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, February 16, 2010

Karin's Story

I am a survivor of multiple traumas. I was sexually assaulted multiple times as a teenager starting at age 12. I told no one for 20 years…the healing has been slow. In college, I lived in the highlands of Guatemala and was there when an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale occurred. Over 3,500 people in the town where I was living, including all of my neighbors died. The village only had a population of 10,000. I stayed to help reconstruct the town. Several years later I returned to find the death squads “disappearing” people from their beds as they slept and taking people off buses never to be seen again. From my Mayan friends I learned how important it is to laugh, to dance and to cry together when all seems to be dark.

Birth. I stood in the shower shaking and crying and with each contraction there was an even greater release. It was as if the earthquake were passing through my entire body. I was not fearful, it was healing. The energy was so strong it was all I could do to hold back…to wait until it was time to push. Finally, I was ready. I found a calm place deep inside and with everyone gathered around I slowly and quietly birthed my sweet baby...life not death.

Post traumatic stress disorder… it comes and it goes. It taps my shoulder and sends shivers of fear throughout my being, making me want to run, to protect myself and my children. It comes at both expected, and unexpected times. My experiences have given me strength and a deep sense of purpose. I have faced my own death and know that I am still here for a reason; I have important work to do…a reason for living. My experiences have helped me to put things in perspective. I am quite tolerant of life’s little trials and tribulations because in the bigger picture they simply are not very important.

Mothering. I think my life’s experiences have made me a patient mother. I take time to really enjoy my children, my work, and my garden. My children are still young – ages 10 and 12. I try to involve my children in our community in ways that make them feel empowered. We have adopted a creek and have joined other families to create a children’s wet meadow. I hope that being with people who care about making the world a better place will balance the pain and violence that also exists and will help them be resilient, purposeful and joyful people.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Holly’s Story

My husband and I chose to have a homebirth with a midwife and a doula. The labor was progressing quickly and my midwife explained that I was almost at 10 cm. I was excited that I would begin to push soon but then the contractions changed. The contractions became shorter and fewer. My midwife checked the dilation after about one hour and I had gone from almost 10 cm back to 6 cm. I did not realize this was even possible and I was upset by this. My midwife explained that this was most likely due to some fear I was experiencing and to try to let it go. I did not feel I was consciously aware of any fears I may be experiencing and the labor continued to slow down. My midwife appeared annoyed and she became persistent that the change in dilation was due to some fear inside of me. This was troubling to me because I felt she was blaming me for the change in the dilation, and I felt she was being pushy about her belief that this was due to fears inside me.

She seemed to be getting frustrated with me and said, “This most likely is due to the abuse from your past, you need to let it go.” This statement was extremely upsetting to me. The abuse I experienced had been told to my midwife in private and she said this comment in front of a doula whom I had chosen not to tell. Breaking this confidentiality made me feel even more vulnerable than I was already feeling. I was also very angry that the abuse I experienced was being discussed during the stress of labor. The reminder of the abuse added stress to an already stressful situation. It also seemed to be taking traumatic events in my life and making it into something casual, that I could just let go of so easily.

After the birth I began to notice many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which I have experienced in the past. I could not eat, I was having nightmares, I was hypervigilant, and very irritable. I would think often about my labor experience and would feel angry towards my midwife. I decided I needed to confront her on how I was feeling. I explained to her exactly how I was feeling and how I felt during the labor. She was very apologetic and explained to me why she was frustrated during my labor. Confronting my midwife helped with many of the post-traumatic stress symptoms I was having. I felt that I took control of a situation that was feeling out of control.