Maine Family Planning is committed to healthy sexuality for all people and works closely with domestic violence agencies to help prevent abuse and coercion. This piece was written by a Maine woman who hopes that her story will help other survivors of abuse and the people who support them.
*TRIGGER WARNING*: This post deals with a personal account of relationship abuse and may be triggering to some people.
I never thought I would share this story outside a couple very close friends or family, but a perfect storm of events made me feel compelled to get it all out. During the week that would have been my daughter’s second birthday, we threw a baby shower for my sister, and a friend posted an article she wrote about reproductive coercion. I told her what it meant to me, and she encouraged me to share my story with others.
A couple years ago, I met a very charming man. There was an instant spark and I fell head over heels. I moved in with him within months. Everything seemed great, but looking back I see how dysfunctional it was. He always wanted to be with me and I enjoyed the attention, so I started losing close friends and went months without any contact with my best friend. He always wanted to know where I was and what I was doing. But that felt OK somehow–I always wanted to know where he was, too. He encouraged me to gain weight, and didn’t like it when I went to the gym. I stopped wearing certain clothes that he deemed too revealing. He said that my body was his now.
When I would recognize a red flag, he would convince me I wasn’t thinking rationally. If I pointed out that his behaviors mirrored those of an abusive man, he would tell me that if he was an abuser, he wouldn’t be with someone like me. I was the strongest woman he had ever met. I was independent, stubborn, and didn’t need a man to depend on. I believed that wholeheartedly.
So what does all this have to do with reproductive coercion?
This man refused to wear condoms. He made it clear that if I wasn’t willing to have unprotected sex, then he would get it somewhere else. He told me that he had a hard time being faithful in relationships, but it was always her fault, because she didn’t meet his sexual demands. So I did. I loved him and I would do anything for him. If this meant sex several times a day, seven days a week, whether I was in the mood or not, it happened. After about six months together, he demanded that I stop using birth control. He said if God wanted us to have a child together, we would be blessed with one. He told me that using birth control meant I wasn’t totally committed.
A couple months later I found myself pregnant. I was excited. He was ecstatic, and it was contagious. I always wanted a child and now I had one on the way. There were times of doubt – Am I really ready? Will he be a good father? – but overall, I was excited and looked forward to telling everyone. We’d even decided on a name for our daughter.
Two months into my pregnancy, I made the hard decision to leave this man. I was working two full time jobs, battling morning sickness, and still trying to meet his sexual demands. I saw how he was treating his own kids and how he was treating me in front of them. I wanted more for my child.
I had to protect my daughter. I left for the weekend, but I never went back.
At about thirteen weeks pregnant, an ultrasound showed that my daughter had passed away a week previously.
Losing my daughter was the hardest thing that ever happened to me, but I believe that my unborn daughter saved my life. If it wasn’t for my need to protect her, I don’t know that I would have ever left him.
Now that I understand what reproductive coercion is, I wonder if knowing about that form of abuse sooner may have changed things. Maybe I would have recognized what was happening and would have told someone. I think a part of me did know, but I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. I was a strong, educated, independent woman. How could I be so under someone’s control? I wasn’t isolated, I had supportive friends and family if I wanted to reach out, but I didn’t.
That’s why I wanted to share my story—so that everyone reading this knows what reproductive coercion is and that it’s a form of abuse that is never okay.
Maine’s family planning health centers work with patients to find a birth control method that can’t be tampered with (or found) by an abusive partner, and domestic violence agencies can help survivors get themselves and their families out of abusive situations.