Thursday, 10 November 2011

A Story of Force, Forgiveness, and Healing: Part II

This is the second part of Monday's post, which you can read here. Part three is hosted on the author's blog, Peace 4 Parents. Many thanks to Amy for sharing such a difficult story with this community so that all can learn from it. If you have a story of your own to share, either anonymously or openly, feel free to email it to


Photo Credit: Stephen Vance on Flickr.
Fast forward about five years and guess who was convicted of criminal sexual conduct? Good old doctor. The one my mother trusted in part because he had always been good to her and because her own father was actually an honorable doctor. Evidently, he had been massaging the clitorises of some women when he was giving gynecological exams - without their permission. This left them feeling very confused and violated.

From the moment I looked at the doctor while alone in the room with him and myself half naked, I knew that there was something other than medical expertise behind his suggestions to catheterize. I was a child so I didn't know exactly what that motivation was, but I could feel it. I didn't know how or even have the opportunity to communicate that to my mother and she was pretty steeped in her medical experience so I am not sure I could have convinced her even if I could articulate what I was feeling. I now realize that feeling came from his desire to dominate and humiliate through sexual inappropriateness (otherwise known as abuse or assault).

For many years this experience plagued my relationship with my mother. Initially, I wanted to cooperate more so that would not happen again. I actually wanted to please the doctor. As I grew into a teen and started feeling powerful sensations in my own genitalia relating to maturity and attraction, I hated my mom and the doctor for that experience. It colored me - and the colors felt anything but that of a rainbow.

Mostly, I wanted her to admit that she was wrong and that the doctor was wrong. That what was done to me was harmful, unnecessary, and ill advised. The way I often experienced her response was "I'm sorry, but..." I'm sorry, but in nursing school we held kids down for shots; I thought it would be the same and no big deal. I'm sorry, but I trusted him; he never did anything to me. I'm sorry, but you really need to deal with your anger so you don't seriously hurt someone or yourself. All of this from a woman who believed very strongly in a woman's right to say "no" and have it be respected. I felt like the experience I had was a farce - a figment of my imagination, a bad dream that I was making up in my head.

Except that it wasn't. It haunted me into my college years where I sought counseling from a women's shelter. Although I felt really ready to get through the anger I still held, and had tried to resolve through counseling as a teen, it seemed like nothing would work. I tried Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), but would get to a certain point in the memory, break down, and not be able to go any further. I see now that I did not feel safe enough to revisit the experience fully and the "breaking down" was in part an unconscious protective mechanism.

In search of the truth, I attempted to locate the medical records from that day. In all of the hundreds of pages from my childhood medical notes there was no mention of a forced catheterization. I did read one remark the doctor made about my mom feeling frustrated that I was always sick. Other than that, he interestingly opted not to record the experience that was permanently etched in my soul. This was both disturbing and affirming.

My mom and I spoke words of apology and forgiveness many times through out the years, but it did not hold for long. Fierce anger would rear its ugly head and I would hate her all over again. This woman who I loved, I hated. That was such a confusing experience to have over and over again. It would take many years and the journey of motherhood for me to begin true healing.

As I labored with my first child through several hours of pushing I was the one to bring up catheterization. I had read it could help if a woman's bladder was distended and impeding the delivery process. A nurse prepared me and I felt like I must have come very far to be able to allow such a thing to take place. That was just the beginning.

The adjustment to parenting was not exactly easy for me. I completely loved my daughter and felt extremely protective of her. Around the time she was three months old my former husband started talking to me about having a second child to go along with her; a playmate. I remember screaming at him that I didn't even know how I was going to protect her, much less another child. The world felt eerily unreliable and unsafe.

Although I took good care of her, I was afraid to really touch her in many ways. I was so sensitive to what I had experienced as a child that I didn't want to hurt or violate her. Diaper changes were this interesting mixture of wanting to get her very clean as to respect her body and not wanting to touch her genitalia at all for fear she would internalize abuse just by being touched to get clean. I held a lot of emotional shame about the genital area of the body and every time I would see it on myself or another person, those feelings would come up and throw me off balance.

The first time I ever forced my oldest to do anything was related to the body and medical advice. It was a really simple situation, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the turning point at which my relationship with my daughter changed - she became afraid of me. She was a toddler and had a stuffy nose. I thought it needed to be suctioned so she could breathe and nurse better. She didn't agree. I held her down and did it. She fought me. It got done in a matter of seconds, but I felt dirty inside after it was complete. I apologized and vowed not to force her again. The only problem was I didn't know how to facilitate true, respectful cooperation or to let go of potentially harmful recommendations about how to care for the body - and how to parent children.

My second child was born when my daughter was just over two and a half. The adjustment from one to two was only a tad bit easier than becoming a parent the first time. I had no idea how to meet the needs of two kids, but as a La Leche League Leader I had the support of many like-minded mothers. I was still learning the art of loving guidance, though, and had a long way to go.

Potty training was something I thought we would just kind of flow into. I was watching her for signals so when she started having control issues, I freaked out. I was very concerned that she could have lasting health issues. The doctor recommended reward stickers or charts, my mom told me only bits and pieces of my own experience with control and toileting, and I felt saddened by the disconnect between what I wanted for my daughter and what we were facing.

I was advised by my in-laws that it was my lack of authority which caused all of her issues. They recommended a switch to the leg if she wouldn't use the toilet and my former husband agreed. It is sickening to admit that I actually tried spanking. I had turned into the exact controlling monster I hated from my childhood. I wasn't sexually abusing her, but I was punishing her to get control. To me, the two were inextricably linked.

The anger and unease led me to flying off the handle too many times - yelling, spanking, grabbing my daughter angrily. Finally, I hit a low point and realized I couldn't stay that angry forever. I had to look at what was causing the anger and deal with it - effectively.

Around this time I was going through a divorce and facing many other life changes. I began exploring spirituality, meditation, conscious breathing, and facing my own demons. I committed to a path of truth. During a time of intense introspection I was finally able to revisit the experience of my childhood without breaking down.

The first time I visited the memory in full I saw clearly that the doctor had an agenda of seeking power through abusing others; that he knew what he was doing from the moment he recommended the catheterization and I was aware of his intent through the unsure feeling I felt in my body. It was like he was wearing a dark cloak and I was a little child full of light. He was going to suck all that he could from me because he had forgotten where his own light was.

In the next visit I recalled the doctor having his thumb on my clitoris during the attempt to catheterize, which gives credence to the mix of pleasure and pain I often experienced in relation to sexuality for most of my life. That finally began to heal and allowed me to experience the truth of my body without the energetic attachment of pain.

The third time I realized that the doctor, nurse, and my mom no longer had any power over me - it was as if I was in the midst of the experience, they all released their hands from me, smiled at me, and I was free to get up. The sense of peace that flooded me in that recall was immense. I felt a sense of true forgiveness - true release of negative emotion towards others - that I had not felt before.

Still, the arguments between my mother and I finally got to a point where my dad asked us to reconsider counseling. He felt it all stemmed from the experience with the doctor. I really wanted to get through our issues. I also wanted to be respected for the way I choose to parent now; which includes no spanking or force. I found it difficult to try and parent in a manner that truly treats children as equals without her full support. I wanted a new relationship with my mom. She did also.

During our first counseling session the woman facilitated an open discussion of how I experienced the catheterization. My mom was able to listen, reflect back what she heard, and realize how that must have been for me. In that moment, she touched my hand and felt a little of what I did that fateful day. She cried some. We connected. Our relationship began to heal.

As I write this account now, the emotions are present - although no longer consuming. I have cried a few tears and felt anger rise as I breathe to acknowledge the signal. Now as a mother of four dedicated to experiencing power with children instead of over them, I gratefully share this story with others to provide information and support in relating to children in ways that respect them - mind, body, and spirit.

I have had many realizations during the continual healing process, some of which I share in A Story of Force, Forgiveness, and Healing Part 3 - Realizations to Take Forward. May they help you to be more sensitive to yourself, your body, and the children in your life. As always, the choice is up to us - moment by moment. 

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