New resource for women giving birth as survivors of abuse

The resource is developed by experts and survivors and is hosted by The Survivors Trust

Elsa Montgomery, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery at King’s College London, who helped to develop the resource, tells us more…

The Positive Birth Movement (PBM) is concerned ‘with every woman getting the best possible birth experience, for her, on that day.’ For some women, no matter how much the baby is wanted, birth can be a very frightening and lonely prospect and those women find it hard to believe that the experience of birth could be positive. This is often the case for those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. PBM Founder Milli Hill’s Positive Birth Book has a section on giving birth as a survivor of abuse, in which she recognises that childbirth can often awaken memories of these experiences for women. She provides a number of helpful suggestions of things they can do, which includes getting more information about what birth is like.

If you are one of those women, you may be interested in a new resource that is hosted on The Survivors Trust website, which aims to give you information about what birth might be like for you. The team who developed the resource includes women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and researchers at King’s College London. ‘Pregnancy, birth and parenthood after childhood sexual abuse’, recognises that it is not just the birth itself that can be challenging, but the whole process of pregnancy, becoming a parent and taking responsibility for another human being.

Whether or not you think of yourself as a ‘survivor’, the resource will take you through the journey of pregnancy and birth by sharing the experiences of others who were abused in childhood. It will help you to think about what having a baby might be like for you. Perhaps you don’t feel the way that women are ‘supposed’ to feel when they are having a baby, but you will learn that that is OK.

Women have indicated that it would have helped them to know that their experiences were shared by others. You will find a variety of perspectives in the resource so you can see if you recognise yourself. However, it is also important to realise that everyone’s overall individual experience will be unique. We hope this will reassure you that there is no ‘right’ way to be pregnant, give birth and become a parent. You are the expert in what you need. In presenting a variety of experiences we aim to help you think through things that you might find difficult so that you can feel more prepared.

The resource is hosted on The Survivors Trust website (thesurvivorstrust.org/pbpaftercsa) and you can find out a bit more about it on the accompanying flyer. The resource as has an introduction to help you find your way round and then main sections on:

  • Pregnancy
  • Labour
  • Becoming a parent
  • Further resources/sources of support.

Each of the sections is divided into smaller parts so that you can go at your own pace and skip anything that you either don’t think is relevant for you or that you don’t feel ready to look at. We recognise that as you either contemplate having a baby or find yourself pregnant unexpectedly, you are likely to have a lot of questions. You may not want to ask your midwife or doctor those questions or talk about how you are feeling. The resource considers issues that may be challenging: if you should tell your midwife, triggers, strategies for coping, dissociation, protecting your baby. It also asks questions that it may be hard to admit you have:

 

You will meet seven women, all of whom chose their own pseudonyms and whose words are spoken by actors. As you explore the resource, you will accompany them through their journeys to parenthood, sharing their highs and lows. Alongside learning what pregnancy, birth and parenthood were like for them, you will be able to access more general information about what to expect, what your options at various stages are and sources of support.

One of the women you will hear from is Elizabeth. Unlike some women, she remembered her abuse but thought it was in the past and not relevant anymore. She was therefore shocked when she began to get intrusive memories in early pregnancy. Like many who have experienced childhood abuse, she didn’t want to tell any of the people looking after her about it. The guilt and shame over what had happened to her as a child followed her into adulthood. She thought she was a ‘terrible person’ and that she didn’t deserve to have her baby. Her first experience of labour and birth was not what she had hoped for and she felt scared and out of control. The animation of her experience, seen through her eyes, is difficult to watch and makes a lot of women ask, ‘is labour always like this?’ Fortunately, we can say with confidence that it does not have to be. You will also share Elizabeth’s experience of having her second baby. Things were very different for her that time and although her labour didn’t quite go to plan, she was able to say ‘it was warm and it was safe and it was dark and there wasn’t people staring at me and I did it exactly how I wanted to do it.’ This helps us to realise that ‘getting the best possible birth experience on that day’ can be within reach for everyone.

As Milli says in her book, even with the most respectful caregivers, giving birth can sometimes trigger very difficult feelings for survivors. Being pregnant, having a baby and becoming a parent can be hard, but we hope the resource will help you to feel safe and in control.