(Re)activation of survival strategies during pregnancy and childbirth following experiences of childhood sexual abuse

Chelsey Roberts, Elsa Montgomery, Yana Richens, Sergio A. Silverio*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
81 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives: To explore the pregnancy and childbearing experiences of women-survivors of childhood sexual abuse [CSA]. We aimed to generate a theory explaining those experiences for this population (women), this phenomenon (pregnancy and childbirth), and this context (those who have survived CSA). Method: Participants (N=6) were recruited to semi-structured interviews about their experiences of CSA and subsequent pregnancy and childbirth. Data saturated early, and were analysed using Grounded Theory (appropriate to cross-disciplinary health research). Coding was inductive and iterative, to ensure rigour and achieve thematic saturation. Results: Open and focused coding led to the generation of super-categories, which in-turn were collapsed into three distinct, but related themes. These themes were: Chronicity of Childhood (Sexual) Abuse; Pregnancy and Childbirth as Paradoxically (Un)safe Experiences; Enduring Nature of Survival Strategies. The relationship between these themes was explained as the theory of: (Re)activation of Survival Strategies during Pregnancy and Childbirth following Experiences of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Conclusion: Pregnancy and childbirth can be triggering for women-survivors of CSA. Survival strategies learnt during experiences of CSA can be (re)activated as a way of not only coping, but surviving (the sometimes unconsented) procedures, such as monitoring and physical examinations, as well as the feelings of lack of control and bodily agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-164
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date12 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2023


  • Childhood Sexual Abuse
  • Women's Mental Health
  • Birth Trauma
  • Bodily Agency
  • Childbirth
  • Maternity Care


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