Sexual Abuse and Childbirth: What’s the Connection?

Lucie Bryantbirth story, birth trauma, breastfeeding, cascade of interventions, emergency c-section, epidural risks, HBAC, home birth, hospital birth, informed consent, midwives, Pitocin, sexual abuse, VBAC

Sexual Abuse and Childbirth: What's the Connection?

My name is Lucie Bryant. I am the owner and founder of In Due Season Pregnancy Wellness Center in Zephyrhills, Florida. And I want to share my story. (WARNING: Content may be triggering)

I am now going to go out of everyone’s comfort zone and talk about a subject that is often ignored, most often purposefully because it makes people uncomfortable. Sexual Abuse, more specifically, childhood sexual abuse and how it can change the birth stories of many women.

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and later a victim of rape. I was molested as a child of 3 years old by a family member. My mother lost her battle against cancer when I was almost 9 years old. I was again sexually assaulted by a family member at the age of 9 and 11. I was placed in foster care at the age of 12 where I bounced from foster home to foster home for 5 years. Out of the 17 different foster homes I lived in during that time, I was molested in 6 of them. At the age of 13 I had run away from one of my foster homes and while roaming the streets alone, I was raped and sodomized at knife point. Needless to say I survived a lot by the grace of God! I asked Christ into my life at 16 years old, but had no idea how much healing I needed.

I truly had no idea just how much these terrible traumas would later affect my birth experiences. I fell in love at 17 and married my wonderful husband of now 25 years. We immediately started a family, because all I wanted in life was to be a wife and mom. I had no support and very little education on the process of birth. I never had anyone speak of childbirth or breastfeeding.

So I began having contractions around 5pm on February 2nd and so I headed to the hospital because, that’s what you do, right? And so began the cascade of interventions. After the long labor, slow progress, Pitocin, the offer and acceptance of the epidural, the decrease in heart rate and –after 37 hours of labor – the c-section on February 5th, 1992. Then, the 3 weeks of hospital stay because my daughter MAY have had an infection. After antibiotics, spinal taps, and separation of my baby, I lost hope of being able to breastfeed my daughter. I was alone and defeated. And I was NEVER doing this again!

And so when my daughter was just 12 weeks old, I realized I was once again pregnant. At first, I was so excited! Then the fear and dread of the vaginal exams and the out-of-control feeling I had at the hospital came flooding in. I was in panic mode very quickly. I had nightmares about being strapped to the hospital bed and having the baby cut out of me. I also had nightmares about vaginal exams. But, praise God, I was introduced to Carol. Carol was a nurse-midwife who understood natural birth and began to educate me and empower me to make my own choices. We talked about everything, including my past and the sexual traumas I had experienced. And through counseling with Carol and the support and understanding of my wonderful husband, I was able to have the natural, beautiful home birth of my second daughter.

I began having mild contractions at about midnight. I woke my husband excitedly and advised Carol. We immediately had a prayer chain going and I was doing really great. At around 5 am, things began to get really intense and much harder. Several times I talked to my husband and let him know I would really like to have an epidural now. I would get through that contraction and he would gently ask me if I still wanted one and I would say no. It became a bit of a comedy routine after a while and everyone was helping me laugh through my contractions. It was part of my birth plan to have my husband catch the baby. And so, at exactly 7am on January 12th, just seven days before my 19th birthday, I birthed my beautiful, second daughter into the hands of my wonderful husband. And so I had 2 babies at the age of 18 and still had so much to learn and overcome. But, for that day, for that beautiful birth, I felt empowered, strong, and conquerer of my past! I went on to have 5 more VBACs at home! My 8th child was a c-section for breech presentation but so different than my first cesarean. I was educated, informed, and felt in control because I knew what was happening and why. I also successfully breastfed 7 of my children!

I share my story for the purpose of educating women so that they feel encouraged to speak up and say “I am a survivor!” They can say “I have had this trauma in my life, but I will not allow it to dictate my life, my birth experience, and how I care for my baby!” Sexual trauma IS a factor when helping a mom to bring her child into the world. Take a look at the statistics below.

Did you know that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident. These are estimates. It is believed that there are as many as 20,000+ unreported cases yearly. (http://www.victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics)

Midwives receive specific training in the care management of sexual abuse victims. They are taught to avoid phrases and words that an attacker would typical use. They are taught to ASK FOR PERMISSION before touching the the clients that entrust us. They inform their clients that they can decline any routine procedure they are uncomfortable with, such as a vaginal exam. Childbirth education includes an explanation of emergency medical procedures in order for the client to be prepared in the event a c-section or other uncomfortable or painful intervention is necessary. The client will know what is happening and what to expect. Breastfeeding can also be particularly difficult for a survivor of sexual abuse, so midwives will compassionately assist new mothers with education, make sure the baby is latching properly, and help them find an ongoing support group.

Here are some suggestions to help in your journey.
1) Tell your provider if you are a victim of sexual abuse.
2) Make sure they are sensitive and educated about the topic.
3) If you feel uncomfortable with them, change providers.

Sexual trauma cannot continue to be swept under the rug! I know it’s uncomfortable, and I know it feels strange to be that open. But childbirth can be a healing process or a damaging trauma. My desire is to help women become more than conquerors through the healing experience of childbirth!