The following is taken from an email I received. I don't know the origin of it but what it says is so very valuable that I had to post it here.
A staggering 65 percent of women experience some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime. This week, Katie Wise opens a 3-part Mother’s Advocate series about survivors of abuse giving birth. She courageously shares her personal story and insights for other women who’ve survived, and for the people who care for them.
“Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding” — Kahlil Gibran
There’s a club that no one wants to join. Yet, more than half of all women will join this club at some point in their lives. There is no mark, no mascot, and no handshake. In fact, you could be standing next to another member and never know it. But every once in a while, in the right setting, a woman tells another woman she is part of the club. And then there is the knowing moment, the held eye contact, the smile to say, “I know, I’m a member too.” The members of this club are sexual abuse survivors.
Each member has a distinct journey and copes differently, but somewhere along the way, many of these women miraculously open their hearts (and bodies) again — to deep love, to partnership, and sometimes to pregnancy. For many sexual abuse survivors, preparing to give birth is a moment of truth. To get to this point, there has already been deep healing. But now, this healing may be put to the test. A full-grown newborn baby is about to navigate its way through her body, through her pelvis, and through her most sacred places — to make its way into the world. This shy, sexual place — with all its pain, secrets and stories — is about to be turned inside out. Everything is about to come into the light as she opens to the most profound, chosen violation a woman’s body may ever experience. I use the term “chose violation” here for a reason; of course our baby is not truly violating us, but I can think of few things in life that provide such an intense opening, tearing, and out-of-control feeling as birth. To every cell in our body, this could feel like a violation. And for members of this secret club, the feeling of violation is even more possible.
I am a member of this club.
My story is unimportant here — better than some, worse than others — a story of being manipulated, being controlled, and having my body used by someone else without my permission. By the time I was pregnant, I felt I had done my due diligence on the story. I had packaged it up in some deep closet in my being — safe, sound, sleeping. I had supported other survivors giving birth as a doula, and knew all about the questions to ask them. I would make sure they had talked to their partner, their care provider, anyone else who would be at the birth. I helped them identify potential triggers, and ways to cope if things came up. I, however, had done none of this for myself.
I became preoccupied with avoiding a cesarean birth.
Having seen 130 births before having my own, I knew this was common. Most women feel pretty strongly about avoiding a cesarean. But thanks to my therapist, who asked me to do some artwork around my fear of cesarean, I was able to dive deeper. As I drew the details of cesarean birth, which I vividly recalled from my experiences assisting other women through cesarean — the blue sterile drape, the medical instruments, arms strapped to the table with restraints, doctors in masks — my therapist asked, “What about this image is themost scary for you?” And there it was … the restraints. More than the incision, more than the blood, the anesthesia, the scalpel — it was the restraints. And like a time traveler, I was thrown back to another time and place — my wrists bound, my scared naked body, and the eyes of my perpetrator looking cold and devious. A flood of tears erupted, and suddenly I remembered: I was a survivor.
I needed to treat myself as I would my clients — with care, consciousness and awareness. In that moment, I was waking up to what it meant to be a survivor giving birth. This was not a time for activism or public outrage. This was a time for opening to the softness, the feminine, the mystery, and the hurt inside of my core as a woman. Needless to say, our session went a little over. When the tears subsided, we returned to the art — slowly adding light, adding God, taking the masks off the doctors, and giving them smiles instead. Taking one hand out of the restraints, and adding last, but not least, the miracle of the day — the baby. My baby.
As I walked home that day, I knew that the trauma-evoked fears were healing. By looking the dragon in the face, I experienced a new-found freedom. I knew I would no longer need the lesson of a cesarean, or any other specific birth outcome to teach me something. Nor would my fears cause my body to shut down. And I knew if a cesarean birth was what my baby truly needed, that I could meet it with grace and consciousness. I also knew I had a lot of work to do.
I needed to talk to my care providers and my husband about my past, and more specifically how it might affect my present.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do as survivors before we give birth is to tell our story. If you’re not close with your care provider, you may choose to have your partner join you for the conversation and focus on the facts: “I’d like you to know this about me. You don’t have to fix anything, but here are some things that I need you to do. Tell me before you do anything physically to my body so I can be prepared for what to expect. Avoid the following words: ‘Trust me,’ ‘relax,’ etc.” If you are closer to your care provider, you might choose to really let them into your story, to open yourself to their healing words and presence. I believe working with someone like a midwife or a very compassionate doctor who will take the time to listen is especially important for survivors.
If there are certain words that your perpetrator used, make sure everyone who will be at your birth knows to avoid those words. If you’d like to avoid unnecessary vaginal exams, communicate that. If you need to have one hand free from the restraints in a cesarean birth, put that in your paperwork. With preparation, compassion and communication, your birth can be a profound place of finding your voice — and speaking up for that little girl or young woman inside of you.
Next, I decided to identify the vast differences between abuse and birth.
If birth could feel like a violation, how would I tell my body that it was different — that there was a purpose? I searched for the differences.
Permission, a profound difference: I was choosing to allow this baby to spread my pelvic bones wide as I welcomed him into my arms.
Love, another big difference: This baby was an act of love, as is giving birth.
Protection: The people around me, as opposed to my perpetrator, were there to protect and support me.
Power: I gave birth. I actively worked with my baby to create a miracle. Very different, indeed.
I am happy to say that when I did give birth, although it was not easy in any way, it was not violating. And although I felt there were forces much bigger than me at work, I never felt out of control. In fact, the moment of pushing and helping my baby navigate my pelvis was the most wonderful moment of the whole experience. There was not an ounce of that old story. Instead, a new story was being written, cell by glorious cell. As my baby pressed into the walls of my being, pressing impossibly wider with every push, the old story seemed to be forced right out with him. There was no room for the story of a small, voiceless victim. This was a place of power, of divine strength. This was a place where miracles happened. This was a place of the beginning of another person’s life — and a small man, to boot. This small, perfect boy was remapping the way for me, showing me what this part of my body was all about. And, he was teaching me about trust. That yes, I could be violated, could give way, could tear in two — all in a glorious celebration of what life is all about.
Finally, a place of peace.
Ultimately, after my birth, I healed. The small tear healed, the heavy pelvic floor feeling healed, the bleeding stopped, and I was new. Something had shifted again — so powerfully this time that I knew my membership status had changed. Of course, I was still a member. I always will be. But I could feel that the guilt was gone, and in its place was a desire to help others find this “reset.” To make sure that birth is more than just a place to manage and make sure we are not triggered, but a place to dismantle the entire trigger itself. And as I held my perfect little man in my arms — both of us tired and weeping — I wanted to thank him, over and over again, for showing me love, for showing me my strength, and for being part of my healing. I Will Survive (Thoughts on Survivors Giving Birth)mothersadvocate | January 3, 2010 at 10:00 am | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: http://wp.me/pS1Mk-7N From a young age, Katie had a passion for and trust in the experience of birth, inherited from her father who caught more than 300 babies, including Katie! At 13, she had the honor of witnessing a natural childbirth at Boulder Community Hospital, and was in awe. Katie believes that women’s bodies have the wisdom to give birth, and her purpose in supporting and educating pregnant women is to uncover and foster that instinct and faith. Please visit Katie’s site to read her blog or find more information.