One of the realities of being a crisis center is that we don’t always know how our clients fare over time. We provide them with shelter, support and numerous services, and often get to know them really well, especially if they stay in our SafeHouses for a few weeks. But then they are off on their own, and while some may stay in touch for a while, eventually the contact usually stops. We hope that they are doing well and that they never need our services again. Just a few days after some DVCC staff members were discussing this very topic, Cyndy Goldberg, our SafeHouse Director, received a message that a former client had called.”I needed to call and re-thank you. I think of you guys every day,” she told Cyndy. Then she agreed to pay us a visit.
Anna walked into the Stamford SafeHouse flanked by her two children, Cassie*, 15, and Michael*, age 8. It was January 16, 2012, the Martin Luther King holiday, and the three of them could have been doing anything on their day off from school and work. Nonetheless, they chose to spend it driving for nearly two hours in order to visit the SafeHouse, catch up with Cyndy and let Anna talk about her story. Cassie said she remembered the SafeHouse very well, and while Michael did not, it had been his first home. Seven months pregnant when she first arrived at the DVCC SafeHouse in May of 2003, Anna gave birth to Michael at Stamford Hospital, and then returned to the SafeHouse for another week before transferring to a transitional housing program in a nearby town.
While her children occupied themselves in the living room, Anna settled into a chair in Cyndy’s office and talked about her 17-year journey from a 23-year-old newlywed to a 40-year-old single mother. Pretty and soft-spoken, she exuded a quiet purposefulness born out of years of struggling to not only support her children, but to also raise them to be happy, well-rounded people. Coupled with that was an air of shy confidence that she was achieving both.
It took Anna a long time to understand that her husband was abusive, she said, because the abuse was psychological, emotional and financial, but never physical. In fact, it wasn’t until she was pregnant with Michael that she began to seriously question the relationship.
“I knew in the back of my mind that this wasn’t working the way it should, and that I didn’t want to bring a second child into this kind of relationship,” she said.
At the time, Anna was finishing up requirements for a Masters Degree in Education, working, raising their daughter and taking care of the household. Her husband worked, but contributed little else, other than occasionally watching Cassie while his wife was at school or work. As Anna became more independent and confident in her abilities, her husband’s put-downs, psychological game playing and controlling behavior intensified. Furthermore, he didn’t want to know anything about the pregnancy and even tried to prevent Anna from going to the doctor for her pre-natal checkups. Ironically, it was her gynecologist who gave Anna a card containing information on domestic violence and available services after Anna had talked to her about what was going on at home.
“That was the first time anyone had given me an inkling that maybe something was not right,” she said. “I always knew there were people who would abuse people sexually and physically, but I didn’t know there was an emotional abuse component to all of that, which I think is more subtle and even worse.”
A few days after that visit to the doctor, Anna put Cassie in the car, drove to a gas station, called the hotline number on the card and found a safe place to spend the night. The next day she drove to her home state of Connecticut, where she was referred to the Stamford SafeHouse.
“It was like being at a hotel,” she laughed. “It was clean, air-conditioned and comfortable, there were people to talk to and there was enough food. At home we never had enough or the right kind of food, even though we made plenty of money.”
Anna acknowledged that she hadn’t taken proper care of herself during her second pregnancy and that her diet was lacking in many of the foods she should have been eating.
“I remember sitting at the table here and stuffing myself with carrots and other fresh vegetables,” she laughed. “Being here was a really helpful and supportive experience. I talked to counselors all the time about what I was going through. They helped get Cassie into school right away and they even helped me find a program that would take care of her while I was in the hospital having Michael.”
After leaving the DVCC SafeHouse, Anna and her family lived in the transitional housing facility for a year and a half, and then moved to an apartment in Bridgeport for four years. During that time she worked as an art teacher at a public school in New Haven and then took an office job helping people with disability benefits.
Divorcing her husband was a time consuming, unpleasant task that took over two years because he stonewalled every move she and her lawyer made to reach an amicable agreement. Even now, she has to return to court to fight for the child support her ex-husband is supposed to pay. Despite those obstacles, Anna said she is happy with the way things turned out and proud of how she and her children have handled some difficult times.
Today Anna, Cassie and Michael live in a charming apartment situated on a large farm in a central Connecticut town. The school system is excellent, and Anna is back in a teaching capacity at a day care facility, a job she says is perfect for her.
She worried for a long time about how her volatile relationship with her husband and then somewhat nomadic and uncertain life would affect Cassie, but now has few concerns. Her daughter is in high honors classes and is very involved in the drama program at her high school, and both she and Michael have lots of friends.
“Cassie talks about the time that we spent in the shelter and transitional housing. She thinks it made her stronger, more of an understanding person,” Anna said. “Because she didn’t have much of anything for a long time, she’s very appreciative and has no patience with people who complain about trivial things.”
Because she had no family or financial resources to fall back on, Anna had to rely solely on herself to get through the last few years.
“The fact that I am well educated helped,” she said. “Plus, I learned to ask for help. I learned that most programs offer financial assistance, and I am now able to ask for that assistance when it is important.”
She cited an example of a writers’ workshop that Cassie was eager to participate in over the summer. Thanks to her inquiries, she was able to get scholarship assistance to cover the $600 fee.
Supporting her family with a job that she loves and seeing her children happy, outgoing and doing well in school is a major milestone for Anna.
“It’s taken a long time – eight years,” she said. “But I feel like I’ve finally made it.”
*The names of Anna’s children have been changed for privacy.
Anna’s story is illustrative of why it is so important that doctors screen their patients for intimate partner violence and provide them with referral information. Her doctor picked up on signs there were problems, talked with her and provided her with the appropriate information, which gave Anna the incentive she needed to leave a harmful relationship. Numerous studies have documented the extremely harmful, and sometimes fatal, effects domestic violence has on pregnant women and their unborn children. Both physical and non-physical abuse can have serious health consequences. According to the Futures Without Violence website, studies show that: