Survivor Moms: Women's Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse
by Mickey Sperlich, MA, CPM, and Julia S. Seng, Ph.D., CNM

Motherbaby Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-890-44641-3.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 07/07/2009

Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

Sexual abuse affects a woman's entire life. Survivor Moms: Women's Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse forges into areas that are in early stages of research: how the effects of abuse trauma and posttraumatic stress affect women who are bearing children, parenting, and health issues that center around healing from sexual abuse. It moves us solidly ahead in both understanding and providing support for the difficult healing journey that sexually abused women travel.

The intent of Survivor Moms is two-fold: to be a resource for healing abused women and to assist professionals who work with these women. Authors Mickey Sperlich and Julia Seng acknowledge the issues are intense and reading the book may be difficult. They present the material in three separate, but simultaneous ways. As the authors' text flows, the women's stories are interjected and italicized, while supportive resources are enclosed in side bars. This provides easy visual access to the information the reader seeks. For example, a survivor might choose to simply read other survivor's stories in order to validate her own experiences. A therapist may lean toward the narrative and resource references.

Pregnancy, labor and birth, postpartum and breastfeeding, mothering and attachment, and healing and survivorship are examined. Here is an excerpt from Chapter One: Life Before Mothering. It opens with Kay's story:

"So here I am. Pregnant with another boy. This will be our third. I never thought that I would be the mother to little boys. When I was younger, whenever I pictured myself with kids, I always pictured girls. Perhaps it was because it was familiar to me because, being a girl myself, I could relate and understand what it was like to be a female. Well, at least that's what I tell myself.

From infancy to my early teenage years I was sexually abused by a man. Namely, my father. I can remember being terrified by any male, very early on, because I knew what they were capable of doing to me..."

Survivor Moms brims with courage, wisdom, and honesty. The book concludes by stating that more research is needed. Sperlich and Seng have been intimately involved with survivors through their midwifery practices and have heard their stories. Sperlich tells us, "...many accounts address how pregnancy and birth were affected, but overall, the message of these stories is that abuse, and the reactions women have to abuse, affect the whole life of the mother, from thinking about having children all the way to being a grandmother, and that the effects are far-reaching and deeply felt."

Mickey Sperlich is a certified professional midwife with nearly 20 years experience helping women on the journey of pregnancy and birth. She currently coordinates a study on the effects of posttraumatic stress on childbearing at the University of Michigan's Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

Julia Seng is a certified nurse-midwife and Research Associate Professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She studies the effects of posttraumatic stress on childbearing.

To read more about the book, which was a January, 2009 ACNM Best Book Award winner, see the book website.

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