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What Being a Sex-Abuse Survivor Taught Me About Motherhood

Crystal Rainey Turner
Photo courtesy of Crystal M. R. Turner

This piece originally appeared on

When I was a child, I was molested by my grandmother’s boyfriend.

I don’t remember when it began—I think I was 7 or 8—but I recall bits and pieces of the sex abuse. I remember him cornering me outside the bathroom and saying, “Don’t you like me? Just let me have a little kiss.” He was too close, and his breath was harsh. I started to cry, and he let me pass.

I remember him blocking my exit from the kitchen and touching my budding breasts. As I cried, I looked out the window and spotted a neighbor watching it happen. I prayed she would yell out or step through her back door and make him stop. Instead, she turned away and shut her curtains.

“I was afraid the sensations associated with breastfeeding would remind me of my abuse.”

I remember how it ended. During an episode of Oprah, I heard a woman say she’d felt trapped by her sex abuser.

“I know how you feel.” It slipped from my lips, surprising me and my mom.

And so began a long stretch of questions, confrontations and denials. In the end, there was no police report. There was no punishment for him. There was no therapy for me. My abuser didn’t even move out of my grandmother’s house. Life just went on.

Twenty-five years later, I thought I was fine, recovered. Then I got pregnant. In an instant, the seeds of fear and doubt that my abuser had sown—seeds I knew were there but thought I’d buried deep—began to sprout.

My fears as a mother

I was afraid to breastfeed.

I knew I wanted to nurse, but I wasn’t sure I could. I wasn’t sure I could handle being touched so often in such an intimate place. I was afraid the sensations associated with breastfeeding would remind me of my abuse.

Even after my daughter was born and latched on to nurse, I still wasn’t positive I could stick with breastfeeding. It was uncomfortable. The feelings were confusing. There was nothing sexual, but there was a disconcerting vulnerability. It felt like I had lost control of my breasts. I had to mentally remove myself from the experience until I became accustomed to nursing.

Now, more than a year into breastfeeding, there are still times when I experience emotional discomfort while nursing. My daughter has become much more assertive, and she’ll sometimes pull at my shirt, tug on my bra, or squeeze or slap my breasts. Sometimes I still have to mentally detach in order to cope. Those moments are fleeting, but they happen.

I felt on edge when my child was near men, or held by men.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t want a man to touch my daughter. Not her father. Not my father. Not her uncles. I could feel the anxiety building if she cried while my husband was changing her diaper. I’d rush into the room and take over. He probably thought I was being overbearing. In reality, the hurt little girl buried deep inside me was compelling me to “save her.”

“I didn’t want there to be any question of why I was wiping her more than once, or why I was inspecting her so closely.”

If he was holding her and patted her butt …

If he rubbed her stomach to get her back to sleep …

If he rubbed her back to stop her tears …

How did I move past that? It took months of telling myself that “Greg isn’t Mr. X. Greg would never hurt her. Greg ISN’T hurting her.” I know my husband would never intentionally hurt our child. I just had to convince the hurt little girl in me.

I was sometimes afraid to touch her.

Diaper changes, bath time, even cuddles sometimes brought up irrational fears that my baby would see me as an abuser. What’s worse is that I was afraid she would be taken from me if I told anyone how I felt, so I struggled in silence with those fears.

I used to talk her through diaper changes, telling her everything I was doing. I didn’t want there to be any question of why I was wiping her more than once, or why I was inspecting her so closely.

Detailing what I was doing clearly wasn’t for her benefit—after all, she was just months old. Doing it gave me mental distance from the moment and gave the truth time to sink in: I’m not my abuser, and I have a healthy, loving physical relationship with my child.

My hopes as a mother

I wish I had an easy answer for how to be a brave parent after overcoming childhood sex abuse, but I don’t. There’s not an easy answer. In truth, I’m afraid for my child. Despite knowing that we’re surrounded by loving, nurturing people who would never intentionally hurt her, I’m afraid.

I want to protect her from the world, which is fair because I know that’s what all parents want to do. But I’m afraid I’ll take it to the extreme and become the ultimate helicopter parent, scared to let her go to sleepovers, stay with relatives or go on playdates without me.

“The best I can do is teach my child that her body is her own, and that she has a right to refuse anyone access to it.”

I’m afraid she’ll think I’m smothering her. And I’m afraid I will be. I’m afraid I’ll taint her childhood with the last vestiges of my abuse.

The best I can do is teach my child that her body is her own, and that she has a right to refuse anyone access to it. Make sure she knows she can tell me or her father about any touching that makes her uncomfortable. Make sure she uses the anatomically correct names for her body parts so if, God forbid, we ever have to file a police report, she can clearly explain what happened.

I’ll protect her as best I can, but I know I have to let her live.

Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and doing it with my history hasn’t made it any easier. I’m taking motherhood day by day, trying not to let my struggle affect my daughter’s journey.

Read more about sexual abuse: Artist and Sexual Abuse Survivor Nadia Ackerman Uses Creativity to Heal

Crystal M. R. Turner is a writer and editor from Pittsburgh, Pa. Reach her at