Surviving Life, Creating A New One: An Interview with Corbin Lewars

Brittany Shoot

Processing the trauma of surviving sexual assault at a young age, quitting your unfulfilling day job, and having a baby at home might not seem like an obvious topic pairing, but for writer Corbin Lewars, the real-life experiences were inextricably intertwined.

Processing the trauma of surviving sexual assault at a young age, quitting your unfulfilling day job, and having a baby at home might not seem like an obvious topic pairing, but for writer Corbin Lewars, the real-life experiences were inextricably intertwined.

In her new memoir, Creating a Life: The Memoir of a Writer and Mom in the Making, she explains how the biggest components of her life came to a head all at once. Originally driven to make some serious decisions because of her obsession with having a baby, her preoccupation with pregnancy often overshadowed other issues in her life that needed to be handled—ones that came to light as she tried to navigate fertility complications and a miscarriage.

At around 12 years old, Lewars survived being raped at a party by a boy from her school. But it wasn’t until her early thirties that she started to fully deal with the emotional fallout from the experience. Undoing years of self-blame took a lot of work, but Lewars explains that after miscarrying her first child early in her pregnancy, she began the process of unraveling her own abusive. Like many survivors of sexual assault and abuse, control was a central theme in her life, and only in taking charge of the things she could—and letting go of the rest—did she begin the process of truly healing. Determined to be the best parent to her unborn child, she knew she had to battle her own demons before becoming responsible for an additional life.

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Lewars began counseling, quit a dead-end day job to pursue her passion for writing and editing, and eventually, she became pregnant again. As part of her quest to regain control over her body and her emotional relationship with herself, as well as to avoid an institutionalized medical system that had never seemed particularly right for her, she chose to have her baby at home. Convincing her family about her decision was sometimes tricky, but perhaps due to her strong conviction to do what was right for herself and her baby, she was able to surround herself with a supportive birthing team that helped her deal with the complex emotions of giving birth while still processing her own difficult past.

Like any journey through therapy and life-changing events such as career change and pregnancy, Lewars’ story doesn’t fit into a tidy package. While she covers several complex themes, her life’s story—so far, anyway—is linear and deeply engaging. Her life has changed a lot since her first child was born several years ago, and in the interim period, she got divorced, started working from home full time, and launched the Reality Mom zine. Corbin Lewars recently spoke to me about her journey.

There are a number of times in the book in which you describe blaming yourself—for being a rape victim, for not seeking counseling sooner, for your miscarriage. How do those feelings manifest today?

Starting therapy helped my brain understand that it wasn’t my fault, but I didn’t feel a shift until my body accepted that truth. Saying you’re not at fault is entirely different than believing you’re not at fault. One of the first things that helped that shift was reading Phyllis’ intro to my book, where she claims many children that are sexually abused don’t have an understanding of what is happening to them, as was true in my case. If I didn’t understand I was being raped, how could I blame myself?

My therapist explained to me that I went into shock and remained there for years. Combine that with the fact that in my family, I was often the person who felt and saw things that no one else wanted to see. So after years of being told I was “wrong,” I stopped trusting my gut, and my brain, and therefore blamed myself unnecessarily for thing I “knew” but didn’t believe. The difference now is I am not in shock, I surround myself with people who “see” and discuss emotionally vulnerable topics, and I constantly check in with myself.

Right before I started my book tour I took a couple of days to ask that little girl inside of me what she needed. She needed to be seen. And by taking care of myself before the tour, I am not only able to be seen and heard in a healthy way, I am serving as a catalyst for other people to share their stories with me as well. So they can be heard and seen as well.

You mention that in your younger single years, you always took responsibility for birth control. Why do you think you didn’t expect men to participate in the decision to have protected, safe sex?

I didn’t have the courage to ask them to. Even worse, I didn’t even have the language or skills to ask them to use condoms, so I only protected myself against pregnancy, not diseases. This surprises people who know me now, as a feisty opinionated person, but as a child I didn’t have any role models of women who asked for what they wanted/needed. Saying no to a man or asking him to do something for me was a language I not only never spoke, I never heard, so couldn’t even begin to emulate.

In my mid-twenties I started to befriend older, wise, strong women, Lori (mentioned in the book) being one of the dearest. And through them, I finally started to understand women have a voice and a say.

For a lot of women who have survived abuse and assault—myself one of them—it can seem easier to hide by repressing your feelings. In the book, you detail your significant progress in therapy. How would you explain the benefits of working through your pain to those who have yet to do it?

Therapy gave me a whole new life—a life I fantasized about, but didn’t know how to achieve. My depression lifted, my creativity and sexuality peaked, and I have more energy than I have had in years. It was worth going through and reliving and feeling for the first time the pain of the rape and other parts of my childhood to get to where I am now: living an authentic life where I feel things deeply, take risks, and constantly assess myself and my goals.

So when people say, “Does therapy help?” I say, “Immensely. But only if you want it to.” A lot of people don’t want to unpack and face their demons, so they could go to therapy for twenty years and not change anything. Therapy is not the cure all; you have to be willing to do the work outside of the office as well.

How was your partnership with your husband different after you remembered and began working through the memories of your rape? Do you think it would be different if you had recalled what happened the assault at an earlier stage in your relationship?

I never “forgot” the assault; I just never called it a rape. So when I told him what happened, about midway through our relationship, I was vague about it and didn’t offer details. Even while writing the book, we didn’t address the rape.

My now ex-husband and I had so many bad patterns—not talking on a deep level being the major one—that we were only able to shift by becoming divorced. We actually separated while I was writing this book. So again, I give therapy credit for this shift. Through therapy, I not only separated from a husband who couldn’t talk about painful subjects with me, but I gained a best friend (the same man) who now can tell me all of the things he couldn’t say while we were married. A few months ago, I told him he never said he was sorry I was raped and that I needed to hear that from him. He started crying, told me how terribly sorry he was, and we hugged for a long time. I told him I needed to hear that not just for my own healing, but to be sure that he would be willing to “see” and acknowledge it if anything ever happened to our daughter or son. And for the first time, I actually believe he will.

A lot of the book focuses on alternative medicine. Why were options like seeing an acupuncturist or using a midwife and doula the best choices for you?

As I explained in the book, I did not have a great track record with traditional doctors. I was also trying to be in control of my life and my choices for the first time, and alternative practitioners are much more likely to include you, your brain, your body, and your opinions into their care, rather than dictate what they think.

It took you a while to warm up to the idea of a home birth, even with information from your midwife. Do you think more women would give birth at home if they understood it as a safe, relatively uncomplicated option?

Absolutely! Unfortunately, doctors tell them the opposite. That it is risky and dangerous, where many studies show that giving birth in a hospital leaves women not only at a much higher risk of having an unnecessary c-section, but also exposed to germs that could lead to infections. Unfortunately, many of the midwives I know can’t afford to practice in the United Sates. They either move to Canada or give up their practice altogether, so who is left to inform women about their choices? You are!

At the conclusion of the book, your son Conor was four months old, and you and your husband were still figuring out the future. What are you working on now, and what happens next?

Many things happened next, including a second child, our daughter Stella, the demise of our marriage, finding an agent, firing an agent, and writing three books amongst other things.

I am not sure what I’ll do with my second book, Swings, which is supposedly fiction, but actually closely narrates the early years of my life with Conor and the thread that started to unravel my marriage. My agent shopped it for a while, but then we parted ways and I found Catalyst Book Press for Creating a Life.

The project I have more enthusiasm about now is another memoir I’m writing called A Year of Pleasures. It’s about my year of exploring all of my desires after separating from my ex-husband Jason. As I said, even our separation was pleasurable and having joint custody of the kids allows me time I haven’t had in seven years to explore what I want, rather than what Corbin the wife or Corbin the mother should do. Along with my single, divorced friends, who I call the Fabulosities—because they are all fabulous, creative women who know and own their power and sexuality—I am now able to go see art shows, listen to bands, watch burlesque performances, eat spicy, delicious food that my kids would turn their noses up at, take professional risks, and of course date. The book not only shows that divorce is not the end of the world for many women; it could even be a gift.

Currently, I am in the midst of a book tour and having my mind blown daily by the amount of women who share a similar story as mine. I received two emails today about “first time sexual encounters that weren’t so great.” Yesterday, during my memoir class, two women broke down sobbing about the sexual abuse they have endured. Everywhere I go, whether I’m talking about my book or not, women and men are sharing their painful stories with me. Much of it revolves around rape, molestation or sexual abuse, and although I could find this depressing, I’m actually inspired by it. Because every time a woman, or man, tells me her story, they are one step closer to removing the blame from themselves. Although they often say, “But I was drunk,” or “But I was wearing a mini-skirt,” I know by sharing their story with me—and of course having me tell them they should be able to wear and drink whatever they want without being sexually assaulted—they are starting to shift the blame off of themselves.

By sharing our stories, we can wake people up to this epidemic—which I believe is occurring to an even larger percentage of people than the reported one-in-four girls—and start teaching our youth some positive sexual education, rather than hoping they will be abstinent if we don’t talk about it. Girls in particular need to learn how to say no or yes to what they want sexually as well as feel free to state their opinions and needs, without fearing ostracism.

I used to only emphasize my daughter’s intelligence, believing too many people emphasize girls’ looks and not their brains. And I’ve given both of my kids many talks about, “Your body is yours and you get to decide who hugs you, kisses you, or whose lap you sit on.” I am confident that both kids trust their intuition in these matters, and feel free with their bodies, yet also only change clothes, hug, or even interact with people that they feel comfortable with.

Instilling in both kids the importance of stating their opinions and never downplaying their intelligence, as well as being comfortable with their bodies has been easy, but I wrestle with “beautiful.” Both of my kids are beautiful, and are often told that, but I want that to mean something more than how it’s often used, as in describing a “beautiful princess.” Beauty holds power, but many fairy tales—let alone the movies, which is why neither of my kids has ever seen a Disney movie—depict beautiful women as needing help and rarely mention her intelligence. What I hope for my kids is to feel comfortable with their beauty and their sexuality when they are older, but for it never to overshadow their intelligence and intuition. I want them to be “seen” as all of who they are and for them to see themselves that was as well, not as only one part. I am only recently allowing myself to be a beautiful, sexually desired woman with many sexual desires of my own, so I am learning myself as I try to teach my kids.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?