Survivor Mama: New Life after Sexual Assault

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source: eran jayne photography

Today I am seven years a survivor. So grateful to the Good Mother Project for publishing this piece yesterday. It’s time to use my voice again. It’s time to speak the truth. 

When I got pregnant, I didn’t realize I was a rape survivor.

Mere hours after my son was conceived,  I sat in our counselor’s office with my husband, gripping his hand tightly and holding my breath as she said the word: rape. It was rape. She was referring to an event that had happened six years before, something I had miscategorized in my mind. I had told my husband a bit about that night, but I had only shared vague details:  it was always “the night I regret,” “a huge mistake,” “taking advantage.” But: Rape? We had never used that word.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this new information. My entire world as I knew it, as I had constructed it around me, was changed. I had endured violence of the most vulnerable kind and my brain had protected me from the knowledge of it. For six years. Six whole years I had been living in a haze of despair, uncertain of its cause. Now I knew it wasn’t anything I had done, and yet somehow I still felt responsible. I read the books, I repeated the words (it’s not my fault). Still, a sense of shame and feeling of filth lingered, like cigarette smoke you can’t get out of your favorite sweater.

Two weeks later, two little blue lines showed up on a pregnancy test. The baby my husband and I had been praying for.

I was ecstatic. I was terrified.

I spent the first three months of pregnancy curled up on our couch in the fetal position. Despite the standard exhaustion and consistent nausea, my physical symptoms weren’t bad. But mentally and emotionally, I was a wreck.

The anxiety that built up within my quickly changing body manifested in ways I could easily blame on pregnancy: hiding in my house, watching Netflix for hours, ignoring phone calls from friends and family. I felt like I was too full of emotion—filled to the brim—and any additional stress would send me over the edge. How could I have normal, happy conversations with people about my pregnancy when I had such a dark secret lurking beneath it all?  I thought about it much more than I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to stop, or who I could talk to. No one wants to hear you say you’ve been raped. Especially when you’re supposed to be joy personified, bursting with excitement about your unborn child.

When I did have the emotional energy to speak with loved ones, I was truthful about my excitement and fear (who isn’t afraid of childbirth?), but I never felt as though I was being completely honest.  As someone who generally wears her heart on her sleeve, this was exhausting and painful.  So, I spent most of my free time in full-on hibernation mode. My one goal was to incubate my growing child, protecting the precious, innocent life still unknown to me. I built myself a cozy little nest of blankets and books and read everything I could about preparing for birth.

Close to the end of my second trimester I finally got up the courage to see a prenatal therapist. She was calm and nurturing and made me feel safe. Still, it took weeks of therapy before I was finally ready to tell her exactly what had happened to me the summer of 2008. With great kindness, she listened to me, validated me, and also helped me admit to myself that one month before the rape, I had been sexually assaulted.

So there I was, very pregnant, very hormonal, very emotional, preparing for birth, and also trying to come to terms with the fact that I had been violently violated not once but twice—and I hadn’t let myself recognize the truth.

Any shred of security I once felt was lost to me. Suddenly everything and everyone seemed a threat to my safety. Trust was a dirty word. It didn’t help that at the time, our neighborhood was experiencing a wave of break-ins and burglary, and my rock of a husband, working long, hard shifts as a medical resident, was hardly home. My sleep, fitful and hard to come by, became punctuated with horrific nightmares.

It seemed impossible to escape the reality that I lived in a violent, terrible, evil world where women are raped (and children are molested and teens get addicted and men are tortured, and so on). And I was bringing a baby into this world. How could I protect him—how could I be a good mother—if I couldn’t even protect myself?

Yet I smiled for pictures. Shared my growing bump online. Dressed up for baby showers. I clung desperately to whatever joy I could find.

As my due date approached, the anxiety I felt around childbirth was palpable. I practiced self-hypnosis, imagery-based meditation, breathing, prayer—anything I could think of, and it still wasn’t enough. I was terrified that in the midst of labor I would be triggered; routine pelvic exams were difficult enough. Pain could be a trigger. Medication could be a trigger. Mentally, I could shut down. And even if I wasn’t triggered? This baby could rip me in two. He could destroy this body, already used and battered and worn. I could die. He could die. There was no way to know how labor would go or how I would respond.

I was completely vulnerable.

In the end, it was this very vulnerability that made room for the hope that saved me.

Interspersed with my fear and anxiety was the shimmering hope of redemption: my body, my story could be made new again. I thought about the strange and almost supernatural timing of my son’s conception: could it be a coincidence that in the hours I was first recognizing the truth of my past, he was being knit together in my womb? I began to meditate on the feeling of release I experienced when I learned I was a survivor: the way my shoulders dropped, as if letting go of a heavy weight; the way my entire body warmed as though melting away years of falsehood. The new life inside me was a promise of what lay beyond the empty devastation caused by acts of violence so very long ago. This new life, my son, was created out of joy and laughter and the love I shared with my husband.  

God began to feel very present to me, even amid my pain and fear. I felt very certain he had a hand in the timing of my pregnancy, that he was preparing my heart to be a mother as he led me through the hard truth about my past. The strange co-mingling of revelation and gestation began to feel like a gift. In my final weeks of pregnancy, a steady confidence began to build within me. Somehow, I knew I would survive birth and deliver a beautiful, healthy child.

God would get me through it. He had gotten me through much worse. I knew he would, not only for me, but for my son. Despite my fears, the sun seemed to shine a little more brightly, the air began to feel a little more crisp. The colors of early autumn seeped their way through my skin and stirred up my soul, reminding me of the beauty and goodness and light that can keep the darkness at bay. I was reminded of all I wanted to offer my son: the adventures we would take, the stories we would tell, the love we would share.

Today, my son is almost 10 months old, a sweet, active little boy with a mischievous grin. After all my worrying and wondering, he came into the world with relative ease. Oh, there was pain. And there was fear. I had to battle anxiety throughout the entire process. But I did it. I made it through. And in the end, I held the most precious gift.

So, why tell this story now? Why share something so private, so painful, so raw? I write these words because I know I’m not the only woman who has felt broken, used, and afraid. I share my story because I am confident that the evil of this world will not have the final say. I am speaking out because I want to be a witness to the beauty that has risen from the ashes of my life. I am reaching out in sisterhood to other survivors to say you are not alone.

jakeI’m telling this story because I want to teach my son by example. I don’t want him to live in fear or feel the need to hide from his past.

This journey of mine isn’t over. I still have days I’m overcome with anxiety, faced with the certainty that no matter what precautions I take, there’s only so much I can do to protect my child from harm. Each day is a practice in trusting and letting go.

Each day is a practice of faith.

Someday, I will tell my son about the half marathon I walked with him at eight months pregnant. I will tell him about the heat that beat down on me as I walked, feet swollen but heart bursting, through the brilliant beauty of Stanley Park. I will tell him how I thought of him the whole time, how I wanted to show him his mother was strong.

I will tell him how he taught me to be brave.

This post originally appeared on the Good Mother Project.

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My 2 a.m. Friend, or The Day I Thought I’d Lost My Son

FullSizeRender (5)One minute we were lounging on the picnic blanket in our backyard. Jacob was happily chewing on a toy and I was happily snapping pics of him as he rolled back and forth, wiggling his toes in the air. The next minute, I noticed he had a piece of grass sticking out of his mouth, and as I reached to remove it, he began to gag.

I picked him up, set him on my lap and looked at his little face as my heart stopped. Is he choking? He’s not breathing. He quickly drew in a breath of air. Sweet relief. And then his stomach tightened, he began to cough and then vomited right down the front of my shirt, onto my pants, onto himself. I held out a hand to catch the rest of the vomit—which just kept coming. I thought it was strange that a single blade of grass would cause such an intense reaction, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Babies get sick sometimes, and everything seemed pretty normal. I picked up my son and our soiled blanket and took him inside for a bath.

I had barely made it through the back door before he began to gag and heave once again. This time, it was definitely not normal. Jacob’s face turned bright red and he began to cry a terrible cry, a sound I have never heard before. He kept heaving. I looked at his handsome little face contorted in discomfort and fear. He looked to me for reassurance, but I was so panicked I couldn’t breathe.

No, no, no… My brain was on an anxious repeat loop. My baby is going to die. Maybe there was fertilizer on that grass. My baby is going to die because I don’t know the number for Poison Control.

911, do I need to call 911? My husband, at work, did not have cell service. I was completely alone, completely responsible.

Jacob got sick again. I ran into the bathroom and held him over the sink. I saw a thin trickle of blood. I was overcome with a feeling of despair. Is this it? Is this how quickly the life of a child can end?

“No, no, no…this isn’t happening…” I heard myself say, as one hand gripped my puking son and the other shakily searched my phone for the number of Lauren, a friend and fellow first-time mama who lives across the street. She picked up on the second ring. I’m a text-only kind of girl, so she knew something was up.

Lauren is a practical, no-nonsense kind of woman, wise and cool-headed. I knew she would talk me down if I was crazy and would tell me to get to the ER if she thought that was what I needed to do. And I knew she would pray—something I just could not bring myself to do.

My words hardly came out for the hyperventilating. Lauren, who was on the road, sitting in Seattle traffic, listened patiently and calmly encouraged me to keep talking.

She listened. She let me tell her I was scared. She let me tell her I was worried I had somehow let my child get poisoned from sucking on a piece of grass. She let me sob in fear and desperation. She did all of this with grace even as her own baby sobbed in her back seat.

She told me she thought Jacob sounded okay, from what she could hear. She told me I should trust my gut, and if I’d feel better driving him to the hospital, I should absolutely do that. But she also said she thought it would be all right for me to wait it out a couple of hours.

She talked me down off the ledge (and let me tell you, if you’ve never been on the solo-parenting-postpartum-anxiety-first-time-mama ledge, it is pretty freaking high.)

By the time I got off the phone, Jacob was calming down. I cuddled him close as I ran a cool bath. Within minutes, he was playing and splashing as if nothing had happened at all. He was fine. He was going to be okay. I sobbed again, out of relief. Out of exhaustion. Out of gratitude.

Once he was dried, fed, and calmly sleeping in his crib, I texted Lauren to tell her he was all right, to thank her, and to apologize for being such a nut job on the phone. Despite the very real fear I had experienced, I felt pretty embarrassed. Had I blown the whole thing out of proportion?

Her words in response brought me to tears again: “Don’t worry about perception, friend! You did the right thing. You had insight, you reached out, you weighed your options, you acted. You nailed it, truly! You are a great mom. You proved it again today.”

Her words were like a balm. It was exactly what I needed to hear.preggoladies

In the two years we’ve known each other, Lauren and I have shared thousands of late-night texts and emails offering prayer and words of encouragement, but on this particular day, she proved to me again how important it is to truly invest in each other’s lives. She reminded me how crucial it is to surround ourselves with people who are unafraid of the messy, vulnerable parts of our stories and ourselves, who will let us feel whatever it is we are feeling and then calmly offer guidance when we need help.

For an introvert with a love-hate relationship with community, this lesson can be hard won. Sometimes it comes in the form of an eight-month-old baby projectile vomiting, forcing you to pick up the phone and cry out for help.

In the end, Jacob was fine. I still don’t know what caused him to get sick that day – it could have been the heat, it could have been something he ate. I’d like to say I’d never wish that kind of discomfort or fear on him again, but I’m not sure I can. If vulnerable situations teach him how to reach out to others, to rely on friends like Lauren in times of need—and learn how to be that kind of friend himself—then I believe the discomfort might be worth it in the end.

This post originally appeared on the Discovery Community Church blog, All In