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Jun 26

Emily’s Story: My Experience Of Motherhood As A Rape Survivor

I’m not really sure how to start this because it is something I have wanted to write about and share for a while. It is also something that scares me shitless.

I think I’m going to have to start with hello and see where it takes me. Hello, my name is Emily and I am a wife to a fantastic man who has helped me become the mother of a beautiful baby girl who is the light of my life. I am also unfortunately a rape victim.

I know that motherhood and rape don’t seem linked at all. If anything they are polar opposites; one of the most violent and hateful crimes contrasted with one of the most loving and gentle relationships imaginable. However, to me, they were linked in ways for which I was not prepared. This is why I’ve decided to share my experience. To help raise awareness, so that someone else in a similar situation might be more prepared than I was.

Being a female survivor of rape is not something you get over. Nor is it something you forget. Obviously I cannot speak for everyone, but for me at least, it is something that I learned to live with and overcome rather than “come to terms with” or “make sense of”. It will never ever in a million years make sense to me. At first the fear followed me everywhere, rearing its ugly head often at the most inconvenient times. Simple situations that occur daily become suddenly frightening and unmanageable. For example, when you need to get a taxi, but that would mean a chance of being alone with an unknown (and probably a very nice) man. Or when you put on that outfit you used to love, that flatters your figure, but this time all you see in your reflection, is a cheap slag practically begging someone to take advantage of her.

However, as time passed slowly but surely, these situations became easier. This is not because “time heals all wounds”. It doesn’t. That phrase gives no credit to my amazing support network or myself. I worked hard to face each worry and panic attack and what triggered it, the world that I used to know had changed into a place I didn’t know or trust not to hurt me. I used to always see the best in everyone, people told me I trusted too easily and I hated to think they were proved right. I will never think that trusting people easily is a mistake. The majority of the world is full of good and kind people who are trying their best to stay good and kind. I will always choose to see the good in people, it is I who I am and I know now that I am not prepared to let the people who hurt me change that. It doesn’t mean I am not careful or afraid but I cannot live fearing everyone’s intentions towards me when in reality it will not change anything if I fear them. If they want to hurt me they will probably succeed whether I fear them or not. It took me the longest time to accept that I cannot control other people’s actions and if I choose to become the person that fear and mistrust would lead to I cannot control my own actions either. The people most likely to hurt others are generally people who are hurting. By hurting others, I don’t just mean physically, I mean shutting out the people who love me, shutting out everyone or becoming numb to those around me. If I listen to it, the fear in my head still causes all the same worries that the world really is as ugly as it felt back then. But I have become well practiced at tuning it out. I realised that in reality, most the danger and panic is in my head, therefore, as overwhelming as it feels, I can control it. Not always, but most of the time. The more I recognise that what I’m afraid of is in my head, the less it can take hold of me. Eventually, those challenging situations become normal again. Every time that fear is triggered, I see it as one less obstacle to overcome. I have reached the point where I can predict what could trigger a panic attack. This means I can tackle it preemptively and attempt to prepare myself with the tools I have gained from the years of experience. Most importantly I learned to trust the world again.

Although I was not, and will never be “over” the attack. The nightmares went from nightly, to weekly, to monthly, to yearly. I even got to the point, that the anniversary of when it happened passed without my noticing. I had overcome what I imagined was the biggest hurdle in finally enjoying a sexual relationship with my husband (then fiancée) again. I thought, as I’m sure most people do, that for someone in my situation being fully comfortable with intimacy would be the biggest obstacle. Until, that is, my husband and I found out we were accidentally pregnant.

When I fell pregnant I was thrilled. Above all, I have always wanted to be a mother. Although the timing wasn’t ideal (I was in the final year of my degree) it felt like it was meant to be. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. I began to show signs of miscarriage at 6 weeks before eventually miscarrying at 8 weeks. Miscarriage is awful for all those it touches; it is horrible in ways I cannot put into words. What I wasn’t expecting, was how it would affect me as a survivor of rape.

I, of course, needed several internal scans. This is not comfortable for any woman for the obvious reason that it consists of being penetrated by a foreign object, whilst feeling extremely vulnerable. But for me it was unbearable. After the first internal scan, I had nightmares for weeks reliving the pain of having no control over what was inside me. Feeling awful that I was allowing my fear to overtake the feeling of grief and loss. I felt even worse when I was relieved that the baby had fully miscarried by itself so there would be no further need for internal scans or a d & c. It goes without saying that I was devastated to lose my baby. I had to pick myself up by telling myself the grief and stress was the trigger for the flashbacks and that soon I would move on. That the next time I got pregnant it would not be as frightening. About 6-7 weeks later we decided to start trying for a baby. The only way we could face the fact we were not going to be parents yet was to focus on becoming parents.

For several months all of my energy was focused on finishing my degree, getting a job and of course trying for a baby. I fantasized about having a baby bump, feeling my baby moving, meeting my beautiful baby – would it be a boy or a girl? Would it look more like my husband or me? Basically it was all I thought about. We didn’t get pregnant for months, (which felt like years), and so we decided to stop trying and to wait until I had worked for a while in my new job/give ourselves a break from the disappointment. Four weeks later we found out I was pregnant! Despite our surprise we were overjoyed and excited. The first 12 weeks I was too paranoid about miscarriage to care about anything else. Finally, after the 12-week scan when we saw our healthy beautiful girl I was ready to be excited and overjoyed. Obviously I was ecstatic, but to my horror I was mainly petrified. Not of labour; not of the challenges of motherhood; instead, of losing control of my body; of internal examinations; of any pain in any area that would remind me of being raped. I felt like the worst mum-to-be in the world. How could I be so self involved and ungrateful? All I ever wanted, was a healthy baby and I was so close to reaching my dream. The only thing could think about was myself. How could I be so weak as to let the men who raped me ruin this? I had always stubbornly pushed myself, (often too hard), to make sure they would not stop me from doing anything I really wanted to. This had included living and working abroad for a year away from my husband and support network, working in a pub with the risk of drunk men being inappropriate and retaking my French A-level less than a year after the attack. If I could do all of the above, why couldn’t I shake this overwhelming fear? I felt unworthy and ridiculous that I was letting the best thing that had ever happened to me be tainted by the worst. I did what I always do (wrongly). I didn’t tell anyone the extent of what I was feeling, I put on a brave face and gushed about how excited I was, whining about morning sickness (more like all day sickness) and all the “normal” things pregnant women do like antenatal classes. In reality I hated myself for being so ungrateful and soon became a nervous wreck. I cried before every midwife appointment, in case they would internally examine me (I know now that this rarely happens until much later in pregnancy). I didn’t dare tell any midwives as I thought they would think I didn’t love my baby or I wasn’t bonding properly.

This is why I want to share more about my experience. So that anyone else in a similar position knows that it’s ok. It is completely natural to feel that way. I promise it will not affect your ability to be a good mother, so long as you are not afraid to speak out if you need help. Eventually I found support in my husband and the midwives which I will not explain fully in this post. I was told it is common for women who have been sexually assaulted to feel the way I did, but I wish I had known that before I fell pregnant. Then I could have prepared for the emotional turmoil. The biggest problem for me, was the shock that I was equally petrified as I was excited. Although it is true that pregnancy is full of picking baby clothes, decorating nurseries and getting excited. It also consists of internal examinations, more people looking at your personal areas than you can imagine and pain that, to a sexual assault survivor, is likely to cause issues.

So please, if you are afraid, voice it. It only gets worse if you don’t. By not voicing my fears for so long, I made things a lot harder for myself.

I would eventually like to write more about my labour and motherhood experiences as a rape survivor, as it has to my shock touched every part of both journeys. I am an over-protective mother and I worry about my daughter’s safety far too much which I am working on day by day. And my labour was full of panic attacks and guilt but I cannot explain further in this post as there is too much to say. I know many of my newer friends won’t know anything about this, I’m sorry if this post upsets anyone. Recently I’ve been feeling that part of the problem is that many people are ashamed to speak about rape and pregnancy/motherhood in the same breath. I count myself amongst these people. I never speak about it and to be honest, I still don’t really want to, but I feel it is necessary. Why should I feel ashamed? It is not my fault; I haven’t done anything wrong. I am proud to say I am a survivor of rape and a great mum, not perfect, but who is?

I want my daughter to grow up in a world where people are fully aware of the consequences of rape.

Do I think the men who hurt me realised that they could potentially ruin my pregnancy journey, my degree, my confidence, my dignity, my life? I doubt they really thought about it. I truly believe that the only way to make people feel the full extent of the damage they can cause, is to start talking about it more openly. It is hard, it is personal, I am not entirely comfortable sharing this all, but because I am a mother of a sweet, innocent and amazing baby girl, I feel I should. That way hopefully we can start to tackle rape and the damage it causes as a society, not as a 24-year-old pregnant woman crying into her pillow.

About the author

WYR

When You’re Ready.org is a community for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories.

Permanent link to this article: http://whenyoureready.org/emilys-story-my-experience-of-motherhood-as-a-rape-survivor/