Below is my journey with healing from sexual abuse and it's relevance to my experience of the breastfeeding relationship. I will include some more online resources about breastfeeding and sexual abuse at the end of this post....
When I was nineteen weeks pregnant with my daughter my breasts began leaking colostrum and at that moment, at twenty-four years of age, I discovered that I had breasts. Prior to that moment I had lived in denial about my womanly bust, ignoring it because to think, see, or touch them was to acknowledge the sexual abuse I survived as teenager.
My daughter and I have been breastfeeding for almost 14 months. There have been challenges throughout that time, but none greater than being confronted by the sexual abuse of my past.
Sometimes her suckling at my breast, or tweaking the nipple on the other breast while feeding (which is one of her methods for prompting milk production in that breast) causes me to have flash backs and I confused her presence at my breasts with his; the abuser. There have been moments when I have cried and begged her to stop, feeling the fear and shame from a decade ago. But she doesn't stop, of course, because she knows that her life depends upon my breasts and I don't force her to stop because I am her mother and accept my responsibility to do right by her and meet her basic human needs.
I seek help to heal from the abuse, because that is the real problem, not breastfeeding. Why should I let a pervert from my past abuse my daughter through me by denying her what is her birthright?
Were it not for breastfeeding I would not have sought help. It is so easy for women to mistreat themselves as others have done and to continue abusing themselves long after their abusers are gone. Breastfeeding has brought an end to this for me, because with a hungry baby to care for, it's not just about me anymore.
A friend of mine sent me a link to an article by Kate Joester, another feminist mother who discovered the healing power of breastfeeding. Like me, this woman survived the sexual abuse of her breasts and like me she discovered the power of reclaiming her breasts through breastfeeding:
"The first thing I did for my children as babies was provide for them, all by myself. Physically, I had it in me to give them all they needed. I hate that so many women don’t believe that of themselves and bemused that handing that capacity over to someone else is seen by some as liberating...After 28 years in a culture where women’s bodies belong to pretty much anyone but them, it was only my children that showed me that my body, even mine, belongs to me to give." (Emphasis added).
Beyond The Abuse: breastfeeding after sexual violation by Gwen Morrison
Breastfeeding After Sexual Abuse by Le Leche League
Breastfeeding and The Sexual Abuse Survivor by Penny Simkin
Breastfeeding as a Survivor of Sexual Abuse by Morgan Gallagher
Breastfeeding: radical, feminist and good for you by Kate Joester
The Long Shadow: adult survivors of childhood abuse by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC
Note: I really can't thank my lactivist friends enough for their genuine support throughout my journey.