I am hoping this is okay to post here. For any of you out there who might be bothered by this, this post contains mention of the existence of sexual assault in our society.
In processing my birth experience, I recently went back into therapy. I had a homebirth turned cesarean and was deeply traumatized. My therapist helped me link this trauma with some long-buried trauma over sexual assault in my past from an ex-boyfriend. It was something I never spoke about, a secret I kept for nearly a decade.
There are so many parallels I see now. I wanted a homebirth for tons of reasons. One of the biggest I think was that I wanted to be in my own space with people I knew. I wanted to be on my turf, I wanted to call the shots. I wanted to feel safe.
When we went to the hospital, that was gone. People touched me in my most private places roughly and without asking. My dignity was ignored, shattered, and I felt like everything was happening to me, no matter how I tried to fight.
I am wondering if there are any other survivors out there whose birth experiences triggered sexual assault trauma. Right now I just feel so alone in my journey with this, and I want to know that I'm not.
"The Mothers are the brave ones." - Call the Midwife
Partaria, although I haven't experienced what you described, your experiences sound similar others that people have shared with me or that I have read. You are not alone. I am so sorry for the traumas you've experienced and I am sending support to you.
I am a SA survivor as well. Breastfeeding was what really challenged my issues, not childbirth/c-section. Regardless, I am sending you support and strength around this and any future issues. You are doing the right thing by processing this with a trusted therapist. It's the stuff you don't talk about that can take you out. Keep working.
You may want to cross-post in the SA forum.
Take care, mama.
I got tired of my signature, but I still love my children and husband and miss my little brother.
Partaria, you are most definitely not alone. I'm so sorry you had to go through those ordeals. I think that for those of us who have survived SA, it is definitely not uncommon for birth trauma to trigger the previous SA trauma. The sense of vulnerability is just so close. This was definitely the case for me. My experience was different from yours in that in was my experiences during a homebirth that were the trigger, but I can very much relate to what you wrote about. (I mentioned my experience in the thread on 'Choosing a planned c-section after birth trauma', and there are also other stories there of birth trauma/SA trauma, if it would help you to read about others' experiences.)
I know it's a long journey, but I hope therapy and time help to bring you healing and peace.
Birth was deeply traumatic for me because of my SA history. DS is 3.5 and I still haven't totally come to terms with his birth but time has helped a bit. I haven't even touched this in therapy yet though, and I know I will have to eventually (hopefully before we have a second baby!)
I remember feeling completely invaded & violated. I had to have an epidural because I would not consent to vaginal checks (I couldn't handle them, my OB did try) and after I had the epidural I could still feel everything going on but had even less control... At one point she for some reason had her hand inside me while I was pushing and I kept telling her to stop and she would not. Same thing when she was sewing me up (at which point she also yelled at me). I don't really remember much of the birth itself because I was so dissociated. And then I ended up with social workers following me around because they wrote in my chart that I didn't have a normal happy response to my baby's birth (duh... I was completely dissociated, not to mention he was born not breathing so I thought he was dead, when exactly was I supposed to be crying those happy tears they wanted to see?) Being in that hospital was probably the worst possible place for me to be during birth/post-partum.
Yikes I didn't mean to get into it that much, I really just wanted to share that I understand and send you a big hug...
hugs partaria, crunchymommy, and everyone else on this thread. I'm so sorry that we have all had to deal with this issue. And crunchy... you won't think that what you wrote was long after you see what I wrote....lol :)
I noticed that for me, when it comes to dealing with my body in pregnancy, a lot of my old messages from my childhood/young adult experiences are activated. I don't believe I am allowed to say no, allowed to advocate for myself, allowed to have bodily autonomy, or allowed to have feelings about what happens to my body. Rather than fighting, I have a history of "going limp" - physically, emotionally, whatever. I'll just lay there and take it. This is not good for me but it is self-protective. When I was a kid, I was punished for setting boundaries, so learning set boundaries has been a lot of hard work for me. I do dissociate less now that I have the experience of successfully setting good boundaries for myself and being around people who respect me and treat me with kindness.
During my first pregnancy, I had no confidence in my ability to set boundaries. I was so anxious I could not attend doctor's appointments, because I could not really give consent to anything. They would say, "Ok we are going to do this now," or maybe, "Is it ok if we do this now," and I would freeze and be unable to say no. Just nod my head when really I wanted anything but that. So after one or two appointments of this (in the fifth month, bc it took me that long to work up the nerve to go) I would show up at the office and not be able to walk in the door. I would stand outside for a long time trying to make myself go in, and then I would give up and leave. Looking back, I see that this anxiety was my mind's way of trying to protect me from further trauma.
I did not see a doctor again until I arrived at the hospital in active labor. I had done all the research to have an unassisted birth, but I promised DP that if I had any tiny doubts at all we would go straight to the hospital. Well, once labor began, I had a small amount of bright red blood. It was bloody show, but since DD was my first baby, first labor, I wasn't sure. So I made some peanut butter sandwiches and told DP it was time to go to the hospital. I told myself I was giving myself up to whatever would happen.
I had one nurse who was kind of mean when I checked in, and when she asked why I had no prenatal care, I told her it was because I was afraid of doctors. Then she went away and a new nurse came who, I found out much later, had been a home birth midwife. She stayed after her shift was over to see me through the end of my labor. I kind of believe she was an angel, and I don't really believe in that sort of thing. She told me she would get me a room with a shower and a bath tub, and that I didn't have to worry about being bothered because thirteen other women were giving birth in the ward that night and everyone else would be too busy to mess with me. She told me I didn't have to wear the monitor after I squirmed around with it on. She told me that I was amazing, and strong and that I was doing great. At one point I half heartedly joked, "So about that epidural," and she said, "You are almost there, you don't need one." It was as if she understood without me telling her that all I wanted was to be left alone and untouched, like a cat would.
I was told I needed a heplock.... I suspect they gave me abx but I never saw it on my chart. They encouraged me to have my water broken when I was complete but DD hadn't engaged. I let them. Pushed for two hours, DD was born with a nuchal hand, I got a few stitches. They took her to the warming table but DP was with her all along.
I never even ate the sandwiches.
I don't really know how I feel about the birth. For me, in many ways, it was so positive. It was positive for a lot of really good, positive reasons, like having the nurse who advocated for me to be left alone. But in other ways, I know it felt "ok" because I dissociated. I ceded all control over my body and all emotional responses. I was relieved to be so out of it in labor that I couldn't care about certain things that I either didn't know how to say no to or wasn't consulted about. Those parts are weird to me. Those are the moments where I was almost outside of myself, watching, not able to make my mouth move or speak. And I know I couldn't have done anything different than I did, although some part of me believes if I hadn't had that handicap, I would have been able to speak up and I probably would have been respected. At the time, I know that the fear of saying no and experiencing any sort of repercussion, even a simple, "No we can't do that," would have probably undone me, so in a lot of ways I feel my mind was also protecting me there.
I can't know for sure, of course, but I believe this and I think I want to and need to believe it. I think, mostly, that things went as well as they possibly could have, given that I was incapable of advocating for myself, given that I was paralyzed with anxiety, and given that I could have ended up with a nurse who decided I was "crazy" and needed an epidural or whatever. So mostly, I feel positive about what happened. And very, very lucky.
In between then and now, I was in therapy for close to two years. I ceased all contact with the people in my life who abused me. I have been learning all about setting boundaries and having feelings.
This time around, I was able to make and keep an appointment with the hospital midwives (not who I saw before). Before I went to see them, I wrote out a letter about my history of trauma, so that I could organize my thoughts and advocate for myself. In it, I said that I wanted a care provider that I could trust respected me and that I could work with in order to get the prenatal care I needed. I didn't end up giving the midwife the letter... I just told her briefly about my history, and that I didn't know how I felt about pelvic exams and she said, "You don't have to have any if you don't want any. If you are getting one and change your mind halfway through, just say the word and I will stop immediately. I will tell you everything I am doing, and it should never hurt. If it hurts, please say something. The person doing it is doing it wrong."
This is one of those things no one should be impressed by because it should be the standard of care everywhere. But. It isn't. I was impressed.
I feel ... empowered, I guess, is the right word. I feel positive, and safer. Not totally safe, but safer.
I'm thinking of writing a letter to have in my chart, kind of a truncated version of the one I wrote to my midwife. I don't know yet. But this time around I feel like there are actual things I can do for myself, to keep me actually safe**, not just emotionally numbed, and that in itself is kind of a miracle to me.
**edit - ONLY because it looks like these care providers might actually respect me. Kinda like it's easy for me to be safe in the relationship I have with my DP, because he respects me, but it was impossible for me to be safe in my relationship with my ex, because he was abusive.
DD1 6/2009 DD2 5/1/2013-5/5/2013 (HIE) DS 3/2014
I am overwhelmed by these compassionate, empathetic responses. Thank you so much for replying to me with your own stories, mamas. I really really needed this today. I identify with so much of what's been written. Especially the stuff about not being able to set boundaries or say no- that wasn't okay in my house growing up either. My heart is sad for what we went through but I am comforted so much to hear I'm not alone. I want to post more later when I don't have tears in my eyes obscuring my vision! You are all wonderful. Thank you for reaching out.
"The Mothers are the brave ones." - Call the Midwife
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