The expectation of a new child is a life experience to be enjoyed by the entire family, not just the mother. However, becoming pregnant, even if it is planned, can be a confusing and alarming encounter for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Katrina Neff, (CD)DONNA, a certified Doula in Tacoma, is sensitive in listening for hints of past abuse in pregnant clients. “I’ve had a few clients who have struggled with past abuse during pregnancy and their stories are laced with more fear than just the common fears about childbirth.” Kristina helps clients work through their feelings long before the birth occurs.
She goes on to say, “Survivors have to overcome deep rooted feelings that their bodies are not their own or that their bodies are not capable. One client that specifically stands out was, when it came to the pushing phase of labor, this mother felt like she couldn’t do it. She tried and tried, but after a couple of hours, she was relieved to have a cesarean. Only later did she let on that she was fearful of having a baby pass through a place that had been a source of hatred for her. No one had a clue about her abuse prior to the birth.”
Although pregnancy and the birthing process can present emotional obstacles for some survivors, that is not always the case. Katrina says, “On the other side of that coin, though, there are women who overcome their obstacles and come out of birth empowered, healed even, after they have their babies. Birth is a powerful process!”
Conducting your own research on how to approach pregnancy as a survivor could be frustrating since literature on the subject is extremely limited. Here is a least one article online, a blog, and at least one book, When Survivors give Birth by Penny Simkin.
When a sexual abuse survivor with PTSD becomes pregnant, she may develop the following symptoms:
- Feelings of body betrayal
- Feelings of physical intrusion and invasion
- Flashbacks to the original abuse
- Anxiety or panic
- Abuse memories resurface for the first time
- Antagonistic or hostile feelings toward the fetus
- Projecting feelings about the abuser onto the fetus
- Feelings of guilt (associated with her feelings)
- Feelings of shame (associated with body changes)
“Because birth is so different for every woman,” comments Kristina, “women who have dealt with the same trauma, may react in completely different ways and have completely different fears. Mostly they are afraid of dealing with the first trauma again, regardless of if it was an abusive situation or a previous traumatic birth.” There are some specific fears that may manifest for a sexual abuse survivor with PTSD, such as:
- Fear of the intensity of her feelings
- Fear that the child will be born deformed (like her)
- Fear that the child will be born dead (i.e. as punishment, wish fulfillment or self fulfilling prophesy)
- Fear of being an incompetent parent
- Fear of being an abusive parent
To complicate matters, many of the above mentioned symptoms could become issues the survivor directs at the father of the child/partner/spouse. Additionally, a survivor can expect to do some necessary hard work on preparation and rehearsal in dealing with an obstetrician, a midwife, and hospital staff.
The effort given to addressing these symptoms and inevitable medical treatments through counseling, birth coaching, and rehearsal will pay off immediately once those first birth pains begin. If you’re interested in finding out more about coaching during your pregnancy, contact Katrina Neff by sending her an email at [email protected]
Get started now! Watch this video from Mindful Mama Magazine about PTSD and pregnancy!