Research reveals the devastating effects domestic violence has on pregnant women, and their unborn children….

According to recent studies, a staggering 45% of abused women report that they are forced to have sex with their partner. When pregnancy results in an abusive relationship, in 50-70% of women the abuse continues during pregnancy. The National Institutes of Health reports that over 300,000 pregnant women in the U.S. are victims to domestic violence, with domestic violence being the leading cause of death among U.S. women of childbearing age.

I am one of these women the statistics speak of. I understand, firsthand, the horror of becoming pregnant as a result of abuse, and then enduring a pregnancy in a home where I did not feel safe. 

Pregnancy journal.. while other mothers are scrap booking the milestones of their pregnancy from the first pink line on the pregnancy test to hearing a steady heart beat for the first time, these are my sad milestones….

Common symptoms announced pregnancy –nausea, fatigue, sudden weight gain… and cravings for pickles. On the outside I looked like any pregnant woman but behind closed doors, I lived a life of fear and uncertainty, as an abuse victim.

4/5 Months Pregnant, while I was celebrating the first kicks – my abusive ex was calling me fat, and telling me I looked like “an old granny” in maternity clothes. I attempted to squeeze into jeans even as my belly stretched, and baby kicked in protest to avoid his angry outbursts… and secretly hoped baby did not hear what was said.

6/7 months Pregnant, while I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my child, preparing a nursery, reading baby books and shopping for clothing and toys (tears in my eyes, goofy grin on my face) – my abusive ex is giving the baby the “silent treatment”. He has ignored every aspect of my pregnancy, and acts as if we are not expecting a baby. There is no emotion. No talk of the pregnancy. No planning. I feel like a single parent before the baby is even born.

8/9 months Pregnant, still working a job to support the family, finances are stretched thin… my abusive ex is addicted to prescription pain pills. While I am planning my trip to the hospital to delivery the baby, he is planning his next visit to the ER or to the dentist or to a round of doctors to get his next fix.

“..to think of all the babies whose pre-birth experience is one of fear and threat. I have worked with women for many years that have lived with domestic violence and other abuse it made me feel immensely sad for them and their unborn children..” ~ Laura Schuerwegen, author the blog, Authentic Parenting

Unborn children are harmed by domestic violence that they are exposed to in the womb, research confirms what many domestic violence victims and advocates have reported.

Exposure to domestic violence begins in utero, as does the harm it causes. Beginning in the 2nd trimester of pregnancy, babies can hear voices and sounds from the world around them. The clearest sound heard is the mother’s voice. What to Expect: Fetal Sense of Hearing offers a simple experiment to give you the chance to understand what noise sounds like to an unborn baby, “Try this for fun (really!): Put your hand over your mouth. Have your partner do the same. Then carry on a conversation – and that’s what voices sound like to your baby in the womb.

The louder a sound the more likely a baby is to hear it, which includes yelling or threats directed at a pregnant mother, the sound of crying or police sirens – all common in experiences of domestic violence.

Before birth, a unborn baby is not only hearing but experiencing the very emotions of fear – through the chemical process that happens in the mother’s body. Chemical processes in the mother’s body send emotional and physical messages to the unborn baby. A mother who is frightened, anxious or hyper vigilant as a result of abuse has higher levels of stress hormones in her body, that will also affect the developing baby; and over time will put extra stress on the brain and body (this is also reaffirmed by the ACEs study which says toxic stress damages the function and structure of a child’s developing brain, and can lead to other health consequences). In particular, the hormone cortisol is neurotoxic and has damaging effects on the brain, and may contribute to emotional problems in a baby after birth, says new research by Michigan State University scientists.

Other risks to the pregnant mother and unborn baby include: physical injury, inability to seek medical care or treatment, less access to support/friends/family and a higher rate of miscarriage.

To be clear – the problem is NOT the expectant mother but the abuse inflicted on the mother, at the hands of an abusive partner. By gaining a better understanding of how abuse affects unborn children, Alytia Levendosky, a study co-author at Michigan State is hopeful that increased education and awareness about domestic violence will send a strong message that domestic violence is harmful to unborn babies, and will encourage doctors and other medical professionals, and social workers, to screen and monitor for violence; and better be able to support victims – or provide needed resources for help. Research has proven that advocacy for abuse victims, in combination with providing resources for help, does improve outcomes.

A positive note – children’s brain can heal and create new connections; so early intervention can lessen some of the damage caused by domestic violence; and may also save a life.

Need Help? The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Additional Reading: 

ACES = Adverse Childhood Experiences

Authentic Parenting: Effects of Pre-Birth Trauma on the Unborn Child

DOMESTIC ABUSE MAY AFFECT CHILDREN IN WOMB

The effects of domestic violence on unborn children (Includes a list of how exposure to domestic violence negatively impacts the emotional, physical and social development of children)

Partner violence during pregnancy: prevalence, effects, screening, and management

NCADV Pregnancy and Domestic Violence Facts

When Pregnancy Triggers Violence

Do you feel “stuck” in your marriage? Is there a nagging sense that something is wrong between you and your spouse but you don’t know what? Have you tried “everything” to “fix” your problems but still, nothing seems to change?

Dave Willis tackles the 7 common patterns of dysfunction that wreak havoc on his marriage in an article on Family Share: The 7 Types of Dysfunctional Marriages

These are the most common patterns, but it does not limit the other types of problems that may exist. Willis is not a therapist; this article is based on his experience as pastor who has interacted with other married couples from all over the world. Willis is also married.

In brief, the common types Willis mentions includes (there is more detail in the article):

1) The Scorekeepers – Who keep score of the other partner’s behavior and use that to control or manipulate.
2) The Fantasizers – Live in a fantasy life, not reality.
3) The Outsourcers – Escape into other people, careers and personal pursuits at the expense of their marriage.
4) The Blamers – Blame their partner for anything and everything that is wrong.
5) The Separatists – A marriage where both people are living two separate lives, and have lost the togetherness and equality that marriage requires.
6) The Deceivers – A marriage that lacks trust and is troubled with secrecy and lies.
7) The Quitters – A partner that quits when things get tough.

The article does not talk about domestic violence (which includes emotional abuse, a strong theme in these patterns of dysfunction) but I think the warning signs should be mentioned to raise awareness of the possibility, in case abuse is happening in the relationships. Early detection of domestic violence is crucial in helping a victim be safe, and get needed help.

Power and Control Wheel: http://fultonfvtaskforce.com/

Warning Signs of Family Violence (Fulton Co. Violence Task Force)

You do not have to live in chaos or dysfunction! Recognizing there is a real problem in your marriage is the first step to getting help. You do not have to make these choices alone, nor do you have to be trapped or stuck in a situation that seems out of your control, there is help and support available to break free from the dysfunction, and live the life you were meant to have.

— EJ, 2015

211 is a free and confidential phone line for people in North America to find local community resources. Open 24/7: 211 Resources

Crisis Call Center: 1-800-273-8255 or 775-784-8090. Or, text “ANSWER” to 839863.
Staff and volunteers are available 24/7/365. This is a confidential and free service. Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour crisis line is here to provide safe, non-judgmental support for individuals in any type of crisis. In addition to our 24-hour crisis hotline, we also offer crisis intervention through text messaging. Text “ANSWER” to 839863.
Crisis Call Center

Crisis Text Line serves anyone in any type of crisis, providing them access to free, 24/7 emotional support and information they need via the medium they already use and trust: text. Here’s how it works:
Someone texts into CTL anywhere, anytime, about any type of crisis.
A live, trained specialist receives the text and responds quickly.
The specialist helps the person stay safe and healthy with effective, secure counseling and referrals through text message using CTL’s platform.
Crisis Text Line

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

This is what men will never understand, she realizes…


Their dishonor, men’s dishonor, can always be redeemed,
defeat followed by victory,
capture by escape,
escape by capture.
Up hill and down dale.


But women are dishonored once and for all.
Their only hope is to hide it.


To keep it to themsleves
.”

Peter Ho Davies, author.
The Welsh Girl (p.271). Houghton Mifflin Company. New York, New York: 2007.

Summary: The narrator of this quote, Esther Evans, lives in an isolated Welsh village whose traditions have not changed for centuries until World War II, bringing refugee children, soldiers and the advances of modern life. Esther develops a crush on a soldier who rapes her and is shamed into silence. Esther struggles with the trauma of rape while the village views the soldiers as heroes– rugged men on an important mission. The consequences of the rape will forever change Esther’s life, her place in the village…and will shape her attraction to a German POW, a dangerous enemy that seems much safer than the soldier supposed to keep her safe.

 

******* SOME RESOURCES OF WHERE TO CALL FOR HELP USA AND UNITED KINGDOM*********

National Sexual Assault Hotline, USA | 1.800.656.HOPE | Free. Confidential. 24/7.

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, USA | 1-866-331-9474 | 1-866-331-8453 TTY

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), USA: http://www.rainn.org/

Rape Crisis England and Wales: http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/

UK Domestic Violence Free Phone (24/7): 0808 2000 247

UK Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre National Helpline (Females, Males, Friends & Family in Crisis or Needing Support). Every day 12-2:30pm/7-9:30pm. Free from all UK landlines and mobile phones. 0808 802 9999

Find A Rape Crisis Centre in the UK: http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/centres.php

UK Domestic Violence Resources & Hotlines:  http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/Resources/helplines.htm