Sitting in the emergency room five years ago, waiting for a nurse to begin administering my rape kit, I couldn't have understood how being a sexual assault survivor was going to impact my future. Honestly, I couldn't think of much of anything at all. However, in the years since — and throughout my continuous, never-ending healing — it's now easy to see how being a sexual assault survivor has changed how I parent my son. While it's difficult (if not impossible) to find a "silver lining" in something as horrific as sexual assault, because there isn't "good" to be found, I've discovered a way to step back and realize that this horrible thing has changed me, and I've been able to transform that change into something positive. As a survivor, I've found a way to endure, grow, and become the mom my 2-year-old son needs.
Of course, that change is one I never wanted or hoped to experience. I wish, with every fiber of my being, that being a sexual assault survivor wasn't part of my life story. But wishing my past away is a fruitless endeavor, and one that doesn't change what happened to me or how it has impacted my life. Instead, for me, I've found I feel empowered when I face my past trauma and acknowledge the realities it's left me with, for better and for worse. I firmly believe it's not a survivor's job to make something horrific more comfortable to digest, or to give hope to anyone listening or reading. But I will be a mom and a sexual assault survivor for the rest of my life — I'll never be one more than I am the other. And these are just some of the ways it's changed my parenting forever.
I'm Determined To Teach My Son Consent...
There are so many lessons I want to teach, but teaching my son about consent is arguably the most important. It's vital to me that I raise a son who understands and asks for consent. Always.
Of course, it's also important to me that my son understands that no one is allowed to touch him unless he gives his consent, too. In all aspects of life, consent is non-negotiable and should always be asked for and respected. I can only imagine how different my life would be if the man who sexually assaulted me understood that very simple (but extremely important) concept.
...And At A Very Early Age
It makes me incredibly sad to know that consent either isn't being taught to our children at all, or isn't being taught until kids are in high school (or even college). Why wait? Why not teach them this valuable lesson when they're also learning how to brush their teeth or use a toilet properly?
From an early age, my partner and I have been teaching our son about consent and how important it is. He doesn't have to give us (or anyone else) hugs or kisses if he doesn't want to. He picks out his own clothes (unless they're not safe to wear outside), and he's responsible for his own body (when he isn't, you know, throwing himself off the couch). Likewise, we constantly remind him that he isn't allowed to give hugs and kisses unless he asks, even if it's adorable to watch him and another 2 year old play together. By instilling this lesson at a very early age, consent won't be this vague concept, just a normal part of engaging with other human beings.
I'm Not Afraid To Be Honest About My Past
My son is only 2, so there are certain things about my life I won't talk to him about yet. However, when he starts asking questions, and when it's age appropriate to answer them honestly, I have no problem telling my son that I was sexually assaulted. I have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide, and I truly believe my son can benefit from learning about the devastation survivors are forced to endure at the hands of their assailants.
There's no reason to suffer in silence, and I believe sharing my story (with my son, or with anyone else) is a way to end rape culture and educate the next generation.
I Feel Responsible For The People My Son Will Come In Contact With In The Future...
I'll be honest, I sometimes struggle with this particular feeling. On the one hand, while I do believe I'm responsible for my son, I also believe I can't carry the burden of whatever consequences his actions may or may not cause. Just like I can't take all the glory for every success he enjoys in the future, I can't be at fault for all his failures, either.
It's important that I shoulder the responsibility of parenthood and simultaneously teach my son personal responsibility, too.
...And For How He Treats Those People
All that said, I also feel a great responsibility for and to every single person my son will eventually come into contact with. I feel this immense pressure to raise my son to be an advocate, someone who protects instead of hurts. I want to raise someone that people who are victimized, demoralized, brutalized, or marginalized, can go to and know they are safe with.
I Suffer Through Triggers Brought On By Parenting
I never would have imagined that healing from my sexual assault would mean suffering through triggers brought on my pregnancy, labor, delivery, breastfeeding, and the tantrums my 2-year-old toddler throws. That's the thing about healing, though. It's never, ever, linear. Instead, it's this cyclical, never-ending journey that begins and ends and then begins all over again. I'll never be the same person I was before I was sexually assaulted, and that's neither a horrible thing or an OK thing. It's just my reality.
As a survivor, I had to work through the triggers of pregnancy, especially when I lost my bodily autonomy and felt powerless. I had to face those same triggers when I brought my son into the world, and how the trauma of childbirth mirrored the trauma of sexual assault. I had to come to terms with how triggering breastfeeding was, and how my difficulties with breastfeeding weren't physical, but mental too. I have to practice self care when my son throws a toy or ends up hitting me, remembering he's not my assailant, but just a toddler who needs to learn how to control emotions he doesn't even understand.
It's a journey I'm constantly learning and re-learning how to navigate.
I Show My Son Strength Through Activism
I've found healing through advocacy and activism. I also don't hide those parts of my identity from my son. My toddler has been to marches, rallies, town halls, seen me speak in front of hundreds of people, been part of videos that highlight the importance of women's reproductive rights and the right to complete bodily autonomy, and more. He's growing up in an environment of activism and as a result, is learning how to be an advocate for others and how to use his privilege as a positive force for good.
I Make Myself A Priority...
Experiencing the triggers brought on by parenting has made me acutely aware of just how important my self care is. I have to make myself a priority in order to be the best mom I can be for my son. If I don't stop and take stock of how I'm doing mentally and emotionally, I can (and will) become depressed. It's important that I'm kind to myself and constantly remind myself that I matter. Not just as a mother, but as a woman and a human being.
...And Don't Apologize For Putting Myself First
Yeah, never again will I apologize for taking a break or going for a walk without my kid or going out for a night with friends. When I was a brand-new mom with a newborn, I was under the impression that I had to sacrifice every single aspect of myself in order to be a "good" mom. I have no doubt that thought process fed into and cultivated my postpartum depression and anxiety.
So now, I don't apologize when I tell my partner I need a break from our kid. I have nothing — absolutely nothing — to be sorry for.
I Constantly Communicate With My Son
After I was sexually assaulted, I made two phone calls: first, the police, and then my mom.
Even though she was thousands of miles away, my mom was there for me through every step of the process — helping me report my sexual assault, go through with the rape kit, dealing with detectives, helping me try to heal, and everything in between. I knew I could talk to her about anything, and our open, honest, and constant communication was a source of strength when I felt anything but strong.
I want my son to know that no matter what, he can talk to me. That even when the worst happens, or he finds himself in a bad or uncomfortable or scary situation, he can talk to me. I'll always listen to him, won't ever tell him his feelings are "wrong" or they don't matter, and I'll do my best to support him in any way that I can.
I Am Not Afraid To Talk To My Son About Sex (Eventually)
For some parents, the inevitable "sex talk" is a source of angst and anxiety. Yeah, not for me. I'm honestly excited to talk to my son about sex when it's age appropriate to do so. Even now, my partner and I use the correct terminology for our son's anatomy. We don't sugarcoat a very normal, very healthy part of being a human being.
I want my son to enjoy having sex, which means doing so safely and always with the consent of his partner (or partners). I can make sure that happens by not treating the sex talk as this taboo, uncomfortable conversation, but as nothing more than normal talk that we can have at any time.