It has taken me a couple of weeks to be able to put this post together. Writing about deep emotional injury is daunting enough, but the shame that comes with acknowledging what was done to my body in some perverted mockery of intimacy is uniquely difficult to sit with. I have been tempted to write one long post outlining the sexual abuse but I found myself avoiding the task. Instead, I will dedicate as many consecutive posts as I can to themes or episodes in an attempt to suck the poison out of my wound. This should be fun.
When I began my pre-natal care in Australia, I was asked by a midwife a routine question about whether or not the father of my child had been abusive. It was surprisingly easy, at that point, to say ‘yes’. It was funny, really. When it was just my wellbeing at risk, the facts were murky in my mind, but once it became clear to me that Malvolio’s behaviour was putting my unborn baby at risk, something inside of me squared up and said ‘enough’. The question was initially posed in writing as part of a questionnaire. I suppose not having to admit it out loud for the first time made it easier, too. Because of my answers there was a follow-up. And another, and another.
I met with several people as part of a maternal welfare effort. I cannot emphasise just how crucial these interventions were to my recovery. One question that was really difficult to answer, and which was asked many times throughout the process, was, ‘Was your pregnancy a result of sexual assault?’ Now, this question wasn’t difficult to answer because I didn’t feel like talking about it, or because it was awkward or traumatic (I had cultivated a sort of numb detachment from the events by this point); it was difficult to answer because I just wasn’t sure! I didn’t know for sure that some of what I had been through was considered sexual assault and entertaining the idea that it might have been made me feel ridiculous and melodramatic. I certainly had not recognised, let alone admitted, that the sex in general had been characteristic of sexual abuse. If these were hard pills to swallow, then I needed a big glass of the correct vocabulary to discuss the experiences to wash them down.
To begin with, when asked the difficult question about whether my pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault, I would answer something like this: ‘It’s hard to say. I don’t know exactly when I fell pregnant but most of the sex was kind of unpleasant for me.’ I no longer get asked this question, but if I did I would be likely to now say: ‘Yes. He was sexually abusive and the experience has been traumatic for me.’
Traumatic. Yes. This is what the sex was for me. If ever I feel that I’m being over-the-top in my assessment, I reflect on the trauma. It has been two years since I last saw Malvolio, but I have not even entertained the idea of sleeping with another person. I simply can’t right now, and I’m not sure I will in the future. The thought of trusting somebody with my body (not to mention my heart) makes me shudder. I can’t even watch a sex scene on tv without it making me so uncomfortable that I may even need to stand up and busy myself around the room. These reactions to sex are unconscious and deeply visceral. I know where they have come from, though, and that is the trauma inflicted on me by Malvolio. I remind myself, time and time again, that just because he didn’t rape me behind a dumpster, doesn’t mean there was no sexual assault. There was plenty.
More to follow.