Pregnant after sexual assault, now what?
Pregnancy after sexual assault
If the rape results in a pregnancy and a baby is born, it poses risks to the health and well-being of you as a mother, your baby and your relationship. Your relationship is important for the health and happiness of your child. Beside the fact that you may experience problems after sexual abuse, you may feel confused due to the pregnancy, from disgust to love and everything in between. It is important for you to be able to recover and receive support when decisions are made. It can help to get treatment for post-traumatic stress symptoms. And at the same time, you need support and guidance in caring for your child. Your child can be a bad reminder for you of the violent event, but it can also be a new beginning. It is important to know that you are not to blame and that help is available!
Sit quietly at the table, feet side by side on the floor, your arms loosely alongside your body, your hands on your thighs. Now breathe carefully through your nose down to your stomach and exhale slowly. Gently blow out the air between your lips in 7 to 9 counts. If you manage to close your eyes, that's fine, but you don't have to. Try to breathe in 15 times and exhale slowly. You'll find yourself getting calmer.
Now grab a pen and paper and create two columns. In one column, write down what is going well for you during the day and in the other column, write down what is not going well for you or what problems you are experiencing. Take what you have written down with you when you have asked for help with your problems.
Pregnancy and choices
Pregnancy after rape is more common than people think: one in twenty women who are raped becomes pregnant as a result. You will have a lot of questions and be dealing with a lot of feelings. It's important to ask yourself how you look at your pregnancy. Do you regard your pregnancy in a positive way or do you see it as punishment? Your body will be changing. How does that make you feel? What will it be like for you to feel the baby in your belly? Can you accept the child and love it as your child?
Or do you see the child as the child of the person who raped you? Do you want to keep the child? Or do you prefer adoption? Which emotions play a role in your choice? Is your choice a way to show your anger or to take revenge? Would certain characteristics of the child make it more difficult or easier to make a decision? It's important to take the time to think about this and talk to someone you trust. You could discuss difficult topics in confidence with your GP, for example. The GP will be able to help you find the best approach, but you decide!
Emotions: Guilt and Shame
Many women who have been raped do not have the courage to tell their whole story. They're ashamed of what happened, and sometimes they're afraid of bringing shame onto their families. Often they are scared that they will not be believed. Being pregnant after a rape means dealing with mixed feelings; feelings of guilt, responsibility, shame, sadness, fear and anger. But you may also experience feelings of love, joy and happiness about a new beginning and the start of a new life. All these feelings can alternate frequently. When you experience trauma resulting in a lot of personal problems, it is sometimes difficult to give your child warmth and security. It's hard to empathise with your child when you see them as the child of your rapist. You may even think sometimes, ‘I wish you weren't here’. That doesn't mean you're a bad mother. It is very important for you to get the chance to process the traumatic experience and to receive support in caring for your child, in order to give your child everything it needs to grow and develop. You may also eventually decide for someone else to raise your child.
To improve contact with your child, you can touch your pregnant belly or your newborn child by massaging gently, for example. You can sing to your child while you are pregnant and use the lullabies from your own childhood.
Sexual assault causes a lot of confusion. You would rather forget what happened. Your body may have ‘cooperated’ to minimise injury, while your head thought, ‘I don't want this’. This can cause a lot of guilt and shame. Women who experience forced sex feel anger. They are angry about what happened, angry with the perpetrator, angry with themselves, angry about becoming pregnant. These feelings often occur after violent rape.
Feelings of guilt, shame, but also sadness can lead to anger. It can be very difficult to deal with feelings of anger. It's a tension in your body that starts with being annoyed by something and can turn into an outburst in which you could hurt someone, yourself or even your child. So it is important to learn to understand and deal with your feelings of anger.
Question 1: Did someone hurt you intentionally and unnecessarily? If that's the case, you know you're angry for a good reason. It can help you not to feel guilty or embarrassed about your anger.
Question 2: A second question you can ask yourself is: ‘Does my anger help me in my current situation?’ If the answer is 'no', your anger is not helping you at that time. See if you can diffuse your anger by, for example, doing the dishes or doing another household chore. Focus on your breathing, with long exhales and a moment of silence before you breathe in again. You will automatically feel calmer.