When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, it was as if suddenly nothing else in the world mattered. Nothing. My life was now for her. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for my daughter. She may be only 2, but she’s my best friend, my reason for living, my motivation to be better every day. She’s my world. That’s why when I have stories like this one, I can’t help but to cry and feel angry and sick to my stomach. How any mother could ever hurt her own child is beyond me. It is one thing that is so hard to make sense of. Being a nurse, I had to maintain my composure, but I wanted nothing more than to scream in this mother’s face the day I met her. I wish I would have.
Now, granted, I know her mom had been through some trauma. She had a rough life herself and had struggled for many years too. However, no trauma can justify harming your child.
This girl was 14. I can still remember her walking onto the unit in her purple gown, her eyes filled with tears, hands shaking. She looked so frail and sad and broken.
She was brought up to our floor from the emergency room following a suicide attempt.
Many people and even providers are uncomfortable bringing up suicide and suicidal behaviors, but I’m not. It’s a critical part of the assessment and planning for these patients so I never hold back my questioning.
“Why did you try to kill yourself?” I asked her as I was doing her intake assessment.
“I don’t know,” she answered with her head down, staring at the floor.
“Well, you’re going to be with me for the next few days so you can tell me today or tomorrow or whenever you feel comfortable. I want to help you the best way that I can and in order for me to do that, it’s helpful for me to know your reasoning.”
She then started to cry and I pulled up a chair to sit beside her. I didn’t say anything. I just sat there with her while she cried and when she was finished, I handed her a tissue.
She thanked me and then said, “you’re going to have to call the police once I tell you.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve had to call the police,” I said with a small smile though it was nothing to be smiling about.
“And child protective services,” she stated.
“I’m like best friends with them. No problem,” I smiled, again.
“I told my mom what had happened and she didn’t believe me.”
At this point, she was not crying anymore. She wasn’t frowning. She wasn’t smiling. She had looked so defeated; exhausted. She had already given up.
She went on to tell me that her father died when she was younger and that her mother started drinking a lot after that. She said that her mom would bring home different guys nearly every night until she found one that she thought she was in love with. The patient said that this guy was her favorite, at first. She said he was sweet to her mom and sweet to her. She said that he would buy them food and help them pay their rent. She said that he would make her smile and make her mom so happy. She said that her mom stopped drinking so much once this boyfriend became more official. She said that she was happy because her mom was happy and that things seemed to be moving forward since the death of her biological father.
She said after about five months of this man being in their lives, things started to change. She stated that he would walk into the bathroom on her on purpose when she was getting out of the shower. She said that he would smack her butt when she would walk by and then say he didn’t. She said it got to the point where she did not want to be alone with him anymore. She was only 12 at the time.
She said that her mom got a new job and that she was not home as much as she used to be. She said that she was home alone after school for about three hours before her mom would get home from work. She had a key to the apartment and said she would just go inside and lock the door behind her, grab something to eat, and watch TV until her mom came home to make them a late dinner.
She said one day after school, she knew something was off because the front door was not locked. She said she went to turn the knob before sliding in her key to unlock it and realized that it was not locked to begin with.
“I should have just stayed outside. I shouldn’t have went in. I knew something was off.” She still wasn’t crying or making eye contact. She was staring at the floor and I don’t think that she had even blinked.
She went on to say that she walked into the house and her mom’s boyfriend was there. She said that he was sitting on the couch watching TV without his clothes on. She said that’s the day it began and that it never stopped.
She said that he threatened to kill her mom if she told on him, so she kept quiet. She had already lost her father. She didn’t want to lose her mom, too.
After it became more than just touching and the raping started, she decided that she had had enough. She was going to tell her mom.
And she did.
“She was so mad. She said I was lying and that he would never do that to me. She was so mad.”
“What did she do next?” I asked her, afraid of what the response was about to be.
“This.” She stood up off the bed, making sure to avoid eye contact with me. I could see the tears were starting to fill her lower eyelids.
She lifted up her purple gown and there were large purple and blue bruises covering her back, her stomach, her thighs.
I felt my stomach start to turn and my eyes start to fill. I blinked and quickly wiped the tear that fell down onto my cheek.
“With her shoe. She did this with her shoe.”
Staring at the bruises on this poor girl and thinking to myself that her own mother did this to her, my God, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Like this child hadn’t been suffering enough from the death of her dad to the sexual abuse to the rapes. And now her own mother was calling her a liar and beating her?
I stood there, looking at this innocent child with emptiness in her eyes. How would she come back from this? Was she going to be okay? How could she be?
Needless to say, CPS was called, the police as well. She had to do an interview with the investigator and all I could think was how this poor girl was going to have to relive these events over and over again as she explained them to everyone who needed to know.
Later that day, the girls mom came to visit, after she was told that she would not be allowed to have contact with her daughter at this time due to the abuse allegations.
I was sitting in the nurses station when I heard yelling that didn’t sound like a child’s voice.
Working on an inpatient unit or in mental health in general, you become almost numb to the constant yelling, screaming, cussing, fighting. But when you hear a voice that is an adults on a child’s psych unit screaming and cussing, you know that something is not going well.
I walked up to the front of the unit where parents had to come to be screened before being allowed to enter the unit. By that point, there were probably three other nurses up there as well. One was trying her best to calm the mother down and be as therapeutic as she could be, while another was calling for security.
I wish I could say this was the first time this had happened, but that’d be a lie.
Many kids come to the unit and reveal abuse and neglect stories that have to be reported and investigated before the parent can see them again. Sometimes, the child is removed from the home and the parent doesn’t get to see them at all. Rightfully so.
I don’t know all of the details of what happened to her after that day because I was off of work for the following three days. I could have asked her nurse from the days before, but part of me didn’t want to know.
More often then not, I see these poor children being returned to their homes with their abuser. Why? Because there is often no where else for them to go. There are not enough foster families; not enough group homes. We send them back to these broken families and just set them up for failure.
That’s why I never asked what happened and what her plan was after discharge. Chances are, I already knew the answer.
How, for the love of God, do you help a child come back from that? I’d like to think that I’ve been helpful for these children who have experienced such trauma, but trauma reactions in anyone, let alone a child, stay with you forever.
I only pray that she fights. That she doesn’t stop fighting. That she continues to do what she needs to do to be safe.