Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing

Hi! Mickey Sperlich here, sitting in for Jan again. I was telling you the story of how our book Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing came to be. As I said, there are 81 women whose stories form the basis for this book. Their stories are varied and rich, and span the time from being a little girl all the way to being a grandmother. There were hundreds of pages of material, and we couldn’t include each word, sadly. But we did our best to include as much of the material as we could. The stories are arranged along a woman’s lifespan as a mother, into chapters entitled “Life before Motherhood," “Pregnancy,” “Labor & Birth,” “Postpartum and Breastfeeding,” “Mothering & Attachment,” and “Healing and Survivorship.”

In each chapter, we have let the narratives lead in terms of what to highlight and discuss. And we have tried to weave in our clinical experience as midwives and to offer short, handy summaries of what the scientific literature has to say about the issues raised, and what resources are available to help women and their care providers. We have tried to do this in a democratic fashion, striving to make this a resource for BOTH women and the providers who care for them.

In the first chapter, women share the stories of what happened to them, and how they went about trying to get help around recovering from the trauma. Some of the women told someone what had happened to them soon after it happened, and were heard, and believed, and got the help they needed. But many women did not tell, or they told and were not heard or believed, or they told and were made to feel shame or blame as a result. It is important for other survivors to know that others share their situations around the difficulty of “telling” and getting help, and very important for midwives and doctors to know of these struggles with disclosure and how the establishment or breaking of trust early on in a girl’s life can influence her relationships later in life. Overall, this chapter shows us that understanding and honoring where we are in the broader context of the life-long journey of recovery is an important step in preparing for motherhood.

Pregnancy is an awesome time in a woman’s life, and for many women it can be quite wonderful. But for some survivors, the bodily experiences of being pregnant can trigger memories of abuse and can complicate things. The second chapter of our book highlights the specific ways that pregnancy can be triggering for survivors, and the many ways in which women sought help to deal with these triggers. Positive changes occurred for many of the women, including feelings of healing, surmounting, being helped and being blessed. Many survivors identified needs for help and assembled a team to help meet these needs: friends, a loving partner, a collaborative midwife or doctor, a therapist, a body-focused professional such as a massage therapist or yoga teacher, a childbirth educator or a doula. Others fell back on creative and sustaining inner resources: journaling, meditating and/or praying, releasing hard emotions with crying, talking to their baby and staying hopeful about being a loving, strong and protective mother.

The third chapter of our book is devoted to labor and birth. Women share about three main issues of care, control and coping: finding the right care for themselves, the importance of being “in control” of those things we CAN control, and figuring out positive coping strategies for dealing with care provider relationships, the experience of labor and birth and potential triggers, and dealing with pain. There are many potential triggers for a survivor when it comes to being in labor and giving birth; some are inherent in the process and some are related to the ways that midwives and doctors care for survivors, and how that care is perceived and experienced. One example is the challenge of undergoing an internal pelvic exam, and strategizing ways in which that can be accomplished with the least amount of discomfort and the highest level of respect. In this chapter, in addition to the narratives, we provide a "best practices" section from the perspective of a midwife, a doctor and a survivor mom. Just as in the pregnancy chapter, while many women report difficult challenges around labor and birth, still others report that giving birth in and of itself is very healing for many survivors, and knowing some best practices for how to facilitate such healing is one basic goal of this whole effort. I am happy to report that while we have been working on our book, another great resource has appeared that offers many specific suggestions for dealing with pregnancy, labor and birth-related triggers for survivor moms, and offers strategies to deal with them: When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women (Classic Day 2004). I’m thrilled to report that the authors of that book, Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus, will be speaking, together with my co-author Julia Seng and myself, at the upcoming Midwifery Today conference here in Ann Arbor, May 7-10, entitled "Hope & Healing: Collaborating to bring Midwifery & Mental Health Care to Women who are Survivors of Sexual Abuse." I hope to meet many of you there! You can find out more about the conference at:

Signing off for now, but in my next entry I want to talk about the last three chapters of "Survivor Moms." Until then, thanks for listening,
-Mickey Sperlich

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