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The childbearing experience of women who are childhood sexual abuse survivors Palmer, Becky Carolynn

Abstract

Our society deems the birth of a child to be a joyous occasion. For women survivors of childhood sexual abuse, this is often not so. Over the past decade, some survivors of childhood sexual abuse have begun to reveal what the experiences of pregnancy, birth, and mothering mean for them. They have provided rich information about their violations and have shown us the legacies of their assaults with their actions and with their bodies. The purpose of this qualitative research study was to explore the experience of childbearing for survivors of childhood sexual abuse through listening to and embracing survivors' life stories. Using grounded theory method, the primary objective of this study was to generate a substantive theory explaining the consequences of this abuse in women's lives. A total of 85 audiotaped interviews were completed with 46 survivors of childhood sexual abuse and 22 health care professionals. "Protecting the Inner Child" was identified as the core process used by survivors to navigate the challenges of childbearing. This process consisted of two seemingly competing elements: '(over) protecting self and '(over) protecting their child'. Vulnerability and resiliency were the two core concepts influencing this process. Other influential factors included trigger points (events or emotions) and coping strategies (internal and external forces). A woman's sense of moving beyond survival was ultimately achieved through seeking and finding her own centerpoint—a sense of inner peace and balance. This grounded theory study addresses the complexity of the childbearing experience for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and provides a platform for survivors' voices to be heard. The findings of this study suggest that survivors actively strive to be the best mothers they can be amidst their history of sexual abuse. If survivors' strategies to achieve balance are supported by health care professionals, this process is facilitated. Conversely, if these strategies are not supported, aspects of survivors' abuse experiences may inadvertently be reproduced in their health care experiences. Theory emerging from this study can be used to inform practice so that health care professionals are able to provide care that supports women and facilitates their achievement of balance.

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