Flashbacks during examinations

Questions and discussion about sexual or other abuse or assault, and support and help for survivors.
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Jess99
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Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Jess99 »

Yesterday I'd my prenatal appointment, and I'm a week away to having my baby soon. Yesterday and last Wednesday, I'd my cervix examined for dilation. It was during this process, I'd a flashback to Dalton deep fisting me. I tried getting it out of my head, but I couldn't. My partner asked if it was the pressure or Dalton, I told him it was Dalton. It hurts that this's still ingrained to my muscle memory as I can feel it. I got these exams to know if my cervix has dilated and so far it hasn't. Yesterday, it did hit me harder than last week. Everything went black with me, I was in my flashback. I see myself getting through this until I couldn't. He went from fingering me to deep fisting me. He never asked if he could do it. The fingering, I did consent; not deep fisting. With pregnancy brain, I really don't remember how it went down. I do remember it wasn't consensual. I remember how I depersonalized from it and I avoided myself until I told him I'd to use the bathroom. Every time I've had this examination, I'm reminded of the events. In despite of healing and the work I do to cope through it, why's it engraved with me? I know this's for check ups. It took me a while to become grounded with myself and knowing I wasn't being sexually assaulted. I know my exam triggered it because the pain I felt during this act. My flashbacks haven't been surfacing; except for this. I feel ashamed when I get these examinations.
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi Jess99,

I'm so sorry that something that's an important step in looking after your health (and the baby's health) is also turning out to be a trigger for you. One of the roughest things about surviving assault is that your body can hold onto the memory in ways you don't expect, or hold onto them even when you're making progress on your own healing. I know you've put a lot of work into healing from what happened, so I can only imagine how frustrating it is to find a new thing that's triggering flashbacks.

You mentioned these examinations are bringing up some shame for you. Can you say a little more about the thoughts or feelings that seem to come with that shame?

Too, have you spoken to the healthcare providers performing these exams about this? They may not be able to prevent the flashbacks entirely, but there may be accommodations they make or approaches they can take to exams that make them less likely to occur.
Jess99
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Jess99 »

Next time I do get this examination, I'll inform them about this. I know it's for my baby's and my health, and I get this to see if I've dilated or not. The shame I feel's not because I'm ashamed of myself and the events that occured three years ago. I'm ashamed after these years, it still hits me. I tell myself, your ex's not here and you're safe. My partner's right next to me, helping me to relax and breath through the examination process. If anything, I'm ashamed I didn't leave him right away. I'm ashamed I didn't say anything sooner for him to stop.
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Urna »

Hello Jess99,

Like Sam, I am deeply sorry that you're going through this, and I really hope that your healthcare providers accommodate your trigger in some way next time.
Jess99 wrote: Sun Sep 05, 2021 3:37 pm If anything, I'm ashamed I didn't leave him right away. I'm ashamed I didn't say anything sooner for him to stop.
I can understand just how overwhelmingly awful these self-blaming thoughts must be. Would you like to talk more about them, unpack them on here? I want to borrow our founder Heather's words from the article Was It Sexual Harassment? Was It My Fault? here, to tell you that this shame is absolutely not yours to bear, not even a little.
It is sexual assault ANY time one person does not want to be engaging in any kind of sex and another person does it to them anyway without their consent and against their will.

Silence is not consent. Because someone does not verbally say no does NOT mean someone is saying yes; because you were not able to say anything our of fear does not mean you actively participated in this or gave your consent. You were not silent because you wanted this to happen or enjoyed being silent. You were silent because you felt validly afraid of someone who was abusing you. That is not a context for consent or a scenario that demonstrates consent, and it is very unlikely the person who assaulted you mistook your silence for consent. The dynamics of rape/assault for an attacker are usually about power. Most commonly, someone who is sexually assaulting someone else knows the other person is not consenting and want to do what they are doing because they are not consenting in order to make themselves feel powerful.

How someone who is being victimized reacts to an attack also isn't something that determines where fault lies. I already explained that silence is not consent, but additionally, a lot of people, if not most, react to sexual assaults or abuses by freezing up. Some of that has to do with shock, especially if we're somewhere around other people who should be seeing what's happening but either aren't or are, but are choosing not to step in. Some of that is about fear, or even our gut instincts that not responding may keep us safer, which is true sometimes. Sometimes silence is about social messages a lot of us get and were raised with, especially around gender or sex. There are a lot of different reasons we can wind up literally scared silent with an assault, but no matter what they are, the person at fault will still always be the person doing the assaulting.

It's not hard to know when someone we are talking to or touching is feeling fear: a person trying to slide away, flinching when we touch them, or being completely silent during something in life that's about expression and engagement is not how someone who wants to actively engage in sex with someone else behaves. As well, if and when we want someone to do something with us sexually, especially someone we don't have an ongoing relationship with, we ask them and need to ask them. You were not asked, you did not respond enthusiastically to this person's actions, and chances are that the person who assaulted you both knew that you were afraid, wanted you to be afraid, and knew they were abusing you. If and when someone says they just didn't know, or that they misunderstood in a situation like this, they're usually lying.

This is not your fault. So much of the self-blame sexual assault victims do has to do with a long and incredibly horrible history of people blaming victims in order for those who abuse or attack to both exploit victims further and to avoid responsibility.
I'd like to add to the long quote above by saying that the fact that you stayed with your ex after he sexually assaulted you does not mean that you should be ashamed of it, because the assault wasn't your fault, and you must have stayed with him for other reasons, perhaps love, or because you had a life together. Like Heather says later in that article, the only thing that you're responsible for is to heal and give yourself the care that was denied to you by your abuser, and the first step to this healing is unpacking and eventually letting go of all self-blame. This goes hand in hand with holding your ex accountable for assaulting you. It will also allow you to "reclaim the life and the self that is and should be yours", in Heather's words. Does that make sense?
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Jess99
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Jess99 »

My appointment will be later today, so I'll be talking about ways to help me through my examination. During my flashbacks, I breathe and relax my body. Over time, I acknowledged it was my fault I was sexually assaulted. I understand he used power and control to hurt me. I was sexually coerced into doing sexual things with him. He used coercive threats to intimidate me if I continued telling him no. I wish I did speak, but my body was in tonic immobility during these acts. I know it was for the best. I've been working through healing and coping with it. I've not been struggling with flashbacks lately. It's when I get my cervix examined, I get triggered.
Urna
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Urna »

It looks like you've worked hard to heal yourself and break down the misplaced self-blame. I hope today's appointment goes as well as it can, and that your breathing and muscle relaxation exercises lessen the intensity of the flashbacks. It's wonderful that you've not been struggling with flashbacks recently, and I'm so sorry, again, that undergoing this necessary medical procedure is such a painful experience.
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Jess99
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Jess99 »

My appointment went well yesterday, but I declined the cervical exam. I wanted to do it, but I found it best to decline as I've been coping through the flashbacks. I've been working through the PTSD that comes with this as it has been surfacing more than usual lately. In my next examination, I'll discuss with my midwife any approaches that can be done to help prevent my flashbacks if possible.
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Siân »

Hi Jess99,

I'm glad that your latest appointment went better. Did you tell them why you were declining the cervical exam? If so, how did they react? I hope that your midwife is supportive when you speak to her.

You've mentioned the relaxation and breathing exercises you've been doing. What other sources of support do you have for working through your PTSD right now? Pregnancy, birth and new parenthood are all big changes that can bring a whole host of different feelings with them, so it makes sense that difficult things are coming up and for you to have places to turn to help you through them.
Jess99
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Jess99 »

I didn't tell them about my flashbacks, but I'll let them know for my next appointment. I'd the intuition not to have one after the examination; I get a bit crampy and this was three days before my due date. This's one of my reasons why I declined.

For my PTSD, I cope through it as best as I can. If I need to talk, I talk to people who understood what happened during my dating relationship with Dalton.

Mental health has been extremely important to me as I've been focusing on this.
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Sam W »

It sounds like you're already doing an awesome job of setting boundaries around medical care when you need to (something that can be really hard to do, since most of us are taught just to do whatever the healthcare provider says), and like you're working with your midwife to try and lessen the flashbacks when possible.

I'm glad your support networks remain so solid, and that you have people you can talk to about what happened. Would it also be helpful to have some resources around childbirth and parenting aimed specifically at survivors? Those might give you extra tools and supports.
Jess99
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Jess99 »

Yes please!
I'd my appointment today and my flashback couldn't be held back anymore. My partner was holding my left hand and he recognized my blackout. I was trying my best not to allow the flashback to affect me during the examination, but I finally let it out. The first thing I did was breaking down. My midwife immediately stopped and asked if everything was ok, I told her Dalton sexually assaulted me while he was deep fisting me. The support I received from my midwife made me realize they're actually there for my emotional support and mental and physical well being. I found out I'd the bloody show as my cervix was a half a centimeter dilated. I'm expecting baby to be here anytime.

My midwife told me how much she was proud of me for having the courage to speak up about this. She said this's beneficial because she's aware and she gave me a fear release to help with mediation healing for my body in response to cervical examinations and labor and delivery that may affect my flashbacks. I don't want this to be the case if it can be avoided.

It feels good and it's a burden off my chest that I don't have to carry anymore. I believe this happened because I'd a dream last night where this flashback caused me to have a difficult labor and delivery; I don't want my trauma to hinder my birth if possible.
Sam W
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Sam W »

Okay! These ones can act as starting points, and may also be ones that you and your midwife can use or reference together: https://rise.articulate.com/share/8Oo2- ... cf5tF88S#/, https://www.pennysimkin.com/shop/when-s ... ive-birth/ (this book came up in multiple recommendations), https://midwiferytoday.com/?s=survivor+moms.

I also want to say that I'm so, so glad you were able to tell your midwife about the trauma you're dealing with and how that's interacting with your experiences of pregnancy, and that she was supportive and quick to tailor her advice and techniques to help you.
Jess99
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Jess99 »

Thank you for sending these links, I greatly appreciate it!

I'm proud I didn't allow the shame to get to me when I told my midwife. I immediately told her briefly what happened. It hurts seeing my partner by my other side seeing this as he holds my hand. He was comforting me and he told me he was proud of me for doing that by my own. I'm so grateful for all the support I've been receiving through my pregnancy!
Sam W
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Re: Flashbacks during examinations

Unread post by Sam W »

You're so welcome! And I'm so, so glad your support system during pregnancy is as robust as it is.
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