What Survivors Taught Me About Motherhood

By Chelsea Nixon, Care Coordinator & Education Specialist

I have great respect and admiration for the work mothers do. It is what led me to become both a doula and a social worker.

Growing up, my relationship with my own mother was rocky. Once I became an adult living on my own, I developed an appreciation for the choices my own mother made while raising me, even those that I fought against and disregarded as a kid, because I understood her intentions. Life gets hard in a way we cannot appreciate until we live it as adults. My mother tried to teach me resilience so when seasons of life felt like an uphill battle, I had the tools to fight through it. She made me want to water the seeds of resilience in other women when they had lost hope, as I saw her do for others. When I was a teenager, and my mother and I would argue, she would say, “I hope one day you have a daughter, so you can understand what it is like to be on the other end of this.” This past fall, she got her wish—I gave birth to a baby girl. 

Becoming a mother has altogether been made up of the most exciting, terrifying, and beautiful moments of my entire life. I’d been working with survivors of human trafficking at End Slavery Tennessee for almost two years when I had my daughter, and I was fortunate enough to get to spend a couple of months at home bonding with her before I returned to work. While nearly everyone had told me that having a child would change my life, I had not considered the ways it would change my work. A few weeks after coming back, I was with a client who was telling her story to law enforcement, hoping they could build a case against her family, who trafficked her as a child. While I heard parts of her story many times before, this time I was struck hard by something she said:

“I knew that as long as I was with my daughter, my mother would come after us and try to do the same thing to her that she did to me, and at the time, I knew I wasn’t strong enough to end my relationship with my mom, even after everything she had done to me. All I had ever wanted was her love. It was really hard, but I made the decision to leave my daughter with her father while I tried to figure things out.”

I fought back tears hearing her say that, and I thought about that part of her story all day as her words echoed in my mind. I thought about all this person had been through, and in the time that I had known her, how many conversations we had about her daughter. She talked very often about how much she missed her and how proud she was of her. I can only imagine the difficulty with which she made that decision.

There is no scarcity of opinions on how to be a good parent, especially a good mother. We are constantly barraged by “parenting tips” that come from social media, family, friends, and even strangers. Everyone has probably overheard a conversation or seen an argument on Facebook regarding a stranger’s parenting style. We can recall the whispers in the grocery store that ask, “Why isn’t she disciplining that child?” or at school that wonder, “Why doesn’t she ever get involved?”

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These same judgements are not spared on our clients. They are asked questions like, “How could you choose drugs over your own child?” or, “Why did you have children in the first place?” It can be hard to understand for a person who has never felt as though they had to make that incredibly difficult choice, and until the moment I heard my client explain it, I don’t know that I truly understood it either. For her, being the best mother she could be in that season of life meant leaving her child with a person who could love and protect her while she tried to find a way to heal. She knew that what was most important for her daughter was not allowing the cycle of abuse to continue, and she bravely faced the truth that in order for that to happen, there was deep personal work that needed to be done. I thank God every day that she made that choice, because it led her to us.

My client will be reuniting with her daughter this summer after 3 long years of only snail mail, phone calls and Facetime chats. I asked her what advice she had about being a mom and she said, “The most important thing about being a mom is putting yourself aside so you can do whatever it takes to keep your child safe. The best part is getting to make sure my child has a better life than I did.” I can only hope to have the courage in raising my daughter that she has shown.

If you are a mother, I hope that you have a community of support when parenting gets hard, I hope you learn what is feedback and what is just noise, and I hope that we can show up for one another and say, “I value the important work that you are doing, even if your journey looks very different from my own.”

Happy Mother’s Day.