(Save the 1) — I don’t have it all together. Often I am asked how I have it all together. What still gets under my skin are comments such as, “Wow! You are so strong!” Or, “Your life is so perfect now!” These statements still get to me. If only we could all see behind the layers of another person. I wish there was an easier way to share what I feel; perhaps a simple shoulder touch that instantly gives a flash of my memories and feelings? The world would be so much better if we knew the pain and suffering of others so easily. We could empathize far more than we ever thought capable. Instead, I am writing this here and now, allowing the deeply pushed down emotions to come to the surface.
I have the most amazing daughter. She is perfect and beautiful in EVERY way; inside and out, I can’t even begin to express the level of kindness and love she possesses. She came to me in a less than ideal way — a way many would consider wrong. I’ve endured a fair amount of trauma in my life and that led me to many poor choices as a teen. This included who I surrounded myself with.
When I was 18, I wanted so badly to escape the life I grew up in. Though I love my parents deeply and I’ve forgiven all of the things that happened, at the age of 18, I hated and resented them. I wasn’t mature enough to consider their own upbringings as they parented us. My mother was raised comparable to the book, “A Child Called It.” She was a runaway from juvenile hall at seventeen. My step-father was forced by his parents to drop out of middle school to sell cocaine for them. He too was heavily abused and tormented as a child. They did not know the right way to be parents. So, as a teen, I only felt anger and hatred for them.
I ended up marrying a man I barely knew who was five years older than myself. I realize now I was trying to escape my life. This man was newly enlisted into the U.S. Army; hence the marriage, because that was a requirement for me to be able to go with him to Germany, or so he said. Getting married seemed like “no big deal.”
To keep this short and simple, within weeks of arriving in Germany, I suffered the most brutal abuse I’ve ever endured. Violence was a normal occurrence in the world I knew, but the extreme level that this was, I knew was not right.
He was given a slap on the wrist by the military police, extra duty, and confinement to the base. The German police were not allowed to intervene. The military refused to EROD (early return of dependents) me back to the United States. In addition, I was completely isolated given that I had no phone, internet, bank account access, and was recently submerged into a culture and language I knew nothing about.
At 18 years old I was, of course, naive, confused, and what felt like the most helpless person on the planet. I left out a lot of details intentionally because I am going to bypass the period of depression and anxiety that followed and skip to Valentine’s Day, 2008. Much happened in the interim, but it’s not relevant to my purpose in sharing this story now.
Without warning or notification of any kind, my abuser was allowed to “surprise” me for Valentine’s Day. He showed up and violently raped me repeatedly. Again, military police were involved, hospitalization was required, but nothing came of it for him — just another slap on the wrist. All the other soldiers who tried to help me were reprimanded and forced to stay out of it at risk of their own punishment.
Instead of helping me, I was advised to attend marriage counseling. I was told, “you can’t be raped if you are married legally.” I was made to feel like the bad guy in that situation. I was told I’m not supporting my soldier, that I don’t understand the stresses of the military. He had never deployed at that point, so my mind couldn’t even wrap around those statements.
Eventually, I felt suicidal. I didn’t know that I was suffering from severe PTSD. I didn’t know how to leave Germany, and if I did manage to escape and go, I didn’t know where to go. I made some friends, learned some of the language, but nothing that gave me a real reason to want to live. I blamed myself for everything and I allowed myself to believe everything was my fault. If I hadn’t made him angry, if I hadn’t gotten married, if I hadn’t left Nebraska, if I hadn’t believed all of his lies, if I were smarter or stronger — all of these lines ran through my head over and over again.
While planning my death — because I didn’t want to fail at that too — I had the worst flu-like symptoms of my life, lasting for well over a month. I assumed all of the stress was weakening my immune system so heavily that I just couldn’t recover. I finally got myself to the hospital — an adventure to say the least — relying on public transport to get to the city with no knowledge of anything. Luckily, the Germans are lovely people and ever so helpful even if they didn’t know what I was saying. I told the bus driver,”Krankenhaus” (hospital), and that’s all he needed to hear to help me. Other people on the bus also catered to me: offering me water, a bag for nausea, one lady rubbed my head and sang quietly to me, which was the most wonderful feeling in the world to feel a small amount of love in a time where I spent months and months feeling none.
Upon arrival at the hospital, I found out I was pregnant. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is an extreme and debilitating version of morning sickness. Though I was much further along than most when finding out, the doctors knew my situation of abuse from the prior hospitalizations. The physician lovingly and tenderly let me know that he can perform an abortion, as well as assuring me that he could heavily medicate me for the days following to help with the pain.
My world was closing in on me. The news seemed surreal and almost like an out of body experience. I can relive that moment as if it were yesterday because it so strongly impacted me. I was not raised in a pro-life home nor an environment that would shun it. Many friends in high school had them or took morning-after pills regularly. I had a friend who traveled internationally, then sold morning-after pills in school. It shouldn’t have been a big deal at all to do it right then and there. But I simply decided to think about it, then I received fluids and IV nutrition, and went home.
Eventually, my rapist-abuser found out through the grapevine that I was pregnant. He came back to where I was residing — again unannounced — under the guise of celebrating his news of a baby, and proceeded to try to beat the evidence of his rape out of me. The timeline perfectly matched my “alleged” rape. He had denied everything, including any sexual encounter and this pregnancy would only reveal the truth. As he choked me on the floor, I stared at the ceiling losing consciousness; and that was the first time I felt my baby kick before passing out.
When I woke up my rapist-abuser was gone. I felt dizzy and confused. Suddenly, I recalled the kick. I cried for hours — tears not about what happened with him, but tears of realizing that I simply couldn’t kill this child. It made no sense to keep a baby with my circumstances. It made zero sense. Yet, I had no way to get myself to terminate.
This long yet extremely shortened summary of how my daughter came to be was ultimately to bring you to where I am now. I don’t hide my life. I try to be open and honest about all that I’ve lived through so that maybe somewhere, someone out there will see the story and see light at the end of the tunnel.
But, I don’t have it all together. Ten years has passed and I’m not totally over it all. I’m not anywhere close to perfect and I don’t like the pressure that the statements make me feel. I just did what every mother ought to do — I fought for my child. I’m not a perfect example of resilience and strength. I struggled, it hurt immensely, I still have small moments of anxiety and PTSD-related issues. The experience has given me so many good things, including my daughter, but no, it wasn’t easy. I made many mistakes following and will continue to make them. But, I am so very happy. Today I have a wonderful husband and four amazing children, with my oldest being the best older sister in the world.
What I did learn?
1. We are stronger than we know. I didn’t think I could live through so much, but I have and continue to do so. I do so productively and in a positive way.
2. My daughter is smart, beautiful, helpful, compassionate, and everything that someone could wish for when having a child. She deserved the chance to live, whether with me or another family. She has a lot to contribute to this world and I’m grateful I didn’t deny her and the world of her presence.
3. My suffering was not in vain. The purpose of all I endured wasn’t to destroy me, but it did build me up to become a better person. I have empathy and compassion that I never felt before. The intensity of love I feel for other people now is indescribable.
4. I learned to forgive easily. I forgave so many. The anger and resentment I once felt for various people is gone. Having the bright light of my daughter helped me recover from the trauma, and also to forgive those who hurt me.
5. My burdens were lightened. I can help others do the same to the best of my ability. I spend as much time as possible helping other women in tough situations. Post-abortive or not, women who’ve went through this need love and compassion.
6. The judicial system is severely broken and only those who try can change it. The legal battles that followed, as well as the lack of counseling and support available was tragic. I see why so many women stay with their abusers, or why they give up hope and turn to drugs or suicide. The military system is fractured and needs major change for women to get through these kinds of situations. Laws need to change! Children conceived in rape need to be protected legally. There are still a handful of states which allow rapists to retain parental rights even after rape has been proven.
7. These babies not only deserve to live, but they offer a chance at a real prosecution for the rapists and possibly a baby for a family who would be thrilled to adopt.
I will end this by saying I know now much more than I did then. If you need help, there are resources, but they can be difficult to find. Do not give up. Do not allow the abuser or rapist to take control of your life. You have to fight! It doesn’t seem fair and I know this is the scariest thing you’ll ever do, but do not give up on yourself or your child. It will always be there, but it does not define you. You are not a victim, you are a survivor. Allow your child to be a survivor too. Allow that baby a chance to live and help change the world.