Monday, 11 August 2008

Breastfeeding as a Survivor of Sexual Abuse

In a recent discussion on a lactation list, the following was posted. The discussion had been about how to meet each mother’s needs, when they presented as ‘not wanting’ to breastfeed, for a variety of reasons. The sparking post had been a teenager, who was pregnant, but didn’t want to breastfeed as she didn’t want something ‘sucking off her’. A discussion arose on how to meet this young woman where she was, and speak to her of breastfeeding in a positive way.
The ‘sucking off me’ struck a chord with many lactation supporters, who say that first time pregnant women are often afraid of breastfeeding, and the conversation developed until the old chestnut of “What about Mums who have been sexually abused?” arose.
In case this one has passed you by, when the ‘can’t’ breastfeed issue arises – in order to pummel breastfeeding into the ground - the standard defense these days when you point out that at most, 3% of women cannot breastfeed fully, but all can breastfeed to some extent, is to immediately shout out “What about women who have been sexually abused, they can’t at all!”
This truly annoying attack/defend tactic, is rarely spoken by a woman who is actually in this position, and is usually being hurled across the room at you, by someone who is desperate to prove that breastfeeding is some idolized concept that normal everyday women cannot achieve. It’s annoying on several fronts, not least because it is so rarely spoken by a woman that it applies to. It also ignores the actuality that many women who have been sexually abused and breastfeed, often discuss how healing it was for them, to see their bodies in such a position of power and strength. And annoying, not least of all, as it’s a ‘show stopper’ attempt by the objector to get you to stop discussing breastfeeding – “Go on, I dare you” they are saying “say something negative about women who have been abused. Show your Nazi nature!”
Of course, how to support mothers who are genuinely suffering from body trauma after abuse, is an important topic, and the discussion moved into that. A post was made about how it may be more important to support a mother in weaning, than in continuing, if she has come up against a wall of negative feeling located in prior abuse.
So into this general discussion, the following post fell. I think it speaks for itself, so at this point I will retire… and pass you onto the mother, also a breastfeeding counselor, who posted:
- - - - - -
I loved… [the] post on this subject! It touched on so many things I've often wondered. One query of … [the postee] I've developed an interesting theory about - how can a formerly sexually abused woman 'endure' the intimacy of conceiving the baby but not breastfeeding it?
I am a survivor of such abuse by a family member. It was actually probably one of the lesser tragedies of my childhood. I grew up in foster care and became emancipated by 16. I was always determined never to make any of the mistakes that had so affected me and think I did a pretty good job of breaking the cycle of abuse and addiction that has been in my biological family for generations as far back as anyone can remember.

When I decided to breastfeed, it was based on logic and that same desire to 'do the best I can'. I'd read a brief blurb about how it was better than formula. I also had heard it was better for bonding and I knew I'd certainly not had any bonding in my own childhood and wanted to do better.
Imagine my surprise to find I really didn't like it! The swoony, lovey mother magic has never been there for me. And I say this, a woman who has 5 children aged 8 yrs down to 10 months and nary a one has had a drop of formula nor an artificial nipple in their mouths. I've been tandeming for over 7 yrs straight now and had 2 stints of nursing 3 in there, as well. I've nursed through 4 pregnancies entirely, nobody weaned - of course. No rest for the weary! :-)
When I examine why I don't enjoy breastfeeding, I want to initially write it off to all that my body has suffered and my resulting ambivalent feelings about it. The initial latch-on is perfectly fine for me, the rapid pace of the 1st hungry suckling is okay ... then the thirst hits me in a wave and I feel panicked and claustrophobic. If I'm pregnant and have sore nipples, the feeling is tripled to the point of making my skin crawl. I have absolutely positively never been able to tolerate nipple-twiddling of the free breast and no acrobatic nursing has ever been tolerable.
Thankfully, there hasn't been a free breast since #2 came along and they twiddle each other's hair and fingers instead. Then the clamping down/pressure feeling of letdown makes my underarms tingle and itch maddeningly. It goes on and on, the nipple tugging, the teeth scraping, the sucking their way back up the nipple like a straw when they startle from having dozed off, the fluttery, non-nutritive sucking that lets the tongue caress the nipple... for some reason, all of it makes my hair stand on end! And yet my husband interacting with my breasts sexually has not ever brought about the same reaction.
I've come to believe for me - and many other survivors - that it's more about the dependency needs going on during breastfeeding. It's been so hard for me to allow myself to ever be dependent on anyone again after losing my own family. It's been a work in progress to let people be dependent on me. I found I was always guarded and a bit emotionally distanced, always.
Then comes a baby. So much work and pain to be left with such a vulnerable, terrifyingly dependent person! That I have to keep alive! All of which hits home the most when s/he is literally attached to me and sucking his/her very existence from my breast. It doesn't get much more dependent and intimate than that.
Sexual intimacy isn't an accurate comparison because a sexual partner is not so dependent on you during sexual acts. You, who have secretly felt at times your body was disgusting and evil and had betrayed you and caused you so much misery ... and sex can be endured because it doesn't last so terribly long, it can be done in the dark, and maybe you've learned to allow your body to be used by others while you shut down emotionally.
Not so with breastfeeding. Not only do you need light to do it in the beginning, but other people have to intrude and look and check and touch. (I will never forget the 1st nurse who tried to 'help' me latch on my 1st preemie son in the hospital. She pushed my gown open, grabbed my breast, thrust it at the baby and then pushed his head into it. I was simultaneously horrified and shamed at her callous treatment of my breast and concerned for the seemingly smothering baby!) The baby stares at you lovingly and beseechingly until the milk lets down, and then contentedly... you can't absent yourself in the same way at all. You have to accept the gratitude and need and meet it.
So when I work with Moms who have aversive feelings associated with breastfeeding and they reveal past sexual abuse, I know exactly what they are dealing with. I don't believe it's wrong to encourage them to keep at it. Quite the opposite, I think it's amazingly empowering. I can help them explore if it's actually direct associations with their breasts having been abused or more about the incredible intimacy and dependency going on. And I can show them how to get through it! I myself often have to distract myself during the more trying aspects of breastfeeding.
A good book, a phone call to a friend, computer, tv, a snack I love, interacting with other kids. It's still - after all these years of breastfeeding you'd think I'd be desensitized by now! - very hard for me to sit and gaze at my babies nursing. (One of them liked to try to drive his finger into the seal between his lips and my nipple and I wanted to bite his little finger off every time, so even while I am horrified by it, I can totally relate to that 'throw the baby into a wall' feeling.)
I have read and heard over the years many times people say that a depressed/angry/sexually abused/reluctant mother should not bf. Should not be ‘pressured’ to breastfeed. I simply can't agree. I think it can be one of the most rewarding, empowering, therapeutic things she can do - for herself and the baby.
My 1st 2 sons breastfed to self-weaning at 5. Once weaned, I was of course nursing 2 more and they went through a stage of regret and wanting to breastfeed again. I let them try though I knew they'd lost the sucking reflex. They are 7 and 8 now and will tell anyone who asks, they'd still like to be nursing.
They are old enough to pick up on my discomfort nursing the 2 little ones now. I tell them it's not always as easy and nice for the Mama as the baby. My 8 year old is shocked. he says, “you LOVED breastfeeding me!!” I don't disabuse him of this notion even as I laughingly recall that he was the offensive finger-intruder whose ears I could have cheerfully pulled off. I relate this story to say that I just don't think babies are so sensitive they internalize and harbor any ill emotions or memories from being nursed by a less than transcendentally ecstatic mother. And 'making it through' another nursing session never left me resenting the baby - quite the opposite. I find myself doing most of the physical lavishing of attention in the form of kisses and strokes and hugging after they've nursed. I'm so glad they're done and we both could do it !
I think once a woman knows it's the basic first step in doing right by your baby, even if it's hard for her, we do her a great disservice in not helping her to do it. I'd never be able to live with myself if I'd given up because it was uncomfortable and not the lovefest I'd thought it would be. I think someone who has survived abuse and trauma is actually more able to accept the idea that this is not going to be easy, but you can do it and you should do it to give your baby better than you got, than a person who had a picture perfect life.
Part of the reason it works for me is that it isn't too good to be true. I've had to fight so much harder than most people for any of the meaningful things in my life, it feels quite right that this should be a bit of work, too. I would urge that we all not back away and admit defeat too quickly with mothers citing prior sexual abuse as a reason they can't reconcile maintaining breastfeeding. If you explore educating and feeling them out a bit more about it, you might find them uniquely adapted to doing it even longer than the average breastfeeder.
(pictured with her 20 minute old baby boy, after a breech home birth!)
If you need support for these issues personally, or in terms of supporting a friend who is breastfeeding and experiencing problems, help can be found by contacting any of the major breastfeeding support organisations.
La Leche League International has a drop down menu of all countries covered


Jeanette said...

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your thoughts! What you posted validated what I've learned through LIFE, not education...

There are many times in life that you do things because they are RIGHT, not because it is easier, more fun, financially or physically or even emotionally rewarding!

We try to teach our children this message when we teach them about giving, supporting, and responding kindly to others.

Morgan - It sounds like you have taught yourself - based on your history - to be a great human being!

Being mothers isn't easy, often rewards are small and very slow in coming - but just like I held my crying baby when others told me "he'll cry anyway, so you might as well put him down" ... you breastfed because you KNEW it was the perfect gift for your baby.

Thanks for reminding us all to give mothers the help they need to do what is RIGHT - rather than giving up along with them!

It is a careful balance we must keep, respecting moms where they are - but at times if they just hear from us "it's WORTH IT" and "I think you CAN"... they will succeed and grow - just as you have!

Jeanette Panchula, BSW, RN, PHN, IBCLC
California, USA

Morgan said...

Thanks Jeanette, I'll take all the stroke I can get.

But it's mummaTOwldthings who deserves the applause and flowers here. And truffles... and just pain awe.

But you are so right, breastfeeding isn't always fun. In the beginning, for most of us, it was bloody hard work. But hey, it's how you feed babies!

I'm blessed that I did get to 'Mama magic' with mine. Although, if I'm honest, in light of this post, it was never the actual feeding that was magic. It was seeing what it meant to my growing baby, and seeing the look of magic on his face.. that won me over.

And I do think Mums need to hear about "throw the baby through the wall" moments. After all, we're only human, in a world that deposits super-human expectations on us and expects us to be more than human in responding to everyone else's expectations.

And I hate nipple twidling too! :-)

Foofur said...

Hi Morgan,

Thanks for this. I am a mother to three wonderful children. I am also a rape survivor. Unfortunately this did effect my first two children and after being completely molested by a midwife with my first son I was too traumatised to feed him. To be fair to the midwife she didnt know my history so she didnt know the feelings that mandhandling me would stir up. As a result I never even tried with my daughter :o(

However, with the internet and armed with better information and a lot of support from my online buddies I decided to give it a go with number 3. Psychologically at first it was hard and physically it wasnt much better as he refused to feed for 48 hours. BUT 5 months on and I am loving it. I am not just tolerating it because it is the best for my baby, but it has healed a lot of pain for me. Unfortunately my attack left me with fairly horrible scars on my breasts so it has always been a difficult part of my body to deal with. But I have now forgiven my body for the attack, and the very things I thought of as pure evil ( a few years ago I wouldve happily have had a double masectomy to rid myself of them) are nourishing my baby. And nourishing him damn well too!

I have read about other people stating abuse and rape would prevent someone from breastfeeding and have often wanted to wade in with cries of "no no no it doesnt have to be that way", but the truth is I'm chicken. Because in order for me to validate any points I may have I would have to relive the past. And thats just something I dont like doing often.

So thanks to people like you, people like me CAN have their voice heard.

So thank you

Anonymous said...

What a great piece! I too get annoyed at those sort of comments. I'm a survivor and don't need anyone else talking on my behalf! I call myself a survivor because I have and am surviving, letting him stop me from nursing my daughter is not surviving!

I am 25 months in and on the way to tandeming!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I saw this, it's been really helpful to know I'm not alone in being triggered by nursing. I really identify with not allowing any nipple twiddling and wanting to throw the baby down the well, just for nursing. The thing I've really struggled with is not getting resentful with my children. How do you detach from the anger and pain that gets triggered when they nurse?
I don't seem to be feeling any healing from breastfeeding my children. Part of the problem is that my abuser was my mother, and that has it's own problems associated with it. I'm getting therapy but I can't seem to get over the flashbacks that come with nursing.

How did you other mothers manage to get over the triggering and flashbacks associated with nursing? I could really use some practical help, because I really want to do the best for my children. Therapy has helped with a lot of things, but breastfeeding comes so close to the abuse I experienced from my mother that I have a really hard time overcoming the triggering it does.

mumma2wldthings said...


i'm so glad to hear you're in therapy - that in and of itself will go a long way toward helping you deal with and overcome your triggers and associations.

my abuser was my father and i know it can be harder to escape the pervasive memories and flashbacks when it was a primary caregiver doing the abusing on a continual basis.

i found i often transferred feelings of resentment, mistrust and anger onto my husband while breastfeeding and observing him interacting with the nursling. i was watching him be a father as i was fighting to ignore the memories of how *my* father did his particular type of 'fathering'.

it must be similar for you to be in the act of mothering in a very intimate way as you try to squash the intimate trespasses that were part and parcel of your own mom's 'mothering'.

it is so vital for you to recognize how wrong she was, how unfair it was, how it was in no way, shape or form your fault. you're not the only one, and you don't have to let it affect the choices you make today.

some of the things i've found most helpful are focusing on a positive connection in my life as i nurse. calling my best friend while i nurse, emailing her, catching up on facebook, checking out a funny or interesting website, organizing photos online.

i also try positive physical input, like soaking my feet while i nurse, having another child brush my hair, massaging my own neck, eating a favorite treat.

performing necessary tasks while nursing can also help - sometimes sewing the mending keeps my focus off the physical claustrophobia and resentment that can begin to build during prolonged or vigorous nursing sessions.

i often clip all of the baby's nails, or apply ointment and band-aids to scrapes, clean their ears and so on. i manage to do these things with 2 on the breasts!

being able to talk about the feelings and intrusive thoughts you are having is also vital, in my opinion. make sure you have someone - even if it's just your therapist - that you can express these feelings to. or try writing them!

i find as time has gone on it's gotten easier with each child. the first was definitely the hardest! these are all the things i've done to help me maintain long-term breastfeeding (10 yrs straight now, most of those yrs w/ multiples).

i don't think i could have done it without the help of therapy and an understanding husband. he now knows if he doesn't want to get beaned in the head with a handy object, to not be too intrusive while i'm nursing, but to help provide distractions as needed.

figure out hat helps you most and stick with it. make sure people around you help to facilitate that routine. it's gotten to the point that i can now often nurse my 4 and 2 year olds with no distractions fairly often - something i thought was an unattainable luxury for me.

see how (safe) bedsharing works for you - nursing while barely wakeful is a wonderful state of suspended emotions and reactions for me and you're cuddling and snuggling your baby by default simply because you're sharing sleep in such close proximity!

good luck to you, i hope some of these things are helpful for you and that you continue to survive and overcome your abuse in such an admirable and life-giving fashion! we already have so many regrets and doubts, let's not let *not* breastfeeding be one of them.

Christina B said...

Anon, I am a SA survivor as well. I wasn't sure I could tolerate BFing at all, but I'm so glad I tried, and you too. I am bound and determined to provide a happier, healthier life than I was provided, and breastfeeding is part of that plan. I know how difficult it can be to sort out the different feelings and emotions that come up during nursing, but remembering why I'm doing it is key. When I watch my child nurse, and focus on how nourishing and completely non-sexual it is, I feel grounded rather than triggered. Like you, I cannot stand twiddling, so a nursing necklace to distract those little hands has been a lifesaver as well.

wkh said...

I was not sexually abused as a child, although I was sexually assaulted as a teen and adult on two separate occasions, and I could have written the exact same thing about How I Really Feel About Breastfeeding. I've never liked it. It's annoying. It bothers me. I find the feeling annoying at best and usually closer to irritating.

I often think we do a disservice by painting breastfeeding as this practically orgasmic magical epic experience. Maybe for some moms it is, but I always find it somewhat quizzical when I meet other moms who nursed and they say "Oh I just loved breastfeeding!" with big goopy grins on their faces. I always want to ask "REALLY?!"

It's really okay to not be super into it or like it. It just lasts a few minutes, and it's good for you. Sort of like eating broccoli and exfoliation and doing 20 minutes on the treadmill. There now, just suck it up and do it, it's not such a big deal!

Obviously, I wasn't much one for lazy nursing. However, my daughter weaned at 4.5, and my son is still nursing quite strongly at 18 months. It's really not so bad. You get over it, and it's certainly not the baby's fault I have these issues now is it? Why should they suffer for it?

Now if I was absolutely miserable and sobbing and having panic attacks? Sure, then I'd probably switch. But I'm not, and I don't think most women with "I hate breastfeeding!" feelings really are. It's usually more the "this is weird and awkward" variety, and irritation/annoyance. And that's okay. Just suck it up.

MacBump said...

I'm not wild about nursing either, which is why I'm almost always NAK. That helps me forget all the other sensations going on at the time. :-P

Otherwise, I go to bed and try to sleep while the baby nurses. :-)

Shusmita said...

Like many other girls from all around the world, I was abused brutally and repeatedly; by one of my very close relative (!) at the age of 9/10. I was very young and did not have the power to express the act of my relative to anyone. I don’t know how but one day something happened and one of our maids saw him doing abusing things with me and she rescued me. It was long time back and I still have bad nights thinking over this. Being a person from a conservative society, I could bring myself to share this with anyone and I guess the maid also didn’t share it with anyone. Thus I did not get any support and think I got out of this somehow.

Now I am all grown up and didn’t get married yet. One of the reasons I think for not getting married is I might fear the whole idea of physical relationship. I have a fear that I might not be able to satisfy that person totally, and bring only bad things to the relationship. I have the greatest wish of having babies (and of course breastfeed them) and still I can’t bring myself of having one. Dear Morgan and the writer of the blog (I am not saying you name) thank you for this post.

Anonymous said...


being aware of these issues and potential problems so far in advance is half the battle! all you have to do is determine to keep in mind that you have these issues, find a partner you can trust enough to share them with who will not push you into things you aren't ready for too quickly, and determine to overcome those issues to do the things you didn't think you could, one tiny step at a time.

the best we can do is take the travesties life deals us and try to make them worth it. if i had to go through that and it has to be part of my personal history - a thing nobody would ever want to claim as the story of their childhood - then i'm damn well going to give it a happy ending and make it worth it.

somebody made me horrified and ashamed about my own body & self. well, i'm going to turn that around and use my body & self for the greater good: to love another person joyfully, to nurture life, to nourish a child (x5!) selflessly.

there, now what does that do to the memory of the terrible things my body once endured? poof! they matter hardly at all now and i stand proudly in my robe of flesh, knowing that it and i have conquered the injustices it was made unwilling party to
with grace, humility and gratitude.

you are going to make a wonderful wife and mother someday and that's not the same thing as saying it is all going to be easy - but i have found that the best things in life never are - therefore when i read of your frustrations, doubts and struggles, i think you are right on track to remaining aware of what you have to do and how much work it is going to be.

- when you find the person worth starting that job with, i know you will do it without hesitation or regrets and have the luckiest family in the world for it!


Anonymous said...

here's another post on this topic:

Anonymous said...

i am trying to do the right thing. i was a victim of incest for 14 years. then i was sexually and physically abused through my teens and twenties. my baby is three months old now and nursing him has made my life hell, but i can't stop. i feel like he is abusing me. i feel like i am dead inside. i don't want my abusers to win, but i can't seem to make it ok. distractions, counseling, all that... when i sleep nurse, i fall back asleep and have nightmares about sex, wake up sobbing... i'm on medication, but it doesn't help. i don't know what to do. i want him to have breastmilk because the formula makes him sick with GI issues. i don't know how much longer i can live like this. it's all fine to say that women who were sexually abused can nurse. but there is already so much pressure to nurse, you feel like you are hurting your baby to not nurse. when i googled breastfeeding sex abuse this was the first post i got. nobody can tell me how to transform this experience so i am not getting retraumatized. my therapist says to stop because there are not the resources available to help me with the body issues. still, every time i turn around it feels like i am being recriminated for not nursing. and now it feels like either i give him the milk that is making me sicker and sicker, or give him formula and make him sick and that does not seem like any choice at all. it makes me just want to run away.

Morgan said...

Hi Anonymous,

First things first. Being a good mother comes first. That's what your baby needs. A good mother. You may need to give up nursing to be a good mother. We don't know that yet, but it may be the way forward. Don't think about it as nursing = good, formula feeding = bad. This isn't true. A happy sane mother is better than no mother at all. I have friends who had had to wean as they needed breast cancer treatment. Did they regret weaning too early? Of course they did. Was it the correct decision? Of course it was.

If you need to give up to stay sane and to raise your child in a healthy manner - then you give up. It's a simple equation.

It's not a simple process, but it is a simple reality.

Whether or not you can find someplace to make it safe, is another issue. Hopefully, others here can suggest things.

But it's important that you know YOU CAN WEAN AND STILL BE A GREAT MUM, if that's what you and baby need.

What I suggest, is you sort through the two voices inside you. The one that says you can't do this, and the one that says you WANT to do this.

If you truly WANT to make the breastfeeding happen, we're here to support you. If you don't want it, but feel you SHOULD, then we're here to support you in finding what works for you. We will support you to wean, if that's what it takes, to make you a happy and healthy Mama to your baby.

But we'll also bust a gut trying to make it happen, if that is what YOU want.

We understand this isn't you. We understand this is your abuser. We understand you don't need to carry this alone. We understand we can help you, and bypass the abuser. In whatever way it takes. If helping you to wean and bottle feed, so you can be more content, is what it takes to by-pass your abuser, we will do that.

We want you to be a happy, healthy Mama. To raise your baby.

We don't give a flying fuck about your abuser. But we do care for you.


Comment me your email address, in confidence, if you want direct contact. Otherwise, just keep answering here.

You are not alone, and you do not have to do everything yourself. :-)

We're here.

jack said...

i'm so sorry to hear this is so hard for you, truly. it shouldn't have to be this way.
you need to get at the root of why you can't separate from your past abuse.
you don't state your current age, is it still very recent?
is your baby a product of sexual abuse, by any chance?
you say your abuse took the form of incest - are the abusers still in your life?
were you ever able to bring the abuse to light in your family, or has it been kept secret?
have you tried intensive psychotherapy in addition to or instead of just medications - really talking all this out with a therapist you can see several times a week to start?
who prescribed you the medications you're on now? do you feel comfortable discussing these feelings with them and perhaps having your medications adjusted?
is there no relief at all for you when breastfeeding? no positions, distractions or other people around that make it any more bearable, at all?
do you have any feelings or instincts whatsoever about what might help make it easier?
would pumping and giving your baby your milk via another method be more tolerable for you, until you can get a handle on the severe emotional trauma having him/her directly at the breast is causing?
breastfeeding your baby directly at your breast really is best for both of you, but if the sexual abuse you suffered is still actively traumatizing you, there are other options you can explore.
please let us know the answers to the questions above and let's see if we can help you find the option that is right for you and your baby.

Justine said...

Have you read or heard about D-MER? It is Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex and happens to plenty of momma's...some are survivors of SA and some are not. D-MER can cause mothers to feel intense and negative emotions while they are breastfeeding including some of the symptoms you spoke of. I have it and I can say that KNOWING what it is, that it is hormonal and not 'something wrong with me' has helped immensely. I am also a tandem nurser and momma to many...although my symptoms have never gone away, I feel better knowing that the feelings are normal.

FangedFaerie said...

I don't think anyone should be "pressured" to breastfeed, but I think all moms should be encouraged to give it a try, and to be given accurate information and support for their health and the health of their babies. That often means balancing physical and mental needs, and not every abuse victim is going to feel empowered by breastfeeding, any more than every abuse victim should write the whole thing off and go straight to formula.

Heather said...

Anonymous @ 11:21
Have you considered getting donor milk for him? That way, he has what he needs not to be sick and you don't have to nurse and make yourself sick? Or can you exclusively pump? (I can't, so I sympathize if you can't)

As for me... I was only assaulted once as far as I know (threatened when I was 11, but I attacked him before he could do what he'd said he was going to--and I was kicked out of school for it), but I have all those same feelings. No magic hormone rush, absolutely NO nipple twiddling and if baby's asleep, they're not nursing, period. They nurse to sleep, but I absolutely cannot abide sleep-nursing.

I went 4 1/2 years with my first and I'm currently nursing my 27 month old and am 15 weeks pregnant as of tomorrow. I don't like nursing, but I do it for my kids. To me, I'm not doing the best for them, I'm doing the least I can do.

Until I was nursing, I, too, hated my breasts. I hated everything about them--but it wasn't due to sexual abuse, it was because they're ugly (though my husband disagrees vehemently) and have been a source of mockery against me since I was 15 years old. Now they have a reason to exist and they aren't just painful lumps of flesh to me. They're life-giving.

So, nursing was healing for me, too, though I wasn't abused sexually.

jack said...

i just got on here to check and see if you'd replied yet and read my response to you again. suddenly i don't like it. i wrote that this morning, when i was ready to start my day and conquer the world. the social worker in me was ready to solve every body's problems.
now, tonight i am tired and run down and battered by the world and in re-reading your post, i feel your pain resonating in that all-too familiar way.
there's no point in trying to diagnose and pinpoint why breastfeeding is this emotionally traumatic for you, there's no more time to waste talking about therapy and medications if you feel it's making you this sick to breastfeed and it makes your baby that sick not to.
if pumping your milk causes you the same difficulty, i hope you will make contact here again and learn about the informal milk sharing networks online today. you can still give your baby breastmilk and keep both of you healthy. wishing you the best!

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC said...

Hi Morgan and all the other moms who posted:
Thanks so much for sharing your stories. What you have shared is really consistent with the stories moms have told me for the past 15 years. As one mom said, "I never really liked breastfeeding, but I learned to tolerate it. And that was enough. I knew it was important to do."
I did want to also give you a little preview of some of the research findings we have on this. In our Survey of Mothers' Sleep and Fatigue, we ended up with 994 women who reported sexual assault or rape, as a child, teen or adult. Sexually assaulted women breastfed in exactly the same numbers as non-assaulted women. Sexual assault caused lots of problems with sleep and there were an increased risk for depression--exactly what we would expect based on previous research. But here is where it gets good. When we looked at the effect of feeding method on these outcomes, breastfeeding lessened the traumatic effect of sexual assault--in pretty much every variable we looked at. There was still an effect, but it was a lot less. And when people jump in and suggest that moms use formula, they don't realize that that can actually make the trauma symptoms worse. It's really pretty amazing.

So hang in there and give yourselves a big pat on the back. You are doing great things for your babies--and your future health.
Kathy Kendall-Tackett

Anonymous said...

I am also a survivor of sexual abuse, and was abused into my teens and at that time that involved having my breasts fondled. When I was pregnant with my first child, I thought I could not breastfeed because I was not a cow (I was raised on a dairy farm) and didn't like the idea of that AT ALL!

After I had the baby in my arms, the nurse asked me if I wanted to try it. I said 'OK' and then went on to feed my child who self-weaned at 4. I had a second child and that child self-weaned at almost 3.

I went through periods where I couldn't stand it but knew that I would regret it if I stopped the process. I pushed through those moments and then they self-weaned eventually. I have no regrets about doing it that way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, courageous women who've posted here. You inspire me.

Whether you can breastfeed or you cannot, you are breaking the chains that the patriarchy loaded on you, bringing up children who will be strong and loving. You are awesome.

It's your right to breastfeed if you want to. Nobody has the right to take that away from you. These wonderful friends are here to help. If you want to stop, the same support is here for you.

S said...

oh ANon up there
please please get a new therapist!!
could you email an LC and get some help like that ?
perhaps donor milk will help human milk for human babies have chapters globally so you can get some rest and nurse when you feel up to it and give donor milk when you feel bad

Anonymous said...

something that I myself can vouche for is that part of the fear in breastfeeding as a woman whose suffered sexual assault especially as a young child is, are they going to remember being breastfed and how are they going to remember it. I also found breastfeeding to be healing because the mother gets to dictate how her body is being used, the way you body is being handled. Not to mention the emotion during the act of breast feeding is completely different then anything sexual it's one that makes it hard to not look at yourself and your body in a different light. It shows you as a woman that you are worth more then just a sexual object you are an invaluable to the life of another being.

sadmama said...

thank you so much for the kind words of encouragement. i posted that in desperation, because i feel desperate. my primary abuser died years ago, others are still alive and still in my life. i have unresolved issues, i know. i had a very difficult pregnancy, it was hard and i had a lot of PTSD stuff... there was a lot more support then. but now, there is not so much support. the health workers here just tell me to stop breastfeeding if i can't do it, but i don't know how to make it okay inside myself to stop, even as i am losing touch with reality. i know i am losing touch with reality but every time i try to stop i feel the most agonizing grief. i don't know how to get through this. i do not feel in control of the nursing experience, i don't know how to feel in control of something that is happening like this to my body. my husband says he has lost me. i feel lost. i can't think straight. if i were outside myself, i would try to help me stop, but i am so compelled to do it and knowing that the formula makes him sick to his stomach makes it almost impossible. i wish i had not continued the pregnancy. if i had known it would be like this, i would not. i am really at the end of my mind. i have tried reaching out to psych here but they are more concerned in calling social services on me, and then social services says that they can't help me and my son is not at risk. he is not at risk, i am. we have a fucked up system here. i just feel so isolated.
thank you for the link about the breast milk ejection thing. i am going to go read that after i put down the baby. every time i nurse it is like i have been eviscerated. it feels like the bottom has gone out of my stomach and i want to hurt myself or run away.
i love my baby. i keep hoping this is going to get better. thank you. i would take any advice about how to make this better. i knew i was up against a lot because of my history but i was determined to be a better mother than my own. and now i understand, maybe, why she was not a good mother, since she was also a victim of incest.

Morgan said...

Hi Sadmama,

Please do look into the DMER thing. There is a good website on d-mer dot org. Dmer can be treated, and you can get direct support from the website.

Also, if you let us know where you are, we can try and get human milk to you for your baby, so you are not facing giving your baby something that's making him sick.

Having a baby is like being hit by a bus. Every mother has struggled, even if only for a few moments. Most have felt trapped and not sure how on earth they can cope with this tiny life depending on them.

It is so overwhelming, at times, to feel this tiny perfect being, only has you, and you are not up to it. Equally, you can feel so powerless and useless, when tiny perfect being won't stop crying and nothing you do makes a difference. Those are perfectly normal feelings and reactions. :-)

Motherhood isn't come great secret everyone else is good at naturally, and you are crap at. Every baby is different, and every new mother has an entire world change to deal with.

It can get better, it does get better. We need to find a way to support you in keeping on in there, whilst it get's better.