Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, the baby movements in pregnancy that I have been anxiously waiting to feel, can also be triggering.
A flutter in the belly.
A kick in the ribs.
A push and roll in the lower pelvis.
These are all things expectant mothers, would seek to experience and delight in, as they begin to feel life growing inside them. But my journey has been one with very mixed feelings.
The journey of pregnancy can sometimes feel like it is all happening to you and happening fast and without your consent. The body takes over, and the sensations, changing each day, become more and more powerful as time goes on. It feels only fitting that, as someone whose body was used in a non-consensual way, I would not have the ‘normal’ reaction to baby kicks and flutters.
At the beginning of my pregnancy, I was on high-alert for any movement and change in my body. The difficulty is, it happens so fast and no one around you can see it. Morning nausea? You’re on your own. Feeling bloated? No one notices. Baby brain and the placenta fog settling in? You seem fine!
As someone who has worked hard to recover from abuse and childhood sexual assault, the inability to be witnessed in my first trimester of pregnancy left me feeling incredibly alone. I patiently waited until my second trimester for people to agree that yes this is real, yes this is happening, yes your body is doing something miraculous. But these words felt so familiar, once they came. They weren’t too dissimilar to the words any survivor of abuse and assault would yearn to hear – yes, this is real, yes this happened to you.
And perhaps most importantly, yes you can heal.
By 16 weeks, I began to feel what felt like scrapes from inside my own body. At first, I didn’t have an adverse response, like I thought I might. Shocked but altogether pleased, the tiny rolls and punches of my baby throwing hands in there left me feeling connected (finally!) and satisfied. It was an affirmation of my body’s ability to create new life.
Then. The third trimester entered the chat.
Big punches in my pelvis. Ongoing, non-stop rib pain. Lightning crotch.
For some reason, I didn’t think the movements and sensations would get so exaggerated.
One Sunday morning at the beginning of my third trimester, the moves of my baby-to-be felt so large, so big, and so uncontrollable. It began to feel too powerful for me.
I looked at my husband and began to cry.
‘I need this baby out of me’.
Sharp pangs of panic surged through my body. It began to feel dangerous. Dangerous like, I had no control over my body. Dangerous like something foreign was inside me. Dangerous like, I need to get this thing out immediately if I want to survive.
After years of being on team #NoKids, I began to think that I made the biggest mistake of my life. How could I think I could handle pregnancy? Me, of all people? Have I ever even heard of survivors having babies? How audacious of me.
It has taken years to reconnect with my body. Cut off from it from a young age when I endured sexual abuse at the hands of my alcoholic father, I truly never planned to have kids, let alone grow a human myself. I trudged through life disconnected from myself, my core, and my body. I lost myself in drugs, alcohol, and yes, sex. I abused my body as badly as it had been abused – with substances and people. I worked myself to the bone, standing for 12 – 14 hour shifts and thinking nothing of it since I had a lubricant on hand: alcohol.
What did I care about what my body endured? It was home to only me – and me? I was worthless.
But these are the trappings of childhood trauma. It gets into your very bones and whispers lies into every cell: you’re worthless. You’re nothing. Be ashamed of who you are, be ashamed of your body.
By the time I was 6 or 7 years sober, my body began to wake up. Coming off all antidepressants and anxiety medication (AND birth control), I sought different healing modalities. Meditation, prayer and a rigorous yoga schedule dominated my life. I was asking my body to wake up – but I didn’t think it would be so rude upon awakening.
Once my body began to feel itself again, the old stories resurfaced and had to be worked through like kinks in a chain. Old memories popped up to be re-lived again and again. Names, faces, and family took on different, scarier meanings.
Until I was able to recreate the meaning of these things, my life, for myself.
With the help of yoga, somatic therapy, on-going recovery work, and community, I began to feel life in my bones once again. And not the scary kind. I replaced old stories with new ones. And made different decisions, with different people. I became a different person, with different goals and different dreams.
Now, at almost ten years sober, I have learned to embrace my body and the stories it carries.
Sure, there are days when the kicks feel like too much, or the rolls at the bottom of my ribs feel like I’m going to break.
But when I think of my body’s capacity to heal, I take a breath of relief: I have been able to create my own life inside of my body, despite the abuse I endured as a child and the abuse I inflicted on myself later in life.
Surely, now, I can create life again.
For a bigger purpose, for a bigger meaning.
For something more powerful than me.
Amy Saunders is a queer writer of poetry, prose and essays. With works published in SheDoesTheCity, Briarpatch Magazine, IN & OUT, and the Canadian Archive of Poetry, her topics vary from grief, womanhood, family history, to PTSD, healing, alcoholism and drug addiction. She splits her time between Toronto and Halifax. You can read her work at www.theprpriestess.com or find her on IG @theprpriestess.