Healing childhood sexual abuse: impact on pregnancy, birth & mothering

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Healing childhood sexual abuse: impact on pregnancy, birth & mothering

Women’s own childhood experiences can influence whether or not they wish to have children and provides them with a general motherhood template for pregnancy, birth and child caring and rearing. This template can be either from the perspective of what to do, or alternately, what not to do, especially if they have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Those women with such an abuse background can find the perinatal period – the period immediately before and after the birth and the first few years of a child’s life – especially stressful, with old memories reactivated and associated ideals and beliefs reinforced.

Childhood sexual abuse is still regarded as a subject that most people want to avoid acknowledging, let alone talking about openly. But can we afford not to have the conversation, given its prevalence?

It’s difficult to give exact figures in statistical terms due to lack of available quality data, but one global meta-analysis of available data found the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse to be 18.0% for females and 7.6% for males overall[1], while the Australian Bureau of Statistics report that rates of physical and sexual abuse in children to be 16% for females and 11% for males[2]. As shocking as these figures are, empirical evidence suggests that the real figures would leave most people gasping, as it is commonly accepted that under-reporting is widespread. Certainly, my experiences working as a counsellor for women during the perinatal period leads me to agree, with most women speaking about experiencing childhood sexual violence. This trauma tends to be readily re-activated within women at this time in their lives.

The ways this abuse history plays out can vary. For some women, the prospect of being physically examined for medical reasons or during pregnancy is enough to trigger off alarm bells; for others it can be around actually giving birth itself and the fact that it actively involves intimate parts of their body. Some women hold a strong preference for either a boy or a girl, believing that this will be the safest option for either the child, themselves or both as they go through life. These women, for example, may prefer a boy as they feel that boys have less chance of being sexually abused and therefore it’s safer to be male in this world. Alternatively, they may believe that having a boy is overwhelming (especially if conception was a result of non-consensual sex) as they are faced with the challenge of rearing a child who is the same sex as the perpetrator. On the other hand, some women may struggle with having a girl because they are scared they won’t be able to protect the child from sexual abuse and they don’t want their child to go through similar experiences to their own.

Regardless of the child’s sex, the immense fear of their child being abused by someone usually instils a great deal of anxiety. Subsequently, mistrust is rife, and they feel that they can’t let their child out of their sight or allow anyone else, partners included, to be involved in the care of their baby.

Sometimes women are struggling with the fact that their perpetrator is still accepted within family circles, so their nightmare is how to still interact with important family members while protecting their child from potential abuse. The alternative is to be cut off from family, which is a further re-enactment of how they were treated as children if they didn’t maintain their silence around the abuse. I commonly hear statements such as “I don’t know who I am anymore”; “If I don’t trust myself, how can I trust anyone else?”; “I don’t want what happened to me to happen to my child, but I’m scared I’ll miss something along the way and fail by not protecting them”. This sense of fear and turmoil leaves mothers feeling exhausted and lost. Little wonder that this group of mothers can find having a baby leaves them feeling isolated, powerless, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed and vulnerable.

Breastfeeding can be another big area of concern, with women feeling caught in a bind whereby breastfeeding their baby triggers off old memories of abuse, especially if they have a male child and their breasts were previously a focal point in the abuse. Yet the alternative activates guilt and shame. To those who have never experienced such childhood abuse, it may seem easy to distinguish between the two situations, but for women who have been through these experiences, the boundaries are not necessarily so clear-cut.

The above scenarios can all make the situation appear very grim and hopeless as another generation is impacted by the effects of childhood sexual abuse. However, pregnancy, birth and adjusting to caring for a child appear to act as strong motivators for many, though definitely not all mothers to want to learn more about themselves. Furthermore, they seek to know how they can unravel the confusing sexual abuse web and its associated trail of self-doubt and low self-worth that lingers on from their childhood.

The shift for healing starts slowly from within through a growing sense of knowing there is more to them than what they have been taught and involves a willingness to take responsibility for control of their lives. In this raw state, women begin to question things such as who they really are at their core, what their values are, what is and isn’t working in their lives, and the underlying pictures they may hold that anchors their assumptions and expectations of themselves as women, and especially as mothers.

“In my heart I am eternally loved.”

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations, Volume II, ed 1, p 421

By no means am I suggesting that this is an easy lineal path. In reality, there are numerous challenges along the way, including dealing with the reactions of others as changes occur. Stripping back the illusions, dismantling old ideals and beliefs and taking responsibility for how they live now requires honesty and commitment. Women are asked to re-assess: ‘Have the old strategies truly worked?’ … ‘What stays and what needs to be discarded?’. They have usually led lives to that point that confirmed their perceived flaws and lack of self-worth, with various relief seeking strategies used to mask the inner pain. This ‘life’ stocktake can be hard, painful work yet this perinatal period is offering women the opportunity to reconsider so much of what has previously been taken for granted and viewed as ‘normal’ in their lives.

It’s usually a slow process, however, as time goes by I often witness a gradual unfolding within the women with tangible results starting to emerge as these mothers activate an energetic shift from a sense of being powerless to accepting and claiming their true worth. It can start with little acts of self-care, such as:

  • Allowing themselves the time to prepare and eat nutritious meals

  • Developing a wind down routine to help improve sleeping, e.g. using the Gentle Breath Meditations™

  • Exercising, e.g. walking regularly

  • Asking for and accepting help from others

  • Going out with their child and meeting and talking with other mothers

  • Taking prescribed medication if required

  • Linking in with support networks such as child health professionals, including counsellors, who they feel can assist them on this path.

The details of their life stories are relevant but are not the specific focus here, as true healing requires an energetic shift from within. As these women begin to reveal more of what is going on inside themselves and the way their thoughts and behaviours etc. help or hinder them, self-empowerment grows and they start to leave behind the old ‘victim’ mould that has held them captive. What can unfold along the way is a more loving connection with themselves and a developing capacity to discerningly trust another human being, often for the first time in their lives since the abuse occurred years before.

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The process of healing

The process of healing has to come from self-love, for without it, it is merely for relief and therefore there is no true healing.

Self-empowerment through the self-discovery that takes place is quite powerful as women start to realise their unique qualities and incorporate these strengths into not only mothering, but all areas of their lives. As they start to value and honour themselves as women, there is a re-discovery of their inner being – their essence. What commonly astounds them is that they are beautiful, love-filled beings just as they are, with imperfections both allowed and accepted. This ‘knowing’ has usually lain dormant since they were little children before the abuse occurred and is untouched by their childhood experiences. Their grandness, hidden in the false belief that hiding it offered protection, can be too much for some women to accept and so they turn away at this point. But for others, the more it starts to shine through, the deeper they choose to delve and to reimprint their foundations with a quality of nurturing tenderness for themselves and their child.

As women start to relate to themselves with more warmth and enjoyment, the critical, negative self-talk regarding their mothering abilities begins to diminish.

They find that they are able to follow their baby’s cues more easily and make decisions around what they feel is in the best interests of their child, even if they are taken outside of their comfort zone initially. The level of perfectionism drops as women learn to trust their own parenting wisdom. Their self-worth and self-confidence build and is especially confirmed through their baby’s responsiveness to the newfound rhythm and flow in the love and care they receive. As women start to truly hold themselves in self-love, children instinctively know their mothers and others are more authentic and available for them.

What is beautiful to observe is the level of self-valuing that builds momentum – the more it is activated, the more it sprouts and grows. Women who follow this path find their voice and start to learn to speak out more. Initially, they feel empowered to do this on behalf of their child, but gradually they learn to do this on behalf of themselves in the treasuring and honouring of themselves as women and mothers.

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Our essence is not touched by ordeals

Our true essence is always pure and never touched by even the worst imaginable abuse and ordeals. Connecting to our true essence in our body brings about great healing.

For some women, including those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, pregnancy, birth and motherhood can offer the opportunity to not just raise a child but to connect to their inner essence that supports the development of true self-worth and a deeper understanding that they are innately sacred, powerful beings. This sacred essence is always present though sometimes temporarily lost from view, particularly for those who have lived with sexual abuse as a child.

While mothering can be the catalyst for rediscovering what was lost, what is equally important to recognise is that these innate qualities are accessible within all women willing to stop, address their issues, introduce self-care, self-love and a depth of honouring which brings forth their innate qualities and power. What a gift to all just waiting to be unwrapped and lived!

"The natural essence of the flower is to bring itself out in full. So too is our ability to heal.

It is our natural essence to come out in full and be who we truly are."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric & Exoteric Philosophy, ed 1, p 24

References:

  • [1]

    Australian Bureau of Statstics (2016). Personal Safety, Australia, 2016. Canberra, Australian Government.

  • [2]

    Stoltenborgh, M., et al. (2011). "A Global Perspective on Child Sexual Abuse: Meta-Analysis of Prevalence Around the World." Child Maltreatment 16(2): 79-101.

Filed under

AbusePregnancyMotherhoodChildrenBirthSelf-empowerment

  • Thumb small helen giles crop

    By Helen Giles, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, MMH (Family Therapy), Post Grad Cert Family Therapy & Counselling, M. EPA.

    I love that life is amazing with every relationship offering constant drops of pure gold, whether that be in my work as a perinatal counsellor or through friends, family and others I meet in everyday life.

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    Photography: Rebecca Wingrave, Photographer

    I am a tender and sensitive woman who is inspired by the playfulness of children and the beauty of nature. I love photographing people and capturing magical and joyful moments on my camera.