To Keep Her Safe

I often undercut my feelings and experiences. I know that my life could have been much worse, that so many people have it way worse than I ever did, and I internalize that knowledge and turn it into self-deprecating narratives in order to constantly question my motives, beliefs, actions, and experiences. It’s an awful habit that makes me feel small, ineffective, unimportant, overwhelmed, and pitiful.

When thinking about my decision to place my daughter, Summer, for adoption, I am particularly cruel to myself. I was 18 when her father and I got engaged and decided to have a child in late 2006. I was due on July 26, 2007, but in mid-March, everything changed. My fiancé held me hostage and spent an entire night beating and raping me. The morning after the worst night of my life, I found myself five months pregnant and alone. My parents were 500 miles away and unable to help. My sister and I lived in the same town but we didn’t have a close relationship yet. I thought I had nowhere to turn, and I was afraid for myself and even more for my unborn daughter.

I look back and think about how her father took off not long after that night and hasn’t bothered me in an abusive way since. I feel foolish now for feeling like I had to keep her safe from him. It wasn’t like he was an alcoholic or regularly abusive or really even an asshole. He was actually a pretty great guy who made me feel safe and loved the hell out of me. I tell myself, “I mean, what happened to me wasn’t even really all that bad, considering some women end up tortured and cut up and put in a freezer, or beaten nightly by their husbands for years, right?”

No. Hell no. Not right at all, Kim. Once was enough.

That freezer thing could still happen to me, I suppose, but it won’t be my husband doing it. And nightly beatings come after staying with someone who hurt you once, once. After that, they’ve hurt you twice and you’re starting a pattern. I’m all for patterns and routine in my life, but I will be damned if I allow those to be abusive. Once was all it took for me.

About that “it wasn’t so bad” line, though… Rape is rape. Abuse is abuse. There may be varying degrees, and I didn’t end up in a freezer that night, but he still spent a night holding me hostage and beating and raping me. He pulled my hair. He pushed me to the ground, once onto the bed (a mattress with no box spring on the floor), once in the tiled bathroom where I hit my head into the side of the tub. Then once I was down there, he hit my head into the side of the tub. He physically pinned my body onto the floor and just held me there so I couldn’t move in both of those locations. He raped me in both of those locations. I can’t remember a word he said that night. Not a single word. I remember how it started, but when he grabbed my hair in the kitchen and pulled me through the living room and into the bedroom, he never said a word.

He was drunk – the first time he had ever been drunk while we were together, and probably one of the first few times he had been drunk, ever. I was cooking dinner (some generic skillet meal like Hamburger Helper) and was just about done when he walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and leaned his 6-foot, two-hundred-fifty-pound body on the open door hard enough to tip the fridge forward, and something spilled onto the floor. I wish I was kidding, but I’m pretty sure I remember it being milk. Literal spilled milk. (I actually hadn’t remembered this fact until today because I’ve not told the story in detail in so many years!) I told him to be careful and asked him to clean it up. His response was the aforementioned silent hair-grabbing-and-pulling, followed by about 5 hours of the hostage situation.

It was one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had, and absolutely the most frightening experience I’ve ever had. I was confused and afraid and helpless. I didn’t understand why he was hurting me, why he was angry with me. I didn’t know all of the things I know now about how alcohol can affect people. I didn’t expect him to not remember anything the next day.

That’s the part that might have scared me the most. We woke up the next day and both went to our respective jobs at the local mall. I told my best friend what had happened, and she made me call the police. I thought that was overkill because I miraculously had no marks or bruises to show. But I called anyway. They came to my work and I recounted the events of the previous night. They took me outside and took pictures of some minor marks I located on my arms. They didn’t take me to the hospital or discuss a rape kit (because he was my fiancé?). They did go talk to him at his work, but they didn’t arrest him. He had absolutely no idea why they were there. They had to tell him what he had done, and even after being told, he had no memory of the previous night.

That day, I went to the courthouse and requested an order of protection against him, which was granted without any issue. He was served, and did not comply. He was confused and upset that I was saying he had done something he didn’t recall doing. The police came to escort him into my apartment so he could gather his things. He had nowhere to go, and it was still cold in March. I think he stayed in a local homeless shelter for a couple of days.

He did not respect the boundaries of the protection order, and spent the next week skulking around my apartment building: jumping in front of my car when I was leaving for work in the mornings, trying to stop me so he could beg me to let him come back home; climbing onto the roof overhanging my second-story bedroom window at night and begging me to let him in. He held onto his story of not remembering and being so, so sorry.

And I felt awful for him. I felt hurt and betrayed, and I knew I could never trust him again, but I still felt bad that he had nowhere to go. We had moved to Springfield, Illinois together from Ohio, and he had no friends, no family, no support system here. He was utterly alone and afraid.

My soft spot for him waned rapidly, though. He was aggressively stalking me at my home, despite the court order telling him to stay away. He sweet-talked the pastor of the church across the street from my apartment, persuading him to allow him to stay in the house next door in exchange for completing some repairs on the house. My rapist was now living across the street from me, illegally. And what could I do? My friends were afraid to come to my home for fear that he would harass them or harm their vehicles while they were inside with me. I was afraid every time I had to walk from my front door to my car. This was no way to live, and it was no way to raise a child.

Having only my income, I ended up behind on all of my bills. I called my landlord and explained the situation, and he forgave my past-due rent. I can’t remember how I resolved the other bills, but I know I never paid them. I think the gas company offered me some kind of relief after I explained why I was behind. People were kind. My coworkers came over one day with trucks and helped me move all of my stuff to the cheap (read: shitty) apartment I found on the other side of town.

I found myself six months pregnant, broke, and living in an unfamiliar part of town…but my ex didn’t know where we were, so I felt a little safer. But only a little. As soon as I gave birth, I knew I’d have to fill in the box for the father’s name…if I left it blank, he might never have rights to have contact with my daughter, but that wasn’t a guarantee, plus I’d never be able to sue for child support; if I filled it in, he would have the right to sue for some form of custody. And that was a scary thought. I knew I could never allow a situation where they would be alone together. I couldn’t trust him, and I had to protect my child.

One day, while standing in a Babies R Us, staring down a wall of pacifiers and bottles and countless other things you need when you have a newborn, I realized that raising a child wasn’t something I was adequately equipped to do alone, with no support system, and while living in fear. I knew I had to do something to keep her safe and ensure that she had all the things she’d need to lead a happy and healthy life. I knew I’d have to entrust her rearing to someone else.

I found a couple who desperately wanted a daughter, who had the means to provide for her, and who would not be found by her father. I went through with a semi-open adoption. I was filled with regret before she was even born, and the regret has only grown in the decade since my pregnancy. I found out soon after Summer was born that my ex had moved to California…that we would have been safe from his reach. I didn’t know he had moved and moved on with his life when I made the decision to relinquish my parental rights. I didn’t know that there were resources for mothers in my situation. I didn’t know.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and in this case, that is absolutely true. I often think about my decision to relinquish and my reasons for that decision, and I kick myself. I hate myself. I am angry with my naiveté and the fear that I felt. I am mad that my victimhood led me to the worst decision I’ve ever made. Knowing now that he moved away so quickly and that he wouldn’t have caused us problems makes me feel weak and pathetic. Reactionary. I went through this ordeal…I feared for her life for one night…and it led me to a decision that I can never take back. It led me to a lifetime filled with regret, depression, and loss.

I convince myself that the abuse and assault I suffered that night was benign when compared to the experiences of other people. I speak abusively to myself, telling myself that I am weak, that I am stupid. I struggle to recognize myself as a mother. I dismiss my concerns for her safety and place the blame for my loss squarely on my shoulders.

But these things are all lies. My experience was not as bad as other peoples’ experiences, but that does not diminish the reality of the danger that Summer and I were in, and the suffering we could have endured had we stayed with or near her father. I am strong, not weak, for getting us away from him and for making the best decision I knew how to make at the time. I didn’t have all of the information I needed in order to make an informed decision about raising my daughter, and I didn’t have the resources I needed to fully understand the ramifications of choosing adoption (for me or for her), but that lack of knowledge doesn’t make me stupid. Gullible, maybe, but not stupid. I believed what her adoptive parents and their attorney told me. I believed that I didn’t need my own attorney. I believed that people keep their promises and that everyone would be okay.

I was a victim, and that victimization had major ramifications that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and that my daughter has also likely had to suffer for. I am a mother. Only a mother can weigh the options and make a decision so heart-wrenching, so soul-splitting, in order to keep her child safe. A mother’s primary role is to protect her child, and I did that. I also unknowingly opened the proverbial door for a potential slew of emotional trauma and pain that she might have to suffer through, but those things can be eased and even healed over time – my primary concern had to be for her physical safety, because if one does not have a life to live, potential emotions are irrelevant.

I have to remind myself after the abusive convincing I do to myself, that my feelings and experiences are valid. That I don’t deserve the self-abuse I dole out. That my motives were pure, my beliefs were valid, my actions were right, and my experiences were real. Because she is safe, and that is what matters most.

Have you ever had to make a difficult decision and regretted it afterward? Share your experiences in the comments – let’s engage in a healing discussion!


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