Childbirth is one of the most joyful and difficult experiences that life has to offer. For certain populations, particularly those with a history of trauma I’ve learned it can be even more complex.
So often we read about victims of physical or sexual abuse being especially sensitive to touch and physical closeness. But have we ever stopped to think about how women with histories of misused sexuality are particularly affected by the physicality of bringing children into the world?
Perhaps you’ve struggled deeply with sexual sin or even been a victim of sexual abuse. If you’ve had an experience of simultaneous joy and grief upon bringing your own children in the world, I’m hear to tell you you are not alone. In fact, I think its something we Catholics should not be afraid to talk about.
The relationship between a mother and child is inherently physical. From the first moment of the child’s existence, the child is physically dependent on the mother and the mother becomes a space for that child to simply be.
When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I was completely overjoyed and albeit, overwhelmed. Having only been married for two months and recently moved across the country, there was a lot going on in my life.
Along with this feeling of being overwhelmed there was also a sense of dread with the realization of how much I was about to “lose.” And as a Catholic, I felt so guilty for feeling this dread. I feared losing my freedom, my career path, and perhaps the most difficult for me, the young and thin physical body that I placed an unhealthy amount of value on. Becoming pregnant was a wake up call in that it alerted me to the fact that deep down a part of me still sought validation from the way I looked physically. This was no doubt a result of having been an object of lust both in the abuse I had experienced and the way I had lived my sexuality prior to my deeper conversion into the faith. And becoming pregnant immediately threatened this false sense of security that was seemingly ingrained in my psyche.
Having been open to life from the very beginning of my marriage it was shocking to me that I felt the way I did. I thought I knew what I was getting into and freely put myself in the position to do so. I thought I had gotten over seeking my self-worth from the way I looked, but I suddenly realized a part of me hadn’t. I didn’t talk about it because I felt so guilty for having these feelings. I loved my son from the moment I knew he existed but mixed up with that love was an intense amount of grief.
With that love something else unexpected emerged: a profound feeling of unworthiness to carry and care for such an innocent and pure being. I simultaneously felt a sense of disgust with my own body. How could I let this new life reside in something that had been defiled and perversely used? I struggled with these feelings silently though out my pregnancy and my son’s infancy. With each new stage of my relationship with my son came a new and unanticipated struggle with his dependency on my physical body. Not only did the physical touch sometimes remind me of the abuse, but it made me hate that all I had to offer to my son was my defiled self.
Being forced to confront these feelings through my relationship with my son was however, one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. As I watched my son grow and got to know more of who he was every day, I realized that my motherhood was a key factor in molding this beautiful and loving little boy. As I realized my physical body could provide the nourishment needed to sustain his life, I came to profoundly feel and believe the goodness of my physicality. I realized: This is what my body was made for. And I was truly giving my body in the way God had intended, which was life-giving.
The physical dependency that my son had on me from the moment of his conception played a significant role in redeeming my self-worth, particularly my view of my physical body. And while sometimes I still struggle with the physical changes my body went through, I have been renewed through the new life my body was able to produce. The grief I initially felt and still sometimes struggle with was perhaps a purifying gift.
As a young mother I know very well the pressure women feel to delay or put off having children as its believed to be in conflict with pursuing a life of meaning or success. But in my experience, my motherhood has given any success that has come my way even more meaning and helped healed my soul from ways it was deeply wounded. Be not afraid to give of yourself! No-one, not even you, can take away the innate goodness bestowed upon you.