"Love After Abuse"
This is the first time I am publicly sharing most of my story. I'm going to be telling you things that a majority of my family doesn't even know about me. I've always been very reluctant and nervous to share my story with anyone close to me. I guess it was a fear of feeling vulnerable and shameful. I was afraid that people wouldn't accept me if they knew what was hiding behind my smile.
I don’t want my family to feel like they caused any of this or failed me in any way. If I wouldn’t have experienced some of this, I wouldn't be where I am or have the faith I have today. After years of therapy and healing, I'm finally okay with my past. If sharing my story helps even one person then going through all that pain was worth it. So, if I have never verbally told you the following and you would like to know more, please reach out to me. I'm more than willing to share it all with you. Love, Janet.
I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks with what parts of my story to share with you and what parts to leave out so this doesn’t turn into a script for a Lifetime movie. I have been through a lot in my life. I am an overcomer and a survivor. Whatever you are going though in this season of life, please know you are not alone. Someone else has gone through what you are going through and they have survived. You can too. All you need to do is reach out and ask for help.
When I was 14 I met and dated a 22-year-old man. I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. I met him at the local YMCA where I played after school and where he worked. Of course I didn’t tell my parents about him for a while. I can’t even remember how it came up or how I did tell them, but he met my family and charmed them. He convinced them (and me) that he was in this for all the right reasons and that he loved me and wanted to marry me. Now I realize all the ways he took advantage of me. He was a great con artist; I never even saw it coming or had a chance. He used the Bible to manipulate me. He made me feel like what we were doing was the right thing and that God had placed us together. He told me fairy tales of the future; we would marry and have a family. I was so young and so naive that I fell for it all. He went away to college and we kept in touch. Since we didn’t have the internet or cell phones back then, we wrote lots of letters and spent long nights on the phone racking up a long distance phone bill. We eventually grew apart and he got married and had a family with someone else, but he always told me he wanted to come back for me. He would call me and even visit me behind her back. He kept me hanging on. He made it seem like his wife was a horrible person, and that he would eventually leave her for me. This relationship set me up for failure and unrealistic manipulated expectations. It caused me a lot of mental pain and trauma and made me feel like I would never be loved.
After high school I moved from the Midwest out to the East Coast. I lived on my own, got a job, and met new friends. I drank and partied and made some absolutely horrible decisions. I found attention in men when and wherever I could. I was looking to fill some sort of void. I just wanted to be wanted, needed, and loved. I was trying to find my worth in what men thought of me. My self-esteem had plummeted, and I doubted myself a lot. When I would meet a good, decent guy I would sabotage the relationship because I felt like I didn’t deserve him. I gained weight and never felt good enough or smart enough.
I ended up in a relationship for 7 years. 7 long years. He was great… when he wasn’t drinking. When he drank he was mean, verbally abusive, and he took his anger out on me. Everyone else saw him as this fun amazing guy, but at home behind closed door, he was a different person. He lied, he was addicted to porn, and he cheated on me. He did things that I can’t even bring myself to say out loud because they are so bad you would think I was making them up. I covered it all up to make it seem like we had this amazing life. My self-esteem was so low that I didn’t think anyone else would want me so I stayed with him thinking it was better to be with someone than to be alone. I ended up hiring a personal trainer and started to lose weight. That seemed to bother him and he tried to sabotage my efforts. He brought home food he knew I couldn’t eat, he would throw out my meal plans, and he would make fun of the workouts the trainer had me doing. But I persisted, lost 30 pounds, and had enough so I broke up with him. My self-esteem was still so low that I ended up falling right into another relationship.
This guy made me move in with him right away as a way to get away from my ex. He was charming and wonderful. He was so sweet and nice to me. He opened the car door, sent me flowers at work, and told me I was beautiful all the time. Then he snapped. He became controlling, watching every move I made. He checked my phone every night to see who I called or texted that day and questioned everything I did. He put a tracking app on my phone, made me get rid of all my friends, and limited my contact with my family. He would never let me be alone except when I went to work. I had to call him when I left for work, when I got there, and again when I got home. I couldn’t run errands or go anywhere by myself. I was a prisoner and a slave in his home. He made me lists of things to do and if I didn’t get them done or do them to his liking I would get in trouble. The verbal abuse turned into physical and sexual abuse. He took over all my bills, my cell phone, my car title, my bank account, everything. I felt hopeless and lost.
Then came that one morning… After I thought he had left for work, I checked Facebook on my phone and smiled at a picture that a friend had commented on. Almost instantly I got a text message from him saying “what are you smiling at?” I froze. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Where was he? I was too scared to move. I kept thinking does he have video surveillance on me? Then I looked over in the dark hallway and there he was, standing there, glaring at me. I took a breath and said “Oh, hi. I thought you left for work…” Before I knew it he snatched the phone out of my hand and started to abuse me. Everything from there is a blur. I’ve never been so terrified in my whole life. He finally stopped and left for work again. As he walked out the door he said, “Stay here, do not leave the house today. I’m not finished with you.” I will never forget those words. Ever. I knew if I stayed there that when he came home he was going to kill me. I sat there frozen, crying, not knowing what to do. I was scared to use my phone because I thought maybe he could tell if I was calling or texting someone, but I HAD to do something. I called a lady that I worked with, but she didn’t answer so I left her a voicemail. I’m pretty sure all I said was “I need help.” She called me back immediately and told me to start packing. She came over with a truck, boxes, and another friend. We started packing up my stuff, but in the middle of packing I broke down and started crying. I was too scared to leave and scared he would find me. My friend stopped packing, hugged me, and prayed for me. Everything seemed very still and calm. I looked up and knew I needed to move home, I needed to go home to my mom. I knew he wouldn’t follow me there. We rented a U-Haul and attached my car to the back. I started my way back home to my mom’s in the Midwest. I made it there in 2 days by myself. I was safe.
Fast Forward a few months… I moved in with my cousins, started going to church regularly, got a job, joined a bible study, was baptized, began counseling, and met an amazing man who I married 10 months later… crazy right? I continued to get counseling and my hubby helped me though a lot of the healing and pain. He is such a patient, loving, kind soul. No one else would have been able to handle me!
We eventually started trying for a family, and nothing was happening. I was blaming myself thinking that I was the problem. Then I started to get sick all the time. I was bloated, tired, and my stomach hurt. I started to have debilitating cramps during my period. I wasn’t able to leave my bed for days at a time. My hubby convinced me to call my doctor. I was referred to another doctor who happened to be a fertility specialist as well. He said based upon all my symptoms he was fairly positive I had a condition called Endometriosis. The only way to confirm the diagnosis was to have surgery to look for it. We scheduled the surgery, he found Endometriosis and was able to remove most of it. He also found an infection in my uterus that may have been causing a lot of my stomach pain and infertility. That wasn’t all. I was diagnosed with a condition called interstitial cystitis that is a very painful inflammation of the bladder. It basically feels like a constant urinary tract infection. To top it all off, they also confirmed celiac disease. We treated all the conditions and issues the best we could and I slowly started to feel better.
Then boom! Out of nowhere we found out we were pregnant! I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy and so scared at the same time. I was convinced that I would probably have a miscarriage because of my health issues. Everything started out normal. Then around week 20 I had a gallbladder attack from gallstones that sent me to the ER. 2 weeks later, it happened again. The hormone changes from pregnancy can really make the gallbladder act up. If the attacks continued, I may have had to have it removed while pregnant. Thankfully I didn’t have another one, but we planned removal surgery for a few weeks after I gave birth.
I had this perfect birth plan in my head. I wanted a natural birth, no drugs, in the water, my midwife and hubby beside me with the faint sound of angels signing in the background. I learned that most birth plans don’t go according to plan. At my 39-week checkup my blood pressure was though the roof. My midwife said I had preeclampsia and they needed to induce me that day. Once in the hospital, everything was going well so they began the Pitocin drip-the drug to begin contractions. I wasn’t progressing as quickly as they had hoped so my midwife broke my water to get things going…and man did they get going! Part of my birth plan was NOT to have an epidural. I can’t believe it, but I made it though an induced labor without an epidural. 24 hours after being induced, my sweet girl, Jade, was born on February 25, 2016.
Our breastfeeding journey didn’t start out well. One nurse told me one thing, another one told me something else, and then a third said they were both wrong. I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job, and it was confusing. The hospital pediatrician who came to check on Jade yelled at me, telling me if I didn’t figure this out, they were going to give Jade formula. I remember getting really upset and frustrated because I didn’t want that, I wanted to try to breastfeed. My midwife came to the rescue, she showed me how to use the breast pump and nipple shields. She also sent in a lactation consultant. I fought so hard to breastfeed. My milk took so long to come in that Jade became jaundice and had to be hospitalized. Then I had an oversupply that caused mastitis and thrush. Jade had a lip and tongue tie, so we had that revised; she never took a bottle. This is where I believe the postpartum depression and anxiety started to seep in and take over.
I was overly concerned about making sure Jade was fed and full and that we stayed on schedule. I was constantly irritated, tired, and frustrated. I would get angry and snap at the smallest things. I had no control over my emotions and actions. I never felt that magical connection you are supposed to feel when you have a baby. When anyone would comment on how beautiful and amazing she was all I could think was how they had no idea what I was going through. I felt like a failure as a mother and didn’t think I was meant to be one. I questioned why people would even want to have children. Why would someone willingly put themselves though this? I didn’t want to leave the house because I was too nervous that Jade would cry and people would think I was a bad mom. I didn’t want to breastfeed in public so I would hide in my car so no one would see us. Breastfeeding became a chore I had to do. Although I was thankful I was finally able to provide for my baby without pain or discomfort, breastfeeding wasn’t a bonding experience for me. I didn’t want to be touched or near anyone else. I didn’t even want my hubby to hug me or sit next to me on the couch. I was “touched-out” and wanted to be left alone when the baby was sleeping. I felt guilty for not being overjoyed especially since we had such a hard time getting pregnant, but I just didn’t enjoy anything.
One night Jade wouldn’t stop crying and I had a full blown panic attack in her bedroom. I couldn’t breathe. I crawled out of her room on my hands and knees gasping for air. Thankfully my hubby was home and was able to help calm me down. He convinced me to call my midwife to tell her what happened and how I have been feeling. She told me this was a common sign of postpartum depression. I guess I always thought that depression meant you were sad, cried a lot, and wanted to stay in bed all day. I didn’t realize that it could be anxiety, panic attacks, irritability, frustration and anger. My midwife started me on a medication along with some herbal supplements and a clean-eating diet. I started going to a “Moms Like Me” group at our church, and I went to counseling for advice on how to manage things. My counselor also informed me that victims of past abuse have a hirer chance of postpartum depression. After a few months I thought I finally had it all under control so we decided it was time to have my gallbladder taken out.
I went in for gallbladder removal surgery in September. They said it went well and sent me home. A few days later I had horrible stomach pain. I went to the ER where they discovered I had a bile leak that led to sepsis and an abscess was forming on my liver. My anxiety started to come back. How would Jade stay on schedule while I was in the hospital? What if she wouldn’t eat since she refused to take a bottle? Since my hubby is a hockey coach who would care for Jade while he was traveling? How were we going to make this work? I was sent home with a PICC line in my arm and had to be on home IV antibiotics for 6 weeks. I wasn’t allowed to lift over 10 pounds with the PICC line in. Thankfully my mom was able to stay for 2 weeks and my hubby’s parents were able to stay for the following two weeks. I am also so thankful that the moms from my group at church started a meal train for us, and the ladies from my old CrossFit gym came to help me lift and care for Jade when my hubby was gone. We had so many people willing to come by and help for those 6 weeks it was amazing. Without their support I wouldn’t have made it!
As I was finally starting to heal Jade got RSV and bronchitis and then passed it on to me. I felt like we were all constantly sick, my immune system was shot. I was so tired and just needed a break. I kept (and still keep) in contact with my midwife. We have had to adjust my medication a few times because of all the ups and downs I have been though. I’m still working on getting my strength back by slowly working out again. I’ve also continued to eat healthy to support my liver function which has scarring from the abscess infection. I want to be around people more and I’m beginning to want hugs again too. Some days I still have pain and don’t feel well. Thankfully Jade is an amazing sleeper and I’m able to be a stay at home mom so I can rest when I need it. I can’t believe it, but I made it to my goal of one full year of breastfeeding my daughter. Once I stopped breastfeeding I started feeling even better. I also started to feel that bond with Jade and began enjoying motherhood.
In the midst of all of this, God has placed a huge calling on my heart to share my past story in hopes of helping and inspiring others. I want to use my story for His good and show other mothers and women that no matter what you are going though there is a way out. It’s okay to ask for and need help. I still have my bad days. I’m far from perfect, but I now know that I was meant to be a mother. Not just any mother, Jade’s mother.