The first is that I have never feared childbirth. Well before my views on childbirth were shaped by becoming a labour doula, I never feared the pain of labour. I didn't fear it before I had children, while I was carrying/birthing twins, or now that I'm carrying a singleton. In fact I used to want to be a surrogate just so for the pregnancy and popping babies out (though now I realize I loath being pregnant, so that plan is less attractive to me now). I see the pain as a challenge to be conquered, a rite of passage, something that can only ever be experienced a handful of times, an adrenaline rush, and an important part of bringing life into the world. I don't expect other women or my clients to feel the same way as I do. But I do understand that the less fear a woman has surrounding birth, the more at ease and empowered she becomes and thus the less pain she will experience (this is called "the fear-tension-pain cycle" -see below for further resources), so I strive to help friends and clients find strength within themselves to conquer any/all fears around childbirth. I have so much confidence, even excitement at the thought of childbirth that it provides such a strange juxtaposition to my other confession:
I fear breastfeeding in public. And I'm a breastfeeding advocate.
As the weeks tick closer to meeting my newest baby I find my anxiety at the thought of nursing in public rising. I'm so, so relaxed about preparing for the baby: I haven't bothered buying equipment or preparing a second bedroom, when it comes to birthing I'm so relaxed I would be happy to squat in a field and catch my baby unattended (don't worry mum, thats not the plan! lol), so relaxed that the fact that we have to buy a new vehicle to fit this child with zero money barely finds its way into my conscious worry. But nursing in public, terrifies me, it keeps me awake at night.
As a doula I am often spouting the wonders of breastfeeding, helping clients get the breastfeeding relationship started off well and to have confidence and pride in themselves as they nourish their infant whether its at home or out in the world, covered or uncovered. I truly believe that breasts are for babies first and that the breastfeeding relationship is one of the most beautiful and purest exchanges of love between mother and infant. And I believe that there is no shame in breastfeeding in public. Or at least should be no shame. In reality many of us feel it. From the negative influence of culture we are raised in, to the dark demons of our own tainted self image. From the time we are little girls we are taught to be modest and hide our bodies and then all of a sudden as young teens, and even preteens we are noticing that the world praises beauty and sexuality, and that bare skin turns the eyes and attention of men and women alike. We are caught between hiding our natural form out of shame and flaunting it for attention. There are many factors why mothers may feel shame while breastfeeding in public and many other articles written about those influences. I am aware that much of my struggle with bringing my children to my breast comes from the culture around me, but there is also a deeper and darker issue at play than outside influences. You see I'm a sexual abuse survivor. At least I have survived in many other aspects of life. Through lots of healing I have overcome my resulting post traumatic stress disorder. I've been able to forgive my assaulters. I have a healthy, happy marriage and sex life. And I am able to share my personal journey with other sexual abuse survivors. But when it comes to breastfeeding I realized I am not a survivor in this area but still a victim. I know I can't control the minds of men around me. I know that a man can and will lust over me and objectify me in his mind without me even having to be present, let alone breastfeeding in front of him. And more importantly I know I am not responsible for the "sins" of another's mind. However, what I *know* intellectually to be true and what I *feel* are at odds with each other.
Sexual abuse destroys to the core of your being. Its ugly fingers will reach out to touch every part of your life. Breastfeeding is not always immune to the affects of abuse. I know I am not alone. I once asked a friend who is a lactation consultant if in the 20+ years she has been helping breastfeeding mothers if she has had clients who have been victims of sexual abuse. She replied with sadness in her voice, "Yes many. And I have never seen one meet their breastfeeding goals yet."
I wasn't able to exclusively breastfeed my twins. Originally I had enough milk to feed triplets, but because of my discomfort at nursing in public, I often turned to pumping my milk and bottling it for outings. Also when I was out in public and my boys were hungry I would give them pumped milk. While they were sipping on their bottles my breasts were engorged, which meant I would have to ignore the pain or pump again. The cycle of ignoring my engorgement or pumping lowered my milk supply. A mother produces milk as she is actively breastfeeding, pumping can lower milk supply because a nursing baby is more efficiant at building a mother's supply. And skipping a pumping or nursing session is even more detrimental to supply because it tells your body that you have no baby to feed, so it doesn't produce as much milk. By the time my boys were 10 months old, the majority of their bottles were formula and by 12mths my once abundant milk supply had completely dried up.
Some people may think: "Why not just nurse in private if you feel so uncomfortable? Or why not cover?" Well first if mothers are to meet their breastfeeding goals, nursing in private can prove a great barrier. I found this to be true when I was struggling to nurse my twins. You see babies get hungry A LOT and its not always predictable and its not controllable. Having to stay home and never leave the house in case your baby gets hungry or being in public and having drop your groceries/latte/get off the bus and run around looking for a backroom/bathroom/change room/alleyway while your baby cries in frustration to nurse in is a real pain and discouraging. Also not all babies, especially those older than 3 months like to nurse under a cover, they sweat, squirm, bite, cry and flail wildly. And arguably a nursing cover sometimes draws more attention than just simply holding your baby in your arms.
There are a plethora of reasons for me to get out of the nursing closet but the most important one for me is: This is something I need to do, this is for healing. When I'm in public and my little one starts to fuss, I will tell myself: "This is for healing. My breasts are good. They do not belong to anyone except myself. They have been used, abused, objectified, but THIS is good and this is my choice!" I will stand up to the shame and say, "No, not this time. I am not a victim. I will not hide." You see I believe that, like birthing, the less fear a woman has about nursing in public the more successful she will be in nursing overall. I want to conquer this challenge, to find complete healing, and be an example to so many other women who are struggling in the same way as me.
See when you tell someone to cover up, you don't know what kind of damage you are doing to them. You could be unintentionally retraumatizing them.You could be reinforcing this belief that their bodies are shameful, dirty, that breastfeeding is some how wrong and sexual, that they need to be small, unseen, and hidden. These are lies. Lies that plague too many women, too many victims. NO! Breastfeeding is natural, breastfeeding is good, breastfeeding is beautiful, breastfeeding is about choice, its about love, life and nourishment. And breastfeeding can be an agent of healing! I want to be healed. I want to be a part of others' journeys of healing. If I'm nursing in public I want to have a smile of peace on my face and feel peace in my soul.
The choice of how and to whom I lost my virginity was taken from me but the choice of how and where I feed my baby is my own. Isn't that what empowerment in maternal healthcare is about? Isn't that was motherhood is about? Choice.
|Giving one of my boys a bottle of pumped milk during a photoshoot. I was too nervous to nurse in front of the photographer. The boys cried for most of the shoot because I hadn't pumped enough.|
***Disclaimer: This is an article written as part of my personal healing journey and to convey to others with honesty how sexual abuse and breastfeeding can be intimately linked with each other. These are my OWN my personal thoughts and feelings regarding my journey as a sexual abuse survivor and my struggles with breastfeeding. In NO WAY do I want other mothers who have experienced sexual abuse to feel that they have to breastfeed in order to find healing or that by not breastfeeding they are some how still victims of sexual abuse. I also do know a few women who are abuse survivors and have had no problems breastfeeding, so this isn't going to be a struggle for all survivors. For some, breastfeeding may be retraumatizing and not an appropriate step in their healing journey. If you are struggling with these issues find comfort in knowing you are not alone. There are many resources out there. I personally will be sharing this blog with my midwives and therapist so that they can be better support for me throughout the rest of my pregnancy and postpartum experience. Reach out, find your support system. <3
Links about the "Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle":