I am a sexual abuse survivor and overcomer.
I have worked hard to face, address, heal from and overcome what has become a treacherous, inky black imprint on my past. I wasn’t expecting my first pregnancy to invoke any old memories or feelings, but it did.
I can’t tell you some magic formula that will guarantee that you are totally fine during pregnancy, but I can tell you what worked for me…
But first, a little history… I was abused for years as a child by a family member. For years I lived in denial, until my early 20’s when I finally acknowledged that I was hurting. I hid from it – terrified that the truth would squash me. Then I made it to college, where an encounter with a guy in my dorm turned a huge spotlight on my “problem.”
We had been casually hanging out. As I was leaving, he grabbed me by my shoulders and kissed me. Instantly I had a flashback of the very first time anything ever happened to me as a child. Darkness seeped into my mind as I felt myself fall into an emotional tornado of fear and memories. Now, let me just say that I can’t remember if how he grabbed me was actually forceful. At the time, I thought it was. At the time, I hadn’t faced any of this, so it took me completely by surprise.
I turned into a scared little girl who thought that she had no choice and no voice. I did things I wish I hadn’t because I was a prisoner in my own mind. Again, it might have been forceful, and it might not have. I can’t be sure because I didn’t have a clear, healthy mind at the time.
That’s the night that I finally said I had been molested out loud. I called my mother, told her a small part of my story, and she was devastated. I hated that I had this news to share. I couldn’t tell my father yet because I didn’t know if I would be ok. I asked my mother to keep it a secret, and she did for a year.
SUPPORTERS: This was the single, greatest gift my mother could have ever given me. By not telling my story, she allowed me to get some control back. She allowed me the time to process everything and be in control of my own story. This was very empowering.
About a year later, I was still living in severe emotional turmoil. I knew I was going to crash, even though I was trying to deal with everything. I thought I was addressing the issue, but in truth I was still hiding from my emotions.
That night, locked in my dorm room all alone, all the memories hit me like a brick wall. I couldn’t even really see the room I was in. All of the awful memories that I had been hiding from flooded my mind. I had flashback after flashback after flashback. And for the first time, I sobbed uncontrollably. I let myself cry and cry and cry without coming out of it – without stuffing it back down. I have no idea how long I sobbed. It was probably a few hours.
My predominant thought was, “This can’t be my life. This can’t be true. I can’t survive this. I just need someone to come in here and take all of this away and make it not true.”
And then after hours of crying and thinking I couldn’t survive… I had my first shift. “Yes, you can survive this. You are going to be ok. You can handle this.”
I had allowed myself to grieve, for the first time. Releasing my feelings is exactly what I needed to do. It was my first real step to recovery.
I called my father the next day and I told him because I finally knew I would be ok. I knew he needed me to be ok before he could know.
Then I told my grandmother, and I finally felt free for the first time. I was 20.
I tried therapy, but I never found the right person. Fast forward several years, and I knew I was still a mess. I had so many issues, and I had trouble sleeping. I was having nightmares all the time.
Enter my savior – my great friend, Jean.
She had been through a similar experience, and had survived. She told me what books to read, and we did exercises and activities every day that helped me to heal. Slowly I started putting myself together. Without her getting involved, chances are I might still be struggling today.
I signed up for an EFT program, and I healed in leaps and bounds over a 6 month period. I could feel the emotions lifting and releasing, one at a time. It was incredible. (The link is good, but part of the technique is to first love and accept your feeling as it is, then release the feeling, then replace that feeling with how you want to feel.)
I felt like I had really made a ton of progress. (It took 5-6 years for me to feel fully recovered.)
Before I even started trying to have a baby, I knew I needed to find the right solution for myself around birth. I needed the right team so that I could feel safe. I remembered seeing The Business of Being Born, and I remembered that I had options, so I began researching everything.
I found a birthing center about an hour away, and I felt like that would be a good fit for me. I went to check it out and talked with a midwife. Wow, what an experience that was! I told her my story and my issues, and she actually listened. She didn’t act like she was annoyed or in a hurry; she listened. She congratulated me for ending the cycle of abuse and for claiming my power.
She told me that I would be fine from now on because she could do all of my internal exams. (I didn’t believe her, but she proved me wrong, thankfully.)
She helped me come up with a plan, which was just what I needed. She gave me the book, Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskins, and she forbade me from reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I told her my biggest fears: that I didn’t want to be naked in front a bunch of people, and I didn’t want random hands checking me. She *really* understood and respected me.
Having some control and a plan helped me feel safe. Unfortunately, the birthing center closed before I even got pregnant. I was devastated, but made an appointment with her at the center so she could do my pap smear before I was pregnant.
She talked to me about my new options , and I thought long and hard about them. When I finally got pregnant, I went to check out all of those options. I considered a home birth, but I live so far away from a hospital, that it made me nervous – just in case anything was wrong with the baby.
I decided to follow “my” midwife to the hospital.
There were 3 other midwives I had to get to know because any of them could be on call when I had my baby. Insert panic attack.
But I did it – I made appointments with each of them, and I went through everything with them, and I felt they all understood. They had also had meetings about me to ensure that everyone was on the same page.
I felt safe and respected. I felt taken care of.
So the time came when I had to face the possibility that I would have flashbacks during labor, particularly if there were any burning sensations (which is almost a guarantee).
My body was kind enough to burn ahead of time, so I learned to just live with burning for hours at a time. I think this was helpful though, albeit really un-fun. I wasn’t burning because of abuse; I was burning because my body was stretching and preparing to have a baby. This is a wonderful reason for burning. I kept telling myself that. It was like emersion therapy, and I learned to handle the sensation. “This hurts, but no one is hurting you right now. This is part of having a baby.”
I did visualizations of myself in the delivery room, and I pictured him and I said to him in my mind, “You are not allowed in my delivery. I have come too far and worked too hard for you to ruin this for me. You are NOT allowed in my delivery.”
I had another shift, and I just felt like I would be ok.
My midwife told me to come up with a code for my doula so that if I did have a flashback, I could let her know and she could inform everyone so that we could deal with it. They were prepared to potentially give me an epidural so that I could handle the emotional side of the burning.
I’m proud to say that I had no flashbacks during birth. I had declared my space and my power, and he did not come to my delivery. I did not allow it. We have so much more power than we realize.
The midwives protected me fiercely. I saw zero men when I was in labor. There was one midwife, one nurse, my doula and my husband in my room. And then every so often a different female nurse would bring supplies. There were no students, no strangers, no unkind people. I was fully supported and respected the entire time.
It was truly an empowering experience.
It’s not easy to losing control of your body – even throughout pregnancy. It was uncomfortable for me to watch my body change and have absolutely no control over what was happening to me. But I focused on the baby and our connection, and I remembered that she was counting on me. She was the reason I had worked so hard to get better, to do better. I had to embrace it for her, and there’s nothing a mother won’t do for her baby.
A book that really helped me was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Read this – even if you haven’t been abused. It’s amazing.
Now I’m trying to get pregnant again, and I am a little scared. Being out of control is not easy for me, but I’ve done it before and I know what to expect. Just like last time, “my” midwife has changed locations, so I’ve already gone and checked that out. I’ve already started coming up with a plan so that I feel safer. My wonderful doula has moved across the country, so I will need to find another one. I will ask my doula for recommendations when the time comes. I might ask her ahead of time just so I feel safe.
Yes, it’s a little ridiculous that I put things in place before I’m even pregnant, but it helped me to stay calm. It’s what I needed to do for myself. As I continue to put myself first and do what I need, I feel the little girl inside of me smile, and I tell her that I love her.
You’re allowed to do what you need, and you’re allowed to explore all of your options. Midwives have saved me in an entirely new way. I have found a community of support and love, and I go there for all of my exams. I no longer feel the need to bring someone with me for an internal exam because I know I am safe.
Find the right team. Trust yourself. Do what you need to feel safe. Love yourself. <3
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