For Birth Moms Who’ve Experienced Sexual Violence

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Dear Birth Moms,

The recent shooting in Santa Barbara, California, which appears to have been motivated by the killer’s misogyny (hatred of women) and the fact that women had rejected him for sex, has gotten us thinking about the many women we know who have been victims of violence. At Adoptions Together, we have worked with numerous birth mothers whose pregnancies resulted from violence, which is unsurprising given that the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that there are over 17,000 U.S. pregnancies a year resulting from rape. And since one in every six women has experienced sexual assault, many women whose current pregnancies are not the result of a sexual assault may have experienced one at some point.

For women who have experienced both assault and pregnancy, pregnancy can be extremely traumatic. Your changing body serves as a constant reminder of what you went through, which can make emotional healing very difficult. Some women are reluctant to seek prenatal care because the associated medical examinations and, later, the process of labor and delivery can trigger painful memories and feelings. These triggers can happen even for women whose pregnancies did not result from their assault, and since women who have been assaulted are three times more likely to suffer from depression, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, we know that whether or not a woman’s pregnancy was the result of her assault, related factors may still play a role in her decision about whether to parent. And for pregnant women who are in abusive relationships, a host of other emotional and physical considerations also come into play.

All women have an absolute right to make decisions about their pregnancies free from pressure and based solely on what they feel to be right for them; and for women who have been sexually assaulted, it is especially crucial that you feel fully in control of your decision making process. Many women with whom we have worked who became pregnant after a sexual assault and chose adoption felt at the time that they didn’t want to make decisions regarding their baby, like choosing the adoptive family or planning how an open adoption might work. Understandably, it felt safer to separate themselves from the pregnancy and the traumatic experience associated with it. You know better than anyone how to take care of yourself and what you can and can’t handle, but it might help you to know that many women who initially rejected playing any role in their baby’s life after delivery but changed their minds told us later that they were happy that they did. Making decisions like naming your baby, choosing an adoptive family, and planning for open adoption can actually help you feel more in control not only at the time of your child’s birth but for many years afterward; if you make these choices now and leave the door open to receive updates or be in contact with your child, then even if you are not ready for those things yet, you might find that you are less likely to look back and have regrets.

Unfortunately, the importance of feeling in control is further complicated by the fact that in most states (including Maryland, DC, and Virginia), rapists have paternal rights, which means that they must receive legal notice of any adoption planned of a child conceived as the result of their assault. Activists are working to change these unfair laws, but in the meantime, where does this leave birth mothers who want to make an adoption plan but don’t want to have contact with their attacker? We wish we had a great answer. All that we can offer right now is the assertion that no agency or facilitator should expect you to personally get in touch with your attacker. If he needs to be contacted in order for the adoption to go forward, then the agency or attorney with whom you are working should do that for you (assuming that is what you prefer). Unfortunately, you will need to answer a number of questions about your attacker in order to try to identify him, but this should be done in a private one-on-one meeting with your counselor, and no ethical agency will unduly press you or judge you based on how much or how little you know. Ethical adoption professionals must also understand and protect the privacy of personal information about you and your whereabouts so that you can stay safe.

We hope that those of you who made adoption plans in the past worked with an agency that supported and respected you. If not, and if you feel like you want/need some support, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline either online at www.rainn.org or by phone at 1-800-656-HOPE. This resource may also be helpful for you if you are currently pregnant and worried about how your experience being assaulted will affect you during labor and delivery (they may be able to put you in touch with a birth doula or other professional who specializes in maternity care for survivors of violence). We know that, frequently, sexual assault is not an isolated incident, and we will be posting more in the upcoming weeks about pregnancy and intimate partner violence, but for now, if you are currently in a situation where you are being harmed by your partner, you may want to check out the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or 1-800-799-SAFE.

Stay safe and strong,

The Adoptions Together team

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2 Responses to “For Birth Moms Who’ve Experienced Sexual Violence”

  1. Barbara

    I was in an abusive relationship as a teenager with a man over 21. It’s important to recognize because it always bothered me that people don’t think that’s important. He was in control and I wasn’t. That was 30 years ago when I discovered I was pregnant, in a psych ward. I attempted suicide to get away from this man. My mother and hospital employees tried to force me into an abortion. It was after 3 months since conception so it was scheduled in NY. No one believed me about what was happening to me. It felt like I was being raped over and over again. In my home, wherever he wished. Even once in the same room as my family watching a movie under a blanket. That one scraped me off the floor and put me right in the gutter. I couldn’t have felt lower. It was not ok for them to take and kill my baby. I couldn’t stand up for myself, but I did stand up for my baby. I couldn’t even consider adoption. That was more embarrassing to my family than an abortion. I kept him. I left home. I quit school and got a minimum wage job. It took 9 months for me to realize that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give him a fair start in life. He was adopted just before he was one year old. I was just a couple of weeks away from turning 18. I’ve seen the papers since and they lied about my age, saying I was 18 when I signed.
    My son found me 3 years ago when he was 26. It’s hard to talk to him about his father. He has a clue that there is something wrong there but I can’t bring myself to tell him. I haven’t told him much at all. Our communication is strained. We both want to make some kind of relationship but it’s been hard. I’ve released my feelings of guilt only in this past 6 months. I just noticed that I am able to be present and happy around him instead of torturing myself for all that I’ve done wrong. I wish I knew how to make this reunion work.
    please forgive the confusion of my writing. I don’t have time to edit but I know I wont get the guts to write this again later.
    I support birth moms and adoptive moms in a forum I help with. We don’t have many who are from the closed adoption days and less that have actually had contact from their kids.
    I really appreciate this article you took the time to write. Thank you.

  2. Barbara, it is so courageous of you to share your experiences as a survivor of abuse and assault. You are absolutely right that it is important to recognize the age difference, because, as you alluded to, abuse is about one person exercising control over another, and age can play a major role in that power dynamic. No one deserves to be treated the way that you were, and I want to thank you for bravely telling your story.
    Unlike the “adoption specials” we sometimes see on TV or the reunification stories portrayed in movies, relationships between birth parents and their children take many years to cultivate. It sounds like you are making it work — it takes time for communication to begin to feel natural. I am so glad that you have been able to allow yourself to enjoy time spent with your son instead of letting guilt take over. And just as you had the right to choose thirty years ago whether to get an abortion, to parent, or to place for adoption, you have the right to choose if and when to talk to your son about his father. Your courage and self-reflection make me certain that you will figure out what’s right for you.
    If you haven’t already, you might consider reaching out to the agency with whom you planned your son’s adoption to see whether they have any resources regarding reunification. Also, Birth Mom Buds has a great list of support groups by area, if you feel comfortable reaching out for support in that way.
    We know how tough it can be to share your story; thank you again for trusting us enough to do so.

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