This subject, which effects so many silent victims, is a hard one to approach. The damage is not only physical. It is mental, it is emotional, it effects the very spirit. Even for those who seek therapy, it can take a lifetime to heal – some people never heal.
For birthing women, this subject becomes even more complicated. Sexual abuse can leave a stigma in the woman’s own mind about herself, her body, and possibly even her baby. I know – I am a survivor of abuse myself. In the BWF Support Group, and in other places on the internet, I have answered questions for women about how to progress through pregnancy and birth with a history of abuse, and January was kind enough to let me write a guest post so that we can reach a larger audience.
Pregnancy and Birth are supposed to be a joyous and life-changing experience. You are growing a life within, your body changes and grows, and you birth a new generation into the world. A beautiful thing. But sexual abuse can change your outlook. It can change a beautiful experience into a struggle without the right support and a compassionate care provider.
My abuse occurred when I was young, at the hands of a relative. Someone I was supposed to trust, someone who said they loved me. For many years I felt as though my body was a dirty place and that it was something that I deserved. Many hours of therapy later, and supportive family, close friends, and my wonderful husband – I thought I had finally healed. I thought I had moved on. Never could I imagine that after trying for two years to conceive that my wished for pregnancy would make everything resurface.
After finding out we were pregnant, we began to search for a midwife. I knew, long before we conceived, that a midwife was the only way for me (barring medical need) – and preferably not in a hospital. Apart from the research I had done into the safety of out-of-hospital birth I just knew, in my gut, that a hospital would cause my labor to stop. Having people in and out of the room, with my vagina wide open and on display – I just couldn’t even imagine going through that.
We found our amazing midwife and during one of my first prenatals, she asked if I was an abuse victim. I answered yes, she noted it in my chart and asked if I would like to speak about it in relation to birth. I told her no, thinking that it would not be an issue for me.
The feelings of fear and shame did not surface until about half way through my pregnancy. I started to lactate and during an intimate moment with my husband, milk leaked. I immediately broke down and just cried, “My body is not mine!” From there, it was as if the flood gates opened. All the old fears came back. All the old feelings of not being my own person, of being used, of being broken. Everything I thought I would never feel again.
From that moment on – I knew I had to take control. Not control of birth (who can do that – it is a wild ride!), but I had to take control of my emotions. My midwife highly suggested Hypnobirthing to all her clients, and though I could not afford a class, I got a book and did the home study. I practiced each night, learning to imagine my body as a beautiful, working thing. Imagining my body opening, pure and clean, and almost magical. The actual language used in the tracks talk about your body being clean, healthy, and beautiful. It could not have been more perfect for my situation. I learned to control my fears and feelings – not hide them, not dismiss them – but master them. Slowly but surely I regained my joy.
Every night during my practice, I thought about how this birth would heal me. How this birth would prove once and for all that I was not a broken person, and that the abuse did not break the most womanly part of me. When my son moved through and out of me, he would “clear out” all the pain of the past. That from that moment on, I would only associate joy with my body.
Months later, I hit 37 weeks – on Christmas. I just knew that my son was coming soon, even though the midwife thought he would stay put a while longer. At 37+4, my son was born into joy – my labor and the birth – it was pure magic. I truly feel like my own person once more, without a stigma of pain and doubt. The support of my husband and my midwife were instrumental – not having vaginal checks without my permission, not invading my space, and the understanding of everyone in the room that this was something I had to do on my own. This was my personal mountain to climb, in more ways than one.
For those who have been there – or those who will be one day – I reach out to you. Imagine my sisterly hug around your neck, and know that you are not alone. There are people out there who understand and who will treat you with respect in your pregnancy and birth.
Words of Encouragement:
YOU choose your birth place – be that home, hospital, birth center, or a field of cows – you birth where you feel comfortable.
Choose a care provider who understands your feelings and past. What is important to you – reduced vaginal checks, or not having any at all? Being able to push in a position where your vagina will not be “on display” (such as squatting or side lying, or birthing in a tub)?
Find your own way of being at peace with your feelings. For me, it was Hypnobirthing. Research your options and find something that lets you feel peace. That can even mean just promising yourself to “go with the flow” and be in the moment. Therapy is available as well, from traditional practitioners as well as many doulas (who generally have training in abuse/trauma in relation to labor).
Don’t ignore the feelings – ignoring them will only create an environment for them to fester. Talk to someone – be that a therapist, your care provider, a friend, family member, or your partner. Even getting the emotions out on a private forum can be healing. Just knowing that the feelings are “out there” and that someone knows and listened.
Create a positive environment around your pregnancy and birth – watch positive videos, read positive stories. Positive energy has a way of spreading through your life.
Create a support system for after the birth as well. PPD can hit those who have already had traumatic experiences, and having support can help keep it away or catch it early.
And finally – Love yourself. This can be the hardest thing to do, but it has amazing effects.
*Mama Bice is a wife, mother, and aspiring midwife. Her personal areas of interest are in birth, breastfeeding, and Harry Potter. Having had a natural out-of-hospital birth already, and planning home births for her future children, she believes that an empowering birth experience (no matter where it takes place) is important for every mother and family. Her feisty side comes out at times, but compassionate support is her goal.
*sisterly hug* *tearing up* This is a beautifully written piece. Thank you for sharing something so intimate and powerful.
I think it is wonderful that this is a subject that is being addressed. I am not from a typical abuse situation in that my situation occured in marriage to a spouse. Something about a person being married and so many immediately think that one should be subject to the desires of the spouse. Or even in a committed relationship. I have gone through 2 pregnancies alone now… Alone in not having that partner who shares in the joy that growing a baby should bring. I’m currently in my 2nd one alone. This baby came from a date rape situation. Yes, I have family around. But I am not convinced that others can truly replace that desire and need for the partner’s presence. It is a strange feeling to desire that intimacy and joy from people and at the same time to despise having what is available to you. I had every aspect thrown at me when I found out I was pregnant… Abortion, adoption, even being told to beg God to let the baby die. And honestly, I am really tired of people telling me how much they respect me keeping and rearing the baby alone. Yes, its a hard journey. One I deal with daily. And while it is meant as encouragement, I know, it is really just a reminder of what happened. What I cling to is hope that my birthing experience with her will bring healing as it did for you. Thank you for your story. I relate to so many feelings.
Thank you for this.
well said. I had a similar experience, and had a similar resurfacing with my first pregnancy, I also did hypnosis, and had a very pleasant, easy and extremely fast home birth. Unfortunately with this pregnancy I had a repressed memory of sexual abuse from a very young age resurface, so I get to clean that one out with this baby’s birth!
1 in 4 are sexually abused (likely more, not everyone admits to it), it’s sad that society looks on it as though the survivor of the abuse did something dirty or wrong.
Thank you for sharing!
As a survivor of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, I should have prepared better for my birth. I did do hypnobirthing, and an out-of-hospital birth, but I just pushed my emotions and feelings away, and tried to focus on anything else. I wish I had had this article before I had my son, I wish I had know how much pain it would drudge up being a new mom and going through all the changes. Some days I have good days, but lately more days are bad. the only advice I can give is if you have been hurt, make sure you build a loving support system around you, do a fear release session, just hit the problem head on. I have never felt more vulnerable than holding my baby, having him loll into my eyes and know he depends on me for everything.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been blessed enough to experience the same wonderful “cleansing” when I birthed my second born at home. Although I never knew I really needed it until AFTER the fact. I had always had some personal sexual issues that I always blamed on my past abuse, and just kind of thought I would eventually “get over it”. After having a pretty traumatic hospital birth with my first son, I chose to do things differently with my second. I found a wonderful midwife and my husband was an incredible support. When he was born, I just remember thinking to myself, “I can do this. This is normal. I am not broken anymore.” And now, 8 months later, my life has never been so good. I truly believe that having him at home is exactly what I needed, and I am so thankful I to have this experience to carry with me and think back on whenever I look at my baby 🙂
thank you for sharing
I have no conscious memories of abuse but I can totally relate to everything in here. I’ve felt the feelings you’ve described for as long as I can remember. During my hospital birth with my previous baby my midwife subjected me to a painful cervical exam that I did NOT consent to – I was bullied into it. It compounded the feelings I’ve always struggled with of not ‘owning’ my body.
Right before my homebirth, I suddenly had a panic attack about how many people I’d invited to be there – two midwives, a student midwife, a friend, my sister and mother. I needed reassurance that they were all on my side and would respect my body, my space, my decisions. I contemplated not calling the midwives nor anyone else when I went into labour and doing it with my husband and mother alone. With this reassurance, I went into labour and had no qualms about stripping naked (I wanted to latch my baby immediately without clothes in the way) and getting into my pool. It was my protective circle. He was born quickly, before the midwives could make it. I couldn’t have hoped for a better birth, and I feel (somewhat) healed and a stronger woman for it. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
Thank you so much for writing such a strong and intimate experience with us. I have never been through abuse but as a beginning doula I want to learn as much about how it could affect what I am doing as possible. It’s articles like this that let me know just being in the room and offering my presence as support instead of any usual touch/comfort measures might be best. It’s such a hard thing to ask individuals as a health care professional but I would much rather offend/make uncomfortable a few people than miss someone who might need something completely different from me. I hope everyone who has been through abuse and is bravely dealing with their feelings during pregnancy can achieve a wonderful birth experience like yours.
thank you so much for sharing this with us.
tears are coming outh during the riding. Is not so easy to find people that understand you,in your little problems.
I wish to know more yang woman like me,with the same situation or similar.
My biggest question is What are the feeling during pregnancy if a woman is waiting a baby from here executioner?
P.S. not my case.
Send you a big hug and Hope you have found your cure with love of your baby.
Thank you so much for sharing this experience. It must have been very difficult to come out and openly write about this, and it is so amazing that you did. Congratulations on your baby and your birth experience!
There is a little-known but very helpful book on this subject, called When Survivors Give Birth by the famous doula Penny Simkin. I believe ALL health care providers having anything to do with birth should read this book!
I was abused by a doctor sexually when I was very young… I am now 22 weeks pregnant with my first child and struggling very much getting through every step to birth. Even though I go to a mid-wife practice each appointment has been frustrating because the midwife pressures me to do unnecessary invasive exams.
I did have a complete check up when I first learned I was pregnant with a MW I had been a patient of for years– unfortunately she does not do deliveries. I had a panic attack going through that exam (despite years of therapy, I have always used Xanax to get through these–not possible pregnant). I had to change practices to go to a MW that does deliveries, and is the only birthing center in the state.
The new place really wants to do their own physical and very invasive pelmetrey. Each appointment I have to very firmly and repetitively decline these redundant and not medically necessary exams usually to the point I break down in tears. It is a shared practice so I do not have the luxury of having my own MW (a trend that is the norm now everywhere, I understand). I feel so frustrated and not understood as I have to explain again and again that I am declining these exams. I tell my husband how being pregnant and feeling life inside me is so amazing until I have to go to my MW visits…and then I just wonder how in the world I am going to get through this.
Thank you for your piece. I was working on getting my hypno-birth classes scheduled, but now I won’t delay anymore! I appreciate what you have said here more than you can imagine.
Ironically, the MW practice that I am complaining about here is the one that posted your blog. I hope the someone who posted this–will be present at my birth or will help others at this practice be understanding. There has to be someone there who will be more understanding than I have experienced so far. Having people who have lived through traumatic experiences– having to plead their case to decline invasive exams at every visit seems cruel. It is not that hard to write a note in a chart– and have each practitioner actually read it, and try to provide personalized medical attention.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with this for a very long time. I’m absolutely terrified of pregnancy and birth – how my body will change, that it will no longer be mine, the invasiveness, the scary feelings in my vagina, the dirty feelings. Thank you for this post; if you have any other insight, I truly hope that you post it for those of us who desperately need it. I don’t want to be afraid anymore.
I am a fifty year old woman, and last year I was experiencing some panic attacks. I went to see a Doctor and he insisted on doing a pelvic exam and Pap smear, even though I am not sexually active and I have had a complete hysterectomy. He shoved a big stick up into my vagina and scraped up inside of me so hard that I was having bowel spasms for a week ( very painful). Then he proceeded to tell me not to scream because it hurt, but to breathe heavy like I was having intercourse. Then he stuck his hand up into my Vagina and said “you have an empty box” and proceeded to laugh and make a joke about it.
If you are not comfortable with you health practitioner, get out of there. It is worse when you are trying to have a baby and some idiot is not listening to you. Beware of Doctors who try to bully you. And they will keep bullying you if you dont make them stop or find another provider. My Doctor Raped me with his hand in his office with the nurse watching. If you dont feel comfortable with someone for any reason…. change Doctors!! Do it now!!!
Tamera M Weis RN
Kathleen–Please report that physician to the County Medical Board, any hospital where he has privileges, and on any on-line boards for women in your area.
On your official complaint form do not say that he raped you with his hand—say “the exam felt to me like I was being raped.” While they can refute the “rape claim” they CANNOT refute the way it made you feel.
Women in your area NEED you to tell your story.
you have experianced a horrific ordeal. please report this doctor for his actions
Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve started with hypnobabies, but really need to be more diligent about it.
I now have hope that it will help me through this birth. I’m all teary after reading this. Thank you.
I am a firm believer in sharing experiences to support others, this post was beautifully written. No one knows what someone is going through, until they have shared a similar experience! I am sure that your words have helped many women to feel more at ease during a time that is life changing.
Congrats to you!
Great post! This is the same birth center I had my daughter at!
i was assult 3 years before i had my son. it was something i thiught i had managed to brush under that carpet. but every now and then it would creep up on me. it wasnt until after having my son (which wasthe pure and natural experiance i had always dreamed off) that i managed triumphantly to move past the asult with EMDR therapy. though bringing to light some raw hard memories it has now allowed me to realise i am a strong surviver. and i want to congratulate all those out there that have managed to move forward
This is such an important post, about a subject that no one in mainstream maternity care seems to be very aware of…let alone want to talk about.
Thank you for sharing your story and bringing this into the light.