Survivors as Caregivers

By Brittany Lafirira, Youth Advocate, H.O.P.E. Works

Being a survivor of sexual violence is hard. You go through times where your assault or abuse doesn’t cross your mind and then, suddenly something happens and it’s all you think about. Becoming a parent or caregiver is sometimes the thing that triggers past thoughts or feelings. While we often hear that being pregnant and starting a family is the best thing that can happen to someone, there isn’t a lot of talk about how scary and harmful that process can be.

A lot of research has been done on how becoming pregnant can impact survivors. It changes your hormone levels and can be a painful feeling like you have less control over your body. Once the baby is born the risk of post-partum depression increases with being a survivor. If you are a survivor and are thinking about starting a family there are many resources available. Often times Midwives will be more trauma informed and can help make check-ups and the birthing process as comfortable as possible for you. Talking to them about your past trauma will help you get the care you need. For some reading and other resources check out:

For resources on pregnancy and surviving trauma see here and here.

Something that isn’t often talked about is what happens once the baby is born. How trauma can manifest in different ways. Adoptive and Step-Parents are also often left out of the conversation. This can be really harmful when they are often already in a difficult spot.

In doing research on this topic, I learned that many people that experienced any form of sexual violence, but especially those that have experienced childhood sexual abuse have a hard time with certain aspects of parenting. The most common ones I have heard in my time as an advocate and in doing some research are (besides pregnancy) bath time and changing diapers. Parents often feel like they are intruding on the privacy of their child by doing routine and necessary tasks. A common fear parents have while doing these every day things is that they in turn will become abusers. This is NOT true. While it is common for abusers to have a trauma history, it is a harmful myth that everyone that has been abused becomes an abuser.

After the younger years when kids can become more independent and keep their own bodies clean, new sets of fears can arise. One of the most common things we talk about in our office is giving survivors back their sense of control. This can be triggered when kids start going to sleepovers at their friends’ houses and when they go to school. It’s normal to be uncomfortable with things like childcare, bath time, and diaper changes if you have experienced sexual violence. Most survivors in the research I have done felt like talking about these feelings was helpful. If you are a survivor and a parent or caregiver and are struggling with these thoughts, it’s ok to reach out for help. Local programs or online forums can provide support and be a great outlet to gain more information.

More reading:

Trigger Points Anthology is a blog and book with a collection of interviews and writings by parents who are survivors of childhood abuse.

Huff Post article:  Parenting Survivors of Childhood Abuse Need a Voice

The Mama Bear Effect wrote a wonderful article on this topic.