#SurvivorStories are stories sent in by survivors affected by abuse in the hopes that individuals will get a sense of community and know that their stories hold value and ring true to so many, and for readers to understand the impact of Domestic Violence and that it touches us all.
The story below was sent in to us by a beautiful soul who wishes to remain anonymous.
I’ve been seeing a new kind of family portrait all over Facebook lately – the ones with images of shadow children beside their parents and living siblings. They’re beautiful. In mine, the living would be my five year old son and I. Beside us would be two shadow children. One would be nearly six years old; my first pregnancy - a beautiful dream lost to a miscarriage. The other would be almost four years old. I don’t speak of her often, though I think of them both constantly. The second loss has been more difficult to share. She exists quietly in the shadows of my heart and life.
My son was only seven months old when I became pregnant again. I was just beginning the planning stages of leaving my abusive husband. I had no money and very little support. My husband had succeeded over a few years’ time in isolating me from everyone I loved. I cared for our son 24/7 while he partied, worked part-time, and slept soundly in a separate room with earplugs. I was worn down in every possible way. I had no immediate escape from our life. I was heavily immersed in the confusing and excruciating cycle of abuse and violence. My husband would throw me against the wall and choke me while screaming that he loved me. When I tried to leave he would threaten suicide. My existence felt like a nightmare, aside from my son, who kept me focused on escaping into a better life.
So when I saw the positive test, my heart cracked. I had two choices: bring another baby into an abusive home, or be a single mother of two infants. I already had no idea how I was going to survive on my own with one. I was still on maternity leave. Money was scarce. I had to ask my husband for grocery money. I had absolutely nothing left in my own bank account.
I had started the relationship with a great career, some savings, an education, a support system, and what I thought was an unbreakable sense of self. And here I was, holding a young baby, hiding in the bathroom with a positive pregnancy test, afraid to tell my partner that the one time we had slept together in nearly half a year had resulted in another pregnancy. I cursed myself for allowing him to coerce me that day. I had long since stopped wanting to be close to him. But when you are in a violent marriage, sex is a dangerous thing. Refusing advances can mean weeks of abuse. You do what you need to do to survive.
It always angers me when I hear people ask why women don’t leave abusive men. Or my favorite – why on earth does she keep having children with her abuser? Here’s why: some of us didn’t have a choice. There are things you cannot understand unless you have had the man you love threaten to kill you or take your child; unless you have been completely alienated from anyone who ever gave a damn about you; unless you have been shamed and beaten and had your soul crushed to the point that you can’t remember who you used to be, or the world that exists outside of the horror of your current life.
I sat with my two choices trying to decide what to do. Since I have the kind of pregnancies that are impossible to hide due to extreme morning sickness, I knew that I had to tell him. When I did, he was emotionless. He made the assumption that we would terminate the pregnancy due to financial instability. He was capable of supporting a family but chose not to – presumably in order to keep stress levels high and to keep me a financial prisoner. He worked when he felt like it and was often fired due to his arrogance and unreliable behavior. Having a seven month old anxious, breastfeeding baby and being pregnant, I was in no position to go back to my career any time soon.
I had been vehemently opposed to abortion all my life. I believed that babies were a gift, that anyone could find a way to raise a child no matter what their circumstance. I had never questioned this belief or thought that I would one day have to reconsider it. Yet each time I looked at the face of my baby, so vulnerable and already showing signs of trauma from having witnessed his father’s abuse, I knew this was the only option. I could not have my children become prisoners to their father’s rage, and leaving with both of them before my oldest child became more affected by the abuse seemed impossible. I had to get out as soon as I could in order to save him.
I fell into a deep depression during the waiting period before the termination. Each day I was violently ill; my body preparing to grow this child to term. My breasts swelled, my belly expanded quickly, my clothes became snug. If I had been spending time with anyone who loved me, they would have seen right away that I was pregnant. But of course I was at home all the time, tiptoeing around my husband’s rages.
I went to the pre-procedure counseling session. They asked: “Is anyone forcing you to do this?”, “Is this your own choice?”, “Are you sure this is what you want?”. How was I to answer those questions? No. Yes. Yes. Were those answers true? I don’t know. They were impossible questions about an impossible choice.
My son’s father is now far away and visits enough to keep up the charade of parenthood. I have watched my child transition from a scared, anxious, clingy baby to a confident, happy, exuberant boy. I know that this couldn’t have occurred had I stayed with his father and given birth to a sibling. Nor could it have occurred if I had been overwhelmed by raising two babies on my own, or left my son to go back to working outside the home – leaving him with strangers at a time when he needed the presence and security of his mother in order to recover from his trauma. This journey has already taken everything I have – leaving my husband, getting back on my feet, supporting my son by working from home, all while being dragged through court in a last-ditch effort at further abuse by his father.
I ache for my lost babies every single day. The ache I feel for the aborted baby is so much deeper and so loaded with guilt and grief at the unthinkable decision I made. The emotions are a deep, dark shade of grey. I said goodbye to her in order to save my living child. I ask her forgiveness every day. A mother should never have to choose between her children. The pain of my miscarriage is no less, it’s just different. Any loss of a baby is heart-wrenching. But for me the pain of having chosen to terminate a pregnancy is deeper. She wanted to be here. The miscarried baby had a reason not to stay, whatever it was. That baby left on its own, so I can let go with some sense of peace. About my second loss (and I call it a loss even if the world doesn’t think I deserve to) I will never have peace.
The experience of losing a child, no matter how that loss occurs, is something that deserves compassion and support. I have kept my second loss a secret because I know the world has little or no sympathy for my choice. It is my hope that this will change for others. That one day we will not judge a woman’s reasons for terminating a pregnancy, but that we will understand that she considered what life would be like for her child (or all of her children) and recognized that she could not provide what was needed; whether that was money, health, safety, or any other thing that every child deserves.
I would like to have a Family Portrait that includes all three of my children. I would like to be able to hang it on the wall and tell the truth about the ways these children came to me, and the ways I had to say goodbye. I would like both of them to be honored and seen, and not to have the shadow of judgment over the soul of my youngest. Though I never held her or saw her face, she will always be a part of my family.