Healing Through Breastfeeding: A Sexual Abuse Survivor

By Badass Nikki Patrick

I was raised in a household where my body was not my own. From a very young age, I was used and abused in horrendous ways that make most people shudder to hear about. I was sexually and physically abused by the very person I was supposed to be able to trust and find comfort in, my father.

This isn’t a topic that is easy to talk about, but it is my hope that sharing my story about sexual abuse and its effect on my breastfeeding relationship that other women who have walked this journey will find comfort and strength in my story.

Growing up in an environment with sexual abuse teaches you many things about your body. It’s dirty. It’s an object. It’s for the use of others. It’s not under your control. My breasts became the object of someone else’s cruel torture, purely sexual, nothing more.

At the age of 18, I stood up, found my voice, and never looked back. I have never seen my “father” again, and I never will. The road to motherhood was paved with many roadblocks and stumbling points, but I made it.

When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, breastfeeding her was the furthest thing from my realm of possibility.  I couldn’t imagine nourishing my child from my breasts, which I considered dirty because that is what I had been taught. Also, the idea of someone having on demand access to this private part of my body sent me back to being 8 years old and not able to say no. The idea horrified me and I decided that formula was the way for me.

I brought up my concerns to my OB and was basically brushed off. She seemed very uncomfortable, I’m sure the thought of a child being abused in such a manner is an uncomfortable topic. She told me that “breast is best” and she hoped I would “push past my own insecurities for my infant’s sake.” Because it’s that easy, right?

I slowly began to open up to other women, those who are survivors and some who are mothers themselves. I found a community of understanding. My concerns and fears were heard, validated, and in many cases, shared.

As the birth of my child neared, I experienced a wide range of emotions. I began to daydream about the idea of perhaps trying to nurse my child. I tried to reframe my thoughts, tried to ignore the voice inside me that told me “no.” It didn’t work. When I went in to have my daughter my plan was to use formula, I was totally comfortable with that plan.

Grace was born in the middle of the night after a long, hard labor. I was exhausted. They placed her tiny body on my chest, and something incredible happened. I can’t even really describe the moment with the intensity it deserves. No one in the room knew what was happening except me, and I’m grateful for that. She began to root, and crawl up towards my breast. Her mouth was open and ready and my heart began to accept the idea. She was going to latch on, and no part of my being wanted to stop her. My sweet daughter latched on, looked me deep in the eyes, and healed wounds that had been part of me for 29 years.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing, I experienced anxiety and even flashbacks, especially late in the night when most of the abuse occurred. I had to be very gentle with myself, and with her. I learned to balance both of our needs. There were times when she had to wait a minute while I brought myself back into the moment. I would rub her tiny feet or smell her delicious hair to remind myself that she is my daughter, not my past.

18 months later, I am still nursing her. And getting ready to embark on another nursing journey, this time with my son, due in January. In some ways this journey feels even more difficult, knowing he is male. But experience tells me I will be ok and he will find his own way to calm my soul.

It is my hope that by sharing this another survivor will read it and relate. You are not alone, your feelings are valid, and you have a choice now. Nursing has allowed me to view my body in a whole new light. It is not dirty, disgusting, or anyone’s property. It is amazing, able to sustain life, and beautiful. It is also mine, even my breasts. Breastfeeding is a choice I made, not exactly willingly, but a choice. Taking back my power over my body has been one of the most amazing parts of nursing for me.

 

Ask an Expert: Common Newborn Concerns

By Wendy Wisner, IBCLC

Fan Question:

“I am EBF (exclusively breastfeeding) my 7 week old son, William, I never get engorged. EVER. He also does a lot of.. Nibbling ? Like really fast sucking? Is that normal? I can’t remember if my DD did that or not ? He also spits up after every feed? Anyone know some non- medicine ways to help with that? I don’t feel like medicating my 7 week old!! And I am REALLY enjoying breastfeeding this time around so I don’t want to stop! I hated it with my DD! Probably because she was tongue tied and the pain was unreal !”

Congrats on your new baby!  I am so glad you are enjoying nursing him.  All the things you describe (lack of engorgement, nibbling, fast sucking, and spitting up) aren’t issues as long as your baby is gaining weight, is generally happy, and your nipples are feeling comfortable.

But if you have concerns, here are some thoughts.

Most women feel some fullness in the early days as their milk becomes more plentiful (“comes in”), but not everyone feels overfull, or engorged. Again, as long as weight gain is on target, you are making just the right amount of milk, and there is no need to question it.

“Nibbling” or “fast sucking” could mean any number of things and I’d probably need more information to come to any conclusions.  But good, deep latching and a well-supported baby usually solve most sucking issues.  A tongue tie could also be a culprit for the “nibbling,” as a tongue tie causes the tongue to slip back and trigger the bite reflex.  You could have these things (and more) assessed at by an experienced lactation consultant if you are concerned.

If the baby is happy and healthy, spitting up is usually a laundry issue and nothing more.  If the baby is very fussy during the spitting up episodes, or has other gastrointestinal issues, you can try to tweak your diet a bit to see if it helps.  We know that certain proteins do pass into breastmilk, and many mothers report that when cow milk is eliminated from their diets, their babies spit up less.  Other culprits include soy, eggs, wheat, and corn.  You can also keep a food diary for a few days to track which foods exacerbate the spitting up.

I hope this helps!  Enjoy your sweet baby!

unnamedWendy Wisner is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), writer, and mother of two amazing boys.  In addition to her work with breastfeeding moms, she has published two books of poems, and a handful of articles about mothering and breastfeeding.  She blogs at www.nursememama.com.

A Review of The Ultimate Mum Pillow

I had just given birth to my second son in my living room in a pool of water. I was being escorted down my hallway by my midwives. It was surreal having gone through the most intense experience of my life right here in my home with my own belongings. As I entered my bedroom the first thing I noticed was that they had taken my pregnancy pillow and curled it up at the head of my bed for me to rest on. I was already in awe of these women who had just given me the greatest gift another person could give me and now I was sure they were geniuses. I was in such a vulnerable place; just the small tweak in my environment made a huge impression.

I spent the latter part of my pregnancy pulling this pregnancy pillow around my bed. It was so long that I often had to fish around for the end of it until I broke into a small sweat. I was pregnant in summer after all. Using my core muscles to flail my arms and legs about was like running an 8k. “Where is the end of this pillow!?”

I slid into bed and leaned back on the pregnancy pillow, now my recovery pillow. I laid my newborn son on my chest and we laid skin to skin for several days. I only got up to go to the bathroom or when I just wanted to stretch. When I returned, the long noodle of a pillow would be unwound. I would have to curl it back up again trying to get it just as comfy as the time before. Sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. Always exhausted and sore.

Soon I was able to sit up a bit straighter and wanted to nurse my son in a more upright position while I ate or talked with visitors. This required pillows to allow me to rest my arms. I can say now, 3 months postpartum, that I have never found a solution to breastfeeding comfortably in bed without lying all the way down. I was never fully relaxed. And forget about tandem nursing in bed. There weren’t enough pillows in a 20 mile radius to make that comfortable.

IMG_2575 (2)Breastfeeding my 3 month old on our bed. 

Then I was introduced to the Ultimate Mum Pillow. This pillow is one of 5 pillows manufactured by the Canadian company, Ultimate Mum Pillows, but the “Ultimate” is the most popular. The Ultimate Mum Pillow is marketed as a pregnancy and breastfeeding pillow. When I got my hands on one I was struck by the sturdiness of it. It is not long and noodley. It is intentionally shaped for the 2 purposes.

It’s not so much a breastfeeding pillow; it’s more like a breastfeeding hug. You wrap it around you and it provides support to your back, core and arms. When I breastfeed with it I am completely relaxed. There is not a muscle in my body that is clenched. As a breastfeeding mother this aids in bonding with my son, inducing a letdown and much needed postpartum rest for my body.

I am disappointed that I wasn’t introduced to this earlier. I would love to have been able to use this pregnant and in recovery after the birth. I would have been more comfortable sleeping. As a pregnant Mom with a toddler that is what I needed more than anything. Instead I tossed and turned while my previous pillow was swallowed by my monster belly, throbbing fatigue and busy family bed.

IMG_2647 (2)Breastfeeding my 3 year old on our couch. 

I am always honest with you and I will be honest here as well. The cover is difficult to get on. I worked at it for several minutes. This is may be why it holds such a sturdy shape, but it takes some strong-arming to get it in there. The covers also only come in white for now. Colors coming soon.

I highly recommend the Ultimate Mum Pillow. It will be with you through your entire pregnancy, breastfeeding and motherhood journey. I don’t have any plans to take this off of my bed when I’m done breastfeeding. I’ll be snuggling up this pillow for a long time! So head over to Ultimate Mum Pillows to check out their selection and review product descriptions. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Abby Theuring, MSW

 

Adding a New Baby

By Anonymous Guest Blogger

It started in the second trimester of my second pregnancy. My daughter was about 3 and 1/2. Up until a few months before, we shared a bed every night. See, my husband travels for work and while I was pregnant, we didn’t travel with him. My daughter and I stayed with my parents and we spent about 10 days a months with my husband. Not ideal, but could have been much worse.

We were new back in the area, all my friends from high school with kids were gone, and I had long ago lost touch with the child free bunch. I didn’t really know what to expect about going from one child to two. My mom had vague and fanciful memories from my childhood, as the baby of three. She didn’t offer much advice or guidance and what was happening to me was too shameful to talk about. And so I kept quiet.

As the days past and my belly grew, I became more and more irritated by my daughter. Certainly she had her own feelings about the impending birth of her baby brother, but she seemed excited about it. She had some questions, but nothing out of the ordinary. She was acting basically the same as she always had, like a three year old. So why was she driving me crazier as each day passed? It must be the hormones, I concluded. It was the logical explanation.

When my son was born, it was more wonderful than I remembered, and not in the way where you just forget how wonderful it is to have a baby. It really was better. The first time around was stressful. I cried every waking moment, it seemed. Looking back. I did not enjoy my daughter as a newborn. Not the way I’m enjoying my son.

As the months passed by, I kept nursing my son, we kept bonding. It seemed as though the more I bonded with him, the less I could stand my daughter. I began to dislike her. I resented her when she needed something from me, when she wanted my attention. It took time away from me and the baby. She was trying so hard, too. I felt guiltier and guiltier. Her touch made me cringe. Am I even a woman? Am I becoming a monster? When she laughed or told me she loved me I wanted to shake her. I wanted to hit her. I could not stand my own child. How could this happen? I was so happy. My marriage had never been better and I had never felt a love like I had for my boy. I wanted to ask someone, anyone, if this was as bad as I thought. But I was too ashamed. I thought I should probably see a counsellor. But I didn’t.

I googled it. Nothing. No one else seemed to be falling out of love with their first after the birth of their second. Finally, I got up the nerve to discuss it with my best friend, my husband. He assured me that I did not, in fact, hate my daughter. He was so wonderful to me when I felt like a monster. Maybe it will change…?

Then, slowly, I started to laugh with her again. Not a lot, and there was still more bad days than good ones. It seemed, as the baby started crawling, I could hug her again. We started playing together. The baby started walking and it seemed it was leaving. That horrible feeling. It was going away. Almost as gradually as it had started, I felt myself developing a relationship with my baby again. It was different from when she was the ‘only’ but it was getting better.

So whats my point? I learned, about the same as I started recovering from this…this thing, that MANY other women go through this. But no one seems to talk about it. It just sounds awful. We don’t want to admit it. We don’t want to be judged. We want people to think, to know that we are good moms. I cried myself to sleep every night during the happiest point in my life.  I KNEW there was something horribly wrong with me. But there wasn’t. So, I want to help other women that might be experiencing this to some degree or another. You’re not a monster. You don’t hate your first child. It will pass. Don’t beat yourself up, Momma. You’re not the only one.

Normalize Love

I am seeing so many incidents of breastfeeding discrimination lately in my newsfeed. I would be willing to bet that incidents are not on the rise, but that women are feeling more empowered to speak out when something does happen. It is still very unlikely that anything negative will happen to you when you breastfeed in public. The majority of women go through their entire breastfeeding journey with no such experience. We should still continue to breastfeed in public at every opportunity to expose the world to beauty, nurturance and love.

We also want to make sure we do not become too reactive. We don’t want to create an “Us versus Them” atmosphere with society. We live in a culture where breastfeeding is not normalized. The majority of incidents are ignorant employees that need further training. The businesses usually make a public statement of apology and express their support of breastfeeding mothers. It is our responsibility to accept these apologies and look at these businesses as allies in our mission.

Badass Breastfeeder logo-OUTLINESThe most important thing we can do is spread the message that we will continue to breastfeed wherever and whenever we choose. The manner in which we have the biggest impact on society is simply living our lives and breastfeeding on demand. Non-breastfeeding parents can show love and nurturance while in public; this helps too because breastfeeding is an act of love like all the rest. Negativity toward breastfeeding is a symptom of a society sick with a lack of love.

We will not tolerate harassment; we will mobilize and act in the appropriate way in such an event. But we will not be sucked down the hole of negativity. We hold our heads up high, we smile at our children, we hug our families, and we extend information and tolerance to those who have not yet been exposed to this.

Breastfeeding will be normal. Normalize love.

Abby Theuring, MSW