SURVIVING THE MEMORIES SITE FOR SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH RAPE CONCEPTION AND PARENTING

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You and Me Against The World by Helen Reddy

I open by saying that sharing parts of my story of keeping a rape-conceived child is not an attempt to exert influence or pressure on any woman facing rape-related pregnancy to make the same choice I did, because I believe that every woman has a right to do what's right for her and her life-circumstances. It's very important that other people don't decide for you what you must do. Some people think that an abortion is a must in cases of rape conception, and others think that it is never warranted. Some people may try to push their beliefs onto you. But you will have to live with whatever happens, so it's very much up to you. If you need help making a choice, this article may help you: Rape and Pregnancy I had my child because I wanted to, and knowing my emotional make-up as I do, I believe that having an abortion or relinquishing her for adoption would have been far more traumatic. Certainly, I had plenty of worries about coping, and I'll address some of these below. Even despite the worries though, I knew I would love the child born of my body. This does not mean that what suited me will suit everybody, because I am also aware of women - and their children - for whom having and keeping the child resulted in overwhelming pain for both of them. But I'm saying this is not always the case. Keeping a rape conceived child is often perceived to be neither a desirable nor possible choice. It is a choice, a very real one and I'd like to share with you how that worked for me. If you are a woman contemplating keeping a rape conceived child, or you are some years into the process, I hope my words will be encouraging to you. The following will be set out in Q&A format based on dilemmas I experienced - take or leave what feels right for you, okay?

What is being pregnant by rape like? How does it feel?
Well, I can only tell you what it was like for me. If there is one regret I have, it is that I wasn't able to seek good and supportive help at the very beginning. Unfortunately, people in whom I'd confided decided to spread the tale abroad, which made it very difficult. I recall that many times, stepping outside the door with my pregnant belly was an exercise in shame, because I was so afraid of what other people thought. I felt very very dirty. It shouldn't have been like that, because being a survivor of rape is nothing to be ashamed of. I was not dirty, and neither are you, my friend. Shame doesn't belong to you.

Being pregnant by rape can also throw up issues around your body, especially with some of the more invasive medical procedures you need to undergo if you're continuing the pregnancy. As a matter of fact, my doctor guessed that I had been raped because of a look that crossed my face when he gave me a pelvic, and because I wouldn't discuss the father. He was very nice and understanding - and it will certainly help you if you find a doctor you can trust. You may wish to ask rape crisis services if they know of a doctor they've had positive experiences with.

You may find that you struggle with a sense of being out of control of your body and what happens to it, which is really common after rape, and may be doubled if you get pregnant. At first, I felt that what had happened was a cosmic joke. I thought my body had betrayed me. But it didn't; it simply did what a woman's body does when it's fertile and producing an egg that is fertilized by sperm. In a funny way, what helped me make sense of it was this: A man can can produce semen anytime he wants, but I only produce an egg for 24-48 hours a month. Therefore it was primarily my body and not his act, that called my baby into being. This isn't an attempt to deny the horror of being raped, or the contribution of that to the pregnancy. But if he'd raped me shortly before or after he did, I wouldn't have got pregnant - my body determined that, and this way of making sense of it has been enormously empowering for me.

It was very difficult to see other pregnant women whose partners adored them. I often cried when I saw this, felt so sad; sordid and horrible and like I didn't deserve anybody's love anyway. All I had was a rapist who periodically threatened to kill me., and I didn't take action because I was so ashamed and thought it was my fault. It wasn't. You must surround yourself with as many loving, caring people as you can. If you have a good and respectful male friend or brother, that will be helpful too.

One of the worst things was the loneliness. There were very few people who understood; the church I attended moralized, blamed, disbelieved and ultimately abandoned me. I carried my feelings largely alone, until I discovered rape counselling, and then, 15 years later, a wonderful online community of rape survivors, some of whom had had the same experience. Don't go through this alone, my friend. Gather supports around you. Please, if you haven't already, engage a sexual assault counsellor - go here for numbers. Also, of you would like support from other survivors who continued their pregnancies, I can promise you you'll find good online support at Pandora's Aquarium.

If I've made the process sound completely horrible, you may wonder why I bothered gpoing through it. As I said above, I knew I would love my baby, and I looked forward to a future where it would get easier - which it did. My love of music was a comfort, I already had a little boy to look after, and because I basically knew I had made the right choice, I dug my heels in and toughed the shitty times out. I know I was right to do so, and I share the hardship in the hope that it may make things easier for a sister who reads this.

What if the child looks like the rapist? How do you deal with that reminder?
My child does look exactly like her father, and at first, this was somewhat disturbing. I say "somewhat" because even though this was the case, I still loved her very very much. If your baby looks like his/her father and this is very disturbing for you, it's probable that you need some counselling to deal with the trauma of the rape. When the rape becomes less traumatic, reminders often lose their power to throw us.

The thing is that rape survivors - whether they had a baby or not - have to deal with reminders of all kinds. In my experience, a beautiful baby is certainly not the worst reminder that one can have, and mine brought with her many compensations. As my baby got older, I also noticed how very much she looked like her sweet self, and I think she's beautiful. Plus, if she was born with those looks, so what? Just as it wasn't my fault, it's not hers either. I no longer even regret that she shares his features, I am grateful that she is healthy and that she is here. With any choice we make, nothing will be perfectly comfortable, and in my experience, the good has far outweighed the bad.

By all means, if reminders disturb you, do, please acknowledge them to a trusted other or a rape counsellor. They don't mean you don't love your child; they are a normal part of what you've experienced. Do try always to have your response to reminders privately and with a good support person without it spilling onto your child. Reminder-responses can be made less traumatic with time and help.

If I have my rape-conceived child, isn't it better to forget about the rape? Won't thinking about it make raising the child harder?
Even where we try to block or forget a trauma, it may have a way of finding us. Struggling to forget because you really want to raise your child may not be the best idea. Some of us find that when a trauma won't stay gone, we do destructive things like abuse substances in order to numb it again. Much better, in my opinion, to acknowledge that the rape is troubling you, and get help. Don't block the rape because you're afraid you won't love your child. I made that mistake; I felt that facing the fact that I had been raped would sever the love I had for my daughter. I have since learned that NOTHING - certainly not a mean, ugly little act like rape, can destroy the force and ferocity of my love for my child. I know that if I had kept it inside me, that is what would have been destructive. I know it sounds trite, but for me, it is certainly true that love does conquer all.

Any mother who is a survivor of rape deserves to get support to deal with difficult issues so that they have less impact on her parenting. It is no different if the rape resulted in her child - in fact it is arguably even more important to get help.

What if my child finds out? Should I tell him/her?
Mothers have written to me and said that they're afraid their child will find out. That is a valid fear. Unfortunately, my daughter found out by accident, and it broke her heart. It was very distressing and I was seriously worried about her. I made myself available for her to talk to, and when I felt pain myself, I got support privately from my online survivor community. Certainly it's not great if your child finds out by accident.

Some people think that you should always tell; they believe that not telling is the same thing as lying.\. But I don't believe that omitting something to protect your child's psyche is at all the same as telling lies. Nevertheless, my daughter, as well as other rape-conceived people I have spoken to, say that they are glad they know. I am guided by this, and yet I also know of situations where the information was incredibly destructive for the child. Please read this excellent and helpful article: Telling your child about his/her rape conception

The decision to tell or not is of course, yours. Some of the very kind people in the Stigma group, set up for rape-conceived people and their parents, may also be able to advise you about ways of telling. Here is their Mailing List .

Rape-conceived people have written to me to say that their mothers will not discuss their conception with them. I don't know, but I would guess that this may be unhealed trauma at work. If the rape is faced, while it will not be easy to discuss it with your child, it won't be like a terrifying opening of something you may have spent years trying to suppress. Your child does have the right to ask questions. Please get support for yourself from a counsellor or a trusted friend.
Follow the suggestions in this article for support for yourself and your child.

What if the child shares the violent characteristics of his/her father?
In my experience, that fear is almost laughable. My daughter is spunky, funny, and, while she has no time for bullshit, she is, most of all, kind. She received awards in primary school for her care of the disabled students, with letters from mothers telling me what a special little girl she was. Recently, she lost sleep in floods of tears because she served a boy in the shop she works at who was dying of cancer. She is a beautiful mother to her own children; indeed, she could teach me a thing or two. While I don't want to dismiss fears people have iof their child sharing traits with a rapist,, my husband - who adopted her - and I, have raised her with love. Perhaps in some cases, that makes a difference. I think that what Khalil Gibran writes might just be true: Our children come through us, not from us. She didn't come from darkness, she came from the same light that we all come from.

What if the rapist tries to get access/custody?
This does happen occasionally, and it is a grotesque thing for a mother to face. If you reported the rape and have evidence, your case against such an action will be stronger. Please engage legal support if this happens to you, and I hope it won't. You can find some useful women's legal links here. Do NOT listen to any idiot who wants to suggest that the "father has rights." A rapist shouldn't have them, though, if they were cruel and arrogant enough to assault you, it shouldn't be surprising that they may also make legal claims.

What is it like now?
These events happened to me more than two decades ago. I couldn't live without my beautiful girl; she's one of my best friends, and she has given me beautiful grandchildren, which also seems to have helped her heal. Indeed, it has even become possible for her to make gentle jokes about her biological father, which we both roar laughter at. While I have no overall regerts, the only regret I have ever had is that the knowledge of her conception hurt her so badly. That was the only time it ever occurred to me that other options might have been better - for her sake. But we got through that. She isn't a "result" of a dreadful deed that hardly matters anymore, she is just my darling girl. If I have made the journey sound easy, I didn't mean to, because it wasn't. But it was certainly worth it. I know I did the right thing. For us.

The Author of this article granted permission for its use on this site only. You may link to it but please do not copy.
~ Donna

 
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