Something to Declare: Parenting as a Survivor


Hi there! I’m Beth. Secret confession: Before my daughter was born, I researched, as I do everything, how to meet other parents. That research ultimately resulted in the creation of “mom cards,” a.k.a. business cards for all those times you meet other moms in the park and want to be able to quickly exchange contact information to set up a play date. I still have every one in my desk drawer.

I wanted to become a part of this community because I don’t often see myself represented in parenting, and specifically mother-centric, spaces. I struggled a bit with where to start and how to introduce myself via the interwebs to a group of people most of whom I’ve never met. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m choosing to start in the place that I hold most tenderly; the place that exposes the most vulnerable parts so that they are out of the way and we can get onto the business of getting to know one another.

When I think about what impacts my experience of parenting, one thing always comes immediately to mind: being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I spent most of my life believing that I was irreparably broken from the violence I’d experienced as a child, a common hallmark of adult survivors. When my partner and I started seriously thinking about having children, that singular thought drummed constantly in the back of my mind. I’ve struggled throughout my life with depression and hopelessness, so I was worried that the darkness that so often crept in would somehow negatively impact my ability to be a good parent. Compounding that worry was the reality that I also make my living, and would continue to do so when we started a family, submerged in sexual violence.

My job requires me to be confronted daily by the reality that children in our society, and especially girls, are not safe. In order to be good at my job, I need to spend hours each day either reading about, writing about, or talking about sexual violence. Unlike the Law & Order: SVU version of rape which fictionalizes and glosses over the experiences of survivors, what I get is a real, harrowing look at the short and long-term impacts of surviving trauma. On my best days, I can see the world as a beautiful, but unsafe, place; on my worst days, there is nothing beautiful about this terrifying world.

When I found out I was having a daughter, I cried at some point every day for more than a week. My partner, who was ecstatic that we would be welcoming a little girl into our home, tried to console me as my tears gave way to a brief depression before the first rays of excitement crept into my mind. Our decision to have a child, and for me to be the partner who carried our child, came after years of longing and careful planning. We both always knew we wanted to have kids and resolved that once we bought a home and got settled, we’d turn our attention to baby making. During all of that time, I never realized just how much work it would take to reconcile my desire to be a parent with my ever-present fear that my child would be harmed in the same ways that I was as a child.

The day that I found out that Hadley was a girl, I wrote her a letter. I vowed to love her, to be the best version of myself that I knew how, and to protect her. I never explicitly wrote it in that letter, but I wanted to protect her from having the same childhood that I did. I cannot separate myself as a parent from my experiences as a child, but I’ve found ways, with the help of a caring partner, to stay present and enjoy the precocious, brilliant little person that I now share my life with. I put my energy into doing the things that I believe could actually make a difference.

I am the proud parent of a three-year-old who can correctly differentiate between her vulva and her vagina; she is a little girl who talks freely about her body and all of her many observations about it, and who, according to research, will be better equipped to tell us if the boundaries of her body are not respected. I’ve leaned into my discomfort as I’ve navigated conversations with our families about why they can’t bargain for hugs and kisses with Hadley. I’ve started conversations with Hadley’s daycare teachers about the challenges of having a child who is the same age as I was when I began being sexually abused, and have explained why consent is one of the most important values that our family upholds. Every stage of Hadley’s life will present new challenges for me as a parent-survivor, but I am committed to continuing to navigate my own trauma in ways that strengthen my parenting.

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