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.