Posted on

When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women

Considering the recent discussions on sexual abuse, Gabi Aharonov writes an insightful book review on how abuse affects the child bearing woman. On the forum you can read personal counts of sexual abuse and how the recent YouTube clip that went viral is affecting them, see here. You can also participate in a “Vote” on the Facebook fanpage, see here. We hope you find this review to be helpful. Please share it with your lady friends and professionals. 

We come into contact with survivors every day. Every day. Think about that for a second. A quarter of women were sexually abused by the age of 18. Once, I looked at my class and thought, “Oh my G-d, I have no idea what some of these girls have already gone through”. Then I realized that they are not girls, they are women.

Each woman deserves to be treated with respect. We should not belittle our sisters, our friends, our daughters. We may not understand what they have gone through, but we can do our best to empathize and help them carry their pain. We do not even have to know that a woman has been abused to treat her with respect.

Pregnant survivors in particular have a need to be treated kindly. They need to be reminded that their body is indeed theirs, even though it may not feel like it, although they are sharing it. Pregnant survivors need to know that they are not damaged. They need to know that they are in control, even when they do not feel that they are.

After reading “When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women”, by Penny Simkin and Phyllis H. Klaus, I stopped saying certain accepted phrases to pregnant women, like “Wow, you got so big!” or “Can I touch your stomach?” I cannot assume that any given woman was not abused, and I cannot assume that my words will not trigger a hurtful memory.


The first part of “When Survivors Give Birth” describes the effect of child sexual abuse on childbearing women, and will answer to any skeptics who do not think that child molestation is a big deal. It also explains why a survivor should be open with her caregivers, and not ignore the past, since no woman knows what might come up again during the birth itself. This section of the book describes scenarios that may disturb survivors, so please be cautious if you are sensitive to hearing about other’s abuse.

In the birthing room a woman can feel out of control, have flashbacks, lash out at all of the people around her. She will have no idea what to do, how to react, does not feel safe in her own body, and this is a feeling she knows from somewhere else. Being prepared for this will help. Having a plan will help.

A woman having a pelvic exam can be re-traumatized hearing familiar phrases like “If you relax this won’t hurt as much” that she may have heard under a very different circumstance. Knowing enough about triggers would allow her to tell the doctor which phrases should be avoided.

If she is told that she must love being pregnant, that this will all be worth it, yet she feels nothing for the child, she may come to think that she is damaged. She may think that she is the only one hating the feeling of kicking, the only one having problems “connecting.”

The second part of the book describes solutions to these various problems that can arise. There are great solutions that are important for women to know even before they conceive. Many of the ideas involve communication skills, self-help techniques as well as pinpointing possible triggers and making a plan specific to the survivor.

The main point that is reinforced is the need to be sensitive and patient. The authors recommend that every doctor, midwife, and doula treat each patient as a survivor. We should all treat the women around us with respect and love, no matter what they may or may have not gone through. This book should be in the hands of every woman who is a survivor, as well as anyone who works with pregnant women.

At the very least, we should learn to nurture and care for those around us who have been hurt. We should assist their healing, not belittle their past. We should make them stronger. We should love them.