Survivor Moms
Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse

Reviews


Kathleen Baird, Senior Lecturer and Supervisor of Midwives, University of the West of England, in Practising Midwife, Vol. 14 No. 2, February 2011

“It is essential reading for any health care professional who has face-to-face contact with women and their families.”

Read complete review


Sharon Storton, MA, LMFT, CLE, for Journal of Perinatal Education, Spring 2009, Vol 18, Number 2

“The studies cited are current, high quality, and well summarized in a creative format within the text…. An excellent discussion on birth plans for individualizing care is included…I suggest that you purchase multiple copies because you will be loaning them out and giving them away.”

Read complete review


Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

“Anyone who works with women of childbearing age should be mindful and informed of the effects of an abuse history on the woman’s experience of pregnancy, birthing, and mothering. Indeed, I consider this awareness to be a fundamental professional responsibility. Enter Survivor Moms, published by Motherbaby Press. This book is an incredibly in-depth look at the experiences and needs of survivors of sexual abuse during the childbearing year.”

Read complete review


Donna C. Cerio, PhD, is an author, educator, professional hands-on therapist and creator of Intentional Touch—Bodywork Therapy for Survivors of Sexual Abuse

“Ms. Sperlich and Ms. Seng have constructed a bridge between the scientific research and everyday reality.”

Read complete review


Cathy Daub, President of Birth Works International

“Transference and counter transference, projecting one’s emotions onto another, often results in fear and behaviors misunderstood by a woman and her caregiver. Such fear can keep a labor from progressing. Sperlich and Seng discuss that with these often come surprising behaviors with associated guilt and uncomfortable feelings that easily lead to miscommunication between caregivers and pregnant women.”

Read complete review


Ellen Bass, co-author of The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

Survivor Moms is an excellent resource for survivors who are pregnant or considering pregnancy—and for the professionals who work with them. This is one of the books to address the issues that arise in pregnancy, labor and new motherhood for women who are carrying the effects of child sexual abuse. With great care and respect, Mickey Sperlich and Julia Seng present the voices of many survivors so we can begin to understand the impact of abuse on this area of women’s lives, as well as learn from their experience how survivors can be supported through this process so that it is no longer re-traumatizing, but instead may be an opportunity for healing and transformation. This is a much-needed and welcome contribution to survivors and their families.”


Jan Robinson, National Coordinator for the Australian Society of Independent Midwives

“Practicing midwives also will learn many lessons from the women’s stories, particularly those that talk about inappropriate or insensitive caregivers. All health professionals need a wake-up call from time to time and information found in this book could easily be tied into in-hospital peer review discussions about sexual abuse patients.”

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Robin Jordan, CNM, PhD, Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing

“This is an excellent resource.”


Mary P. Lefkarites, PhD, Associate Professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York; Certified Sex Educator with the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists

“The authors speak directly to women who have survived sexual abuse by anticipating their needs in each stage while, at the same time, addressing a wider audience of health care and support providers in birth settings, especially midwives. Indeed, each chapter comprehensively includes statistics, research findings and resources for a diverse readership.”

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Melissa Chianta for Mothering Magazine

“…a valuable contribution to pregnancy literature by covering a rarely discussed topic with compassion and clinical expertise.”

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Diane Champe, www.wearesurvivors.org

Survivor Moms is an excellent book for all mothers or mothers-to-be who were themselves abused as a child … This book provides in-depth discussions about many issues that are usually dealt with in therapy.”

Read complete review


Mindy Levy, CNM, MA, Homebirth Midwife and Midwifery Educator

“This book is one of the most relevant and useful books about maternity that I have read in the last few years.”

Read complete review


Kerry Tuschhoff, Founder and Director of Hypnobabies Childbirth Education

Survivor Moms will now be required reading for all Hypnobabies Instructors.”

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Kathryn Gutteridge, consultant midwife and chair of the consultant midwife forum, written for Midwives magazine: April/May 2009

“This is an important book for all midwives to read … I thoroughly recommend this book and suggest all libraries find a place for it.”

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Paulina (Polly) Perez, RN, BSN, FACCE, LCCE, CD
Author of Special Women: The Role of the Professional Labor Assistant

“The information in this book will help all perinatal caregivers learn to recognize and assist women who have suffered from sexual abuse.”

Read complete review


Mary Jo Doig, Story Circle Book Reviews, reviewing books by, for, and about women

”It [Survivor Moms] moves us solidly ahead in both understanding and providing support for the difficult healing journey that sexually abused women travel… Survivor Moms brims with courage, wisdom, and honesty.”

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Sunday Tortelli, certified childbirth educator, DONA certified doula and DONA Director of Publications

“The authors researched this topic extensively and include exhaustive and valuable references to professional sources and an overview of diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder and other co-morbidities. Written both for lay people and professionals, suggestions are given on how we can all work together to provide the most compassionate and effective care to survivors before, during and after their childbearing years.”

Read complete review


Shari Maser, Midwest Book Review

“This book [Survivor Moms] should be designated as required reading for anyone training to be an obstetrician, midwife, family practice doctor, labor and delivery nurse, doula, or childbirth educator.”

Read complete review


Amanda Topping, CPM

“The format was a mixture of everything I love about the midwifery model: individualized emotional sensitivity combined with evidence-based care…. Survivor Moms will definitely enlighten any health provider, no matter how seasoned.”

Read complete review


Sidran Institute for Traumatic Stress Education and Advocacy Newsletter

“The overriding message is that with support of family, friends, and birthing personnel, abuse survivors can address potential problems and be healed and strengthened by the overall experience.”

Read complete review


Kamy Hanwisi Shaw, CPM, D.A.M.E. AAHCC, Director of Living Tree Midwifery College

“So much is relevant beyond the pregnant and birthing mother-to-be. That said, I have made this book required reading for all my midwifery and doula students…. With the theme of support throughout the book, it will help the circle of family and friends, as well as providers, come together for the common goal of HOPE.”

Read complete review


Mindy Noble for National Childbirth Trust

Copyright © NCT 2009. This review first appeared in the NCT’s New Digest Journal, edition 45, Jan. 2009.

“This is a book that will inform those of us involved in supporting women through pregnancy and postnatally.”

Read complete review


Complete Reviews


Sharon Storton, MA, LMFT, CLE, for Journal of Perinatal Education, Spring 2009, Vol. 18, No. 2

Mickey Sperlich and Julia Seng have created a remarkable resource for women and their care providers. Survivor Moms links firsthand accounts of birth from many women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse with general research. The balancing act required to be simultaneously evidence-based and easy-to-absorb on such a serious subject is not a simple feat. This book, however, is certainly both. The studies cited are current, high quality, and well summarized in a creative format within the text. A comprehensive bibliography is included.

The real power of Survivor Moms, however, comes in honoring the voices of women who are survivors. Some of the narratives may be emotionally difficult to read. In the words of one mother, “Our story is not only of horror, but ultimately of the sacredness of life…. We have over and over again proved ourselves courageous, persevering and trustworthy.” The irreplaceable power of these narratives is well worth the challenge of the reading.

Sperlich and Seng present their material within the context of today’s maternity environment. As a result, suggestions are consistently concrete and applicable. For example:

[A survivor] may experience strong distress and need reassurance. A useful step is to validate that the survivor feels like the old trauma is recurring—that is what the re-experiencing of PTSD is like. She needs to be reminded that she is not powerless now, and that help is available to help her feel safer….

An excellent discussion on birth plans for individualizing care is included.

The Lamaze philosophies of birth and attachment are supported by Survivor Moms. Breaking the intergenerational nature of abuse is addressed well and head-on. Normal birth is supported, with the expected caveats. Childbirth educators will learn more of the important and yet subtle concerns involved with supporting this population that includes at least one fourth of birthing women.

Is Survivor Moms perfect? Not entirely. For example, an index would greatly facilitate the book’s use. Are the minor irritations worth overlooking to own a copy? Absolutely! In fact, I suggest that you purchase multiple copies because you will be loaning them out and giving them away.


Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE http://talkbirth.wordpress.com

Past sexual abuse is an unfortunately common experience for women. Anyone who works with women of childbearing age should be mindful and informed of the effects of an abuse history on the woman’s experience of pregnancy, birthing, and mothering. Indeed, I consider this awareness to be a fundamental professional responsibility. Enter Survivor Moms, published by Motherbaby Press. This book is an incredibly in-depth look at the experiences and needs of survivors of sexual abuse during the childbearing year.

One of the best and most unique features of the book is the "tab" format used for much of the clinical, research-based, or fact-based content in the book. Rather than lengthy chapters reviewing research and analyzing the phenomenon, text boxes containing quick facts and reference material are printed in many of the pages’ margins. This allows the bulk of the narrative information in the main body of the text to be written in the voices of mothers themselves and interspersed with commentary by the authors linking concepts, explaining ideas, and clarifying essentials. This is a powerful format that makes information readily and quickly available for reference and makes the overall book very readable and approachable.

As someone with no personal abuse history who is currently pregnant, I did find the book to be a very emotionally difficult, intense, and almost overwhelming read at times. This is not a criticism in any way—sexual abuse is not a light or cheerful topic and it can be one that many people prefer to avoid. This is all the more reason for birth professionals to make a specific effort to be educated and informed.

Written both for mothers themselves and for the professionals who work with them, Survivor Moms is an essential part of any birth professional’s library. As noted in the book’s introduction, "We need to understand the impact of childhood abuse on birthing and mothering deeply, from hearing women’s stories. We also need to understand it broadly—from looking at the impact on samples and populations, on the body and on the culture." Survivor Moms offers an accessible way of hearing those critically important stories and developing the necessary understanding to care compassionately for birthing women.


Donna C. Cerio, PhD, is an author, educator, professional hands-on therapist and creator of Intentional Touch—Bodywork Therapy for Survivors of Sexual Abuse

July 9, 2010

Survivor Moms is a potent, transformational read. Each woman’s story offers insight and truth that is like a breath of fresh air in a historically stagnant collective room of silence. The honesty and willingness of these survivors to tell their story is truly inspiring and hopeful.

This book is everything that a successful resource needs to be. It holds potent benefit for the survivor of childhood sexual abuse as well as the health professional who works with them. Ms. Sperlich and Ms. Seng have constructed a bridge between the scientific research and everyday reality. This bridge is an effective antidote to the toxic waste left in the wake of abuse.

I am adding this book to my students’ required reading list and suggesting this book to my clients and other health care professionals who work with survivors. While it is specifically for and about birthing and mothering, I feel that it holds important and essential information for all early childhood survivors and health professionals.


Melissa Chianta for Mothering Magazine

Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing After Sexual Abuse by Mickey Sperlich, MA, CPM, and Julia S. Seng, PhD, CNM, makes a valuable contribution to pregnancy literature by covering a rarely discussed topic with compassion and clinical expertise. Because so little research has been done in this area, the authors, both midwives, use anecdotes from personal interviews to illustrate survivors’ diverse feelings and needs during pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood, and also to teach how caregivers and survivors themselves can facilitate recovery. Anyone who works with pregnant or postpartum women should read this book.


Kerry Tuschhoff, Founder and Director of Hypnobabies Childbirth Education

As a childbirth educator, doula and advocate for women, I am so pleased to see a book that allows women a voice and the ability to educate at the same time. Personal expressions of the experience of pregnancy, childbirth, becoming a mother and healing are so much more poignant and effective than simple clinical information when it comes to sexual abuse. Birth care providers, doulas, CBEs and others working with expectant women need to read this enlightening book. The information gained on relationship struggles, as well as trust, boundaries and attachment issues, is invaluable to helping create a safe haven for mothers as they journey through pregnancy and beyond. Survivor Moms will now be required reading for all Hypnobabies Instructors.


Mindy Levy, CNM, MA, Homebirth Midwife and Midwifery Educator

I work with women who are post-traumatic and with birth professionals who want to learn more about working with post-trauma, and this book has become very valuable to me. It brings forth the lives of women who have survived abuse in a very real and tangible manner and opens up a world of understanding and opportunity for healing. These women deserve to receive excellent care. This book should be required reading for everyone who works with women before, during and after birth, and who wants to be a part of the healing process.


Diane Champe, www.wearesurvivors.org

Survivor Moms is an excellent book for all mothers or mothers-to-be who were themselves abused as a child. For many survivors, it is not until a life-changing event occurs, such as having a child, that they look back at what happened to them and how it has affected their lives. Child sexual abuse impacts every aspect of a survivor’s development: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and sexual. Naturally, a woman about to begin her own journey with bringing a child into the world will want to understand how her own abuse may impact the life of the child she is about to deliver. This book provides in-depth discussions about many issues that are usually dealt with in therapy. It also highlights individual survivor stories, which describe a lot of the internal struggles mothers have to grapple with to deal with their past on the eve of a new journey. I would highly recommend Survivor Moms as an adjunct to therapy, as well as for hearing what other women have said who have dealt with the same issues.


Sunday Tortelli, certified childbirth educator, DONA certified doula and DONA Director of Publications

I have to admit that this is a tough book to read. I couldn’t get through it at my usual pace. I needed to allow myself time to process it, to process my emotional reactions to it, as I went along. It is an unspeakable subject, but one that we cannot turn our attention from, as it is so prevalent. Sexual abuse is a reality for so many women, more than any of us want to acknowledge, and this trauma influences their entire lives; most especially their mothering experiences.

Written by two midwives, the book includes excerpts from 81 women’s stories of birthing, mothering and healing after sexual abuse, which were derived from a survey project they called “Survivor Moms Speak Out.” The survey respondents are survivors of childhood, adolescent and adult sexual abuse, assault and incest. They represent a diverse range of past and current life circumstances, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and difficulties with relationships; and their stories describe their experiences with therapy, substance abuse programs, self-healing strategies, issues of disclosure and both the negative and positive aspects of survivorship. Their stories are powerful and compelling, providing the type of insight and appreciation that cannot otherwise be so completely learned.

The book is not one dimensional, though. The authors researched this topic extensively and include exhaustive and valuable references to professional sources and an overview of diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder and other co-morbidities. Written both for lay people and professionals, suggestions are given on how we can all work together to provide the most compassionate and effective care to survivors before, during and after their childbearing years.

If you want to understand the sometimes complex and unusual reactions and relationships of women during their pregnancies and births and as they mother their children, you will find that understanding in this book. It might not be an easy read, but it is an essential one.

Sunday Tortelli is a certified childbirth educator, DONA certified doula and approved doula trainer in the Cleveland, Ohio, area, as well as being the DONA Director of Publications. She has extensive experience working with clients who have a history of abuse and finds it very rewarding.


Cathy Daub, President of Birth Works International

August 2008

The effects of sexual abuse are like tentacles that work their way into the deepest part of our core being and cling there for life. They may remain hidden for years, only to surface in mysterious ways like, “I was sitting with my legs drawn up and the lamp was behind my left shoulder” and suddenly she felt the feelings when being abused as a child. In this fascinating, and well researched book, Sperlich and Seng take us through every aspect of sexual abuse and supported by numerous quotes of women who have suffered from such abuse clearly show how deep the feelings are, how they impact every aspect of life, and how to heal from it. Even though most of the quotes are from women, I was glad to see that they remind us that men can also suffer abuse.

A child who experiences sexual abuse may feel pleasure from it and this confounds the issue to the point that later in life they may not even be sure if they were abused. When they have chances, and courage to speak to their mothers, they are often ignored, not believed, or fail to receive protection. The term “damaged goods” well describes the low self-esteem suffered in women who have been abused. They feel cheapened, impure, and contaminated. “Something dies in you and you become numb,” said one woman. I loved the quote in the book where the woman told her husband and he went and confronted her father and told him never to see his daughter again. There are very good men in the world. “He took a heart that was hardened to men and cracked it open.”

Survivor Moms shows us again and again how the somatic sensations of sexual abuse are reflected in a tightening of the throat, or heart racing, mist in the eyes, and sweaty palms, all symptoms of fighting back panic over and over and over again in their lives well into adulthood. Some women turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape. Dissociation is another coping defense mechanism as in “You can get my body but you can’t get my mind” and “I had this uncanny ability to disappear, leave my body and come back at a later point.”

The degree to which posttraumatic reactions from a history of sexual abuse penetrate pregnancy, labor, and birth are clearly shown through the narratives of sexually abused women. Pelvic and vaginal exams, and having to open the body to give birth often trigger memories of sexual abuse which then interfere with the birth process itself. One suggestion given for choosing a cesarean is that a woman with a history of sexual abuse who feels unsafe to open her body to give birth may see a cesarean as her solution. Reading on to the frequent narratives, the reader can’t help but feel the cascade of trauma that filters into all relations of a sexually abused woman, often affecting her ability to mother her own children effectively.

Transference and countertransference, projecting one’s emotions onto another, often results in fear and behaviors misunderstood by a woman and her caregiver. Such fear can keep a labor from progressing. Sperlich and Seng discuss that with these often come surprising behaviors with associated guilt and uncomfortable feelings that easily lead to miscommunication between caregivers and pregnant women.

This excellent and comprehensive book offers hope to sexually abused women (and men). The message is that with a good and caring midwife, and with good childbirth education classes where such women can feel safe to express their fears, and with suggestions to journal and seek counseling, healing can and does occur. Women who are sexually abused do not have to remain victims the rest of their lives. A birth experience has the potential to transform any woman. When we treat women with respect and honor, when we love them unconditionally for who they are, when we praise them and help them tap into the spiritual power within, they will feel empowered in their births and in their lives and they can heal. As Olivia said, “I was strong enough to remember, strong enough to believe and trust my instincts. And I was strong enough to confront my abusers.”

My heart goes out to mothers such as Catherine who are teaching their children not to keep secrets. Too often the abuse continues because children are threatened into keeping it a secret such as, “Don’t tell about the game or you’ll go to jail!” Silence broken leads to healing but to speak scary feelings, a woman must feel safe. To keep the feelings, the secrets inside, is to grow monsters that can never bring peace unless they are expressed. Abused women become guarded with their husbands and even their own children, having lost faith and trust in people. They are threatened to secrecy. Healing comes with feeling safe to express feelings “I allowed myself to remember and feel bad and told myself it was okay to feel bad and then to start feeling good.”

The book ends with stories of women sexually abused who were able to forgive and not forgive. Margaret states, “He doesn’t deserve forgiveness.” In saying this, she is also saying she cannot forgive herself and this is not a healthy or healing attitude. Not to forgive, means to remain the victim. Of the women who could forgive, I felt Tara’s comment to be the most realistic, “I know God wants me to forgive, and with his help I have. Some days I have to forgive all over again. It is an ongoing process.” Even if it takes time, forgiveness is worth pursuing for it is the key to peace of mind and healing.


Shari Maser for Midwest Book Review

This heartrending and informative collection of women’s stories and researchers’ findings addresses a subject I previously knew almost nothing about. But the simple format and gentle presentation of stories and facts made an enormous amount of information easy to comprehend and process.

Survivor Moms is a courageous book that is sure to give many survivors hope and inspiration for their own journeys into motherhood. Friends and family who read it will also gain valuable insight and understanding of the challenges these women face.

Awareness is the first step to providing effective support, yet many maternity and postpartum care providers are as uninformed as I was about the prevalence and impact of sexual abuse. Thus, I believe that this book should be designated as required reading for anyone training to be an obstetrician, midwife, family practice doctor, labor and delivery nurse, doula, or childbirth educator.


Amanda Topping, CPM, for The Birth Project newsletter

I first learned about this book six years ago when I was an apprentice midwife to Mickey Sperlich. She had been collecting stories, interviews, and data for years from sexual abuse survivors with the idea that she would write a book to benefit survivors and their care providers regarding care during the childbearing years.

This year, after much hard work from Mickey and Julia Seng, the book was finally born! Upon first opening it and thumbing through, I was immediately impressed with the format. The book is split into chronological (life) chapters that include: Life before Motherhood, Pregnancy, Labor and Birth, Postpartum and Breastfeeding, Mothering and Attachment, and Healing and Survivorship. I noted right away that the book was obviously written by midwives. The format was a mixture of everything I love about the midwifery model: individualized emotional sensitivity combined with evidence-based care. The writing is very sensitive, yet right on point. Each chapter contains many real vignettes from survivor’s narratives that impress upon the reader the reality of sexual abuse and the true effects on its survivors. The book also contains many sidebar panels citing valid research regarding sexual abuse and how it can impact the childbearing years.

Survivor Moms was written as a resource to help health providers better care for their clients or patients and to help women [who are] abuse survivors know that they are not alone in their journeys of realization and, hopefully, healing. Reading the words that came straight from the mouths of many brave [female] survivors impresses upon the reader the reality of the women’s lives and experiences. There is no simple formula to deal with these realities. Rather, we must continue to individualize the care we provide to best serve each woman and to realize that any one woman might be fine with one physical process (like a pelvic exam, for example) but might be completely traumatized by another (like breastfeeding). Survivor Moms will definitely enlighten any health provider, no matter how seasoned.

While clearly a very important book, it isn’t always an easy read. The subject matter can be heart-wrenching at times, and has the potential to trigger the reader if she/he has personally experienced any form of abuse. The last pages of Survivor Moms contain a long list of resources both for survivors and care providers. There are resources for all aspects of the childbearing year, including hotlines, Web sites, books, how to find a practitioner and where to find support.

When it is estimated that one in four U.S. women have been sexually assaulted at least once in her life, a book like Survivor Moms is a real asset to all [who] care for women.


Review by the Sidran Institute for Traumatic Stress Education & Advocacy Newsletter, January 2009 Issue

Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse, by Mickey Sperlich, MA, CPM, and Julia S. Seng, PhD, CNM, is a valuable compendium of information for helping survivors and health professionals better understand the impact of sexual abuse and traumatic stress on women experiencing childbearing and mothering. A combination of individuals’ experiences, facts and statistics from the scientific literature, and practical information from psychological and health care disciplines, the text weaves first-person accounts with scientific data to achieve a healing blend. The end result should be improved interactions between women abuse survivors, health care providers, and mental health care providers.

Organized topically and chronologically around the birthing timetable (pregnancy, labor and birth, postpartum and breastfeeding, and mothering and attachment), the book acknowledges that childbearing has long been considered an identity-transforming step for women. The woman who has survived childhood sexual abuse has extra layers of challenge—both crisis and opportunity—to add to the transformation.

The moving and eloquent first-person narratives stem from a survey composed by a team of survivors, therapists, and midwives that asked basic questions about how sexual abuse had influenced survivors’ feelings about motherhood and the birthing process. The first-person stories combine with the information nuggets in the sidebars to create a strong whole.

The overriding message is that with support of family, friends, and birthing personnel, abuse survivors can address potential problems and be healed and strengthened by the overall experience. Survey participants emphasize that recovery is a process and a journey. A helpful chapter on healing and survivorship tackles tough issues such as intimacy, family relationships, forgiveness, and the role of therapy. A resource section provides hotlines, websites, and reading matter on the various subjects addressed.

Give this book to a friend who is a sexual abuse survivor. Whether she is anticipating motherhood (or anxiously avoiding it) or already a grandmother, she will find much to ponder about this life-changing experience and how to break the cycle of abuse. A spouse or intimate partner will also find suggestions for ways to understand and support survivors.


Kamy Hanwisi Shaw, CPM, D.A.M.E. AAHCC, Director of Living Tree Midwifery College

I am a survivor mom, midwife, and preceptor to aspiring midwives, and I spent 10 years working in Rape Crisis, as a trainer, in New Mexico. I taught sensitivity training and tools to acquire forensic evidence without re-victimizing the client to prospective SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners) nurses. I wrote this curriculum as a piece of my own healing, to make a difference and to teach others from a firsthand perspective how to bring a victim into the role of survivor; what to pay attention to and how to give them their voices back during the process of evidence collection. It is something I teach as a part of my D.A.M.E. doula training course and to the apprentices that attend my Living Tree Midwifery School. I am currently beginning the effort to speak on the victim to survivor role for transgendered people and sensitivity training awareness for those who care for them.

This book made me realize that sexual assault is not limited in the damage it does or whom its victims will be: male, female, married, partnered, gay, straight, lesbian or transgender. So much of what I read was familiar to me in my work among these diverse groups.

So much is relevant beyond the pregnant and birthing mother-to-be. That said, I have made this book required reading for all my midwifery and doula students. I have encouraged all my clients to read it; if not for their personal gain, then for the knowledge it will give them in respect to their loved ones. With the theme of support throughout the book, it will help the circle of family and friends, as well as providers, come together for the common goal of HOPE.

My hope is that all care providers will get their hands on this book and transform the way they give care. It is so difficult to express the feelings that accompany a survivor around health and body issues. Feelings of not being able to control what’s happening, not being able to say no, when possible. The difficulty of lying on our backs to be examined and then to have “routine” invasive procedures performed. The attitude and care that accompanies such events is critical to the emotional well-being of everyone who experiences these and more. I want to challenge each midwife to gift a copy to the providers in her/his area. The sidebars and personal stories are sure to, at the very least, plant seeds of thought and make changes, even if small at first. The clarity about risky behavior that affects one’s health is not a time for judgment but a time for compassion and understanding. The personal accounts and scientific support will appeal to all varieties of readers. Absolutely everyone will get something out of this book.

Thank you for this golden nugget of knowledge and thank you to the survivors who were courageous and found their voices and told their stories. I truly believe that this book is a contribution to world peace.

It confirmed that I was not alone in my feelings during pregnancy, birth and now, parenting.

The flow of the book is so simple and logical and the first person narrative style helps the reader have experiences in a chronological order as well as in an empathic way. I found that this allowed me to feel closer to the issues and found myself overwhelmed at times with compassion. Powerful stuff. Brought me back to the memory of the birth where I first was FINALLY able to forgive myself and the man who abused me. It was the simple act of catching that baby boy, and realizing that that man was born pure and innocent and was taught to be violent as a result of being a victim himself. I put the book down and cried, feeling relief and hope for his healing as well.

The threads of intimacy and forgiveness were close cords in my heart since they are still an ongoing process for me 24 years out from my personal story of assault and abuse. It brought the gentleness back for me when the stories triggered me. It kept the awareness for me that things can, will and have changed already. Thank you both, Mickey and Julia. I bow to you with all the respect and humility I have. Your book is a blessing.


Mindy Noble for National Childbirth Trust

Copyright © NCT 2009. This review first appeared in the NCT’s New Digest Journal, edition 45, Jan. 2009.

Written by a community midwife and a women’s health researcher, Survivor Moms intersperses narrative excerpts from interviews with women who have survived abuse with the clinical perspectives of midwives and contributions from other healthcare professionals.

The stories are often harrowing and the authors use italics for all of the narratives so it is possible to avoid them and stick to the main text. This is a sensitive way of allowing the reader to absorb what she can bear.

The book—which is targeted at both the women who have suffered sexual abuse and their caregivers—covers how sexual abuse affects a woman in relation to becoming pregnant, her pregnancy, the birth, breastfeeding and beyond. It educates as it goes, explaining the very real fears a woman may have of the loss of control of her body while pregnant, the flashbacks she may experience when being physically examined or while giving birth, and the horror she may feel of the physical closeness when breastfeeding.

This is a book that will inform those of us involved in supporting women through pregnancy and postnatally. Few may experience the bond with a mother that will enable her to share her history, but to gain some understanding of the effects of sexual abuse cannot fail to inform our practice.

The book has many positive aspects and focuses on hope—that the act of giving birth and bonding with a child can be healing and transforming rather than re-traumatising. Though written from a US perspective, the themes are universal.


Paulina (Polly) Perez, RN, BSN, FACCE, LCCE, CD
Author of Special Women: The Role of the Professional Labor Assistant

Survivor Moms is a remarkable resource for women who have a history of sexual abuse and those who care for them. As a midwife, Ms. Sperlich found herself working with women who have had a history of sexual abuse, which led her to begin what she called the “Survivor Moms Speak Out” project. Many of the women in that group contributed to the this book. The book contains information from a wide range of professional sources and also gives first-hand reports from survivor moms themselves. It also touches on the challenges that survivors of sexual abuse survivors face when they are in their childbearing years and a pregnancy triggers memories of the past abuse.

Perinatal health care workers can support the population of women with a history of sexual abuse (one in four women is estimated to have been sexually assaulted at least once in her life). This is a must-have book for anyone who works with pregnant women (midwives, doctors, nurses, doulas, monitrices and childbirth educators). The stories in the book can often be hard to read because they represent the intensity of the issues that survivors must deal with. The information in this book will help all perinatal caregivers learn to recognize and assist women who have suffered from sexual abuse. Learn from the stories of 81 survivor moms as they journey toward awareness and healing.


Mary P. Lefkarites, PhD, Associate Professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York; Certified Sex Educator with the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists

Survivor Moms is a courageous and in-depth documentation of the candid voices of women survivors of sexual abuse as they relate how the abuse has shaped their experiences with childbearing and mothering. Mickey Sperlich, a certified professional midwife, and Julia Seng, a certified nurse-midwife and researcher of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and birthing outcomes, interweave the women’s earlier sexual abuse with their experience of pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. To gather the data, the authors disseminated 1136 surveys over a two-year period. They reached survivors through conferences related to birth, the offices of physicians and midwives, and a Web site. The narratives of 81 women, from the pool of the 207 surveys that were returned, contributed to the book. In response to a question the authors were often asked regarding their project, they clarify that most of the women who contributed narratives did not become pregnant through rape. Additionally, they surmise that the participants were more apt to be those “whose needs challenge the norms of maternity care,” as opposed to those who may have come to some type of closure on their abuse.

The introductory chapter—one of six—focuses on “life before mothering,” and informs the reader that the women are at different places in terms of how they have experienced their abuse before entering motherhood. The chapters that follow include Pregnancy, Labor and Birth, the Postpartum Period and Breastfeeding, and Mothering and Attachment. The book culminates with a chapter on Healing and Survivorship. The authors draw from a rich body of research on trauma, as well as conceptualizations to explore and explain the women’s experiences in the childbearing process from the earlier works of Judith Herman on the similarities in PTSD experienced by war veterans and sexually abused individuals, and the writings of Ellen Bass and Laura Davis concerning the healing process. In addition, Penny Simkin’s work with survivors during labor is cited, as well as the works of David Finkelhor, Jennifer Freyd and Angela Browne on trauma.

Mickey Sperlich and Julia Seng provide the framework for sharing the narratives with great sensitivity, diligence and respect by interweaving the women’s earlier sexual abuse experiences with each stage of childbearing. By focusing on each stage of childbearing, the reader is presented with a clear understanding of the issues that may come up during a particular stage depending on “triggers”—certain cues that may cause past experiences with sexual abuse to resurface. The authors speak directly to women who have survived sexual abuse by anticipating their needs in each stage while, at the same time, addressing a wider audience of health care and support providers in birth settings, especially midwives. Indeed, each chapter comprehensively includes statistics, research findings and resources for a diverse readership.

One theme that is pervasive in these accounts centers on the extent to which the survivor moms sought support during the childbearing period. Their responses varied depending on whom they believed they could trust. Being able to turn to their families of origin presented difficulty in cases where the abuse involved a family member. Also, disclosure to intimate partners presented challenges to some in that they feared how the disclosure would affect their relationship. The authors include statistics revealing that women who have survived sexual abuse are more likely to be in partner relationships that are abusive—a reason intimate violence is routinely assessed as a part of prenatal care. Some women spoke about this violence occurring during pregnancy, while others revealed that they were able to lean on their intimate partners for understanding, support and care at this time. Other individuals that women sought for support included friends and family, as well as health care professionals they encountered during the childbearing process.

Three key issues that the authors discuss involve the health care professionals’ relationships with childbearing women who are survivors of sexual abuse. They include building trust over time, clarifying boundaries early on, and being aware of transference and counter-transference in the client-caregiver relationship. A most informative aspect for health professionals concerns the issue of boundaries—the impact of and the women’s perceptions concerning interventions and care that they received during the different stages of childbearing. The women’s responses varied, but a pervasive theme that emerges is the need for sensitivity and support by health professionals. Interventions and lack of care violated boundaries and served as a form for “revictimization” for some women.

The authors articulate the need for midwives to have clear and candid boundaries, with an approach that lends itself to flexibility and allows their clients to feel safe. At the same time, midwives are advised not to take on the role of therapist or push demands beyond their skills. As Sperlich and Seng relate, “A useful step may be to remember that birth is a complex, evolving situation with very few absolutely right or wrong choices, and almost no choices that a woman is required to make without input and support from others.” There is a “…need to ask permission before touching or performing procedures…informing the client continually about how our care is structured and what our clients may expect from us in general.” Furthermore, they recommend “that all midwives prepare and use an informed consent agreement with their clients in order to promote the specific delineation of boundaries and expectations.”

In addition to the details the women’s narratives provide on the impact of earlier sexual abuse on their childbearing experiences, the book provides a wealth of information for a wide audience from health care professionals to parents, irrespective of whether one has experienced sexual abuse. The narratives expound on the women’s concerns, challenges, decisions and fulfillment in breastfeeding, and in their ability to mother, as well as to whom they can entrust their babies. Central to mothering is the importance of early attachments and the rights of children, especially from the perspective of keeping them sexually safe.

The women share the healing process they went through in having children. Many helpful modalities are offered, including various therapies, confronting their abusers and, for some, moving on to forgiveness, including of oneself, or letting go based on the each woman’s individuality and what works in her best interest.

A wide audience of readers can learn much by reading these women’s narratives. As Sperlich and Seng observe, a significant aspect of telling their stories is the ability of the women to finally break the cycle of violence that had become a tragic legacy for them. Being able to take control of their lives and mother their children leaves many survivors of sexual abuse and their caretakers, both professional and personal, with a strong message of hope. A lasting thought that has remained with this reviewer is from Lena’s story, in which she states that “sexual abuse needs silence to thrive; it only grows in the dark.” The courage of both the authors and participants in documenting these narratives as they relate to the experience of childbearing is one more step in breaking this silence.

Mary P. Lefkarites is an Associate Professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Her doctoral work in the 80s focused on The Transition of Childbirth from a Social Model to a Medical Model on the Island of Rhodes. She is a certified sex educator with the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.


Jan Robinson, National Coordinator for the Australian Society of Independent Midwives

Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse was written to help break down the isolation pregnant women and their caregivers often feel—as though they were the only ones having to cope with these challenges. You’ll be able to read excerpts from 81 women’s stories of birthing, mothering and healing after childhood sexual abuse. The book also includes a few complete narratives and suggestions for working together during maternity care and beyond, as well as sexual abuse research and resources. Suitable for both caregivers and pregnant survivors, Survivor Moms will help anyone whose life has been touched by sexual abuse.

This book and is a hands-down winner in terms of organization. The abused women’s stories are organized into sections on “Life before Motherhood,” and then “Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond.” The authors—both midwives—highlight sexual abuse facts and statistics by referencing scientific literature alongside the women’s stories.

The horror of the abuse stories shared by the women in this book—including abuse during childhood, pregnancy and motherhood—makes it invaluable to students who may not have been exposed to abusive situations, or who have honed their listening techniques to the degree that they are able to pick up subtle cues while taking a woman’s health history. The point is well made in this book that the best way to help women is to listen to them.

Practicing midwives also will learn many lessons from the women’s stories, particularly those that talk about inappropriate or insensitive caregivers. All health professionals need a wake-up call from time to time and information found in this book could easily be tied into in-hospital peer review discussions about sexual abuse patients.

The stories in this book are meant to be shared with others experiencing similar abusive situations, so a copy of Survivor Moms would be a useful resource in the library of every maternity hospital, nurse management or OB/GYN office and in every homebirth practitioner’s lending library. The reality is that 1 in 4 women cared for by midwives in this country will have a history of abuse and be in need of the information provided in this book. Both women and men will greatly benefit from the information contained in Survivor Moms. However, midwives working with women who live outside the US will need to furnish country-specific information and resources to their clients.

Considering the lack of formal classes, tutorials and workshops on this topic, purchasing Survivor Moms (www.survivormoms.com) is well worth the money.


Kathleen Baird, Senior Lecturer and Supervisor of Midwives, University of the West of England, in Practising Midwife, Vol. 14 No. 2, February 2011

Survivor Moms is a powerful and, at times, difficult book to read as it considers and examines the complexities of sexual abuse and the emotional and practical difficulties that women face when they undertake the journey of motherhood. The overall aim of this handbook is to offer practical guidance to all healthcare professionals who care for women during their pregnancy and postnatal period. It is essential reading for any healthcare professional who has face-to-face contact with women and their families.

The book provides the reader with in-depth coverage of the topic and will offer midwives a thoughtful insight as to how sexual abuse can impact on a woman’s physical and physiological well-being during pregnancy and childbirth and can affect her mothering abilities.

I would recommend this book to any health professional involved with women’s health, or working in the field of sexual or domestic abuse. The book explores and depicts the difficult road to recovery that women embark upon when their pregnancy opens up the wounds of sexual abuse.

The book is well written, succinct and contains six chapters that include life before motherhood; pregnancy; labour and birth; postpartum and breastfeeding; mothering and attachment; and healing and survivorship. The authors offer an honest, in-depth account of how sexual abuse can impact on a woman’s pregnancy and childbirth experience and mothering skills. Their work is reinforced and supported by compelling stories from survivors and evidence-based research and literature from experts in the field, and I consider this the strength of this particular book.

Predominantly interesting for midwives and making compelling readings is the chapter on labour and birth, which highlights what it is about the labour process and subsequent intrapartum care that survivors of sexual abuse find challenging, tests them emotionally and affects their relationships with caregivers.

Overall, this book provides an honest and sensitive account of women’s experiences as they attempt to re-establish their social support and networks as they extricate themselves from the isolation and aftermath created by sexual violence and abuse.


presents…
Placenta: The Gift of Life Learn how to use the placenta in ointments, essences and other remedies.
Survivor Moms: Women's Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse Learn how sexual abuse affects women during pregnancy and childbirth and what you can do to help.
Brought to Earth by Birth Enjoy this stunning collection of photographs by one of the world's master birth photographers.
The Power of Women Discover the power of shared birth stories and the difference they can make in our lives.