The sexual abuse I suffered as a child took away from me the most valuable and special thing a woman can experience – motherhood. The depression I felt after my son was born grew rapidly and I completely fell apart. I didn’t really understand what PTSD was at the time. Hell, I don’t think even doctor’s had a strong grasp of it back then. I had an increasingly difficult time taking care of my son. It was like it was a stranger in the tiny little body I held in my arms. Although I felt an intense love for him, I felt little bond with my son. Mostly, I was afraid I could hurt him again and I knew I couldn’t let that happen.
I was without a maternal instinct; that’s the only way I know how to describe it. I realized I couldn’t be a proper mother and that realization killed the very heart of me. I was so ashamed. What was wrong with me? What kind of woman is incapable of not caring for her child? What did that say about me? What did that make me? In my mind, I had become even more worthless.
I was honest with my mom about it. She started to help me out more with my son, giving me some breaks to try to get myself together. But that was hard since I didn’t really know what was wrong. I was 19 and I felt so very confused. All I knew for sure was that the best thing I could do for my son was to try to get myself healthy. Dave didn’t know what was going on and at that point, he didn’t need to know. He barely came to visit anyway. My mom was my savior at the time, even though she was quite ill. She had a liver disease was slowly killing her. When my son was just a couple months old, my mother received word that a new liver was waiting for her. She and my father rushed to the city and she underwent a very long and complicated transplant surgery. She was going to be there for a long time, so I was left to care for my son on my own. It was too much. I had no business caring for a baby while I was that depressed. Around this time, I started thinking about suicide. Most of my friends had abandoned me – what did they know about having to become a parent all the sudden just out of high school? I was too much for them to be around. The result was me feeling more alone than I had ever felt, and no one seemed to even care.
As a favor to my mother, my sister Sharon tried to help out and take my son for a while, but she had recently had a miscarriage and just couldn’t handle it emotionally. Then my grandmother tried to help, but she couldn’t lift the baby anymore. Everyone, including my own sisters, thought I was just being young and selfish but they didn’t understand. I was emotionally damaged. I was trying not to hurt my baby. I was being responsible! But no one wanted to see that. No one understood. With my mother away, I had no support and what was worse is I was worried my mother who I loved so dearly might not even survive. From her hospital recovery bed, my mother wrote a letter to me and my sisters and had our church pastor read it at a family meeting:
To My Daughters,
I love each of you more than I can say. You are each special within yourselves. Each of you has felt the trauma of your childhood in different ways. I am very proud of each one of you and how you have struggled to hold onto the values I taught you.
My prayer at this very moment is that you girls could become closer and be a support to each other. It doesn’t mean that you have to always agree, but we must not let anger get in the way. We each handle things differently.
Sharon, you always tried to be so strong. But things have not been easy nor has life gone smooth. You remind me of myself, strong on the outside but hurting inside, not wanting anyone to know because that would mean you failed.
Sandy, you tried to keep to yourself and wouldn’t let anyone in. I worried most about you because I never knew where you were emotionally.
Sarah, I guess I know you best. With you being the youngest, we spent a lot of time together. You were the child I thought had been spared. Well, you only started to remember lately. You are just starting through a very painful process. You tried to be so strong but you were breaking into pieces at the same time. You are carrying a lot of guilt because of your son and I know you are not getting support because even family doesn’t understand. I am very proud of you because you did not take the easy way out. You had the baby and started out being a mother. When you felt something was not right, you came to me to talk. You have taken every step to protect your child against you possibly striking out in anger.
Although we thought the baby was going to be taken care of until I return home, which I am looking forward to if Sarah needs me, I feel communication has broken down and family members are back to anger. Sharon and grandma can no longer help care for the baby. He must be #1 priority tonight. Please, as a family, try to work something out.
I love you,
Ultimately, we never found a way to keep my son in the family. Our Pastor spoke to me briefly about possibly putting my him up for adoption. He knew a wonderful Christian couple who were looking to adopt. I did consider it – I had to consider what might be best. Dave hadn’t been around much and I was a mess, so I thought maybe it could be a good idea. I spoke with Dave about it and he was definitively against it. I understood but I just didn’t know what to do. I felt so lost. While pregnant, I thought everything was going to be so wonderful, but instead everything was falling apart and I was not prepared for the reality of it at all. Ultimately, I had to ask Dave for help. He agreed to take our son and care for him until I could get myself together.
I still saw my son often, but not every day; I was emotionally distraught and I was finally trying to deal with the incest. Dave knew my history and he tried being understanding, at first. I moved around a bit, between my parent’s house and an apartment I shared with a friend for a while. I always saw my son when he was with my parents every other weekend, even if it wasn’t for the entire time he was there. It was difficult for me to do it, but I knew my son needed me. I did the best I could with the devastated state I was in. I tried a couple times to take him back, into my apartment, and be a full time parent, but the depression was overwhelming and he would go back to his father after a couple weeks. Dave still wanted to be with me at the time. He even wrote me a letter after seeing the hard time I was having. He expressed his love for me and even took responsibility for our relationship failing, but it was too late. I just didn’t love him anymore.
The letter didn’t get the response he had hoped for and he slowly started to turn bitter against me. I can’t say that I blame him, but we had a child together, and we needed to put on a good face for our son. But it was clear that Dave had it in for me. At that time, I still felt so very much alone and was once again considering suicide.
Forward a couple years…
It took me two years to make significant progress. I went through some counseling, even though I hated it. The therapist just wanted to lump me into a category with everyone else. I stopped seeing her when she started getting angry with me if there was nothing I needed to talk about. Honestly, I think I had the wrong therapist and I don’t think I was ready. I was only doing it because my mom wanted me to. I was too young and stubborn to understand the process or to understand the depths of what my childhood had done to me. It would take another 20 years for that to become clear.
My mother was alive and healing. I had moved out and was living with my boyfriend. My son was living with Dave and had still been spending every other weekend at my parent’s place, where I would spend time with him. He didn’t know what was going on, just that his mommy was sick and getting better. It had been a rough couple years. I was young and damaged. I still didn’t understand what had happened to me, still didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to be a mother.
Dave had basically written me off, even though I was trying to do the right thing by our son. At his christening, which Dave arranged (I was not Catholic), I was invited to the ceremony, but when it came time for the parents to go up on the pulpit, Dave took his girlfriend and left me sitting there. I was so hurt; I just sat there completely destroyed inside. The pain was unbearable. It was as though he had stabbed me in the heart.
Even with Dave’s cruelty towards me, we maintained some civility towards each other. I was getting my life together and no longer felt the helplessness and anger I had felt just after my son was born. I went back to college and was making a life for myself. I still didn’t have a natural maternal instinct, but I wanted to be more of a parent – my son deserved that much. I wanted it for both of us.
He had been spending every other weekend at my house instead of my parents for over a year and I was taking on much more of a parental role. As our relationship progressed, it was clear that we needed more time together as mother and son. He had just turned four years old and he kept asking to spend more time with me and it was what I wanted too. However, Dave had actually recently reduced our weekend time together.
I went to Dave one night and asked if I could take our son one evening a week for dinner and he flat out refused. I was stunned! I was trying to do what was right. It felt like Dave was using this to get back at me for ending our relationship. It wasn’t the first time he’d use our son to get back at me. This time around, Dave had recently married and they just wanted me out of their lives. He wasn’t thinking of what was best for our son, who had a right to both of his parents. I told Dave he’d be hearing from my attorney.
It was the bravest I had ever done, up to that point, walking into that attorney’s office and going through that terrible process of fighting for my son. All I wanted was more time with him; I didn’t want full custody, didn’t want to take him away from the home he had known. I just wanted a little more time with him. Dave, however, wasn’t about to let that happen. I was very truthful in my deposition; I had no need to lie. But when we received Dave’s response, it was filled with blatant lies. I was reduced to instant tears. He actually responded that I had completely disappeared for the first three and a half years of our son’s life! Oh my God! What? Are you kidding me? How can he say that? It’s perjury! In fact, every single word of his deposition was an out and out lie and he even had the balls to state that it was in fact me that was the liar. I cried for days.
Luckily, I had all the proof in the world that Dave was lying. I had pictures of me and my son together from his birth forward, including in my own apartment. I had hair from his first haircut. I had legal documents that both Dave and I had signed from when our son was a year old. I even had videotape of family gatherings. It is the most terrible thing to have to prove you are the one telling the truth.
Luckily, a few weeks later, we settled out of court through mediation. I got everything I was asking for. What was worse was that Dave had a wife who was terrible to our son. She tried telling him that she was his really mommy, not me, and that he came out of her tummy. They forced him to call me by name rather than “mom” when he was at their house. All the while my son kept telling me he wanted to live with me. We’d go through more tough times with Dave and his different wives in the years to follow, all the while Dave dissing me to our son. Dave even decided it was a good idea to tell our son that I had once considered putting him up for adoption. I guess Dave forgot that it wasn’t even my idea. And why would you put your son though that?? Dave used ever chance to try to turn our son against me. Those years were the most terrible of my life. I still feel guilt for not being a more normal mom but I was trying and my son and I had developed a great relationship. That was then though. Now is an entirely different story.
My son is 24 years old now and in the military and we are somewhat estranged, thanks to his father and my sisters. I haven’t seen him in 5 years. It’s been a long road. There hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t wished I could have felt those normal maternal feelings. I spent years wondering what was wrong with me. Why was I so messed up? Just a couple years ago, I finally figured out that the incest in my childhood greatly affected my ability to be a mother, especially since I started dealing with it during my pregnancy – I never had a chance. Motherhood was stolen from me before I even reached puberty; I just didn’t know it.
Survivors of incest are affected in many different ways. For me, I lost the chance to experience motherhood for what it should have been, a wonderful and precious experience. It also robbed my son of the mother he deserved. I never had another child – I knew I couldn’t go through it again. That part of me will always be lost and for that I will always feel incomplete, and many people will look down on me for it. I have yet to meet another incest survivor who has experienced this side effect of incest. I can only hope that it truly is rare. No one should ever have to endure what I have for the last 24 years and will continue to endure for the rest of my life.