inside my mother's kitchen, where Dad had initially molested me, I told both him and my mother how little respect I had for them and how their behavior had negatively affected my life and limited my choices. I told them I was sick of carrying around their secrets and tired of being blamed when I had in fact been the victim. It was the first honest communication we'd had in years and all of us ended up crying. As a result, part of the family burden was lifted.

Over the next four years, I was able to rebuild my relationship with my father. I learned he had grown up in a highly dysfunctional environment and that his alcoholic father and one of his brothers had also been sexually inappropriate toward other family members. I would love to be able to say we established the kind of love and trust that usually develops between characters toward the end of Disney films, but that was not the case. I was able to care about and enjoy Dad from the perspective of a competent adult who is no longer vulnerable because she knows her strengths, weaknesses, and options. And unlike many women, I did get to hear from him the most highly coveted phrase: "I'm sorry."

A longtime smoker, my father died of lung cancer when I was 27 and he 56. I truly miss him and the relationship we had developed. Despite molesting me and my sister, he had lots of admirable qualities. At the time he died, I had not yet had children, so I was spared announcing the decision I had made long ago: Dad would not be allowed access to my children unless under my direct supervision. I might not be able to alter history, but I could prevent it from repeating itself.

My relationship with my mother hasn't improved much. On the rare occasions when I have brought up her role in my childhood drama, she still defends herself for not protecting us. Her explanations today ring as hollow as they did then. Through my adult eyes, I see her fear, helplessness, and ineffectiveness as deeply embedded character flaws that influence her behavior in most areas. As a child I took her reactions and inaction personally. As an adult, I know they say more about her than about me.

From hearing and reading other women's sexual abuse stories, I know mine is not at the severe end of the spectrum. Many women had it much worse over a much longer period of time, frequently at the hands of multiple perpetrators. But I think we are bound together by the universal feelings of fear, distrust, and betrayal that have continued to affect our outlooks and relationships long after the sexual abuse stopped. As when a nuclear bomb is detonated, the fallout/exposure is worse than the initial explosion.

I've spent money on therapy and time in support groups to deal with the effects of growing up in a sexually dysfunctional family. I stopped this guided exploration of my past in my late 20's because I found the process to be more recovery sabotaging than empowering. I found I'd researched more into sexual abuse dynamics than had most therapists and I tired of educating them at my expense.

Frankly, I can't regard my parents' behavior toward me as "victimization." I think the word "victim" implies an intent that was simply not there in my case and isn't there in most other sexual abuse incidents. I prefer the term "object of sexual abuse" because I think it more accurately reflects the objectification that must occur in order for the sexual abuser and his/her secrecy collaborators (i.e. my mother) to carry through with their selfish behaviors. I have come to view sexual abuse as an unhealthy way the abuser uses the abusee to get his/her needs met. A true victim is someone who was helpless in a situation. In my case, I did what I could to the best of my abilities to cope with what was going on. I didn't shut up and put up like my father requested and I used what options I had available.

I always wonder what a dramatic difference would be made if the first responder professionals in sexual abuse cases made it clear to the abusees that they were 'objects' versus 'victims.' They could actually tell someone, "It looks like you just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when someone tried to use you for their own sexual gratification.” Such a reframing would arouse a natural, healthy anger at being used, rather than induce shame. Surely it's more recovery enhancing to recognize you were more pawn than prey.

I also resist describing myself as a "survivor" of sexual abuse, for that implies a nobility of behavior that simply wasn't there. I only did what I could to get my needs met under less than desirable circumstances. Such is life.

Parenting is an arena where I can see the progress I have made in processing my childhood sexual abuse experience. There was a time when I vowed never to have children, probably because I feared what might happen to them at the hands of another family member or a perverted stranger. Then I went through a phase where I wanted to become a parent to a son or two, probably because I felt sons were somehow safer than daughters from potential sexual abuse. I'm now seven months pregnant for my first child and welcome the possibility of having a daughter. While I recognize I could not possibly prevent everything bad from happening to her, I feel I would transmit to her the resiliency to handle whatever life might send her way.

I don't spend a lot of time worrying about all the bad things that might happen. My time would be better spent developing healthy self-esteem with which to deal with life's uncertainties and misfortunes.

I visualize the medieval castles and how their moats were used as a perimeter defense to protect from outside attackers. I spent years cultivating a strong perimeter defense so others could not penetrate it and harm the part of me I hid inside. It was quite the screening process and required 24-hour vigilance. As a result, I was lonely and miserable in my safety. In that way I ended up victimizing myself.

I worked six years as a probation officer and in that time handled several cases involving sexual abuse. A lot of criminal justice and corrections employees have trouble dealing rationally with this population. But I believe I was able to proceed relatively objectively and comfortably with the perpetrators on account of my experiences with my father. I also did a counseling internship with an agency that treated sex offenders and other sex addicts. That further reinforced to me that they are more than just the sum of their deviant behavior. While I don't believe sexual addiction can be cured, I do believe it can be managed. And although my view is not popular among those who believe sex offenders should be taken out and shot, it nevertheless is informed by both personal and professional experience. How many people can say that? I fail to see where a polarized view of sex offenders as "evil" serves anyone.

My own sexual abuse and the pretense that surrounded it have given me very little tolerance for other kinds of secrecy. I was especially disturbed by the "don't ask/don't tell" posture adopted by the military with regard to gays in its ranks. Either let them in or keep them out, but stop pretending that what people know is going on isn't really happening. How unfair to purposely put people into the middle.

As a stepparent and mother-to-be, I know the quality of my relationships with the other sex is a reference point for how the children develop their own relationships. While my husband and I definitely have our moments, we demonstrate love, physical affection, and respect on a daily basis. This is something I never saw in my family of origin and had to learn largely through trial and error.

I believe that when I have my baby and begin to rear him/her I will pass on the characteristics of strength and insight so the child will be able to cope effectively with whatever and whomever life sends his/her way. I plan to communicate these concepts more through my actions than through my words.

When the child is old enough, I will make available my journals and other writings that speak to important emotional issues. More importantly, I will try to actively listen to and believe the concerns my child brings to me.

In addition to love, I plan to make trust and consistency the hallmarks of our parent-child relationships. For I know their loss is far more devastating than the physical violation of sexual abuse.