(This is a piece I wrote a year ago. It has now been five years since the birth of my niece and the events mentioned. This is republished from a prior blog).
This is a letter I may never show you. This is a story I’m not sure I will ever share with you. This is the story of your birth, but not in the usual sense. This is the story of what came after and the memories that are intrinsically linked.
Four years ago, while we were getting ready to take our Spanish midterm, your uncle received a call that you were on your way. We both finished that midterm in record time, speeding off as soon as we were done to come welcome you into this world.
We got to the hospital just after you had arrived. The first time I saw you was through a window into the bright room where the nurses were cleaning you up and checking you over. After chatting with your mom for a bit, they brought you into the room. You were so little. The first time I took you into my arms I filled with warmth and love as I looked down into your tiny face.
I saw you often in the following days. Even as a wriggly, crying newborn, you had captured my heart. However, this is the point where the story turns dark. Nine days after you were born, two days before Halloween, I went out with one of my best friends to dance the night away in our costumes. What started out as a night full of excitement, ended with my rape.
The following days, for me, are a blur of police, doctors, fear, and shame. Your uncle was by my side through everything, reminding me again and again that it was not my fault. However, I still felt dirty, out of control, and guilty. I had chosen to go out, so I felt that it was my fault that this had happened. It certainly didn’t help with the psychologist I went to see at school told me that it was at least half my fault.
My world felt as if it was crumbling around me. Only a few months prior, I had ended a two year, abusive relationship. When I was raped again, this time by a stranger, I was already a mess from the trauma of abuse by one I had loved. To me, the world seemed dark and dangerous. Life felt hopeless.
Yet, in the midst of my horror, there you were. You had no idea of the violence that occurred, no way of understanding the pain that wracked my being. You were this small little bundle of warmth that cried and smiled and snuggled. For the first several months of your life, we spent a lot of time together. I cared for you several nights a week. I rocked and bounced you, fed you, changed you, and helped ease you to sleep. I would hold you for hours as you slept. Even when your grandparents told me I could just lay you down and let you sleep, I kept you close to me, drawing comfort from the warmth of your small body in my arms.
When it was just you and I, and the house was quiet and calm, I would whisper to you as you slept. All that I was too afraid or ashamed to say poured out of me. I would tell you about the pain and confusion that filled me to breaking. I told you about the shame and guilt I felt. I told you about how disgusting I now thought myself to be. As tears streamed from my eyes, I would pull your sleeping form close to my body, as if to protect you from the possibility of trauma in your own future. Though you could not speak or understand the tales I told you, you were one of the best therapists I ever had. Having someone to talk to who did not judge me or try to give advice was invaluable for me at that time. It allowed me to find the words to express my thoughts to others.
On your birthday, four years later, I am unable to ignore the pain that lingers still. I am still plagued by the darkness of what happened. But I am also filled with joy as I look into your beautiful face. My love for you fills me to bursting when you wrap your arms around me and tell me that you love me. Watching you learn and grow has been a pleasure for me and I look forward to seeing the person that you will become. Four years ago, you became my beacon of hope in the midst of seemingly impenetrable darkness. Though I already gave you your presents this year, there is another I would like to leave you with, though these words will not be shared with you for several more years.
If you ever find yourself the victim of rape or abuse, which, sadly, there is too high a chance of, know that it was not your fault. It doesn’t matter if you went to a party and got drunk. It doesn’t matter what you wore. It doesn’t matter if this was a person you welcomed into your life and maybe even loved. It matters not what you did or did not do. You are not responsible for anyone else’s choices and actions. I hope that you carry your strong will with you as you grow, for it will take you far. Know that even if you find yourself a victim, you are still strong. You are still beautiful. I hope that you will never have to know this darkness, but, if you do, I will always be there for you.