she has fallen and now she is awake

On healing

I truly believe being pregnant and breastfeeding has healed me of traumas I never imagined I’d be able to be rid of.

As a child, I was a control freak. My father was an angry man and an alcoholic. His relationship with his mother was not the best and when I hit puberty our relationship became even worse. Periods of hatred and anger got longer and longer. Exacerbated by my parent’s misguided notions of the ‘safety’ of small town living (their version “you know who the bad people are!” my version “but no-one believes you because they’re friends and relatives!”) and my own awkwardness. I had a period where I randomly and uncontrollably began crying and refused to leave my room. I still managed decent grades, but my social life was shattered and I was not well. When I left home it didn’t get better, but it didn’t get worse.

Then, like one in four, one in six, one in however many your statistics say, I was raped. I fell apart in a manner entirely indistinguishable from most people my age. I drank to excess. I made bad decisions. I hated myself. Then I began self-injuring. Then I began contemplating suicide. Then I attempted suicide. Then I drank some more.

Then I got medicated. Then I got therapy. Then I got into a healthy relationship. Then I began to heal and function.

I still wasn’t okay though. I was triggered most days – we live in a rape culture and I was a rape victim. I spent a lot of time on edge and feeling out of control. This is a great explanation of triggering and the types of triggers – a bad one could set me back for days. A really bad one would set me back to fantasising my own death. Still, I managed to survive it and get to a place where I could be happy. I got a job, I got married, I bought a house.

I moved, I got a different job and decided to start a family.

I came off the anti-depressants, tapering down over a month, two months before I started trying to get pregnant. Six months after that I got pregnant. I was terrified the entire time – will I get sick again? Can I handle this? Before I got pregnant I had brief dips into unhelpful coping strategies and anxiety. While I was pregnant I was amazed – is this what it’s like to be normal? To not be depressed? I had anxiety issues (but what mother doesn’t?) and they were manageable. I had one panic attack, right towards the end. Then the anxiety about breastfeeding began.

My breasts were one area that I could never really rid myself of triggers about. I hated any sort of touching unless I was already aroused – a trigger thanks to years and years of having large breasts and society being completely and totally fucked up about breasts. I was terrified of breastfeeding. I wanted to do it, it’s the best thing I could do and totally normal and totally acceptable. My mother is a huge breastfeeding advocate but my anxiety and reluctance were so high she was even accepting that I might end up using formula.

The time came and she fed and it was hard. So hard. The pregnancy hormones that seemed to keep me sane were wearing down and instead I was being bombarded with more emotion than I knew how to handle. BunBun was so tiny and little  and wouldn’t latch properly and my breasts were even bigger and hurt and I felt like my body was just a failure. I not only couldn’t do pregnancy right, but breastfeeding sucked as well. We persevered though, through small gains and jaundice, nipple shields and painful nipples, bad nights and bad days. We got there. The nipples healed, the jaundice came good after a while, she worked out how to latch so we ditched the nipple shields and she began gaining well. It all came good.

Except the triggering. Being triggered by my beautiful tiny daughter felt so wrong. My little bubby. BunBun, throwing me into a storm of angst and hurt. And I couldn’t stop. I had to feed her. Yes, I can express and I do, but that was just as bad. Moreso in some ways, having to be confronted and seeing my breasts. I hadn’t realised how little I look at them, or touch them, or even consider them in any way beyond I hate these fucking things. How much longer could that continue? How badly was this going to affect every aspect of breastfeeding? So I grit my teeth and worked – harder than I think I ever have on this thing that follows me. This aspect of being a survivor that I tend to ignore. I fed her on demand. I sat with my breasts out at home. I went braless whenever possible. I allowed BunBun to pat my breasts. I bore the tiny little scratches with something that came to resemble pride. I thought long and hard about how I want this relationship to be. What I model for my daughter. What was taken from me by the men who stared and accidentally bumped into  me and the boys who grabbed and the men who groped and the friends who sniggered and the women who told me it was my fault and the men who told me I wanted it and the sheer weight of a culture that thinks breasts are public property. I thought about the real point of these things on my chest. The real weight of eons behind me, the millions of women who breastfed. That this was not just about breastfeeding my daughter. This was about building a relationship with her that I worked for and worked on and that she, above anything else, made me care about myself. Made me strong. Made me regard my breasts and powerful and giving instead of these things that single me out for mistreatment and awkward proposals of lust. Made me realise that my body can work and do and make my daughter and make her strong.

Eventually it got easier, to believe in my body. It hurt less, which helped. It became part and parcel of what I do. I watched her grow and get bigger and do more got proud of what I was doing. What my body was doing.

What my breasts were doing, were making.

So, I healed. That scar from years of casual abuse and constant derision became almost unnoticeable. Like any wound I know it was there and in that knowing it can result in tremors, but I don’t flinch from myself in the mirror. I don’t resent my daughter feeding. I look at my breasts with pride and not revulsion. I believe with every fibre of my being that breastfeeding healed me of that scar.

This I believe.


4 responses to “On healing

  1. Sinead at Breastfeeding Mums October 11, 2009 at 04:43

    This is such a beautifully told story and I wanted to thank you for it. I am so sorry that you had to experience the trauma of rape and the awful after-effects of it for so long but it is so good that you have a beautiful baby daughter and that you have come to accept your body. It’s a testament to your strength as a woman and as a mother that you have overcome so many obstacles in order to get where you are today and to have been able to share the beautiful gift of breastfeeding with your baby.

    Good luck with everything and I hope and pray you continue to enjoy being a breastfeeding mother 🙂

    Sinead xox

  2. Lara November 8, 2009 at 20:33

    Thank you for telling your story. I am training to be a breastfeeding counsellor, and though we get training in physical issues, your story is a reminder that not all problems are physical.

    Thank you for sharing your insights.

    • geekanachronism November 8, 2009 at 21:15

      I hope it comes in handy for you – I know it’s an issue that’s hard to talk about. That’s wonderful that you’re becoming a counsellor, we need as many caring breastfeeding counsellors as possible!

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