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A Conversation About Victim Blaming

A Conversation About Victim Blaming September 22, 2021

 

I had hoped to write something more poetic about my daughter’s birthday, but first I’m going to have to address something that just happened to me on Twitter.

I had admitted to my friends that I was having a bad day, when a follower asked me an insensitive question. That’s all it was at first, an insensitive question. Someone called Ana DiCostanzo asked me why I hadn’t called 911 when I was begging the midwife to take me to the hospital. She later said I didn’t have “permission” to use her words, but in fact it’s legal for me to use everything she said in public as a matter of public record as long as I properly attribute them to her, so here’s the thread and here’s a condensed version.

Now, I’ve not made a secret of the fact that I’ve suffered a chronic illness for decades that was only diagnosed last December. I was dismissed and treated like a hysterical person by doctors for my strange symptoms. The only person who helped me for a couple of years in there was a nutty chiropractor who helped a little with my pain and put me on a fussy odd diet that accidentally worked very well, since it took me off of “processed grains” and it happens I’m very sensitive to gluten and carbohydrates. Also, in my teenage years and in the years leading up to Rose’s birth, I had been the victim of some medical abuse that I’m still not ready to talk about. Someday I will address it publicly. Between the chiropractor and the medical abuse, I was into “natural medicine” and I was terrified of doctors. I had nightmares about hospitals a lot. Michael’s good friend once visited our house bringing his medical school lab coat, and the lab coat triggered a panic attack, that’s how badly off I was.  And in all the months leading up to my childbirth, I was teased and tormented by someone close to me who thought she was helping me, who would tell me horror stories about how hospitals under Obama were forcing women to get unnecessary surgeries and this caused me to be even more afraid. I shouldn’t have believed that, but I was a brainwashed conservative raised in the Charismatic Rewewal and I hadn’t really begun my deconstruction yet. I was also anti-vax and a score of other things I’m ashamed of now, because there was so much I didn’t know.

Then I was pressured into hiring a doula by another well-meaning friend who didn’t want me to get forced into a C-section. The doula was the abusive accomplice to the con artist midwife I told you about in my last post. She introduced me to the midwife. The midwife sweet talked me into accepting her services. I didn’t have many friends in Steubenville and the doula and midwife befriended me, or pretended to. I was raised to believe I was helpless and couldn’t make good choices, so I asked their advice on everything. They told me horror stories about babies born limp and without a pulse from the anesthetic, babies who had to be injected with Narcan to wake them up again. I legitimately thought that my Rosie would be abused or killed. I had nightmares about ending up in the hospital. I actually did see a doctor parallel to my midwife appointments up until the very end, but themidwife had completely taken me in and convinced me that the doctor was going to hurt me and I believed her because of my history of abuse. I’m not saying it was smart of me to do that. It was pretty dumb. But people can be tricked into acting dumb when they are afraid.

The midwives also convinced me that the only hospital in town that was halfway to decent and wouldn’t abuse me was the one an hour away, and that if I called 911 I would be taken to the local one where Rosie would surely be hurt.

I went into the birth very afraid and absolutely convinced that my midwife was going to protect me. And over the next 27 hours, I was unable to sleep, I was repeatedly raped, I was  overdosed on labor-inducing drugs, until I was lying in the bedroom, not next to a phone, with an able-bodied midwife looming over me molesting me and telling me that I couldn’t give up now and call for help.

That was why I screamed at the midwife until she took me to the hospital. Because I was a victim of previous abuse, I’d been gaslit and conned, I was in agony I hadn’t slept in 27 hours, and I couldn’t think straight.

This wasn’t enough for my troll, who taunted me about not thinking clearly.

 

She actually believed I was lying, because she couldn’t believe that an iatrophobic woman in labor who’d been gaslit by a con artist for five months and was in the middle of being raped and abused while at an eleven on the pain scale wouldn’t act with cold reason and do the thing she’d been conditioned to believe would kill her baby. She also gaslit me by acting like I was the one overreacting to such intrusive questions, and messed up a very simple Shakespeare quote.

She apparently had no idea how hospitals work, how births work, or how being the victim of trauma works. I was appalled. She went on and on for upwards of an hour saying terrible things.

Anyway, Ana has blocked me now and this isn’t about her. I’m just using my experience tonight as an example to explain to everyone a very important fact about abusers. Abusers groom victims they know are vulnerable. They gaslight and manipulate the victims into viewing the abusers as their saviors. And they are good at it.

This is obvious when you think about it. How could an abuser like my rapist have gotten away with doing this to so many women in the Ohio Valley if she wasn’t an excellent manipulator? She had me on a string like a puppet. Even after my c-section, she actually visited me in the hospital and I thanked her and apologized to her for the inconvenience. It took two days and a lot of long talks with the mostly excellent hospital staff in Martin’s Ferry before I admitted to myself that I’d been abused. That’s how long it took the spellbinding to wear off.

And if you talk to someone else who’s been abused, more often than not they will tell you the same thing. Abusers know how to spot people who have been abused before– when I met another one of the midwife’s victims, they were exactly like me, an abuse survivor who was very wary of modern medicine and afraid of what would happen in a hospital. Abusers know how to manipulate victims into isolation and distrust of anyone who can help. Abusers know how to get victims into a place where they’ll do whatever the abuser says. And they know how to shame the victims afterwards so it’s very hard for the victims to admit that it’s not their fault.

This is one reason why rape victims so often don’t report the rape, or take a long time to realize they’d been raped.

This is one reason why people stay in abusive marriages for years or decades instead of just packing a bag and hitting the road.

This is one reason why people stay in contact with abusive relatives when it would be just as easy to leave.

This is one reason why people cower under abusive teachers, bosses and so-called “friends.” Because the abusers are great at what they do, and they know how to groom and manipulate victims.

If you meet someone who’s been raped or abused in another way, you’re looking at someone who was under agonizing stress and fear you can’t begin to understand. I hope you will approach that person with empathy. I hope you’ll consider that they got into that position by having their normal boundaries and defenses broken down until they acted helplessly. And I hope that you will respond with kindness.

I want to thank all the people who defended me in that ridiculous Twitter thread. I’m appalled that Ana was so offensive, but I’m glad for the example she gave. Because a lot of people don’t seem to realize how abusers function or why victims don’t defend themselves as robustly as we’d like.

There’s no such thing as a perfect victim who does everything right.  There will always be something we can nitpick, something they could have done to be a little bit safer. And that’s not important, because abuse can happen anyway. Abuse is never, ever, ever the victim’s fault. Abuse is always the abuser’s fault. Always.

Now I’m going to get offline and spend tomorrow celebrating the birthday of my intelligent, empathetic, creative and wonderful daughter, Rose. Rose doesn’t know about the abuse I went through in my childbirth and I’ve kept a lot of things in my past from her as well. Rose may never know that keeping busy caring for such a wonderful and remarkable child is the sole reason I didn’t walk off a cliff sometime in the past ten years. She saved my life.

Happy birthday, my Rose.

I hope there aren’t any more questions, but you know where to find me if there are.

 

 

 

image via pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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