Trigger warning: Sexual abuse, trauma, suicidal thoughts and mental health are all referenced within.
I should probably start this by saying that I really don’t consider myself to be a special case in any way, shape or form. I am just another person bumbling her way through life, hoping to reach that metaphorical high point and then hold on for dear life through all the other storms that will inevitably come my way. So far so good, I am in a fantastic relationship with two beautiful daughters and I have never been happier. Yay!
I have come a long way from the timid little girl that I was, so I am not going to be in need of any pity, thank you all kindly. I aim to be as positive as possible through everything in life (easier said than done, I know) and in order to do that I need to lose that lingering shame that still glares at me from the mirror and whispers from most far-reaching corners of my mind. I should possibly bite the bullet and tell you guys what caused the PTSD, shouldn’t I?
Well long story short, it was a truly twisted variant on the game ‘hide and seek,’ played by a lodger in our home. In both the literal meaning of the game and also the metaphorical way that even a child of just five years old understood was wrong. That was perhaps the roughest 6 months (or so) of my life up to date and I’m not ashamed to admit that even the thought still knocks me sick, 22 years later.
I know what you are all thinking, why didn’t I just tell someone. The truth is, I was afraid that he would either hurt me more than what was already being done or that he would follow through on his threats against my family’s lives. It still haunts me that he was hurting another little girl at the same time as myself and if I would have gotten over my terror I could have saved her some of that hurt that I had experienced. Cowardice is a truly terrible thing, though I hope it can be forgiven as I was so young and hurt myself.
I have always tried to help others and if anything positive came out of the experience it is that I am a lot more compassionate and understanding of other people’s problems than I perhaps would have been otherwise. Sounds silly to try to find the silver lining in something like this but at the end of the day, it’s what keeps you going, through the tough times. Even a tiny glimmer of hope can keep you aiming higher, rather than wishing you were six-foot underground and away from life’s little problems.
Sorry guys, I really don’t have the heart to go into all of the gory details of what happened all those years ago, I’m not nearly brave enough for that, some things can’t be relived for anything.
I have lost most of the shame about my past. Shit happens and as much as those arsey little voices in my head like to persuade me otherwise, I know that it wasn’t in any way my fault and it certainly doesn’t tarnish my worth as a human being. I am worthy of all the love that my wonderful little family showers on me each and every day, Lucky thing that I am. I am saying this just as a gentle reminder to any person that has had a similar experience to myself or who has low self-worth. You matter. You are loved. You deserve people’s love and you are not broken or tarnished by any of the events of your life. You are perfect and people are lucky to have you in their lives.
Back to the original point of this post…
My past has made my transition into motherhood that much harder than it needed to be. I have become a person who finds people standing too close to me to be a little worrying and a major source of fuel for my anxiety. This created some problems with some of the more routine parts of pregnancy such as vaginal examinations and the Cesarean Section that I required to birth my daughter. She was footling breech and I couldn’t stomach the thought of a stranger touching me for long enough to attempt to turn her to the correct presentation.
To give a little context, it’s probably best if I back up quite a few years to my first true experience of being intimate with a guy. Poor b******d, he knew about my past but I don’t think he realised how much it still affected me.
Long story short?
I had a meltdown. My internal defense mechanism decided that this was the perfect time to fail. Thanks, brain… I had spent eleven years telling myself that the abuse was just a story that had happened to another little girl called Alex and suddenly I couldn’t hide behind that anymore. I remember sobbing “it’s just a story, it’s just a story” over and over again until I fell asleep exhausted and woke up covered in sweat from terrible nightmares. Needless to say, reality hurts.
I got a lot better with some therapy but some things never truly heal, regardless of how hard we push ourselves towards that goal. Pregnancy and depression were to become my greatest challenge and also a cause of severe depression. Kinda wish that somebody had given me the heads up on what the psychological impact could be BEFORE I had children but sadly rape and mental health are very taboo, even now. So this is me, getting the message out to all the other ladies, pregnancy and breastfeeding may be harder if you have been assaulted. I would not be without my daughters but I wish I had been better prepared for what the reality would be in my circumstances, then maybe I wouldn’t have felt like such a failure as a mother and a woman.
I had been feeling crampy, moody and had other general PMS symptoms but my period hadn’t arrived so I figured that if I do a pregnancy test then my body would clue in and start it back up again. At the time, we had recently moved house so I had been feeling really stressed and figured that that was what had probably delayed my cycle by a week. My partner and I were being extremely careful but as I was to find out; careful isn’t always a guarantee of success. As I looked down at the two little lines I felt a rush of several different emotions. Panic, shock, worry at telling my partner but also a heady mix of happiness and excitement as well. I couldn’t believe my eyes so bought another test and redid it. Positive again, oh crap!
After the inevitable crying on my partner’s shoulders and wondering how the Hell I was going to cope, I booked myself in for a check-up with my GP and then arranged to see the midwife. I learnt I was just five weeks pregnant and then I finally let it sink in. I was going to be a mummy, as someone who for various reasons that included; my past and various disabilities was planning on adopting when the time was right this was a very daunting thought.
In order to have a safe pregnancy, I had to submit myself to a barrage of tests and explain at every appointment why I might be a bit jumpy and overly nervous. I apologized when I flinched and made the midwives lives harder and felt the burn of embarrassment each and every time it happened. I felt abnormal for reacting like that. I ended up dreading each appointment but ultimately I knew that it was worth it to have my tiny, baby girl born safe and sound. I can honestly say that both of my girls are worth every bit of discomfort and distress that I experienced throughout my pregnancies.
Every vaginal examination was followed by flashbacks and nightmares. The ultrasound scan kicked off my anxiety and blood tests made me feel sick with worry. My past and the resulting PTSD was written clearly in my notes but people still treated it like it was a non-issue. I remember speaking to the doctor about it halfway through my pregnancy and asking for a cesarean section due to the phobia of unknown people going near intimate areas and also a deep-seated fear of having an epileptic seizure whilst in labour. For me, pain, stress and hormone changes are major triggers for my seizures and obviously while giving birth they would all be present. I was told “no” due to the risks of physical harm to my child being at only a 2% increase over the risks for the general population.
This did little to put my mind at rest because one of my close female relatives also has epilepsy and due to her having several seizures at the end of her pregnancy her little girl was born with brain damage and will never be able to be truly independent or live her own life. She is a beautiful and loving little girl, with a gorgeous cheeky smile that lights up any room she is in but clearly, this wasn’t the life that I wanted for my baby.
I had to have a 36-week scan due to it being a high-risk pregnancy and discovered that my beautiful daughter was in fact breach. This was a blessing in disguise as it meant that I could have the cesarean section that I had originally wanted and this probably lessened the negative impacts on my mental health at a later date than if I’d had a natural labour.
During the birth itself, I had an epidural for pain relief and didn’t anticipate that having my lower body frozen would make me feel panicky, powerless and weak but at least I couldn’t feel or see what they were doing down there. All I could feel was a truly strange sensation; like someone was washing dishes in my belly. The medical team who were performing the surgery were kind and understanding and treated me with a great amount of patience and compassion, which I am still very grateful for.
I heard a cry and Evie was brought up to my eye level. She was perfect and worth all the stress, aches and pains. She was then passed to my partner, who held her for the remainder of the procedure as I still couldn’t feel my hands due to the epidural going slightly too high up due to my nervous wiggling, while it was being put in.
About twenty minutes later they wheeled me into recovery, passed her to me to hold and instructed me to place her on my chest and have skin to skin. This was pure bliss and for a while, all of my worries faded away, I felt an instant love for her and thankfully bonded quickly.
Next, I was encouraged to try to get her to latch on and start breastfeeding for the first time. It was uncomfortable but at that point, I was still in a drug-fuelled haze from the painkillers and ignoring everything but the tiny miracle in front of me. I stayed in the hospital for two days and then went home to start our parenting adventure unsupervised. This was both an exciting and nerve-wracking prospect, especially considering I still needed help in perfecting my nursing technique.
Sleep deprivation is one of the less enjoyable parts of being a new mother but I had the added problem in which whenever I did fall asleep, I woke up in a cold shiver from all the nightmares that plagued me. The breastfeeding didn’t help matters either, on one side I felt happy and proud that my body was providing everything my baby needed. On the other hand, it caused flashbacks to the abuse, made me feel physically sick and unwilling to have anybody come near me – all on top of the more common problems most ladies get such as an incorrect latch, Evie being tongue-tied and all the pain that both of those issues bring.
I carried on and persevered because I felt that considering I was a crappy mother in almost every other way then at least I could do this small thing for my child. This would make up for the shame of having such a pathetic mess as a mother. I felt like I was losing my mind and failing as both a mother and as a normal, sane human being.
Something from so long ago surely couldn’t still be bothering me. I hated looking in a mirror because all I saw was a self-indulgent weakling who really needed to get her act together. Obviously, I now know that it was just the depression talking but at the time it felt like I’d never get better and that the world and my family would be better off without me.
At this point, I wouldn’t admit to the PTSD being the problem because I felt ashamed. I felt I was failing at one of the most natural things in the world, (despite Evie being as healthy and happy as can be) and I was worried that people would realize that I was struggling and I ended up paranoid that they would find some reason to take her away from me. Sounds crazy now that I am better but for a while, it was a very real fear that kept me awake at night. Not being worthy of looking after such a wonderful blessing and people seeing me for the fraud I was, pretending to be a good mum when I could barely manage myself, let alone her.
In the end, I broke down in tears in front of the health visitor and admitted I was having problems and he got me a double appointment with my GP, who in turn got me counselling. It’s taken a long time but I have finally beaten the depression (mostly) and finally feel worthy of my children’s love.
I only wish that someone had warned me about the effects that childhood abuse can have on pregnancy and breastfeeding then maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone and pathetic. From what I’ve been told since it is a common issue amongst survivors but as with many uncomfortable subjects it just isn’t spoken about.
Please share and get the word out there. You are not alone. You are not pathetic. You are not defined by your past. You are a wonderful person who deserves every nice and good thing in your life and you are deserving of all the love imaginable.
I apologise if this all seems slightly rambling, but it’s not easy for me to talk about, even now, but I feel that putting things in writing (even on my silly little blog) has given me something of a release from it all.
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