Shining Light on Healing through Birth and Sexual Assault Awarer ness Month

All women should have the opportunity to own their birth experiences and along the way feel honored and respected by empathetic support persons.

Happy April Fools Day!  In our family, we greet this month with cute little pranks, jokes, and silliness.

To my clients and anyone else reading here on the Tremendoulas blog, however, I offer only sincerity.  There are some heavy topics weighing on my heart this month.  In particular, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 women report being raped at some point in their lives, and half of women report experiencing some other form of sexual violence.  Though not in the same magnitude, men experience these traumas as well.  I will be focusing on women this month because they are the clients I most directly serve.

The numbers, of course, are only telling a portion of the story.  We do not know exactly how many victims there are, because many will never report their experiences.  I have frequently heard that 1 in 4  or 1 in 3  women are victims.  Whatever the case, it is not a tiny problem.  Both on a micro and a macro level, the effects of sexual abuse are powerfully damaging.  I applaud CDC and other organizations for their efforts to raise awareness and improve prevention.

As for myself, I am focusing this month on learning how I can better serve my clients who have a history that includes sexual trauma.  Pregnancy and birth have the potential both to trigger painful memories as well as to heal the wounds caused by abuse.  Of course, it is the healing that I am after.  To better prepare myself for these clients, I have a couple books I am planning to read this month, with a couple of goals.  For the women who choose not to disclose their history, my hope is that I will better be able to detect their needs for careful handling.  For women who bravely share their experience, I would like to have greater resources and skills to support these mothers and improve their chances for an empowering birth.  No matter the client, I feel that all women should have the opportunity to own their birth experiences and along the way feel honored and respected by empathetic support persons.

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So, here are the books:

Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birth, Mothering, and Healing After Sexual Abuse, by midwife Mickey Sperlich.  I also intend to use as a resource Sperlich’s blog, Survivor Moms Speak Out.  Since penning her Survivor Moms book and blog, Sperlich has actually retired from her home birth midwifery practice, but she has proceeded to obtain her PhD in social work and infant mental health and now focuses her research and lecturing on post traumatic stress and other mental disorders in childbearing women.  I look forward to gleaning all that I can from this expert!

When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women, by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus.  These authors’ contributions to the doula sphere are enormous.  Among the founders of DONA International, the leading doula training and certifying organization, Simkin and Klaus have each published notable and well researched works on the role of the doula, as well as created numerous other resources for practicing doulas, expectant families, and care providers.  In my first pregnancy, I checked out Simkin’s The Birth Partner from my local library and was first made aware of the possibility and advantages of a doula in birth.  It was life changing not only in the fact that this book paved the path for my hiring of a doula for our amazing birth experiences, but also that it first sparked my interest in becoming a doula myself.  I keep The Birth Partner, as well as Klaus’s The Doula Book, which I have previously written about here, available for my clients to check out for themselves.  Of the many childbirth references I have, Simkin’s The Labor Progress Handbook is the single book that I keep in my doula bag.  Geared towards care providers and other birth professionals, it is an authority on low-risk, low-technology enhancement and maintenance of labor to prevent and treat “dystocia” or “failure to progress.”  Considering all that I have gained from these pioneers, I anticipate from their book When Survivors Give Birth great insights and useful advice for serving these special mothers.

At the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I plan to report what I’ve learned from these books here on this blog.  Do you have recommendations of any additional resources on this topic that I should look into?  Whether you have familiarity with this subject or are merely interested in learning more yourself, I appreciate all of your feedback.  Please feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch privately.  Also, if you care about these survivors, do them a favor by sharing this page with others so we may all join hands in the work of granting them dignity and the opportunity for healing birth experiences.  Thank you!

As a side note: in the picture above, you can see the candles that I keep in my doula bag.  Made from real wax, they each have a highly realistic, flickering LED flame, and are battery operated for hospital approval.  If these candles are comforting to you, let me know and I will be sure to bring them to your birth!

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