May 15 was my anniversary. A year since I miscarried a child, one that I honestly never wanted. I never wanted his child, but in an instant it became mine. Mine and my responsibility. Before I knew it though that child no longer existed, was nothing, and no one's. I could not reclaim it; I did not have a choice; I could not let go. How does one properly mourn for the lost child of rape? Should you feel relieved or destroyed? My world collapsed.
I refused to acknowledge that my heart was broken and my world shattered. That summer I continued with my plans and traveled to Peru. On Father’s Day, a little over a month later I joined my friends in celebrating at a Peruvian discoteca with a large crowd, flashing lights, and a crate of beer per capita. In this moment, I realized I could not celebrate Father’s day. I had no ability to dance for him. I could not celebrate the countless fathers who have caused pain directly and indirectly to their children through sexual violence. That night, for the first time in my life, I told a friend my entire story and hid in the darkness of her room for the following three days. She was incredible then and over the next month, for that I owe her greatly. It was there in the recess of her shower that I let in my pain and began to feel panic.
“Panic. You open your mouth. Open it so wide your jaws creak. You order your lungs to draw air, NOW, you need air, need it NOW. But your airways ignore you. They collapse, tighten, squeeze, and suddenly you're breathing through a drinking straw. Your mouth closes and your lips purse and all you can manage is a croak. Your hands wriggle and shake. Somewhere a dam has cracked open and a flood of cold sweat spills, drenches your body. You want to scream. You would if you could. But you have to breathe to scream.
Panic.” ― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
I often blame my rape, my pregnancy, and my miscarriage on myself. If I had been more prepared, if I had been on birth control, or if I did not spiral following my attack maybe this would not have happened. Forgiving myself is a slow and arduous process. But deep down I know there is nothing to forgive. Nothing that happened to me is my fault, not the attack, not the pregnancy, not the miscarriage. I am working every day to acknowledge that truth.
Due to the nature of reporting sexual assault, very little research exists on rape-related pregnancy. However, in 1996, a study found that nationally for female rape victims 5% became pregnant. In order to cope with their trauma, many drink alcohol, use drugs, and engage in a variety of harmful coping mechanisms, which can ultimately cause harm to the fetus. Among these 5% of women it has been shown that 50% were aborted, 12% were miscarried, and 38% were brought to term and either given up for adoption or kept. Miscarriage is any failed pregnancy prior to 20 weeks and sadly 20% of pregnancies in the U.S. will result in a miscarriage. Unfortunately, my experience is not uncommon, as 80% of women who miscarry do so in the first trimester (first 12 weeks) and because they are so early in their pregnancy, many are often unaware.
I am part of that 12%. This summer to remember my loss, I took a vacation with the person I trust most. We traveled to a beach where I had no memories, where I could feel safe to create new ones. I brought large white paper lanterns that I hoped would bellow in the ocean breeze and carry my pain away. Instead, that ocean breeze snuffed the flame on their candles. Yet, in my darkest of moments seven women appeared and shielded me from the storm. These angels questioned nothing. Instead, their blankets provided comfort; their gaze offered validity; their presence demonstrated solidarity. I know nothing of those women’s stories or let alone their names for they left as quickly they arrived.
The power of their solidarity provides me hope, as I continue to battle my panic.
Deep down on a cognitive level, I know that none of this is my fault. For any survivor of violence this fight takes time, but as someone impacted by rape related pregnancy that feeling of guilt can seem insurmountable. I am working towards resiliency for myself and the strength to shape the impact of my experiences. For others, who have experienced something similar. You are not alone, no matter how isolating it can feel.
For more information on
Rape and pregnancy:
- National Institute of Health: Rape-related pregnancy: estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women.
- Human Nature: Are per-incident rape-pregnancy rates higher than per-incident consensual pregnancy rates?
Planned Parenthood provides support for survivors with unplanned pregnancies.
Kathryn Snyder is a student at George Mason University and will be graduating in the winter of 2016 with a major in Neuroscience and minor in Chemistry. Passionate about global health, food insecurity, and fueling best practises through research. Lover of avocado, coffee, puppies, PubMed, and Instagram. Check her out on social media at @Kathrynsnyd.