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, November 20, 2009

Sarah's Story

I don’t remember how old I was when my dad started fondling me. I know I was always a very shy and withdrawn child. My dad was a heavy drinker and also read and looked at pornographic magazines.

My mom tried to instill her values in her children. I have two sisters and one brother. I went to private school for eight years. We went to church regularly (just Mom and children – Dad didn’t go), and also to prayer meetings at my grandparents’.

It seems ever since I can remember, I’ve always been very shy. I did not have a friend in school until I was in third grade. I always remember feeling inferior to my classmates.

About the abuse, my dad never had intercourse with me. He would fondle me and tell me to put his finger where it felt good. He would look at and touch my vagina under the covers at bedtime. I think I struggled so much with my abuse because a lot of times it felt good.

I remember one time carrying a blanket to the TV room, hoping my dad would fondle me underneath. One night I remember my mom had gone to bed, and we were up watching TV, my dad pulling me aside in the hallway and whispering to me to put his finger where it felt good. I did.

Sometimes I dreaded him coming to our room at night because I knew what he was going to do. I think sometimes I would turn over or pretend I was asleep if I didn’t want him touching me. Then he would go and touch my older sister. Sometimes I welcomed him touching me because it felt good, but it did make me feel shameful. He never made me touch him or have sex with him. I don’t know if he got aroused while touching me. I never saw his penis.

I guess my older sister got tired of him doing that, and she told my mom. I will never forget the day my mom called me to her room because she needed to talk with me. I just couldn’t go. She called me again, and I remember her asking me if Daddy had been touching me, and I told her yes. I remember feeling so ashamed I just wanted to disappear. I guess I felt like I was the one to blame because at times it was enjoyable.

She said to tell her if he ever did that again, and asked if I thought she should divorce him. (I don’t remember her asking me the latter question, but she told me she did.) I said yes, and my sister said no. I must have been nine years old. I guess my mom confronted him, because he never touched me again. I remember him starting to spend time with my younger sister and I wondered if he were doing that to her now. He would also tease me and try to make me jealous of my younger sister.

After my mom talked with me, it was never discussed again. I tried to forget about it and go on with life. I remember always feeling like something was wrong with me, like I was damaged somehow and not as good or worth as much as other people.

I started to act out during my teen years. It started in eighth grade. I stopped trying. I was always a good student and got good grades, but I started hanging around with another girl who had a lot of problems and we got into a lot of trouble at school. We would smoke and try to drink, disobeyed the teachers and just acted defiant. We were asked not to come back to the school.

Ninth grade was one of the worst years of my life. In addition to already being a difficult time in a girl’s life, I had to make the transition to public school after being sheltered in a small, private school. It was culture shock, and I didn’t go to school for the first two weeks. I was so scared. I would feel nauseous every morning, and got sick a lot of times. I skipped a lot of school my ninth grade year. I don’t know how I passed, but I did.

I was in a special class for kids with emotional problems. We would smoke before school, and I started smoking pot.

My tenth grade year was better, but I still skipped classes and didn’t try very hard, although I did like high school. I failed that year and was held back. I finished half a year and quit.

My parents were very disapproving and said I had to get a job. I worked part-time at K-Mart. That didn’t last too long, six months at the most. I just wanted to party, get high and drunk and hang out with my friends.

I was also becoming very promiscuous. It started in eighth grade, maybe ninth. It was like I couldn’t say no to guys. I did not have a very good reputation and I was so ashamed of it. I knew I was a good girl, and I knew better, but I couldn’t say no. So many times I remember not wanting to have sex, but just going along with it. I even slept with my best friend at the time’s boyfriend.

I was very self-destructive. I really hated myself and the things I did. I would get depressed a lot and just sit in my room and cry, and wonder what was wrong with me. I knew, though, that it was related to what my dad did to me.

I remember wanting to talk about it, and I did share it with a close friend for the first time when I was 15, maybe. She cried for me, but I just sat there thinking I should be crying too. But I was too detached from my real feelings.

My depression grew, and I was out of control. My parents could not control me and wanted to try to scare me. I ended up in juvenile detention for a few days. I think that was the most depressed I ever was or would be. I cried all the time. The whole time I was there I cried because I knew I didn’t belong there. It was very scary.

After that, I think I tried to do better, but soon fell back into my old ways. I would stay out all night, and did not listen to my parents. I ran away twice, once in ninth grade and again when I was 15 or 16. The first time I did not even want to run away, but a girl I was a friend with at the time did. So, I just went along with her. I was sick I was so scared. I just wanted to go home. Luckily a few days later a girl talked me into calling my parents.

The second time I ran away, I called my parents to let them know I was okay. So, by age 16 and 17, I didn’t have a job, and I just partied all the time, trying to escape the terrible feelings I had about myself. We drank a lot, and smoked a lot of pot.

One day I had a bad experience. I mixed pot and a prescription drug. I thought I was going to die. After that, I didn’t want to smoke anymore. I started to clean up, and that’s when I started getting anxiety attacks. I thought I was going crazy. One day, in a state of depression, I took a handful of pills and lay down to go to sleep. Thank the Lord my sister came to my room a little later, and I told her what I did. My dad rushed me to the hospital. That’s kind of a blur, but that’s when I finally started to get help. I was in the psychiatric ward for a few days, I think, and I had to talk to a therapist. I would cut myself with razors and burn myself. I had slashes on my wrist at the time (not deep). That’s also when I started dealing with my dad’s drinking. I couldn’t tell the counselor about what he did to me. I had to go see someone either every week or every other week. That’s when I learned how my dad’s drinking affected me.

That and a bad experience with pot and prescription drugs started me on my road to recovery. I smoked pot while taking a prescription drug, and I thought I was going to die. I didn’t want to smoke or drink after that. Then I started getting anxiety attacks. I thought I was going crazy. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I was starting to deal with past issues, some things I didn’t have alcohol or drugs to escape, and I couldn’t suppress my emotions any longer.

My anxiety got very bad and I didn’t want to leave my house. I would get sick after I ate because my nerves were so bad, and I was scared. I started reading about anxiety, and keeping a journal. I tried to start doing good things for myself, taking better care of myself. I didn’t want to take medication for the anxiety because I was too scared, and had stopped seeing the counselor. I would make myself do things, like go to the store or mall, or just for a walk. Gradually I got a little better and was able to get a part-time job.

My mom and I also started to become close during this time. She would pray with me, support me, just loved me, and listened to me. I tried to find another job that I liked better and found a position as a nanny, watching a nine-month-old baby. I really enjoyed this, and it also enabled me to move out with my older sister. I had just turned 18.

I was still struggling with anxiety, but found a boyfriend I really liked. One night he told me he loved me, and I got really scared and didn’t want to see him anymore. I did, but I was scared because I wouldn’t allow myself to love him. I was scared of being hurt and of falling in love. Thankfully, a few months later, we got back together and we’ve been together ever since.

At first it was very hard. We moved in together, although I didn’t feel ready for that. I started to get anxious and depressed again, and started feeling suicidal again. I still had not dealt with the sexual abuse, although I had talked to my boyfriend about it. I even confronted my dad and asked him why he did that, and asked him if that happened to him when he was younger. He said not, that he was sorry, but that it was in the past. I didn’t feel any better after talking to him. I was reading, “The Courage to Heal,” and that’s why I did it.

One night I just broke down with my boyfriend and told him I wanted to die. I knew I needed to get help. I started seeing a counselor, talking about the abuse, and reading everything I could about sexual abuse. Just talking to someone about it helped a lot. I didn’t feel like I was hiding such a shameful secret anymore. I started to accept myself, and forgive myself.

My boyfriend got a job offer in a city about an hour from where we lived at the time (my parents too). So, we moved. A few months later I found out I was pregnant. We moved back and lived with my parents and at my grandfather’s winter home until we could afford our own place.

Having a healthy baby was definitely the most wonderful experience I’ve ever had. I felt fulfillment like I never knew. I felt important and needed. I loved her so deeply and strongly it scared me. I loved staying home with her and taking care of her. Two and a half years later, I was pregnant again. We married when I was almost three months pregnant with the first baby.

We moved again and started being a real family. I’m so happy now. I never thought life could be so wonderful. I have a great relationship with both my parents. I love them deeply, and have forgiven them. My husband has been very supportive of me.

I still get anxiety from time to time, but now very rarely. Last year I started getting anxiety again, and I had to re-evaluate my life and the impact the sexual abuse had on me. It was hard. I saw a counselor for a few months. I still wonder if at times I should continue to see a therapist, as I lack self-confidence and still feel inferior to others at times. Sometimes I feel like I can’t really be myself, like I don’t really know myself.

I’m growing, and I’ve made a ton or progress. I’ll be 30 this year. Looking back, I see how God protected me and helped me. He really loved me when I was a confused and troubled teenager and I would cry out to Him for His help. It wasn’t always easy. We would sing a song at church that went, “Something beautiful, something good, all my confusion, He understood. All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, but He made something beautiful of my life.” I would cry singing, because He did make something beautiful of my life. To God be the Glory!

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