Survivor Moms Speak Out project leads to book due out soon
My friend and colleague Julia Seng is a nurse-midwife and professor who studies posttraumatic stress and childbearing outcomes, who joined the project to help me contribute a midwifery perspective to the book, and to provide an overview of what we know scientifically about how trauma affects childbearing and mothering. The book is a “long labor” of love, a project I began 12 years ago while practicing in a busy homebirth practice. It grew out of a need for me to educate myself about the needs and challenges facing the clients I served who were survivors of sexual trauma. What I noticed back then was that often when an issue came up around sexual abuse I did not know where to turn to access resources for my clients. While there were good books available for survivors in general, like “The Courage to Heal” (the “bible” for survivors), often pregnancy, birth, and mothering were barely mentioned in these books.
As a midwife, it was intuitive to me that many aspects of reproduction and mothering would be very evocative for women who had survived sexual abuse, but there was not much in the literature to offer to women to help them on their healing journeys. I had come up with ad-hoc ways (as I am sure many of you have) of helping the women in my practice who identified as survivors, or who exhibited signs (in the absence of disclosure) that they were having issues related to sexual trauma. But I wanted to know more. Not all women who have a history of sexual trauma are going to have on-going issues that will be evident to their midwife or doctor, or need addressing. But sooner or later every midwife or doc who is paying attention will encounter a woman who is overtly having a hard time with some aspect of her maternity care, or breastfeeding, or bonding, or mothering, and they will recognize her difficulty as being attributable to issues related to abuse. Knowing this to be true, I wanted to ease the path for both survivors and their care providers by acknowledging these issues and learning first-hand from survivor moms what their needs are, and how to go about helping them to get those needs met.
So, just as I felt “called” to midwifery, I felt “called” to start the “Survivor Moms Speak Out” project. I developed a survey which asked basic questions of mothers who self-identified as survivors of sexual abuse, and circulated them across the country. I then invited the women who responded to the survey to write a narrative account of their journey as a survivor and a mother, and the 81 narratives I collected form the basis for our book. As a midwife, I expected much to be written about pregnancy and birth, and indeed, the women had a lot to say about that. But that was only one aspect of the story. Overall, what women had to say was that being a survivor affects their ENTIRE life, from being a little girl and forming relationships, through pregnancy, birth, postpartum, mothering and all the way to grandmothering. Their stories are rich accounts of the many challenges and triumphs women face as survivors and mothers, across the span of time. In my next entry I will highlight some of the themes they raise in their narratives.
Until then, thanks for listening,