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When Survivors Give Birth - A Review of the Book

Heather Crossan

“When Survivors Give Birth”

Penny Simkin, PT, & Phyllis Klaus, MFT

A review by Heather Crossan AdvCD/PCD/BDT(DONA), LCCE, CLE

This book is important.

Trying to describe this book to others this is all I can say. The minute I finished it the first time I immediately turned to the first page and started again.

The way the book is laid out allows a difficult topic to be handled in an approachable way. Separating the survivor stories and the narrative of the book allows the reader to digest the difficult stories and details without taking away from the important information within the chapters.

Dividing the book into sections gives the opportunity to focus on clear topics and sets you up to continue into the next section with the information needed to fully understand and absorb the next sections.

Every time I turned a page and found a shaded section I was both excited to hear from another survivor, while also scared to read the details of what they had experienced. I really appreciated the way these stories were not edited to remove the horrific acts, and the way it was treated as fact based, just simply the survivor explaining what happened. As a relatively sheltered, privileged person, I have lived without having to face the reality of what is truly happening behind closed doors to far more of the population than I would like to admit. This books lays it all out in the open, warts and all, for us to deal with.

I really appreciated the way topics were explained in the book. While being evidence based and citing the research the tone is conversational and easy to read. I didn’t feel like I was attending a lecture, but having a conversation about each topic. As the book moved along it felt natural to move into each new section and deal with the new information.

Throughout the book I found it very helpful to have the “abuse” discussed in different ways. Not just focusing on the physical, but also delving into the emotional, psychological, and developmental impacts of childhood sexual abuse. There were so many factors and manifestations that hadn’t occurred to me and I appreciated the way the book gives an overview to gain better understanding.

One of the biggest take aways for me would be the reoccurring theme of control. The lack of control the survivors felt, the control asserted over them by the abuser and how little things could be a trigger for that lack of control. It was fascinating to read about the ways the birth team can give the birthing person control and help them feel like an active participant in their own birth.

Along with that though, I also question why this even needs to be discussed! Shouldn’t we be treating all birthing people with respect? Don’t they all deserve to know why a vaginal exam is being performed or what is happening behind their back? Although this is even more important when dealing with a known survivor of childhood sexual abuse, with the rates so high, it would be nice if disclosure was not necessary.

In part II we explore the various methods of communication, help and healing beneficial to the survivor. I found this to be a well presented, thorough break down of various methods and more importantly WHY these methods may be helpful. While not an instruction manual to begin therapy sessions, this section provides useful tools and real world examples to better inform and hopefully allow those not seeking help to find alternative methods.

Part III gets into the clinical considerations we should have in mind when in a clinical setting with a survivor. I wish that this was mandatory reading for all care providers, and applaud the authors for reaching out to several medical professionals for this section. It was reaffirming to hear the same ideas and purposeful language reiterated by others, and hopefully having these opinions shared by many respected professionals will cause care providers to take a second look and read this important section.

As I said before, this book is important.
This book gives practical tips and tricks that can be implemented by anyone. This book addresses an issue that is far too common, although not talked about. This book gives survivors a safe place to discuss their experiences and help others. This book, unlike any other, brings the whole person to the fore-front. This book reminds us that we do not birth with our body alone. This book shows that we birth as a sum of all our experiences and each of those experiences must be considered. This book gives a voice to those who have experienced Childhood Sexual Abuse, survived, and birthed.

This book is important.

- Heather

Heather Crossan, AdvCD/PCD/BDT(DONA), LCCE, CLE is an Advanced Certified Birth Doula, certified Postpartum Doula, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, Certified Lactation Educator, as well as a certified Henna artist. She has been an active doula in Calgary for over a decade, while also being a birth doula trainer, Lamaze Seminar Instructor, "When Survivors Give Birth" Instructor, founder of Doula Essentials as well as Co-Owner of Elite Doula Group Inc. She takes great pride supporting families, and doulas through their entire journey.