By Caitlyn Moscatello
September 5, 2017
Scroll through the community boards on the popular fertility app Glow, and you’ll be inundated with posts about ovulation and pregnancy tests, women asking each other if the second line is dark enough to be a BFP (big fat positive), and sprinkling each other with “baby dust”—an almost Disney-esque term used to wish someone luck conceiving. But in between messages about “putting it in God’s hands” and “he can’t keep his hands off me, I love him to pieces!” are posts like this one: “This morning, my husband put his hands on me. He literally wrapped his hands around my throat and threw me on the bed… I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow to confirm my pregnancy.”
“The anonymity of these rooms provides a space where survivors of abuse can explore their feelings around the fact that they are in an abusive relationship,” says Rachel Goldsmith, Safe Horizon’s Associate Vice President of Domestic Violence Shelters. “They might feel they can talk about it without someone pressuring them to leave. They may feel like they can talk about any ambivalence they feel. An abusive relationship is still a relationship.”
As for the repeated “Is it abuse?” subject lines, Goldsmith adds that it’s not uncommon for women to ask others if what they’re experiencing qualifies. “People don’t often know a lot about abuse,” she says. “We don’t openly talk about domestic violence as a society, so a lot of people are in relationships and they are not sure what’s happening. It makes a lot of sense that this would be the question they start with.”
The bigger question is why a woman would try to conceive a child with a man who is harming her. “There can be a belief that when a child comes into the relationship, that would stop the violence, thinking, ‘We have this innocent child,’” says Goldsmith. Some women may hope that “this would make people more loving, that they would feel more connected. I don’t think it’s any different with domestic violence than other types of relationship problems where people feel like, ‘It will be better when we have kids. We won’t argue as much.’” Unfortunately, for some women, abuse begins or becomes worse during pregnancy, according to the New York City Health Department. Abusers may experience increased stress with a new baby, or feel jealous that their partners are shifting their attention elsewhere.
A pregnancy can heighten typical fears around leaving an abuser, says Goldsmith. There are emotional obstacles, but also financial ones, that may grow larger when a child is factored into the equation. “It’s one thing to think about your financial security, but then you have to think about who is going to pay for diapers, who is going to help when the baby is sick and I have to go to work?” Goldsmith explains. On the other hand, some survivors become more motivated to leave after finding out they’re pregnant, feeling that the stakes are higher, and there’s someone else to protect.
On Glow, users often encourage women who post about abuse to leave their abuser. But according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it takes a survivor seven times, on average, to leave before the separation is permanent. Before that can come a series of steps: recognizing the abuse, talking about it, and with support, creating a plan that may include ending the relationship. For some women, the first step is shouting out into the void of the Internet. “To whoever reads this,” an abuse survivor who is 36-weeks pregnant begins. “I really need some help or advice.”