We generally think of pregnancy as a time of joy, and anticipation, but it is also a time when domestic abuse can begin, or worsen. It is a time when a woman is more vulnerable, aware of the new life she is responsible for. Sarah talks about her experience in my book WITNESS, and I share some excerpts in this piece.
Sarah’s journey to motherhood was a difficult one, she had several miscarriages before undergoing fertility treatment. They were overjoyed when the treatment worked first time, and a daughter, Erin, was born. During this pregnancy Jamie was in good spirits; he looked forward to the baby, but made it clear he wanted a son. When Erin arrived he was thrilled, and enjoyed taking her out with him, showing her off to his friends. It was a few weeks after Erin was born that he began an affair, and this devastated Sarah. She felt the walls closing in. Not only had she been taught that marriage was for life, she now had responsibility for another life – a much wanted child, and somehow, she had to find a way to make it work.
‘Throughout their daughter’s first year, there were problems. Jamie’s mood swung from delight in his new baby to fury at his wife. Sarah no longer seemed to be a person in her own right; she was his wife and Erin’s mother. When Erin was born, Sarah stopped working. It was impossible for her to continue at her job because part of her responsibility was to be on call twenty-four hours a day. If Jamie was on night shift and she got a call out, it would be impossible to get someone to look after Erin. This meant Sarah had no income of her own, and with a diminished family income, she was responsible for managing the household finances and meeting Jamie’s demands.
His anger now erupted if he could not find socks when getting ready for work or if she ironed his shirt the wrong way. On one occasion when her sister Helen was visiting, he punched Sarah in the face because he could not find socks. He made sure he did this in another room so Helen could not be an eyewitness. On another occasion, he was angry, and as Sarah moved away from him carrying Erin, he shouted at her that she ‘was only hiding behind the baby!’ Fearing he would hit her and Erin, Sarah put Erin in her chair and left the room. Jamie followed her and slapped her face and punched her head. She had no business answering him back.‘ (pp 51 – 52 WITNESS by Kitty Nolan)
Sarah had another miscarriage, and, with some reluctance, Sarah agreed to have another round of fertility treatment. Once again it was successful, and David was born. The fertility treatment was straight forward, but her pregnancy was a nightmare due to Jamie’s behaviour.
‘As the weeks of this pregnancy progressed, it became apparent that Jamie was having another affair. This time when she challenged him, he said it was the hormones; she was imagining things. He was away from home more and more. One evening, Sarah complained about him going out; they had agreed to decorate the kitchen. Sarah had stripped the walls, and they’d bought the wallpaper. Couldn’t they make a start on it? Jamie erupted again, screaming, shouting, banging doors, demolishing the ironing board, and turning the sofa upside down. Sarah was terrified. He stopped short of hitting her, took the car keys, and left. Sarah locked all the doors and then set about putting things back in order.
Two hours later, Jamie returned. When he couldn’t get in, he became enraged again. Sarah didn’t want him to waken Erin, so she went to the door. He said he came back to make sure she was all right. Didn’t she realise that she shouldn’t make him so angry? She said she was fine. Jamie went back out again and didn’t return that night. This was another of many nights he did not stay at home.
His affair continued, and he continued to deny it. Sarah could talk to no one.‘ (pp 53 -54 WITNESS by Kitty Nolan)
Like many women in her circumstances, Sarah could see no way out.
Image and text © Kitty Nolan 2016
Mother, I was lost and alone, terrified for my daughter and my unborn child. Trapped, I didn’t know what to do. I wanted peace, and no peace came. I wanted safety, and no safety came. I felt alone and isolated with my daughter and my unborn child. By now, he had made me feel worthless. I continually doubted myself. My own values were devalued and had no currency in that relationship. I believed my first responsibility was to keep my children safe.
From this distance of time, I now know my first responsibility was to keep myself safe. And in turn, my children would be safe. But then my energies were focused only on my children. To keep them safe I had to avoid making him angry.
He took no responsibility. He felt entitled. His needs were paramount. He was a megalomaniac – all powerful, all demeaning, invincible.
But you are my witness. You see clearly. I am of great value. You are my witness. I am courageous. My children became safe.
Gently, you remind me of my strength. Sitting with you I feel loved. Thank you.