In my early twenties I was raped by a stranger. One moment I was me, and the next I was changed forever.
I managed to keep going with life, determined to be ‘normal’ and not let it take over, although emotionally I am still healing now.
I fell pregnant, happily, and as much as I loved my growing bump, I did not enjoy the attention that it brought me. I got sick of strangers touching my belly without asking first, and found the examinations by the midwife difficult.
I now have two children, who are still pre-school age, but the fact that they are both girls has already caused me some heartache. I did not feel particularly strongly about wanting boys or girls before they were born, and was delighted to have a baby girl handed to me each time. But my worry comes in knowing what it is like to be female, and being unable to defend yourself against a man.
I know what violence can do to a woman, and I do not want my children to go through anything remotely like that.
No parent wants their child to get hurt, but sometimes I wonder if I feel more anxious about it than others. When I am feeling rational, I know that sexual violence does not just affect girls and that if I had had a boy, he too would have been at risk. But I am not sure I would have worried as much as I do with two girls. When my two are in the bath, I watch their delight at being naked and the confidence that they have in their own skin. I look at their small, perfect bodies, their tummies rounded and their hands still chubby, and see their vulnerability. I hope that no one ever takes advantage of them or forces them to do something that they don’t want to do.
I have a lot of preferences that other mothers may not have, all of which stem from my desire to protect my girls. I do not like my youngest to have her nappy changed in front of other people, preferring instead to take her to the bathroom or baby changing facilities. I wonder if, when she is older, she might feel that I exposed her to people whilst she was unable to make her own decisions. I prefer my girls to have swimming costumes on at the beach, rather than enjoying the summer topless. I prefer not to let them shower naked at the swimming pool. I would feel wary about taking them on holiday anywhere that two fair, blonde, girls might receive a lot of attention. I find it more difficult to shake off the comments from passers-by about them ‘fighting off the boys when they’re older’.
I have gently started talking to them about their bodies and consent at a very basic level.
I am aware that as they get older, these conversations will become more in depth and may lead to them asking questions that might be difficult for me to answer. I hope that I will be able to navigate their concerns in a neutral manner. I neither want them to be nonchalant nor scared about relationships, intimacy or their own safety. I cannot see myself talking to them specifically about my own experience, although when the time comes perhaps the reality will be different.
Above all, I want them to be happy. I want them to live their childhood and teenage years free of fear and upset (as far as possible) and enter adulthood feeling secure and confident in their own bodies. I want them to be able to make informed choices and know how to consent, or not, to sex. Some days I feel sad that I am already thinking about my small children having sex as teenagers or young adults. No amount of knowledge could have protected me from what I went through, and I know that I was unlucky. But I hope that I can help my children feel confident in protecting themselves and making decisions that are respectful of their own bodies and minds, and those of others.