Childhood Sexual Abuse and Birth

Childhood sexual abuse, not a light subject to write about, and a subject far too few of us talk about.

I recall eight years ago when I publicly shared my personal experience with this, yes, maybe I was a bit immature in my chosen language and maybe I didn’t have a direct intent about what I was sharing.  What I did know was the abuse that occurred shaped who I became.

Nearly thirteen years ago when I became a Birth Doula, I was right in the thick of dealing with the repercussions of my past, a past I allowed to follow me around, so much so that the date rape that occurred when I was nineteen felt like my fault. I was nervous about and lacked confidence in intimacy, in fact, I still do.  Biweekly counseling sessions, constant research on the subject and feeling like a victim was status quo, until I took doula training with a renowned midwife and doula trainer.  She shared that she and I, we came from the same place.

To be in a space where a small group of women came together for training on how to support women through pregnancy, labor and delivery where anything could be talked about or brought to the table for inquiry was a space I had never before been in.  It was warm and welcoming and confidence building.  It made me realize I had a story and I had allowed that story to define who I was and was the first layer of the onion pulled away in my healing and recovery that years of counseling had never touched.

At the time I believe the certification requirements included attending three births free of charge and turning in those evaluations for review.  Because my doula trainer was a midwife in my local area, she immediately sent me a referral to a couple.  There were biracial, he was a sailor in his mid-twenties, she was ten years his senior.  She was petite and he was a bean pole, and they were so in love.  I remember them well.  Turns out she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  I had no idea how that would change me.

This sweet and tiny woman had days of prodromal labor.  I still can’t remember if I spent three or five days with her because after a day and a half, I called my doula trainer, sobbing, suggesting I could no longer continue.  I was tired, this was hard, and I didn’t know how to help her.

Consider that you are healing, she said.

The prodromal labor pain this woman felt was as if she was 6 cm for days.  She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t eat, she was getting weak, her coping mechanisms were coming to a close and I was out of ways to support her.  My doula trainer came to relieve me at one point so I could go home and sleep.  It allowed me a little reprieve but I was scared to death to go back.  When I returned mama was tucked into bed, quietly whimpering while her body softly shook with pain.  I know what those tremors feel like, but I always wondered if anybody else could see them.

In that moment I recall connection, like the kind of connection that binds us all as humans.  With her husband in front of her, I crawled into bed behind her, holding my warm hands over places of tension reminding her it was okay to let go, that this pain has a purpose. 

When we arrived at the hospital, the almost predictable cascade of intervention took place and soon she was on oxygen, chose an epidural, and lay in bed on her back, not finding comfort anywhere.   After multiple days of prodromal labor, she was exhausted and still had to deliver her baby.  She had one of those nurses you wished you had never met.  She was loud with little to no bedside manner, and kept shining the bright lights on her whole body when all mama was trying to do was relax.  This nurse, during pushing, cranked mama’s knees up so high and so hard that we heard a pop.  It wasn’t until days later when mama couldn’t walk that we realized that something in her pelvis had cracked, which landed this new mama at home and in a wheelchair.

I tell you this story because it was amazing to see what the body is capable of enduring.  It was a lesson for me in letting go, in setting the intent for how I wanted to bring my babies into the world.  It was a lesson in, while working with mama’s, reminding them of the importance in creating a village or a team of wise women to surround you and hold you and encourage you.  Most importantly, it was a lesson in knowing I had some work to do before I got pregnant.  I had to distinguish and disappear the physical and emotional pain I felt everyday if I was to enjoy a pregnancy.

Working with that couple was such a gift, and by the time I was through with my first five births, three of those women being childhood sexual abuse survivors in varying stages of healing and growth, I was more clear than ever about the kind of pregnancy experience I was going to someday have.

I also got clear on how bodies respond physically.  At the time my bodywork practice was my primary income and there were times while working on women that I could sense something, like a resistance or holding back that would be coupled with an emotional outpouring (or not), and involuntary tremors.  I knew exactly what was going on, what was coming to the surface for them, and that the most important thing I could do was just hold the space for them to be with it.  Some women would openly talk about it and some would say it all with their eyes.

If this strong and beautiful woman is you and you are considering working with a doula for your pregnancy and birth, tell her of your past, ask her what her experience is in supporting women like you.  That openness and connection will work wonders in your journey toward bringing your baby into the world.

About the Author

Nichole Hirsch Kuechle is a Bradley Natural Childbirth Instructor, Parent Coach and Birth Doula.  Her role as a Craniosacral Therapist and Certified Lifestyle Educator also supports the families she works with.  She also teaches live and virtual workshops.

She has authored a New Parent Tool Kit full of tips on how to have a healthy pregnancy, tips on postpartum nutrition, sibling inclusion and more, which you can grab for FREE at
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1 Comment

  • Stephanie H. , June 1, 2012

    Your not alone my mom couldn't have any of her children vaginally because of scaring from childhood sexual abuse. I know being tired my friend had a preemie and since the Doula service at the hospital hadn't even gotten to her file yet. Her husband was freaked out even though we had almost finished the La Ma's classes provided by the hospital. We missed the last class because she had already had her baby. I helped her through labor helped keep him calm and prepared him for the C-Section I knew would happen because of the baby tracings. She didn't know because she was in active labor and still hadn't had any pain medication or an epidural so I wanted her to focus on breathing and relaxing telling her she was going to get a C-section would would have scared her to death she had never had surgery before. When the nurses and Doctors came running in she only had a few minutes before she was asleep and the baby was delivered. Her husband stayed calm which shocked the Dr's and Nurses.When she returned to the room she had the nurse from Hell and so I got the husband to call the emergency response team. Even though I warned the nurse that if she didn't start treating my friend right I was going to call the team she didn't get what was happening and was shocked when the team showed up. I was with them all night and her husband and I did 12 hour shifts so she was never alone at the hospital. I advocated for her to either go home in my care or allow her favorite well trained cat come visit her since she didn't have her baby and wasn't allowed to hold her baby until two days after his birth. She wanted to breastfeed but was only able to pump for her baby because he never learned to latch even after multiple consultations with a couple different Lactation consultants. It was one of the best and hardest experiences in my life. thanks for sharing your story

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