To conclude our series on giving birth after sexual abuse, we’ve decided to share the story of Erica, a survivor who contributed to Mickey Sperlich’s advocacy. Erica shows the evolution experienced in her four births, and shares how each progressively moved her through the healing process, and to a place of true empowerment.
The atmosphere I grew up in was wide open and sexually supercharged. I don’t remember ever not knowing about sex, and based on my parents’ behaviors, it seemed to be the entire goal of adult life. My father was by far the most powerful person in our home, so for survival, I adopted his view of the world. I learned to see my body as my currency — it was what I had to surrender to be wanted. My mother taught me to be careful of the tender feelings of men, but no one taught me that I had the right to say no to sexual advances, or that I might actually want to. As a result, I began experimenting sexually when I was 10 years old. It began with pornography magazines my older brother gave me, and moved into partners who were boys and girls my age or a little older — usually my parents’ friends’ kids.
When I was 12, I was seduced by an older man — a med student who was the son of my parents’ friends. Years later, he nonchalantly shared with me vivid details about the experience, commenting on how none of his girlfriends ever “let” him do such things — though I don’t even remember all of these “things.” It was all very antiseptic, very calculated, and I had no frame of reference to know that it should be different. I had my first pregnancy scare when I was 13, and continued to live the only way I knew — seeking the attention of men.
The summer after my sophomore year in college, I became pregnant. I didn’t think I had any other choice but abortion. I believed that once I had given birth, I would no longer be desirable to men. So, I dutifully marched myself down to a clinic and aborted my baby. The unexpected outcome of having an abortion was that I stopped caring so much if a man wanted me. In fact, I stopped caring about pretty much everything. Given my mental state, it is not surprising that I didn’t give the next guy I met a lot of thought. Nor is it that difficult to understand why it took me years more of running to realize that he was the man I wanted to marry. Or that it took me a few more years after that, even into the marriage, to realize that I really did love him.
Almost immediately after marrying Bill, my desire to get pregnant became overwhelming. I wanted a baby so badly, but he wasn’t ready. When I finally did get accidentally pregnant, I was ecstatic. I thought I knew so much about pregnancy — I assumed that if I told my doctor I wanted natural childbirth, I would have a natural childbirth. I wanted to deliver my own baby more than anything, to finally feel like I was a real woman — to finally heal the wounds that had accumulated over the years.
Four weeks before the end of a healthy pregnancy, my doctor discovered that my baby had turned breech. A c-section was quickly scheduled. Once again, I climbed onto a table and let a doctor cut my child out of me. I came home with my baby and a frozen heart.
By the time I became pregnant with my second child, I had already embarked on the long, exhausting process of revisiting my past through counseling — I had let the tears out, and was set on planning the birth I had always dreamed of. Twenty hours of active labor and four hours of pushing would have in most cases earned me another trip to the surgical suite, but I was lucky to have wonderful, caring midwives who believed in me — and instead of another cesarean, I gave birth to my child naturally at home. As I held my sweet son, a surge of something came over me that I’d never felt before: true power. Power that came from having done something difficult and important, not the false power that I had experienced in the past as men used my body.
I believe that God used the birth of my first child (and the loss of a lifetime of dreams that came with it) to take down the walls that I built to survive my childhood. My second birth — it began the reconstruction process.
My third labor and birth was the sort that women would forfeit body parts to experience. I had learned something from the previous two births. I had learned to relax into it, so much so that I was able to doze between contractions. I essentially woke up ready to deliver, and the midwife didn’t even get her coat off before my daughter slid into the world. I was the first to notice she was the daughter I had longed for, that I had wondered if I was too unworthy as a woman to deserve. Again, fear too deep to name dogged me, but each birth restored a damaged part of me. I sat in my rocker for a month straight with my daughter, so incredibly delighted I didn’t want to move.
When I was 42 weeks pregnant with my fourth child, the midwife did a heavy-duty manual exam to see if we could get things going, and discovered that I was having another breech baby. We were living in Dallas at the time, had no back-up doctor, and not much time to make any decisions. We went through with the birth as planned, since we both thought this baby would be relatively small. I remember this labor as a time of song — I was overwhelmed with a supernatural peace. While it wasn’t quite as fast as my previous baby’s birth, the breech birth was in some ways less difficult. When it was all over and we weighed my “littlest” baby, she was a full pound heavier than my firstborn breech — the one who doctors said I could never have delivered myself. I laughed such a laugh of freedom, of pleasure, and yes — of power.
Each birth brought back a piece of me that had been distorted by the fear and shame that resulted from my turbulent sexual past and abuse. Each birth reaffirmed, in a way much deeper than just knowing so, that women are powerful — extremely powerful.
Erica’s story was repurposed with permission from Mickey Sperlich’s blog, Survivor Moms Speak Out.