Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
I can still remember the first time it happened. It was about 6 weeks after our daughter was born. I had decided to start pumping so that my husband could feed her in the mornings so I could get some much needed sleep. The first time it happened I woke up in a cold sweat, panicked and disoriented. Partly due to the lack of sleep and having barely recovered from giving birth.
I heard her crying in the next room and my stomach dropped. She had cried before as all babies do, but this time I wasn’t with her. Each scream left me frozen in bed and panicked. What was happening to her? In those moments of distress all I could think was “Is my husband raping our daughter?”
To someone who has not been raped it may seem odd to think that of someone you choose to start a family with. Someone you marry and call a life partner. And I must admit even for me the feeling was uncomfortable and left me feeling guilty of even thinking my husband could do such a thing. But the hard truth was that for me rape didn’t exist outside of the family home. Something I had learnt early on when I was raped at 5 by my cousin and molested by my uncle as a pre-teen. To me the things that went bump in the night weren’t things that happened outside, but rather things that I had to confront at home.
So when these new fears crept up I kept them a secret from my husband, or anyone else for that matter. In part because my husband is the kind of person everybody likes. He is kind, gentle, generous and considerate. All the things that made me fall in love with him in the first place. But also because in my heart I knew that what I was experiencing had nothing to do with him but with me. So why was I uncomfortable leaving him with our newborn daughter those first few weeks? Why did the sounds of her cries automatically awaken the worst fears in me? Fears that I had spent countless hours of therapy working through and learning to deal with?
The fact of the matter is that I was and will always think of the worst of men. It isn’t an easy thing to admit but to me men are all that is scary in the world. And whilst I can already hear some of you thinking “not all men” my logical brain knows that (otherwise I might have given up on marriage and dating altogether) but the five year old in me often struggles to make the separation.
Thankfully, I have learnt to voice my fears. Which can sometimes be uncomfortable to hear even for a loving husband just trying to take care of his newborn daughter. But that’s what healing looks like for me. It took a few failed attempts but after almost two weeks of sheer panic when ever my husband was alone with our daughter. I sat him down and let him know what was happening. I was expecting outrage and disgust. But instead I was met with kindness and understanding as he simply asked “what can I do to make you feel better?”.
It is a similar response he had given me when one day whilst hosting family members at our house he was playing with my niece and I mentioned that I prefer they play in eye sight of everyone. Because once again experience had taught me that I could not trust that a man and a little girl could be left to play alone in a separate room. Even if the doors are open and adults are around everywhere. He understood then as well as he did when the subject came up again regarding our daughter. And for that I am grateful.
In part because I can see how one might take offense to my wild imagination. But also because no one likes to be accused of rape. Especially when they have shown no signs of being a rapist or pedophile. But still. So what is the point of sharing this? It’s pretty simple. And as I told a friend of mine after the fact, trauma lives within us. Forming part of our identity and making up our fears. Whether we deal with it or not trauma and its after effects lingers on. Like a scar after you’ve been deeply cut. And Whilst therapy can be a way of making the healing process easier. It does not take away the injury altogether.
Which is why knowing your trauma and triggers is important. Not only for your own sanity but for the sanity of those around you. The same way I know for instance that I cannot to this day watch any movie or show with the subject of rape in it. Because I am triggered and the effects often leave me paralyzed, angry and stuck in my past. On occasion that I do find myself triggered however. I make it a point to identify my trigger and find a way to deal with it.
With our daughter it meant my husband coming into the room every time she cried in the those weeks after just so I could see her and know she was safe. After a couple of weeks I could sleep soundly even through her cries as I knew she was safe. But I also learnt that I may be triggered again. Especially as she meets my male friends and family members. And the process of healing will have to start again.