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Mothering when you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse

by Maya Hammer

Becoming a mom is a significant life transition. Many new moms are working hard at parenting while struggling with traumatic memories from child sexual abuse. Research tells us that 12% to 35% of women experience some form of sexual abuse or sexual assault before to the age of 18.

The impact of sexual abuse will vary from person to person. As a parent, a survivor mom may experience increased anxiety, for example related to parenting confidence or keeping her child safe. In clinical practice, I see women who are paralyzed by fear they may sexually abuse their own child while changing a diaper. Some women are unable to go out in public for fear that a perpetrator may harm their child. Survivor moms may also experience symptoms such as sadness, self-doubt, fatigue, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares. It is important to address these symptoms during pregnancy and once the baby has arrived. Some women may have addressed and healed from the trauma prior to becoming a mom, while for other women parenting can trigger memories and hurts that were previously suppressed.

If you survived childhood sexual abuse being a mom can be extra challenging. You may want to focus on your own healing and recovery so that you can be present as a mom. This can mean bringing awareness to the abuse and seeking support through individual or group therapy as well as other complementary and alternative modalities.

Your healing journey will enable you to develop confidence and a sense of empowerment as a mom. In turn, this will enable you to cultivate a secure attachment bond with your child while also letting go as your child becomes more and more autonomous each day.

Because you may not want to emulate parenting models you had as a child, you can work towards developing your own system for parenting based on respect, openness, and trust. Establishing healthy boundaries and limits will support age-related development. As your confidence and ability as a mom increases, you will be able to ride out the day to day stressors that come with parenting.

Being a survivor and a mom requires checking in with yourself as you move through your child’s stages of development as well as your stages of recovery. For example, when your child reaches the age of onset of your abuse you may need extra support to address emerging thoughts, feelings, and sensations. In addition, you may want to be conscious of containing your process and keep is separate from your child’s experience in life. This may require extra support, such as strategizing safe visits with family members if they were implicated in the abuse.

Transitioning into motherhood, and from victim to survivor, is an ongoing process. Check in with yourself regularly and add extra support and modifications as needed.  


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