I didn’t expect you to know…but

Trigger warning for child abuse/sexual violence and its impact on childbirth

Yesterday I attended the sixth annual Doula Uk conference, my first since joining this amazing organisation little over a year ago. The focus for this year’s conference was ‘supporting survivors’ a subject so very personal to me.

I’ll be honest I really wasn’t sure if this would be a little to close for comfort, would I find it all a little too distressing?  However after really hearing myself and working through my feelings I decided that actually the timing was well placed, after all February of this year marked the 10 year  anniversary whereby I’d made a significant decision that really put me on the path to laying the anguish that being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse was causing me.

I booked my ticket and thought little more of what the day might bring to me until the organisers asked if there were any stories that we might be able to share for the delegate packs. I immediately thought, yes I can, yes I will but very quickly the unwanted devil appears on your shoulder and starts stoking the elements of self doubt that are so very hard to shake off.

You see the biggest challenge to me and as I hear from many other survivors is that fear of being disbelieved especially if a disclosure previously was quashed with the branding of ‘lies’ attached to it, putting your experience out there for this to happen again is just so daunting, combine this with a whole host of other feelings you have surrounding your abuse it really is the digging the deepest, I’ve ever had to do.

I never wanted what happened to me to shape me but its hard to fight back against that when so much has become the central of who you are, its all ingrained and extremely hard to unpick. I myself never realised that my experiences in childhood would have such a huge impact on my pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding journey, in fact even after 5 babies over 18 years and much work and healing, even yesterday gave me moments of understanding of myself.

I’d never openly addressed the impact of my abuse during my childbearing years, here was the moment to, safe in the knowledge that it would be ok, perfectly safe and in a place without judgement. sharing without anonymity was important to me, my long journey had taken me to a place where I no longer felt the need to hide myself as a nameless victim in a hushed up world of abuse and sexual violence, it was a defining moment.

So with a deep breath I shared my story with permission to publish, knowing that over 100 people in the same room as me on conference day had my story right there in front of them, scary as I knew this was, it was my total acceptance and now I could start to use what had, for far too long been the negativity in my life to now do a whole lot of good!

I feel its important to stand up and be counted, for the impact on our childbearing experiences to be recognised, the possibility of abuse or sexual violence must be considered by every caregiver supporting women on their journey to motherhood.

Here is my personal story , with full permission to share it for the purpose of raising awareness and reframing the views that the impact that childhood abuse and sexual violence has on survivors.

I didn’t expect you to know…but

Your rough vaginal examinations and failure to stop, even as I cried evoked those feelings of shame. Shame on me for being too weak to stop this from happening to me.

When you told me to stop making a fuss, I heard words that destroyed my soul.

When you told me I’d not be able to give birth, that my body had failed me, you just compounded my lack of faith in my body to do anything good.

Your patronising “good girl” when I was compliant and silent sent shivers through me.

When you did things to my body or simply told me you were going to do them, you violated me all over again.

When you all left me naked on the operating table, you exposed my deep-rooted vulnerability.

When you spoke about me, not to me even though I was there, you took away my power again. Your failure to acknowledge me was just hushed conversations with the decisions being made for me yet again.

When you grabbed my breast from the mouth of my baby, squeezed it into a shape and rammed it back into her mouth, my already loathing of my breasts became unbearable. Your actions ensured I’d fail to breastfeed four out of five of my babies.

I didn’t expect you to know but should I have needed to tell you that I was sexually abused by my stepfather during my childhood?
The way you had treated me during pregnancy and birth had triggered his words and actions, you opened a path for his wickedness to enter my space, the one place I wanted unmarred by his presence.

So, here’s a what if…
What if care for ALL women could be based on an assumption that everything could be triggering to anyone in obstetrics and gynaecology care?

What if kind, compassionate and emotionally sensitive care was for everyone, given by everyone?

What if ego’s and the need to save women from themselves were left outside of birthing spaces?

Maybe, just maybe the change would be profound!

You see, your “silly girl” comment that was made during my last pregnancy with my 5th baby about me making choices surrounding my birth, no longer hurt me but made me angry.
Empowered, informed and healed, I am a woman an intelligent autonomous woman.
Most of all I am no longer a victim.

Melanie Garside-survivor

For help and support:


  1. Paula Cleary says:

    What an amazing thing you have done in sharing this. Thank you so much for articulating so eloquently how it feels to be an abuse survivor and to have had to endure being retraumatised and triggered as a fully mature woman and treated all over again like a child whose own feelings or physical sanctity are entirely inconsequential. Such powerful testimony Melanie.

  2. Ruth says:

    This is incredibly brave and powerful and so beautifully written. Thank you ❤️

  3. Tina says:

    Thank you for sharing Melanie. You are an amazing woman, and a great role model to your children. It has been a privilege knowing you.
    Your message should be shared with all health care professionals.

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