In a haze I sit and I reflect. I revisit a place I struggle to deny and yet accept for every single day of my life.
My story is by no means new, or unique. The problem is that even though something like this happens much more often than we think or know, we don't read much about it in a positive light. Heck, we barely hear about those who struggle. So after much toiling, I ventured to share my piece, with parents, peaceful or not.
As a flamboyant and outgoing child, I hid a much darker side. For many years, I was the victim of incest and sexual abuse. It began before I could recollect, and lasted for much too long. As I go through my day and my life as a parent, I do my best not to remember or re-live those events - but my mind and thoughts do get the best of me every now and then.
My parents never knew anything about it, until I revealed it to them, and that fact makes a piece of me resent them. I love my parents deeply but, how does something like this go unnoticed? I also grew up with a father who drank a little more than he should have, and who had a tongue as sharp as a sword. His scornful critiques and demeaning names by which he called us at times exposed me to becoming just as sharp-tongued as him. My mother suffered from depression and anxiety during my childhood. As a child, I wasn't aware, nor was I told, what was going on, but I knew things weren't right with her. She slept a lot. She was nervous. She was on medication, and I was always told to take care of her.
As a result of the years of torment, as a teen I became sexually promiscuous. For some reason, up to a certain event, I managed to deny my past so well that when I heard of abuse and the like, I didn't even think of my own situation. I can't fathom how I did it, but, up to a certain age, it's as if I had forgotten I was abused. Those years were the best.
Then, it occurred. At the age of nearly 16, I was raped by one of my former abusers. I wasn't on birth control, and there was zero protection. That event shattered me. All the childhood abuse flooded my memories and came back to me as if I'd had an epiphany. One of my worst fears was being impregnated, and worse yet, contracting an STI or HIV.
I knew the person. Unfortunately I knew the person well. I knew his lifestyle and his habit of sleeping with a slew of women. I wanted to die. After a home pregnancy test confirmed I was NOT pregnant, my life went in a downward spiral. I fell into a deep depression. I started suffering from PTSD, panic attacks, and started automutilating. My parents took note of my dark moods and I hinted at seeing a child psychiatrist. After a few sessions I broke down in tears. I begged her to let me confide in her. She stopped me. She warned me that whatever I said to her, would have to be repeated to my parents. She killed me. Right then and there. I vowed to seek out help again once I was the age of consent. 18.
Years passed and my depression hit me in waves. I had some good times, but the bad memories hovered over me like a dark labyrinth of which I couldn't get out. At 18, keeping true to my promise, I looked up a psychiatrist I knew by name. He was the psychiatrist my mother saw for many, many years of my childhood. He knew my mother, he knew my genes, my genetic disposition and tendencies. Who better to go to?
I immediately gave him the whole story, in the most matter of factual manner. He was impressed, but at the same time disappointed. Why should an 18-year-old speak with such maturity and independence? He was well aware that my background made me precocious. I didn't have a choice really, but, to grow up. We worked together, and he put me on anti-depressants. I both loved and hated them. They made me sleep. Sleep well enough to dream. But, there was something about it that made me uneasy.
A few months after I started seeing this psychiatrist, I met and fell in love with a foreigner over a decade my senior. My extended family knew him well, and all I heard were positive things about him. I must say, I was completely inundated by his charm and was infatuated from the get-go. After just one month of dating and speaking about marriage and kids, I got pregnant. It was unplanned in the sense that, while we didn't willfully procreate, I wasn't on any birth control, nor were we using condoms. This choice turned out to be far more worse and shattering than the sexual abuse I suffered. There I was, a pregnant teenager in my parents home, from a man, whom really, I barely knew. From the moment we both saw those two little stripes on the pregnancy test, he looked at me with a never before seen shade of pale on his face, and asked "What are we going to do...?"
After the initial shock wore off, he and I sat down to have a heart to heart. He held my hand, looked me in the eyes and told me, "We can't keep it." Another moment in my life where I would have given anything I had for the ground to open up and swallow me whole. I broke down in tears and sobbed uncontrollably because even though our situation was precarious and unstable, I desperately hoped he would prove to be my "strong tower" that I could run to. I knew that this wasn't the best situation at all to bring a child into, but, how could I make this being pay for my mistake and for my carelessness? I told him I would think about it, and I did.
There I was, a person who, despite any religious upbringing, vehemently opposed abortion in any circumstance, contemplating and convincing myself my life would go back to normal, and maybe even be better, than if I did keep the child. Again, I broke down in tears, sobbing and asking myself how I could even think of such a thing! I foresaw my life and I knew had I gone through with it, I would live my life with not only my sexual abuse hanging over my head like a black cloud, but also having that unborn baby's would-be life stalking my every thought and move. I couldn't do it. Not out of fear, not out of irresponsibility, not out of negative consequences to come. I chose to keep my baby out of love and out of responsibility. I think that this was one of the most empowering decisions I have made so far as a woman today. But boy, oh boy, did that decision bring heart-ache, pain, and difficulty. However, being with my daughter today, and going through what we went through, makes any sacrifice I made for her worth it a million times over.
After rejecting the thought of aborting her, I sat my partner down and gave it to him straight. I told him that he was a grown man, and that he and myself made this child. I told him to stand on his own two feet and become a father. It was either shape up or ship out. It was as if an epiphany hit him. Yes. He would. Yes, he was sorry for even mentioning it. He made me vow to never mention the fact that he wanted our daughter aborted ever again.
After months went by, and our relationship unraveled, my depression took a turn for the worst. The pressure of having disappointed my parents and the stress of having to deal with my mother's constant critiques of my partner made my burden more difficult to bear. Not once did I question if I made the right decision to go ahead and have my baby. My partner's behavior became more and more distant and stoic as my pregnancy progressed. I chalked it up to the stress of the situation. He vowed to marry me, and I happily made arrangements for such. As months went by, and his lack of movement or motivation to marry me became apparent, I gave up all hopes of forming the family I've always yearned for.
It was towards the end of my pregnancy that he dealt the most death-dealing news - something NO pregnant woman wants to hear. He looked down and murmured the words, "I have another child. He was born a few weeks ago." My jaw dropped, my eyes got big - so big they would've looked huge on a cow. "E-E-Excuse me? Run that by me again?" To this day I am amazed that I didn't go into premature labor right then and there. As he drove me home, all my glassy eyes and foggy mind could think of was, "when will this crap ever end?" I spoke to him and begged for us to work on our relationship for our unborn child's sake. Of course I was irate with him and disgusted by his actions, but I did want my daughter to have a shot at growing up with her father. Ah, denial, my best friend.
As days turned into weeks, I came to find out that the same family of mine who spoke so highly of him, knew of his "other" child. They knew, and he knew that they knew. He had two women walking around pregnant, BOTH with his kids, at the same time. Hell, this woman knew about me too! I was infuriated. I was incapacitated. One of the first questions I asked him in the beginning of our relationship was if he had any kids. He constantly reassured me that he had none. The thing is that, he did have. Not born yet, but still completely his. He knew it. This child resulted from a one-night-stand with a former girlfriend of many years. I could have shot myself. What kind of sperm does he have? Impregnating a woman who allegedly was having issues with infertility after just ONE try, and then just a month and a half later, impregnating another woman after just ONE menstrual cycle. Incredible.
From the day he revealed that to me, a lot of things changed. First, my panic-disorder came back full swing. I'd wake up in the middle of the night, hyperventilating for nearly an hour. I couldn't breathe, my windpipe felt like it was shutting off. I went straight back to my psychiatrist and told him what was up. He prescribed a sedative but warned me not to use it right before birth. I never used it. I didn't trust that it wouldn't reach, and possibly harm, my baby.
One of the first things I told my partner, was that even though I HATE these "blended" families situations, I wouldn't ever encourage or accept it if he refused to care for his first son. I told him he's going to have to figure something out, but that this other baby is not to be faulted and thus neglected.
Throughout my pregnancy I'd dream of how my baby would look like, and to my dismay, when my partner showed me the picture of his newborn son, there she was, MY baby. The baby in my dreams. On a picture right in front of me. Born by another woman to MY partner. My blood boiled. I started to hate my partner. He never supported me or took care of us, and now he gave me THIS as a gift... This is when I started to take back my life and my choices. My partner slowly but surely started leaving the relationship emotionally. He refused to say, "I miss you" and when I asked him if he loved me he'd answer me that he doesn't feel it right now but that maybe in the future it might return.
I decided that my daughter would NOT carry his name. Good decision number 2. He was okay with this. I disguised it, and we agreed that she would keep mine for fear of her father being a foreigner which may have forced her to get a permit to stay in our country when she was older.
When our daughter was born, my partner was present. Secretly, I hoped that despite all the bad times we went through, seeing his child born, his first and only daughter, he would snap back to reality and love me again. You know what they say right? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on..."
As predicted, 10 minutes after nearly 3 days of labor and the birth of our child, he left. In all my pictures of my family visiting me and my daughter at the hospital, he was no where in sight. After 5 days, he came over to my home (my parents home) at 10pm. I was up, in pain from my episiotomy, sleepy from being up with sore nipples from a bad latch breastfeeding my child, washing some of her clothes that she pooped up. I was irritated and didn't want to see him. My parents just wanted to close the house up and go to bed. Before he left, I politely but firmly told him that if he chose to visit, that he please do so at an earlier, more convenient time. He. Was. Mad. He didn't speak to me that whole weekend. Our child could have died and he wouldn't have known because he didn't answer any of my messages, emails, or phone calls. He barely supported us, financially or emotionally.
Even though I was shattered by his behavior, I reveled in my daughter. Breastfeeding was so painful in the beginning that I nearly gave up, but I was determined to persevere. A post-partum nurse helped me with my daughter's latch, corrected it, and everything healed. Breastfeeding went on to be one of the biggest influencing factors in my life course as the years went by and our breastfeeding relationship proved to be healing for me against my former trauma. I decided not to let myself be victimized and paralyzed by my partner's choices, and I vowed to always put the needs of my daughter above my own, and certainly above the needs of any transient partner.
My parents were a big support and even though I received some smack from my father about breastfeeding, I took it all in stride. Being single was no party, but it certainly felt good to sleep next to my baby without getting crap about it.
I didn't know much, or really anything, about attachment parenting back then, but my instincts certainly drew me to practice it. I nursed my daughter to sleep. I held her as much as my heart desired, and I met all of her needs which left no room for crying. This child was my glimmer of hope. I can surely say that if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't be who am I today. And I will always remind her of that. Her conception was unexpected and brought disappointment, but her birth brought hope and happiness. She definitely changed my whole family. Owning up to my mistakes was difficult, but my decision to raise her as best I could brought back joy in my family. A joy I never experienced before her. My parents basked in the satisfaction and happiness a baby brings, and not once questioned my decision to keep her. To this day, she is the apple of their eye, and even though I know I did what was right, my parents fully backed my choice and never brought the matter up again.
After about 3 months, I saw no progress in my relationship with my partner. I sat him down one afternoon and I looked him dead straight in the eyes. I asked him "Do you love me?" He answered with a reluctant, "No." I asked him another question, "Do you want to marry me?" Again he answered, "No." I said, fine. We're done. Enough is enough. As easy and quick as it came out, I bade him farewell. I took our daughter, walked up the steps and watched him leave. Surely enough, a few hours later, I got a phone call. Who else. My ex-partner. As easy as instant coffee, so was his 'remorse.' He nearly sobbed while telling me he loved me and swore to marry me. Who was he kidding?
After some months of sitting on the fence, I severed all ties from him. I forbade him to have any contact with our daughter and told him to have a nice life. I gave all his things back and we left. That day was one of the most liberating days of my life. I later wrote to him that, even though I was a young unwed mother, I would "walk out of my home with my daughter and no ring on my finger with my head held high knowing I left a detrimental relationship." Those words would echo through my mind ever since.
All the abuse I had experienced at the hands of men, I gave it back. I took back my autonomy and my self-respect. I had proved to myself that despite all the shame and worry I had about being a single mother, I stood on my own two feet and raised my daughter on my own so far. My baby was one of the happiest, giggliest babies I've ever known. I exclusively breastfed her for 6 months, and continued until after she turned one. Unfortunately, due to some mistakes on my behalf, she weaned much too soon, and I sorely miss that relationship we once had. I look forward to having that relationship again with a next baby.
A lot has happened since then. I married a wonderful man who loves my daughter. A man whom my daughter knows as daddy. Although her father has supervised visits with her whenever he expresses the desire for such, she doesn't have them regularly enough to remember him. With this, I am perfectly fine. Sometimes men make very poor decisions with regards to their offspring. Sometimes, some men change, and sometimes some don't. What I've learned is to look at actions and not at words. When my daughter's biological father starts manifesting love for his daughter, I will start believing he cares. And if he doesn't, well, my daughter is well cared for by me and her daddy. If she chooses to get to know her father better when she is much older, it will be her choice. I will neither encourage nor discourage it. He's been too much of a transient character in her life for me to want to willfully put her through that again.
Because of my wonderful breastfeeding relationship, I decided to become a Childbirth Educator and am a lay-breastfeeding counselor working on my Lactation Consultant Certification. I hope to open my own practice soon. I don't, and will never, encourage teen pregnancy. But I know that if a young girl chooses to put the interests and well-being of her child above her own, and care diligently for her baby, she can make her life a success and be a damn good mother. I chose to use my experience to help other young girls facing young motherhood and turn a less than ideal situation, into a good one. Heck, my life worked out that way. I have been blessed to meet so many strong and persistent women of all ages because of my affiliation with breastfeeding. I have helped and watched younger girls than I who are full-time breastfeeding moms AND finishing their schooling. I am convinced that all they need is support and positive examples.
Although my life has never been so bright as it is now, I still struggle with my past. It's not easy having to constantly re-live experiences you'd rather forget. It's much worse to be terrified to have my daughter go through the same thing. If there's one thing I have learned from my parents, it is to be aware of possibly dangerous situations. If something looks wrong, don't deny your instincts and continue as if it is nothing.
Sometimes it is not easy being a peaceful parent with a belligerent upbringing, but it certainly is possible. I look at all the negative traits that were unwittingly instilled in me because of how my father spoke to and raised us, and I have the perfect example of the attitude I DON'T want my daughter to grow up with. If we expose our children to anger, belligerence, and hate, how can we expect them to behave any differently? What we put into our children is what we'll get out. I know this.
So despite my childhood, I choose to be a peaceful parent. I make the conscious decision that whether my situation and circumstances are bad, or positive, I will always practice true peaceful parenting, because my daughter deserves no less.
~~~~Peaceful Parenting Resources & Books
Breastfeeding Resources & Books
If you have a story to share - your journey to peaceful parenting, or your experience as a mother, as a woman, please let us know. We will be posting additional stories on women's lives and experiences for the duration of Women's History Month. Your voice is important.