“I Was Too Embarassed to Tell Anyone” ~ A Story of Reproductive Coercion

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.

woman at windowI 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.

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