Childbirth is supposed to be a beautiful experience. I read books on how empowering it could be to give birth. I read every sort of book you could possibly read so that I would know what exactly to expect during the entire birthing process. I never read a book on how sexual abuse can impact the birth of your child. I wish I had. I didn’t know it was something that I needed to do. I don’t want another woman to feel the way that I did. And if it is something that you’ve already experienced I want you to know you are not the only one. I delivered a perfect baby girl. But the birth process was as far away from perfect as it could be and I never imagined for a moment that I would feel the negative emotions that I did.
I knew what I wanted my birth plan to be. I did not want a man delivering my baby or being my obstetrician. I did not want to be in the hospital. I chose a midwife and a birth center. I wanted this experience to be something that only my husband, me, and the midwife shared. I intuitively thought it could be a vulnerable experience. Vulnerable experiences trigger childhood abuse feelings. I had had so many moments in my life ruined by outsiders, I wanted this to be a sacred experience with absolutely no opportunity for anyone to ruin. Most mothers have an idea of what they want childbirth to be. Most women are then scared when something happens that alters that plan. An unplanned emergency c-section or a labor that went shorter or longer than planned can cause a great amount of fear. Even women who have not been sexually abused find childbirth to evoke extreme emotions. Women are pushed to and past their physical and mental brink during birth. I’m going to share my entire experience.
I knew that I did not want an epidural. I wanted a nice dark room with soft music. Nothing prepared me for preterm labor. That wasn’t in my plan! I had planned the labor part…not the preterm part. I had contractions a month early 6 minutes apart. When we called the midwife we were told to go to the hospital. When we arrived I had no idea what to expect. There was a lot of rushing around and people hurrying in. A male obstetrician came in and did an ultrasound right away, and they monitored the baby’s heart rate. My husband left to do paperwork as he was instructed to do to admit me. He shouldn’t have left me. I was scared. Petrified. I wanted to ask him to stay but at that point in my life I had not found my voice. I felt scared for the baby and scared of the unknown. When my husband left, shortly after I was given an injection to stop the labor. Then the Doctor did an internal vaginal exam. It all happened very fast to check and make sure I was not dilating. NOWHERE in my birth plan was there a man putting his hand into my body. It was extremely traumatizing because I was just not prepared. I wished my husband were there so I did not feel so alone. I feel alone just writing about it. I hated that feeling. Throughout the week I spent in the hospital that is what I thought about, the fact that a man put his hand on my body when I could do absolutely nothing about it. It left me feeling sick. My labor had been stopped and now I had to be on bedrest until it was time to do this again. I was sent home.
I prepared again. I felt even stronger about being in complete control of the labor and birthing. I did not want to feel out of control or have someone controlling the birth. I wanted my baby and me to do this together. I wanted it to be beautiful. I wanted the sweet midwife. She knew about my sexual abuse. She knew how to make me feel like I was in control of everything. She asked permission before she did anything. It was going to be perfect.
My water broke 2 weeks after my preterm labor(the baby was still 2 weeks early). I went to the birth center and labored there for 24 hours. Even when I was told I would have to go to the hospital I felt emotionally okay because the midwife was going to be with me on one side and my husband on the other. The Doctor that did the exam during preterm labor was the Doctor on call to deliver my baby. I was told this ahead of time though so I mentally prepared for this and had some time to digest the fact that my whole plan was out the window now. I had already been awake for 30 hours and I was nowhere near the end.
During hard contractions it is hard to think about anything but the pain. UNLESS you’ve been sexually abused. I was acutely aware of everything going on around me. The Doctor told me that he would give me 30 minutes or I would need a C-section because my water was broken for more than 30 hours at that point. I remember thinking, “Please, don’t even think I cannot push this baby out in 30 minutes!” It actually took an hour and a half with the midwife helping until the last five minutes. In the end, the Doctor was only there in the last five minutes of the birthing process. But that was the worst 5 minutes of my life.
I was ready to push. The midwife was on one side. My husband was on the other. The Doctor came in and got ready to just deliver the baby. But then five nurses came in. There I was with my naked body facing the door and in comes five nurses. One of them was my mother-in-law who was a neonatal nurse. You’d think I would be thrilled that my own mother-in-law, who was a nurse, would be there. I wasn’t. I felt completely violated. I wanted to cover up. I wanted to close my legs and put a sheet over me. But I couldn’t. There I was with two people holding my legs in the air, and a man staring at my vagina with 5 nurses staring at it too. This is not what I wanted. I felt sick. I felt like I had no control because I didn’t. I felt like someone was just watching me being raped. I hated my mother-in-law for that. I hated watching her and the other nurses staring at me. I could hear them excited to be there for the birth of one of their own’s granddaughter. It was supposed to be all about me and my baby. I was very unprepared for this scenario. I felt on display. My body was not my own and I had no control over who was touching it or looking at it.
I had one brief moment of beauty and joy when my daughter was born.When I looked down and saw her face. She was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. She was just perfect. My mother in law took her to the…I don’t know what you call it..baby checking table…I wanted my husband to stay with my baby. I wish I had known it was protocol to have nurses in the room with a 2 week premature baby. I layed there being stitched up. I have no words for how I felt. Having a baby inside me that was now out and on a table away from me left me feeling vulnerable and alone. Having my legs spread apart as a male doctor stitched my vagina was mortifying. I kept feeling sicker and sicker. I finally threw up. It became a bit of a joke later because it looked like I threw up a baseball. My mother in law talked about it like she had a right to. She wasn’t supposed to be there. She didn’t get to talk about my labor experience. She had no idea what I went through or why I threw up. No one did. Hearing people talk about it later was made me feel like a victim all over again. I cannot describe why I can just say that it did.
This was not about the male doctor. This was not about my mother in law. They were all just doing their jobs. This is about how giving birth made me feel. I had absolutely no idea I would feel raped and violated and alone and helpless. I had no idea that the experience would make me hurt so deeply inside, a pain that I didn’t even know was there. No one told me that sexual abuse and childbirth could cause a pain that I had never felt before.
I don’t think that childbirth has to be this way. I had not yet come to terms with the magnitude of the abuse I endured. I had no way of knowing the impact childbirth would have on me. Childbirth may not be this way for another woman who has been abused. It cannot be assumed that just because you were abused that childbirth will be a nightmare. Your plan needs to be MUCH larger and more encompassing than mine was. Your plan needs to address all the components that having a baby brings, the emotional, physical, and mental.
I encourage women who are pregnant and who have been abused to make a plan. I encourage them to tell their Doctor about previous abuse and make sure this is the right Doctor for you. I told my midwife but the Doctor delivering my baby did not know. I should have had a plan for that. Regardless of all the planning, there may be something that will happen that is completely out of your control. If that happens you need someone with you that will keep you feeling safe and grounded. Come up with a list of what that person can tell you to comfort you. You may not be able to positively visualize or have positive self talk or you may. For me the trigger was so powerful I had no control over my mind or thoughts. I needed someone to do that for me. I only planned for MY way. It was not thorough planning to include unwanted situations and different outcomes. Child birth is a powerful experience that CAN be and SHOULD be the most joyous day of your life.
I’ve never spoken to anyone about this experience. It’s not something I ever thought I would share. But, I want my experience to help another woman take steps to prevent the emotions that I felt. No pregnant woman should ever feel that giving birth is a helpless and traumatic experience and it doesn’t have to be. You can have the completely successful beautiful birth you always wanted. You can feel joy and empowerment.
If this is something that you have been through and want to share your experience, I will listen. You can send me a personal message at email@example.com or reply on my blog. Either way, I never want a woman to feel that they have gone through this alone. You may have been alone then but you aren’t now. I understand. No woman should ever feel alone in anything that happens after they have survived sexual abuse. Know that you are not alone.