There are many online guides to pregnancy and fetal development. Kidspot has a good week-by-week guide to pregnancy, which includes medical checks, tips for good nutrition and exercise, information about the development of your little one, labour and birth. It's a site with lots of information on other topics you might find useful, like baby and child development. For more information about prenatal care, please see the Deciding What to Do page here. These books could also be useful: Kaz Cooke's Up the Duff: the Real Guide to Pregnancy (immensely popular with new mums I know), and Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy or Everything Your Doctor Won't Tell You by Vicki Iovine. There are more resources about pregnancy and parenting on the A Pregnancy After This? page here.
As your pregnancy develops you may find you go through many different feelings about your growing little one, your ability to cope, the changes to your body etc. This is a very normal process. The Our Bodies Our Selves might help you feel less alone. This page about pregnancy and birth for adult survivors of child sexual abuse and this page from Pandora's Project about Pregnancy, Childbirth and Parenting as a Survivor might have information relevant to you too. You might also find this book useful: Becoming a Parent: The Emotional Journey Through Pregnancy and Childbirth. The A Pregnancy After This? might have some more links that help you.
You didn't plan to become pregnant, so being pregnant's complicated by making unexpected decisions about your future. It can be very overwhelming, so please remember it's OK, and important, to take whatever time you can just to look after yourself, to rest and recover. Try to think of some things you really like and give yourself a treat by experiencing them. You've got a lot of energy going out, so, if you can, try to put some in as well.
Are you depressed? Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636, Australia's national initiative on depression, has some useful information about depression and questionnaires. There's also good information about depression and how to deal with it on the Reachout website and Headspace, which is Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation. Hormone changes in pregnancy may exacerbate, cause, or alleviate, depression - people all react differently! Depression is a common reaction to trauma. It's important to take it seriously, for both you and your baby. Even if you feel you know the cause - please ask for whatever help you can. Please see the Crisis Links page here for help with depression service and crisis numbers.
Cherie Huber has written a very good book on depression called The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth. It talks about how depression is suppressing other feelings, like anger, fear and sadness. It also talks about how to face your depression with gentleness and compassion.
You may feel very numb and detached right now and be asking yourself if it's worth feeling the feelings that lie beneath the surface, or if it will only makes things worse? In my own experience, yes, it hurts. But it doesn't "only" hurt. Connecting to your feelings allows you to connect with yourself and other people, and see more clearly how to act. It's a rough road but let me urge you to keep walking it - you're headed for safety and recovery. And, remember, you don't have to do it all alone.Anger:
For many of us, anger hasn't been, or isn't now, a safe emotion to express. When you've felt so powerless it can also feel pointless to express your anger. But it's very understandable to be angry and frustrated when you've had such an important choice taken from you. Feeling trapped can make all your emotions build up inside, which can make you depressed and can also truly make you sick. This page has some ideas about safely expressing your anger. It makes an interesting point about the need for your body to do certain movements. You may not have been able to do them when you were attacked, but doing them now may release feelings in a safe and healthy way. I liked these photographs I found, which express both power and grace during pregnancy. Your anger about being hurt and all the resulting major changes in your life is fully justified. Let it out if you can!
Sometimes anger is wordless. Here are more ideas of ways to release it:
A nurse once said to me that anger was like steam - sometimes you needed to vent it, other times you could use the pressure from it to drive a locomotive.
Photos by Susie B and Tom Curtis, Free Digital Photos Net
I find anger a very difficult emotion - it was always the least safe way for me to feel. But often now I use it as a driving force to get things done. Things I want to do. My psychiatrist calls this a "counter-punch" and sometimes I do have a big, "HA! SEE? TAKE THAT!" in my mind. It can be a way to keep my anger turned outwards not inwards. If I deny or repress it, it can hurt me and turn sour.
But what if you're too tired and sick to express your anger so actively? The tiredness and nausea that most people experience, especially in early pregnancy, and especially combined with recovering from rape, can leave you feeling very wiped. It's easy for anger to turn into depression in these circumstances. It's important to find ways to express yourself. Consider which of the above ideas might still suit you (like scribbling on paper) as well as any adaptations that could make an idea more suitable.
At other times anger has plenty of words! It might help you to let yourself write them down, uncensored, just as they spill out, even if you destroy what you've written later on. You might need to write and rewrite - anger can be multi-layered. Writing in this way may also reveal other emotions hidden beneath your anger.
Anger is a protective emotion that defends you against feelings like pain and fear. When you're writing you might try to fill in these blanks
1. It makes me angry when: ___________________
2. When I'm angry, I'm afraid that: ______________________
3. When I'm angry, I feel hurt because: _______________________
This guided imagery exercise from the same good book this list came from might also be useful to you. It's based on reducing our fear of anger, letting ourselves learn more about how it works in us and for us, and accepting it as an ally. This book also has some great advice on how to take mini-relaxation breaks and deal with stress in general. A lot of it could apply to how you feel during your pregnancy. The exercise is from p.170 of Healing Mind, Healthy Woman: Using the MInd-Body Connection to Manage Stress and Take Control of Your Life by Alice D. Domar, Ph. D. and Henry Dreher.
Sit in a comfortable chair and imagine that you're walking through a beautiful field of flowing grass. Now walk to the edge of the field where a forest of tall oaks and pines begins. Find a small pathway into the depths of the woods, and walk for a little while amidst the trees until you come to a cave. Stand and watch quietly as anger emerges from the cave. Anger can be any image - a person, animal, big hairy monster, mythic figure, ball of fire, amorphous black cloud. Allow your imagination to conjure any image of anger that feels right to you. Now imagine you approach that image of anger and take it by the hand. Walk with anger out of the woods and into the field. Sit down in the field with anger and hold a conversation. Find out about your anger with an exploratory spirit. Be open to the idea that your anger's protected you in the past. It defended you from insults, hurts and ill-treatment. If you discover anger's protective quality, thank anger for serving this purpose for you. Thank anger for being there. Talk to anger about what it's done for you. Recognize that anger has protected you but that you have emotions and coping strategies other than anger that can also protect you - assertiveness, conviction, control, articulation. Talk to anger about what it can and can't do for you now. When you're finished talking with anger, stand up and say goodbye to anger. Head back out into the field. Then turn around and see what's happened to anger. Did anger return to the cave, or is it still standing at the edge of the woods? Once you have an image of anger, continue on your way, strolling across the field.
Anger often hides other emotions like fear, pain, disgust and sadness. As you release it you may find those feelings are intense. You're grieving the loss of life as you know it and as you wanted to chose it. Give yourself any space you can to listen to how you feel and treat your wounds with gentle kindness.
It's so understandable that you're scared about the future. You may know you're still in danger from the person who raped you (please see the safety information on the Finding Out and Telling People page here). You've also had no choice in becoming pregnant, which can make you feel very powerless. You've had to think about different options and their possible negative results. It's hard to remember they won't all happen at once (if at all). You might find it useful to write down your fears and go through them with a counsellor or support service (see the Deciding What to Do page here). It's also my experience that the more you know about what may be coming, the more you can prepare and the more secure you feel.
This is a really useful site with many links to pregnancy resources and support in Australia. Many online sexual assault support groups, like Pandora's Aquarium, After Silence, or these other groups, have forums for members to support each other through pregnancy, birth and parenting. Kidspot connects pregnant women and mothers in Australia both online and offline. Here's a similar UK site called MumsNet with information and a message board. I-am-pregnant is another useful online support site, based in the US. There are more resources for support on the A Pregnancy After This? page here.
You should be able to find out more about resources and support in your local area through your doctor, during regular prenatal checks or in childbirth education classes. Making a birth plan may also help you feel more in control and less frightened - please see the Birth page here.
It's also worth remembering that almost all parents, no matter what their circumstances are, have fears about pregnancy, birth and bringing up a child. It's a rewarding job but a very challenging one! The more support you can get the more you'll realize that you're not on your own.
Please don't hesitate to ask questions that might help quell your fears, even if they seem irrational to you. Here are some other good sources of support and information online:
Radiant Mother: Counselling and Coaching for New Mothers
American Pregnancy Association: Promoting Reproductive and Pregnancy Wellness
These resources give specific support and information about dealing with fear during pregnancy:
Fearless Pregnancy: Wisdom and Reassurance from a Doctor, a Midwife and a Mom.
Information and Exercises for Managing Fear and Anxiety
Pandora's Aquarium Links to Free Downloadable Recordings of Guided Imagery and Relaxation Exercises
Rainbow Hope: Useful Relaxation Exercises.
Another book by Cherie Huber, The Fear Book: Facing Fear Once and For All.
A Deep Sense of Violation:
There's something extra-violating in becoming pregnant through rape. For me it had to do with him and me combining at that fundamental level of DNA. While I was pregnant it felt like I still had some of him inside me. It was hard to see any good in a pregnancy that started in such cruelty.
My brother-in-law helped me feel better about the DNA.
Of the 4% of your child's DNA that's specifically human, and common to the rest of the human race, the person who raped you contributed only half. 2% to contribute to the incredibly complex creatures human beings are. And so much of that will encode things that can't be good or bad, like not having a tail and having five fingers and five toes. Then there are things which depend on our own choices. I was raped by my grandfather, someone with whom I shared 1/4 of my genes. I am like him in some ways. He was intelligent and physically strong in some particular ways I share. Those are good things and sometimes I'm even grateful that he passed them on. They're just tools, which he chose to use the wrong way. I can choose differently and I do! That makes me different from him in every way that truly matters. It might also interest you to know that mitochondrial DNA, unlike nuclear DNA, is passed directly from mother to child, so any one person has more of their mother's DNA that their father's.
When I first discovered I was pregnant I felt very let down by my body, even more because the rape was incestuous. But since then I've thought of it differently. I don't know if this will help, but this is how I see it. Out of an act of hatred, designed to cause harm and destruction, my body brought the complex beauty of a growing human life. Whatever the outcome, however long it lasted, out of hate, I brought life and love. That's something to be proud of. Dear friends, our part in this is an amazing transformation. It is only good.
I hope these thoughts might help you, as they have me, to feel less powerless and violated.
Exercise During Pregnancy:
Exercising during pregnancy can help you both physically and emotionally. Here's some information about exercise during pregnancy:
VIC Better Health Channel - Pregnancy and Exercise
Bicycle Victoria - Cycling and Pregnancy and General Information about Exercise in Pregnancy
Sports Medicine Australia Guidelines on Exercise in Pregnancy
Pregnancy Exercises Dos and Don'ts
Getting Fit During Pregnancy
The Pregnancy Centre on Exercise
Pregnancy Exercise Classes - Local Classes and Trainers - Australia
Online Pregnancy Exercise DVDs and Products
Pilates in Pregnancy
There's some more information on the A Pregnancy After This? page here. Remember that it's good to listen to your body! Being pregnant is hard work. Don't push yourself too hard and have fun!
In my opinion, a family is something created in love. Anyone who creates a child out of hate instead of love breaks their connection with that child. This little one is not your rapist's child in any way. It's harder to feel than to say, I know! And it's hard to connect with a baby you never planned when you're dealing with trauma too. This information about bonding during pregnancy might help:
Bonding With Your Baby, Including During Pregnancy
Bonding With Your Baby, During Pregnancy
Six Articles on Bonding With Your Baby in the Womb During Pregnancy
What if you're afraid of bonding in case you lose the baby, or you're intending to place it for adoption? People will feel differently about this and what's best for you is what matters. Please take what helps from here and ignore what doesn't. For me, not knowing I was pregnant till the last minute, when I lost them, I don't believe not bonding has helped the grieving process. In fact, I think the opposite's true. For me, grieving and recovering has first involved finding some way to connect. If you've never said hello, how can you say goodbye? These articles might help you think about it:
Saying Hello Before Goodbye: Keeping a Birth Mother's Journal
The Profound Importance of a Mother's Hello
I think maybe some form of bonding is inevitable - the connection is there whether it's good or bad, accepted or denied. Bonding might help with some of the sense of violation and body-image issues too. For me it makes sense, for both ourselves and the little one we carry, to do all we can to be comfortable together. Even if the time we have is very short, we can share it lovingly.
So, what it you want to find some ways to bond during pregnancy? It may help to give an individual name to that new and individual presence inside you. Giving a funny or cute name to the developing fetus (like Cletus the Fetus, Peanut etc.) is something many people do. Thinking of possible names for the baby can also give you some sense of comfort and acceptance.
Talking or writing letters to your little one might also help you bond. Many people keep a pregnancy journal. You can keep an online pregnancy journal in places such as Kidspot and Baby Crowd (and at many other sites). This page talks about how to write a pregnancy journal. There's also a guide here at iVillage Parenting - Pregnancy Journals.
Pregnancy might not seem to you the miraculous time that others talk about. Please know you're not alone in that, even among women whose pregnancy is planned. But writing out how you're feeling and what you're thinking could help you feel calmer and more in control. It might even become a precious record for you.
If you're placing your baby for adoption you might like to make a copy, write a collection of letters to your baby, or make a little book about your pregnancy as a special gift for them. What you can give your baby at adoption will depend very much on where you are and what the agreements are about contact. If you want to make a special gift make sure you check this first to avoid disappointment. This page talks about pre-placement journalling in an open adoption setting in the US. In the circumstances, you may prefer to leave out any information about the birth father, rather than including it, as this page suggests.Touch can also be a way to connect, even before the baby's born. If you gently massage your belly with both hands you'll release hormones that help relax the uterus and the little one inside. Anything that helps you relax will also benefit your growing child.
Music is something that helps many people relax. From five months your baby can hear and, though things sound different through your body and amniotic fluid, sounds from inside and outside can now independently affect your little one. This excellent article on music during pregnancy might give you some ideas. Here's some more information about music during pregnancy from the UK's National Health Service. Here's an article on what your baby can hear in the womb and on music and sounds in the womb. You'll need to avoid using too much music or music that's too loud or jarring.
Many claims are made about how music benefits a baby's neural development. Not all these claims are yet well-substantiated, but, in my opinion, music adds richness to anyone's life, so why not start to share the joy as early as you can! One of the very best ways to share music with your little one is to sing to them. Your voice is a familiar, comforting sound and your singing is something they'll hear differently from music coming from outside you. It's also an active way for you to share something with them and so might help you bond.
From the time your baby can hear your voice will be special to them. Another way to bond is to read them stories. The patterns of language and sound will become more familiar to them that way. And, again, it's a way for you to spend good time together. Pick your own favourite stories and start sharing them. Your baby might enjoy hearing the same stories after it's born.Eating Disorders in Pregnancy:
About 20% of pregnant women have eating disorders and it's common for women who've been raped to develop problems with eating well. If you're pregnant through rape, eating well may be a real challenge. If possible, get the direct support of a nutritionist and inform all the professionals assisting your pregnancy. It can be hard to do that, but you have nothing to be ashamed of. Being traumatized is not your fault! This page provides some information about eating disorders and pregnancy. So does this page from femalebodyimage.com. If eating disorders are new to you, here's a very useful site about them. Here's a nationwide list of registered nutritionists in Australia. If you're in the US this site may help you find a nutrition professional. If you're in the UK you can search for a nutritionist here. If you're in Canada, this site might help you find a dietitician. It's hard enough to get proper nutrition during pregnancy without trauma and eating disorder issues, so please treat yourself with gentleness and respect and ask for all the help you need. If you need support doing that there's a good forum for members about eating disorders at Pandora's Aquarium. There's a similar forum at After Silence.
Body Image in Pregnancy:
This is a page about body image during pregnancy and how pregnancy affects us physically and emotionally. It's difficult to have a good body image when someone's just trashed it by raping you. But this information might give you some useful perspectives. Here's another page about body image during pregnancy and another that includes some tips for improving your body image. This page also has good suggestions for improving your overall body image. Here's another page with ideas you may find useful. This page has some beauty tips for pregnancy. Kidspot also has pregnancy beauty tips. If you search the internet for "maternity fashion" you'll find many different types and styles of clothes - something for everyone to look beautiful in. You might also like to look at the page here Maternity T-Shirt Ideas. You're doing an incredibly beautiful thing bringing life from so much hurt. Please remember, if you can, that you're not alone and there are many others who can understand and will support you.
Medications in Pregnancy:
It's very important to let the doctors, midwives or health professionals guiding you through pregnancy know if you're drinking, smoking or using illicit drugs (even occasionally). It's also important to let them know about any medications, including over-the-counter medications and herbal preparations. Drugs and medications, as well as some herbal remedies, may cross the placenta, damage it, the baby, or both, or cause premature labour. The same medications may cross over to the baby if you breast-feed. If you ask your pharmacist for items like this make sure you let her or him know that you're pregnant or breast-feeding.
Although medications can carry a risk to the baby, there are also risks in not taking medication. Your good health is very important to the good health and well-being of your baby. Your doctor can help you balance these risks, and may be able to suggest a similar but safer medication.
Good health includes good mental health! Not only does mental health affect good physical health, but it can affect the fetus and baby more directly. These pages talk about the effects of depression during pregnancy on both you and your baby:
Effects of Depression in Pregnancy
Effects of Depression on the Development of Your Baby
Depression During Pregnancy
Coping with Depression During Pregnancy
Depression and Pregnancy - including information about medications.
Many people who've been raped need to take medications to help them cope with the trauma. I'm really sorry for the difficult decisions you may need to make about this. My psychiatrist explained to me that it's not ideal to be taking medication, but that sometimes it's still the best choice. Please do remember, again, if you can, that none of this is your fault or stops you from being a good mother. Any hurt at all to you or your baby is the fault and responsibility of the person who raped you.
Physical Examinations and Medical Tests:
Many people who've been raped find medical examinations, especially obstetric-gynaecological ones, difficult to deal with. Having to go through examinations in pregnancy can cause a lot of stress. Be really gentle with yourself, think of what upsets you most about having an examination and about what might help you feel calmer and more in control. Have a look at some of the suggestions about this on the Problems During Pregnancy page here. There's some information both above here and on that page about coping and relaxation skills you might find helpful.
Feelings and Thoughts:
Please be aware that this section may be upsetting and contain graphic details.
As your pregnancy develops you are likely to experience a roller-coaster ride of feelings and thoughts. You'll be busy with making sure you're safe, dealing with day-to-day combinations of trauma reactions and pregnancy developments, planning for the future, finding support. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion You deserve it! You might like to read this encouraging piece to remind yourself just how well you're doing and how brave and strong you are.
Questions I asked:If you've had a baby through rape or had a baby after you'd been raped ...
1. Did you find it hard to bond with your baby?
2. Were you scared to bond with your baby?
3. What helped, if anything?
I don't know, my babies died before they were born but I felt like I bonded with the two from my marriage but not the other. But it could be I lost it earlier in the pregnancy but I don't think so. Sometimes I have regrets about that.
I wasn't aware I was pregnant until I lost the babies. So by the time I knew they were there, they were gone and I didn't have the opportunity to bond during pregnancy. Except, and this might sound really weird, when I was alone with the body of the baby I miscarried at 16, the way I held it ... I did have a chance to bond after the baby was gone ... and I did. I'm grateful for that chance. And heart-broken that I had to let go.
Hmmmm. Well, talking about all the emotions I felt will be really, really long. But here is what I can tell you. When I found out that I was pregnant. I hated what was happening to me.
I hated my father (my abuser). I hated having to go through this. My body was changing and doing things that felt "scary" to me. But I was lucky, Miss M, ( the person who took me under her wing after my abuse ended) helped guide me through this. She reassured me that this was going to work out and she calmed me down. And helped me work through a lot of "weird" feelings that I was having at the time. I was very afraid of what was going to happen to me during childbirth. I just wanted it to go away. I wanted my baby to just go away so that I wouldn't have to deal with this. Basically, I felt like I was "stuck" with this baby. Stuck with having to go through childbirth and I hated it. The presence of my baby became a constant reminder of what I dreaded going through at 13 years old: CHILDBIRTH. However, my feelings about my baby changed in the latter half of the second trimester of my pregnancy was getting regular ultrasound tests to check the development of my baby. I remember, they showed me the ultrasound picture of my baby. And when I looked at it, I just felt "that she was just so cute". I could see her. She was like floating there inside of me. She looked like she was enjoying herself in there. Just seeing her like that made me feel so happy. I saw myself as creating something so precious, so cute, so good, so sweet, so special, so wonderful. And being a part of that made me so happy. She had been so much a part of me, and for so long, that I couldnt let her go. I felt so connected to her. She was no longer just some baby. She was a part of me and I wanted to keep her close and connected to me. I wanted to keep her. As the weeks went by, I was able to watch her grow inside me. I just have to say that it is the most amazing thing ( well at least for me ) to see, when you have a little baby girl, ( a little sweetheart ) growing inside you. I became more and more attached to my baby as the weeks went by. It broke my heart, when they took my baby away in the hospital. I literally broke down. My Therapist and Miss M really had to work very hard to help me through that. It was so hard for me. Miss M promised me that I would one day get to see my baby girl again. And last year, I reconnected with my baby girl for the first time. So Miss M did keep her promise to me. Anyway that is a brief idea of what I went through.
There are just so many emotions, and feelings and stuff that I went through that I just don't have time to describe it. I could probably write a whole book on what it felt like to go through pregnancy.
I don't know if my answers will count or not because I aborted my baby, but I thought I'd throw this out there to try to help out .... I've only been pregnant once, and that was by the man that had sexually abused me for 11 years (the abuse began when I was 5, the rape began when I was 12, and I became pregnant at 15). I aborted the baby at 29 weeks.
1. While I did end up aborting my baby, I did start to feel rather attached to hir [him or her]. I was at 4 months when I finally had an abortion and I could feel hir moving inside of me sometimes and I would feel like we were connected in those moments. I loved the part of hir that was part of me, but I couldn't carry the baby to term knowing that ze [she or he] was just as much HIM as ze was me. I did feel a little sad and empty after aborting (not condemning this choice, in the end it was one of the better decisions I've made about my body; this is just how I felt at the time) because I missed the part of the baby that I'd fallen in love with. Ze was always most active late in the afternoon and I'd miss feeling that for the first several days after the procedure.
2. I was scared to get too attached. It took me a while to come to the decision to abort and part of my fear of bonding was related to the fact that I didn't know whether or not I could find it within myself to carry to term. The other reason I was afraid of making a connection with the baby was I didn't want to have ANY affection for HIM what-so-ever, and since the baby was part of HIM then I felt that bonding to closely with the baby would some how be accepting HIM and what was done to me.
3. I'm not really sure I can point to one specific thing that helped me. I guess just time helped.
At first the thought that I could possibly be pregnant terrified me as no one knew what was going on with me and my boyfriend at the time. I was terrified what he would do to me, I hated what was happening to me and felt angry that not only was my body being violated, it felt like my body had let me down by getting pregnant. My boyfriend stopped raping while I was pregnant and was just physically abusive. I was almost scared to bond with the baby though in case it turned out like its father. When I went for my first scan however, things slowly started to change. Seeing this life growing inside me was amazing, it was a real little person. However for me it ended in tragedy, I went into premature labour and nothing could be done to stop it, I was only 24 weeks. I had just come to terms with having a baby and had decided to put her up for adoption. I decided for me it was easier to put her up for adoption where she would be loved than risk the chance that her father may hurt her. My baby was still born. My heart ached for the child that I lost. I was 17 at the time. The only thing I can say that helps is time. I believe all children are amazing gifts, but this took a while for me to realise.
The second response in the Feelings and Thoughts section of the A Pregnancy After This? page is also very relevant to bonding with your baby and has some good advice.