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.

No comments: