Parenting as a Child-abuse Survivor

I was molested by my grandmother’s boyfriend.

I don’t remember when it began — I think I was 7 or 8 — but I recall bits and pieces of the abuse.

I remember him cornering me outside the bathroom and saying, “Don’t you like me? Just let me have a little kiss.” He was too close, and his breath was harsh. I cried, and he let me pass.

I recall cutting my leg on a nail in the dining room as I tried to dodge his hands.

I remember him blocking my exit from the kitchen and touching my budding breasts. I cried as I looked out the window and spotted a neighbor watching it happen. I prayed she would yell out or step through her back door and make him stop.

Instead, she turned away and closed her curtains.

Lastly, I remember how it ended. During an episode of “Oprah,” I heard a woman say she’d felt trapped by her abuser.

“I know I how you feel.” It slipped from my lips, surprising me and my mom.

And so began a long stretch of questions, sad answers, confrontations, and denials.

In the end, there was no police report. There was no therapy. He didn’t even move out of my grandmother’s house.

Life just went on, and I went with the flow.

Twenty-five years later, I thought was fine and had recovered decades before. Then I got pregnant.

The seeds of fear and doubt that my abuser had sown — seeds I knew were there but I thought I’d buried deep — began to sprout.

How my experience affects me as a mother

  • I was afraid to breastfeed.

I knew I wanted to nurse Baby Bird, but I wasn’t sure I could. I wasn’t sure I could handle being touched so often in such an intimate place. I was afraid the sensations associated with breastfeeding would remind me of my abuse.

Even after Baby Bird was born and latched on, I still wasn’t positive I could stick with breastfeeding. It was uncomfortable. The feelings were confusing — there was nothing sexual, but there was a disconcerting vulnerability. It felt like I had lost control of my breasts, and that made me queasy.
I had to mentally remove myself from the experience until I became accustomed to nursing.

More than a year into breastfeeding, there are still times when I experience emotional discomfort while nursing. Baby Bird has become much more assertive, and she’ll sometimes pull at my shirt, tug on my bra, or squeeze or slap my breasts. I sometimes have to mentally detach. Those moments are fleeting, but they still happen.

  • I felt on edge when Baby Bird was around or held by men.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t want a man to touch my child.

Not her father. Not my father. Not her uncles.

I could feel the anxiety building if she cried while my husband was changing her diaper. I’d rush into the room and take over.

He probably thought I was being overbearing. In reality, the hurt little girl in me was compelling me to go “save her.”

If he was holding her and patted her butt …

If he rubbed her stomach to get her back to sleep …

If he rubbed her back to stop her tears …

The anxiety … those seeds of fear …

How did I move past that? It took months of telling myself that “Greg isn’t Mr. X. Greg would never hurt you. Greg would never hurt her. Greg ISN’T hurting her.”

I know my husband would never intentionally hurt our child. I just had to convince the hurt little girl in me.

  • I was sometimes afraid to touch her.

Diaper changes, bath time, even cuddles sometimes brought up irrational fears that she would see me as an abuser. What’s worse is that I was afraid Baby Bird would be taken from me if I told anyone how I felt, so I struggled in silence with those fears.

I used to talk Baby Bird through diaper changes, telling her everything I was doing and why. I didn’t want there to be any question of why I was wiping her more than once, or why I was inspecting her so closely.

Detailing what I was doing clearly wasn’t for her benefit — after all, she was just months old. Doing it gave me some mental distance from the moment and gave the truth time to sink in — I’m not my abuser and I have a healthy, loving physical relationship with my child.

The diaper change detailing isn’t something I do anymore, but I could see myself reviving the practice once Baby Bird is older. No, not out of fear, but as a gateway into discussions about appropriate/inappropriate touching.

Where I am now

I wish I had an easy answer for how to be a brave parent after overcoming childhood abuse, but I don’t. I don’t know that there is an easy answer.

In truth, I’m afraid for my child. Despite knowing that we’re surrounded by loving, nurturing people who would never intentionally hurt her, I’m afraid.

I want to protect her from the world, which is fair because I know that’s what all parents want to do. But I’m afraid I’ll take it to the extreme and become the ultimate helicopter parent, scared to let her go to sleepovers, stay with relatives, or go on playdates without me.

I’m afraid she’ll think I’m smothering her — and I’m afraid I will be.

I’m afraid I’ll taint her childhood with the last vestiges of my abuse.

The best I can do is teach Baby Bird that her body is her own, and that she has a right to refuse anyone access to it. Make sure she knows she can tell me or her father about ANY touching that makes her uncomfortable. Make sure she uses the anatomically correct names for her body parts so if, God forbid, we ever have to file a report, she can clearly explain what happened to her.

I’ll protect her as best I can, but I know I have to let her live.

Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and doing it with my history hasn’t made it any easier. So I’m taking it day by day, trying not to let my struggle affect my daughter’s journey.

I’m taking it day by day, just as I would with healing from any trauma.

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Childhood Sexual Abuse: Learning How to Parent as a Survivor