Maria, a 53-year-old woman whose mother lived in sexual abstinence after the age of 30, says the era of the Decree was a terrible time for women.
She remembers an image from August 1989, when she arrived at the hospital after losing a pregnancy: several women lined up in examination chairs, undergoing surgery for abortions without anesthetic, and a stream of blood coming from behind a curtain where a woman was crying, while a man kept asking her: “Who did this to you? If you’re not going to talk, you’re going to die!”
“My 31-year-old daughter can’t understand my fear of gynecologists,” says Maria. “I keep explaining, but she can’t possibly understand. Life at the time was an ordeal for women.”
Psychotherapist Cătălina Hetel says that many women survived by denying what happened, and saying to themselvesIt wasn’t like that or It wasn’t as bad as that or We still found a way.
“Denial is the easiest mechanism of defense,” she adds. “You can’t go through all that madness and always be aware of what’s happening to you. Their daughters are angry with the mothers because they don’t understand why they didn’t see it, and why they didn’t notice the abnormality of it. I often tell them that if they had noticed the abnormality, they would have gone crazy.”
Some women try to talk about what they went through, but in a detached manner, says the psychotherapist. “Do you know what a post-traumatic story is like? It’s cold. I did that, I had 15 abortions, I sat on the kitchen table, it was ok. They are recounting something absolutely traumatic with detachment.” This style of remembering is a way to avoid the emotions associated with those events, which could be overwhelming. “They tell the story in such a way as to not feel. If they felt [the emotions], they would be too much.”
Still, the psychotherapist believes that these experiences need to be put into words. Otherwise, the trauma rolls from generation to generation. It is a transgenerational burden, passed on, silently, through family secrets, and through lack of awareness at a societal level. Such effects continue to echo in how Romanians today relate to one another.
“For example, we are very tolerant of abuse, but we don’t understand why. We have experienced abuse, we have been taught that it is not abuse, that it is love, and we are no longer decoding it correctly. We don’t decode abuse as abuse. We don’t decode lies as lies”
, adds Cătălina Hetel.
“You can’t battle history,” says Mihaela Miroiu. “It was what it was.”
We can only take note, understand and use the past as an alarm system.