Four years ago, I was unsure how breastfeeding would go with my daughter. It went great. Very few problems. I often joked I could feed a third-world nation. She had a bit of an issue taking a bottle, but we quickly surpassed that hurdle. I nursed her for twenty-six months. I take great pride in that accomplishment. For once, my body didn't let me down. It did what it was supposed to do. While not easy, I hung in there. Of course, this was all pre-therapy, pre-dealing-with-the-abuse.
Just like my pregnancies were extremely different, so is nursing Baby. I wondered how it would be to nurse a boy. I wondered how it would be to have a son in general. So far that's not been much of an issue (although I sense some denial and hiding with that statement too). The issue is that my body has, again, failed me --- failed to work the way it should.
Baby is gassy. He doesn't sleep well and is up every 2-3 hours. He wakes up grunting, in pain, trying to pass gas. I've been going to a breastfeeding support group which has been really helpful. I've eliminated all dairy from my diet, which includes milk, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, and cream based products. I have also had to eliminate soy. I've dropped caffeine almost entirely. And I'm having to limit chocolate, cookies, crackers and other gluten products. I'm left with chicken, rice milk and special gluten-free pasta I bought at the health food store. I really miss ice cream and Starbucks.
It also appears that Baby is not as efficient at nursing as Daughter. So he's getting too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk. The foremilk can make a baby gassy and doesn't fill him up. The hindmilk is the stuff full of calories and which makes a baby feel full. So now I'm having to nurse and pump, then feed him the hindmilk in a bottle. All of these changes have messed me up and my supply is shot. So I'm chugging water, taking herbal supplements and eating oatmeal.
All of this I could probably handle. It's stressful. It's a pain in the neck. And it is difficult to feed Baby, get him settled and then try to pump before he gets fussy. Also, I hate pumping. I feel like a cow. It's a pain in the rear. It requires a bunch of washing of pump parts and bottles.
Added to the stress are the triggers. That is the real problem. My level of panic is starting to increase. Interesting how it increases proportional to the level of stress I'm under.
I was concerned when I first started nursing my Daughter about how breastfeeding would affect me - whether I'd find it triggering. I didn't have major problems though. However, last night I was lying on my side nursing Baby in the middle of the night and Husband curled up behind me. He knows not to come up behind me but he wanted to snuggle. I can't do that - snuggle with him and nurse. Husband very rarely snuggles with an ulterior sexual motive. I can't do that - confuse sexual stuff with nursing stuff.
My mind doesn't typically go to sexual stuff when I'm nursing. But it's the fear that it will. The fear that somehow the perversion gene is catching. I spend my time wondering, "is this thought okay?" or "Is it okay to think baby looks so adorable with a milk mouth?" or "Is it okay to be glad that nursing comforts baby?" or "Is this feeling okay?" or "If it isn't uncomfortable, does that mean I'm enjoying it in a weird way?" I had read all these things about breastfeeding being uncomfortable and sometimes painful. I was concerned that it wasn't for me. Did that make me odd?
She may experience intense shame over her breasts. The physical sensations associated with breastfeeding may remind her of her sexual abuse experience.2
There are times when mothers who have suffered from sexual abuse just don't know what is natural and what is not when it comes to the experiences of breastfeeding their infant. "Some women become frightened because they have a pleasurable sensation while breastfeeding, thinking this is not normal," says Markell. "This is absolutely normal for women."3
That statement hits the nail on the head. Just like the abuse has robbed me of knowing what is "normal" in so many other areas, so too has it carried over into nursing.
[One mother] regained her sense of self after a year and a half of therapy and soul searching. "I was able to push past the shame, guilt and dirtiness that I felt about the thought of having an innocent baby suckling at my breast," she says. "I had to get past the perverted and twisted knowledge I was taught through the abuse to know that breastfeeding my child is the most natural, nurturing and selfless choice I could do for my child for his sake and for mine."3
Though [this mother] adores her daughter and enjoys a wonderful relationship with her, she is overly conscious of how other people react to her breastfeeding. "I never want my breastfeeding relationship to be perceived as sexual in any way by other people. This makes me sad, but I cannot handle the stress of perception."3
I do nurse in public or in front of others. I'm more comfortable nursing in front of other females, of course. But the stress of a crying baby usually supersedes the stress of nursing public. I do have a cover-up that I can use. That helps. While people can figure out what I'm doing, they can't see anything.In a way, my feelings about nursing are similar to my fears about being a parent in general. I’m scared to turn out like my mother. Scared to be like her at all. Scared that I’m not doing this “mommy-thing” right. Some articles I read explored that too –
[abuse victims may feel an] intense need to do everything "right." A mother may try to parent her children very differently from the way she was parented. This is a laudable goal but can be taken to extremes. A mother with a difficult childhood may try to be perfect. This may manifest in "selfless devotion," meeting baby's needs to the exclusion of all of her own. 2
"Mothers who have been abused and do breastfeed are often extremely caring and tender with their children," says Paul. "They delight in their ability to care for a baby in a way that they themselves were not cared for. Women who have had some healing are especially cognizant of their children and greatly desire to be the parent to their children that they didn't have."3
That last statement sums it up. I GREATLY desire to be the parent to my children that I didn’t have.
If there are any other readers who have dealt with this, please know you are not alone. And if you have any tips or can relate, please post a comment. I'd love to hear from you.
1 Breastfeeding and the Sexual Abuse Survivor - Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC
2. Breastfeeding and the Sexual Abuse Survivor -- Kathleen Kendall-Tackett
3. Beyond the Abuse -- Breastfeeding After Sexual Violation -- By Gwen Morrison