• DoubleSilence
    Power (less/ful) Birth: A Sexual Assault Survivor’s Experience Power (less/ful) Birth: A Sexual Assault Survivor’s Experience

    Power (less/ful) Birth: A Sexual Assault Survivor’s Experience


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Power (less/ful) Birth: A Sexual Assault Survivor’s Experience

In the wake of the birth of my second child, I feel compelled to write about my experience in real-time, which is something I don’t typically do.  Birth is raw and messy, and my feelings about it are still raw and messy, made more so by the hormones and sleep deprivation that accompany new mama life. During this pregnancy, I read as much as I could about the intersection of sexual trauma and birth trauma, and didn’t find much available. This is why I’m sharing my story now before hindsight softens its edges. The birth of my first child was extremely traumatic. You can read the whole story here, but basically, he was born by a terrifying emergency c-section. I had dozed off to sleep during early labor, and was awakened by a team of doctors and nurses because his heart rate had dropped. In the span of 15 minutes, he was born, healthy, but I was completely traumatized. In that short window of time, several strangers had put their hands on me and in me, my body had been sliced open, and I was left alone in a recovery room without my husband or baby. The experience left me traumatized for months, and prevented me from really enjoying and being present with my son as a newborn. I felt emotionally shattered, and guilty for not taking comfort in the fact that “the baby came out all right.” When I found out I was pregnant again, I desperately wanted to have a more positive delivery. I’m a survivor of sexual abuse, and I’ve done a lot of work to process my experiences, my life, and my healing. I’m generally aware of the kinds of things […]

  • DoubleSilence
    The Double Silence Series The Double Silence Series

    The Double Silence Series

The Double Silence Series

When I gave birth to my son, I had no idea that birth could be traumatic. And as a survivor of sexual violence – even one who had spent 15 years healing – I went into pregnancy and birth without the knowledge and awareness I needed to make empowered decisions to guard against that trauma. As a result, my birth experience left me feeling powerless, vulnerable, and re-traumatized, which impacted the first few months of my son’s life. As I started talking about and sharing my personal experience and seeking out information about the intersection between birth trauma and sexual trauma, I realized there was remarkably little information available. At the same time, I was surprised to find so many women eager to talk about the trauma of their own birth experience, regardless of whether or not they were survivors. The Enliven Project seeks to inspire dialogue in new places about the double silence around birth trauma and sexual trauma. Our hope is that by shedding light on these issues, we can ensure that health care providers, midwives, birth educators, doulas, partners, moms, and expectant moms have a deeper awareness and sensitivity to how a history of sexual violence may impact birth experiences. All survivors should feel supported, present, and empowered in their birth experiences, regardless of what those experiences look like. For some, birth may be a healing experience. For others, birth may raise past feelings related to sexual abuse or assault. In any case, birth is an opportunity for healing and resilience if the appropriate systems and supports are in place. Through this project, we will: Increase awareness that childbirth may raise feelings related to past sexual violence, many times even for survivors […]

  • Marriage
    Marriage with young kids is easy, said no one ever Marriage with young kids is easy, said no one ever

    Marriage with young kids is easy, said no one ever

Marriage with young kids is easy, said no one ever

I’d bet you a million dollars that if you ask happily married couples in their seventies or eighties to describe the easiest phase of their marriage, that none of them would wax poetic about the time when their kids were in diapers. At least this is what I tell myself on a regular basis as a mom with a toddler and a newborn. Marriage is hard. It’s a commitment to be present with another human every single day for your whole life. It’s not always pretty. It’s much more of a spiritual commitment than the promise of a lifetime of romantic dates. My husband and I have a saying about parenthood that we keep coming back to. It’s a time when we love today, miss yesterday, and look forward to tomorrow. Our two-year old is adorable (sometimes) but we miss the days when we could just go out to lunch, grab a drink after work, or even just leave the house in silence. And we are excited for when our kids are a little more grown up and independent, and don’t require constant attention and supervision. Even a play date for an hour would be a nice change of pace. When kids are screaming and I’m beyond sleep deprived, it’s easy to forget why I married my husband. Luckily, it’s also easy to remember too. Sometimes all it takes is a moment of holding hands on the couch or a quick cuddle. Other times, it might take a proper date or doing something we both love together, like hiking or biking or traveling. And I have moments where I wonder whether it would be easier if I were single. More independence, fewer responsibilities. I’m sometimes […]

Walking the walk? A critical guide to analyzing your campus’ commitment to sexual assault prevention

In the wake of negative media coverage for colleges and universities being sued under Title IX, a number of institutions of higher education are announcing new hires in sexual assault prevention. These hires are receiving media attention, and there is no doubt that it’s a positive step forward for campuses.   However, one hire, one press release, and one positive news story is a baby step in a much longer journey to transform campus culture so that sexual assault can be prevented, victims feel safe to come forward, and survivors are empowered to seek both healing and justice.   As you read stories and hear news about colleges and universities hiring people into positions related to sexual violence prevention, take a moment to analyze whether this hire reflects an authentic and genuine commitment to change. Having worked in higher education for many years, I learned that real change requires the participation of faculty, administrators, alumni donors, and students, and often needs to be supported by outside experts or agitators. Because of the tenure system, faculty members have a lot of independence and autonomy – they can be influenced, cajoled, and pressured, but rarely ordered.  Students turn over every four years, which, in the life of a university that has been around for a century, is not a long time. Administrators, including the President, can find themselves stuck in the middle, with multiple constituents they are working to serve. I’ve also learned that publicity and media attention can be powerful motivators for all of these groups, if wielded skillfully.   Here are a few questions that you can ask your administrators that will provide more insight into the level of commitment your campus is making to […]

  • imagine
    Thoughts on Trauma: Boston Marathon, Aurora, veterans, and sexual violence Thoughts on Trauma: Boston Marathon, Aurora, veterans, and sexual violence

    Thoughts on Trauma: Boston Marathon, Aurora, veterans, and sexual violence

Thoughts on Trauma: Boston Marathon, Aurora, veterans, and sexual violence

Trauma has been in the news lately. We just passed the 6-month anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting in Aurora, and ongoing coverage of returning veterans facing PTSD, so there has been extensive coverage about victims, survivors, and bystanders throughout the news. One story, on WBUR, featured six nurses who provided triage care to victims immediately after the bombing. After the bombing, they decided to get matching tattoos to memorialize the victims and honor their experiences. One of the nurses noted, “Being there together has been a great support. We’re able to talk with each other when something upsets us, something that even close family members can’t really understand,” Her statement rang so true to me as a survivor of sexual violence. Community and solidarity with other survivors is an important part of healing and recovery, yet sexual abuse and assault are designed to make victims feel alone.  But survivors of sexual violence need the same thing that veterans and other kinds of trauma victims need in order to heal: Grounding in the reality of the traumatic event that took place. No one doubts that the marathon bombing actually happened or that a battle took place. To be seen, heard, and believed. No one questions whether a veteran or a witness is telling the truth about what they saw and how it impacted them. We listen to stories about traumatic events to create a shared narrative that helps us heal. Spaces of acceptance, honor, and healing. Victims and survivors come together to share their experiences, understand their trauma more deeply, and support each other on pathways to healing. Through vigils, memorials, walks, and community gatherings, we create spaces […]

  • It's Time for a Movement: Women
    On Cancer and Sexual Violence: It’s Time for a Movement On Cancer and Sexual Violence: It’s Time for a Movement

    On Cancer and Sexual Violence: It’s Time for a Movement

On Cancer and Sexual Violence: It’s Time for a Movement

  It’s hard to imagine, but less than 50 years ago, having breast cancer was a shameful thing. In my grandmother’s generation, women suffered – and died – alone, keeping their cancer a secret from family members and friends. The treatment available was crude and painful, and diagnosis almost always came too late. Prevention was unimaginable, and the word cure was rarely uttered among professionals in the medical and research communities. Other cancers that impacted men were equally taboo. There was virtually no discussion about prostate or testicular cancer, two cancers that take the lives of too many men, both young and old. Today, we can’t imagine a world without the pink ribbon, the yellow Livestrong bracelet, or hundreds of cancer walks, rides, and runs each year in small towns and big cities across the country. Private foundations, individuals, companies and the U.S. government invest billions of dollars in awareness, prevention, detection, treatment, and the possibility of a cure. Tens of millions of Americans rally for cancer patients and survivors, creating a powerful and hopeful circle of support, courage, and resilience. It’s exciting to think about how this kind of change and movement is possible.  It doesn’t take long to build momentum, awareness, and real investment that can transform a stigmatized, hopeless social issue into a powerful and hopeful movement. It’s time to bring this energy and focus to the movement to end sexual violence.   Sexual violence is as common, if not more common, as many types of cancer. One out of four women and one out of six men will be impacted by sexual violence in their lifetimes. Yet the movement is still the cancer movement of my grandmother’s generation. Survivors suffer – […]

  • RapeApologist
    5 Things to Consider Before Calling Someone a Rape Apologist 5 Things to Consider Before Calling Someone a Rape Apologist

    5 Things to Consider Before Calling Someone a Rape Apologist

5 Things to Consider Before Calling Someone a Rape Apologist

If you have entered into conversation and dialogue about the issue of sexual violence, you may have heard the term “rape apologist.” While this term hasn’t yet made it into Webster’s Dictionary, an apologist is someone who “makes a defense in speech or writing of a belief or idea.” A rape apologist is term used by some to describe an individual who defends a rape myth, like a victim is to blame for a sexual assault. Lots of people say and do things that reflect ignorance or misunderstanding about sexual violence. Most people don’t apologize on behalf of rapists. And most people don’t think that rape is actually okay. That’s why the term rape apologist really gets under my skin.  First, it’s name calling. Second, it infers a sense of conspiracy on behalf of some unknown tribe of apologists who are seeking to undermine the very concept of rape and sexual violence. Third, it turns a behavior or attitude into a permanent character trait. And finally, it’s a term of extremism that shuts down conversation rather than opening it up. Sometimes it’s easier to write people off completely than to consider the role you might play or not play in shaping their opinions and perspectives on the world.  But it’s really not that hard to avoid name-calling, and it’s really not that hard to start to engage someone in real dialogue – even about something as sensitive as sexual violence. Here are a few things to consider: What did the person actually say or do? Do you even know?  Many times, you might hear about an “offensive” comment second or third-hand. Go directly to the source. Find out what the person actually said or did, […]

  • Cherries
    The Working Parent’s Potluck Dilemma The Working Parent’s Potluck Dilemma

    The Working Parent’s Potluck Dilemma

The Working Parent’s Potluck Dilemma

There’s nothing like a school or daycare potluck to bring on a burst of competitive parenting.  Personally, I dread the cheerful closing, “Bring a dish to share!” because I instantly start to think about how everyone in the room is going to judge my lack of Martha Stewart skills. I’m useless at baking, and barely have the time to make a grilled cheese for dinner, let alone a layer cake or ginger scone for a party. That starts at 4:30pm. On a school night. When it’s friends only, they know my schedule, my quirks, and still like and appreciate me.  And I feel the same way about them. I once had a potluck for a bunch of working moms, and we had seven containers of hummus and one dish of paleo-friendly chocolate truffles. Everyone had a good laugh, and ate a lot of hummus. But when it’s other parents, it can trigger all sorts of insecurities. It’s easy to start comparing my potluck choices to other parents’ potluck choices, which is really just a proxy for comparing life choices and values. Good mothers bake cookies from scratch. How can they expect me to cook something when I’ve just returned from a 3-day business trip? I can’t let anyone know that I make my kids scrambled eggs for dinner three nights a week. Maybe I should take a day off from work so I can bake something spectacular. My family recipes include hot dog casserole and shake and bake chicken – I can’t let anyone know! We all make different choices in life about our careers, our time, our family life, and how we make our kids feel loved and valued. This results in a unique […]

What helping a blind man taught me to see

This week, I tried to help a blind man on the subway.  I say tried because whatever I did was totally not helpful at all, despite my best intentions. I was waiting to get on a busy rush hour train as I saw a man with a white cane exiting from the subway car. He was asking – to no one in particular – how to get to the Red Line. Lots of people were staring, but no one was responding so I said, “It’s to your right.” Of course, as I said this, he turned towards me so the Red Line wasn’t actually to his right anymore. It was behind him. Yes, but WHICH WAY? He said, sounding rather annoyed. Um, turn around 180 degrees but you have to go down a flight of stairs. He sighed, exasperated, turned to his right and proceeded to walk into a wall while I just stood there. FAIL. Luckily, a man more capable of helping than me approached him, gave him an elbow, and walked him down the stairs to get to the appropriate train. I stood there feeling helpless, ashamed, and kind of like a big idiot. How did I not know how to help a blind person? What’s wrong with me? It seemed like there were a number of ways one could react, none of which quite felt right to me: Be mad at all blind people and write them off, since this guy seemed annoyed at me when I tried to help. Conclude that blind people are basically un-helpable, and never offer to help again. Be scared of being unhelpful in the future and ignore the fact that blind people exist. Feel so ashamed […]

  • J Sherman Studio - The EnDesign Council
    Missions and Movements: Launching the Enliven Project Design Council Missions and Movements: Launching the Enliven Project Design Council

    Missions and Movements: Launching the Enliven Project Design Council

Missions and Movements: Launching the Enliven Project Design Council

A few months ago, Noah Flower, a brilliant network weaver, put me in touch with Julie Sherman, founder of J Sherman Studio, a small design firm in Newton, MA.  Noah thought Julie and her team might be interested in the work of The Enliven Project, and that The Enliven Project might be interested in their creative minds and design skill set. It turned out he was right. Julie and I hit it off right away, and dove into a conversation about sexual violence, movements, and ways in which we can all align our work more closely with our values and passions.  While our lives look very different on the outside, Julie and I are both moms balancing paid work with volunteer work, parenthood with professional lives, not to mention households, partners, and friends. But at the core, we are committed to using our skills and talents in a meaningful way – particularly when it comes to shedding light on stigmatized issues, and other social and community challenges that prevent us from living our best lives. That first conversation led to an exciting partnership that we’ll be launching in early September with a pair of conversation graphics about the prevalence of sexual violence.  But more importantly a deeper dialogue centered on the following questions: How can designers make their work more mission-focused? How can good design support and expand a movement and a field? Out of this conversation, The Enliven Project and J Sherman Studio developed the concept for The Enliven Project Design Council, with J Sherman Studio as the founding member. The Design Council is a way for designers to connect mission to movement around the issue of sexual violence that goes beyond traditional pro-bono […]