At the beginning of this year I began a guest blogger series where I asked other parents to come forward to share their biggest challenges since having children. I was completely overwhelmed by the variety, honesty and sheer volume of posts and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the response. Although the series ended in July, when Eliza contacted me her topic and experience is so harrowing and so important I simply had to include it. I thank Eliza hugely for her bravery in sharing what happened to her and how it has affected her parenting.
I was sexually abused as a girl; first by my Dad when I was only four years old and then when I was five, my Grandad started to abuse me. Grandad’s abuse went on for seven years, raping me at age twelve. He then stopped. This was all pretty raw when my first daughter arrived in April 2013; I’d only had the flashbacks in December 2011 and had told my parents a year earlier. We had experienced two miscarriages and had waited six years for baby Molly* to arrive. Having children had never been a question, it was what my husband and I were always going to do.
Parenthood came as a shock. I know it does to practically every parent I know, but there were some added challenges I was not prepared for. I had said to my midwife before Molly was born that I thought I might not like breastfeeding. I knew because of the abuse this was a possibility. And it was.
Even though I knew it was my baby girl taking nourishment from me, it also felt like she was draining me of life, just as my abusers had. A health visitor kept telling me to eat more, but I had only recently recovered from anorexia and I was eating as much as I could. I persevered for 4 months with Molly, but could only manage 3 weeks with my second daughter, Millie*. I beat myself up for this and still want to cry when I see a mother breastfeeding, but maybe I was just being good to myself, breastfeeding was just not something I could do.
Then came the Grandads, both my Dad and my father-in- law. I really didn’t expect the terror I felt, the tension in my stomach, the pain in my chest when they carried Molly. ‘What if they touch her, what if they harm her,’ my head was racing; my heart would be in my mouth until they gave her back to me. It seemed strange that I should be so fearful of my father-in- law, but he was Molly’s paternal grandfather, and it was my paternal grandfather that abused me and even though I had known him more than ten years he felt like an unknown quantity. In a strange way I trusted my Dad more; I felt more in control of him and I could tell he was nervous of what I was thinking, which I kind of appreciated. Molly was very wary around the two grandads in her early months and years; maybe that’s just how it was, but I expect she picked up on my anxieties too. I have done so much healing in the last three years, forgiven both Dad and Grandad and as a result have relaxed a little more. Both the Grandads are great with the girls and Molly and Milly are really comfortable with them now – it is a joy to see.
I say I have relaxed more, but hmmmm, the only state I really know is hypervigilance and what I guess might be with me always hit me hard in the face again over the summer – twice! The first one was at the zoo. Molly loves older children and befriended a 10/11-year- old girl. The girl had younger siblings with her and she was being sweet, including Molly in her games in the play area. Again, I felt that all too familiar tension in the stomach, the pounding of my heart; I was terrified, my head whirling with ‘she might touch Molly, I can’t let her out of my sight.’ I tried to breath and keep Molly within sight, but I won’t deny I was much relieved when the girl’s parents told her it was time to go see some more animals.
Next one was with a friend who has ten and twelve-year- old boys. Molly being a tomboy through and through just wanted to play in the boy’s bedrooms with their transformers. My friend seemed to have no problem with this as we sat outside in the garden. But, I did; my mouth was frozen shut as it had been many times before. My head chanted ‘is this appropriate, me letting me 3-year- old, playing unsupervised with a twelve-year- old boy?’ The usual adrenaline was whooshing around my body as every second felt like an eternity. Again, ‘would this boy touch Molly, would Molly hate me as I have hated my mother for not protecting me?’ My thoughts continued to churn, I have learned through various self-helps programs that I have to talk up for myself when I am feeling uncomfortable and I have got pretty good at it, but this was a whole different ballgame. Should I say to my friend ‘I am worried that your son might abuse Molly?’ ‘How the hell are you meant to say that and keep a friendship,’ my head shouted back! I came to a compromise with myself of running up there every so often to check everything was ok. Maybe I should have said no in the first place, maybe I should have been honest with my friend, but that was the best I could do.
And so I am sure it will continue, Molly is the image of me and 6 months from turning four; what feelings will come up when she turns four, for me to see how little and innocent I was when I was first crashed into a world that was bewildering and terrifying, I have no idea. How about when she turns twelve and then onto a teenager. Other than in my safety of a fantasy I had no interest in boys as a teenager; my first and only boyfriend at age 21 is now my husband, I am sure there will be times I feel sick with anxiety, but that is years away. I am here now in 2016 and I am doing the best I can – I am fiercely protective of the girls, and I am terrified they will have heads like me. But, I am determined to teach them they can feel their feelings and speak out. And Molly does, if a child pushes or hits her, she tells me straight away. I wouldn’t have told my mum, I would have sucked it up. So, things are changing, the abuse that I am sure has gone on for generations in my family is stopping now. It goes no further. Yes, there will be challenges along the way, but we are a happy family of four and I am determined to enjoy it!
*Names have been changed
Hi, I’m Eliza, a mum of two daughters, aged three and 15 months. Being a stay at home mum is never what I imagined, but my mental health has meant right now I can’t manged juggling work and home life. Not that I find home life with a 3-year-old that talks 24/7 and a 15 month old that’s quite a screamer that easy either! But hey, I love them to bits and now want to share my many many life experiences (survivor of child sex abuse, child of alcoholic and recovered anorexic, amongst others) to help others and show there is hope. I know relating to others has been my biggest healer. I started to blog, but I became too anxious. Maybe this will give me the confidence to start again.
To read the other posts in the My Mountain series please check them out here.