Violence and Pregnancy: The Trauma of Losing Control of your Body

Trigger warning: Involves mention of rape, sexual assault and violent imagery.

Did you know that approximately 9% to 10% of women experience Post-Partum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Women, who have experienced a previous trauma, such as rape or sexual abuse, are also at a higher risk for experiencing postpartum PTSD. (source:

One of my personal triggers after my assault was my own body. For many years, I felt very displaced from my own body and tried to dissassociate with it as much as possible. Because my body reminded me of my trauma, I chose to disconnect from it. Even until now, I am much less aware of bodily pains and unsure of how to address them. I noticed this a lot more after meeting my husband, boyfriend at the time, who would wonder why I didn’t have shoes that fit me, or clothes that were my size. I was uncomfortable and did not know it — he had to point out that the reason I was walking funny, was that I had different sized shoes – ranging from size 8 to size 6. I had just gotten used to the discomfort, and associated the pain with shoes in general.

It wasn’t until he measured my feet did I realize that I was actually a size 7. And even now, I still have to ask him, “What’s my bra size? What’s my shoe size?” As these numbers don’t come naturally to me. I never know when my body is comfortable.

Bessel van der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma”, explores “the extreme disconnection from the body that so many people with histories of trauma and neglect experience”. He states that:

“Traumatized people are often afraid of feeling. It is not so much the perpetrators (who, hopefully, are no longer around to hurt them) but their own physical sensations that now are the enemy. Apprehension about being hijacked by uncomfortable sensations keeps the body frozen and the mind shut. Even though the trauma is a thing of the past, the emotional brain keeps generating sensations that make the sufferer feel scared and helpless. It’s not surprising that so many trauma survivors are compulsive eaters and drinkers, fear making love, and avoid many social activities: Their sensory world is largely off limits.”

It has taken me a while to get used to my own body, and to listen to it patiently. Yoga and meditation helped me dull the noise in my head, the noise that puts the wall between my body and my mind, and lowered it enough so that I am able to experience my body for what it is. It allowed me to acknowledge and accept the sources of my body’s pains and pleasures. Especially with yoga, as it involves movement and stretching the body to its limits — it made me feel connected to my chronic pain, and helped me realize which parts of my body hurt due to stress, tension, etc.

One of my greatest fears about childbirth is that it involves a part of my body that has been violated brutally in the past. A lot of the aftereffects of childbirth echoes much of the same effects of assault (vaginal tearing, forced “penetration”, and permanent changes to your body as a result, such as scarring – these are especially worrying because something as physical as scars become constant reminders of your trauma).

Of course, the two are markedly different – one is a situation in which I was made helpless by someone forcing their power and control over me (assault), while the other is in which I lose control of my body in order to serve a bigger purpose: to form life. Most importantly, I am doing this entirely by choice, rooted in my (and my husband’s) desire to share love.

My concern is how much my body will understand that these two situations are polar opposites. Remember, in trauma, your mind and body are not necessarily great with communicating with each other. Pregnancy and childbirth, in all its magical glory, is still an event in which you lose control of your body. And when my mind is so used to seeing my body as a trigger, I am afraid that my post-partum body will end up bringing back memories of assault anyway.

I suppose it will take a lot of training and re-framing my mind to see violence done to my body as something beautiful – the birth of my son. An event that marks my triumph over adversity, over what has been done to my body, and my reclaiming of this scarred, used-up flesh and turning it instead, into something powerful: the body of a mother. Besides, I may have the scars and the wounds to remind me of my trauma, but I will also have my son to remind me of the beauty.

I am wondering if other PTSD warriors feel the same? Once violence has been inflicted upon your body, does it always remind you of your trauma, or can the violence of childbirth redefine violence for you? Genuinely curious about what others think.

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