Here is a recent speech a survivor of domestic abuse delivered to first year BU grad students about the importance of noticing signs of domestic abuse and domestic violence. Her obstetrician in the UK nearly saved her life by noticing these signs in her.
When the survivor asked the students if they knew anyone who had been abused, she was surprised to see that more than half the class of over 300 students raised their hand. On one hand, she felt sad because abuse is so prevalent. On the other hand, she felt encouraged about the growing awareness of this issue.
Here is the speech she delivered:
I have a question for you…
Do you know someone who has been abused?
The fact is, abuse is prevalent. The problem is most abuse victims don’t speak about their abuse. Sometimes they don’t even realize they’re being abused.
It could even be that the person sitting next to you is a victim of abuse.
Here is what happened to me and why your role as a doctor is so crucial…
Like so many victims of abuse, I remained silent. I heard an interview with Nora Ephron’s son who stated that his mother hid her cancer because of her “belief in being the heroine of her life and not the victim.” She felt like a victim when people asked her, ‘How are you? Are you OK?’ By keeping her cancer a secret, she felt it would allow her to move throughout the world in control.
That’s exactly how I felt; how could I be a heroine in my own life if I perceived myself, and others perceived me, as a victim? It was important to me to dress well and have a positive attitude, despite that I often felt like I was falling apart inside.
I would never have imagined that I would be a victim of domestic abuse. I grew up in a stable, loving home in Newton. I received a merit Scholarship from Columbia Business School and was an Institutional Investor ranked equity analyst on Wall St, the highest honor. I was earning substantial income on Wall Street and thought I was on my way; that is, until I unknowingly married an abuser.
Just after we married, we grew our family and enjoyed a nice lifestyle in Hong Kong and then in London, but I felt miserable. My husband had begun what was to become for me a constant state of abuse. At the beginning, I believed that my misery was my own fault. He would often say to me, “How can you be so unhappy, you have everything.” I would think to myself, “He’s right; I have everything, so I must be the problem.”
Little by little, he cut me off from my support circles. I wasn’t allowed to speak with my mother or go out with friends unless I reported back to him specifically what we discussed. Often he would shut me in the bathroom or his office interrogating me and yelling at me for hours, using language I would never repeat here. Each time my sense of self disappeared a little more. We had young children. It became easier to simply retreat to protect myself and my children, than to stand up to the abuse, or even leave.
By the time we moved to London in 2002 when I was a few months pregnant with our fourth child, I thought I knew the birth drill. I had already given birth 3x: once in New York and twice in Hong Kong.
I had heard about my OB bc he had pioneered water births and had written an important book about natural child birth.
When I walked into his office, I was met at the door by a slight man with a goatee. He greeted me w a warm smile and asked me to sit. His first question to me was: How are you?
I replied, “The pregnancy is going well”
He said, “I didn’t ask about the pregnancy, I asked how you are?”
In the 4 years I had been married, if anyone had asked me this question, I knew exactly how to deflect it. The last question anyone who is being abused wants to hear is “How are you?”
The reason is because we feel miserable inside and many of us have been brainwashed to believe that this misery is our own fault. This is called gaslighting.
I remember looking down when the doctor asked me how I was, because I felt the biggest ball form in my throat and I knew if I spoke I would burst into tears.
He persisted, “Please answer my question, how are you?”
I whispered, “I’m fine.”
“Look at me,” He said in a gentle voice. “I know you’re not fine.”
The tears came like they hadn’t come in 4 years.
“No, I’m not,” I admitted.
“You need help?” He said emphatically.
I told him how my husband would not allow me to go for help. He said, “that’s OK, I’ve seen women in your situation. We have a mid-wife who is also a social worker. You’re going to tell your husband that you’re going to see her for your pregnancy, but you’re really going to see her for support. Is that clear?”
The tears were still coming strong. I nodded OK.
I had once heard an interview with Kathryn Bertine who had a dream to become an Olympic cyclist. The big day of the Olympic Trials arrived, and, in all her enthusiasm, Kathryn over exerted herself at the beginning of the race. Exhausted, she started drifting towards the back of the Peloton. A Peloton is the group of cyclists. For all you cyclists, you know that once you’re out of the Peloton, you’re essentially out of the race.
Suddenly, Kathryn felt a strong, supportive hand at her back. She looked back and saw that it belonged to one of her main competitors. That hand gave Kathryn renewed energy to move forward.
That mid-wife and my doctor gave me that strong, supportive hand on my back, encouraging me to move forward with strength and courage.
That social worker supported me through all his yelling and screaming at me.
She was also with me through the physical abuse.
One day, weeks after the birth of my son in London, my husband shook me violently. Later that day, my mid-wife saw the bruises during our appointment. Just weeks earlier at our son’s birth, she witnessed my husband’s controlling and abusive behavior when he became enraged after I asked him if he would forgo a business trip and stay home. My mid-wife looked at me and said, “Have you had enough?”
“How am I going to raise 4 children on my own with no support?” I asked her.
She leaned forward, “Because you’re strong and you can!”
Soon after this incident, we moved back to the US. I never forgot her words or the faith she had in me. They gave me the impetus to divorce.
This is the power you all have as physicians. You may save a patient’s life, but you can also be saviors for a patient who is suffering silently with a high risk of injury or even death from her partner.
That first doctor’s appointment I had didn’t last any longer than a normal appointment. The difference between him and the other physicians is he asked the important questions. He also had a creative solution that protected me and didn’t tax the system.
If there’s not a social worker on premise, then refer them to a domestic abuse program like the one at BMC or Journey to Safety, which has trained domestic abuse advocates who know the many ways to support victims. Journey to Safety helped me in ways I could never have imagined.
When we moved back to the US, my husband stripped the children and me of all our money. The social worker at Journey to Safety helped me by attending court hearings with me, safety planning, applying for cash assistance, food stamps, and camp scholarships for my children. She also helped prepare me for job interviews. Thanks to all this support, I am now back on my feet and working as a financial advisor at a major financial institution, and I’ve been very successful at it.
As I said, I WAS a victim of domestic abuse, but thanks to the support of my doctor, social worker in London and the support I received from Journey to Safety, I am NOW a survivor.