The important and powerful work of Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus on how childhood sexual abuse affects pregnancy and childbirth has shined a light on this dark topic. These incredible women (both founders of DONA International) have raised their voices as well as awareness and understanding around this issue.
The book When Survivors Give Birth is directed at survivors, their families, doctors, midwives, nurses, medical staff and other birth professionals like childbirth educators and doulas, to educate on how childhood sexual abuse affects pregnancy and birth.
Survivors can benefit from the information throughout, but particularly with Chapter 9, called “Self-Help Methods to Prevent and Manage Distress During Childbirth.” The chapter opens with this: “Anxiety, fright, panic, uncertainty, helplessness, inability to act, and distrust can catch the survivor unaware and throw her into distress and despair. Other people perceive her reactions as inappropriate and exaggerated. This chapter offers a variety of self-help techniques to recognize and allay these automatic reactions, or to prevent them in the first place.”
Whether or not a mom discloses any prior abuse to providers, doulas, midwives or anyone in her birthing circle, birth professionals must be prepared and sensitive to the challenges survivors face in pregnancy and birth. Click here for a video of Penny talking about When Survivors Give Birth.
Estimates are that between one in four and one in three women have a history of childhood sexual abuse. This number is likely higher as childhood sexual assault is under reported.
Regular Mother’s Circle readers (thank you!) know that I believe in empowerment through knowledge and awareness. I believe in grabbing hold and owning your birth. For survivors of childhood sexual abuse, perhaps this is even more important advice. To be aware of some of the potential emotional, physical, medical, sexual, social and psychological responses you may experience is a first step in protecting yourself from a birth experience that feels like another violation. Understanding possible personal triggers can help empower you to decline or request certain procedures during your pregnancy and birth. Your experience will be more positive if you feel that you’ve made the decisions and calls along the birth path versus feeling like things were done to you.
A study published in Breastfeeding Medicine in February 2013 shows that new mothers with a history of sexual assault had more sleep disturbances and increased risk for depression. However, breastfeeding Moms had a lower risk than those who were formula feeding or mixed feeding (some combination of breastmilk and formula). Read the abstract here.
I highly recommend this book to any survivor of childhood sexual abuse, an additional resource is PATTCh.org which stands for Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Birth. PATTCh is a collective of birth and mental health experts dedicated to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth.
© Copyright Leah DeCesare 2014