I have come across a site called "Milk For Thought". They are putting together a bus tour and going to the cities where they are wanted the most to promote breastfeeding. I think it is great what they are doing so I have decided to try and get involved and see if we can get them to come to Grand Rapids! One of the features on their site is a place to share your breastfeeding story. I'm always willing to share my experiences, so, I began to write - but had no idea that this is what was about to pour out of me.
This is a very personal story, but I felt that it was worth sharing. I am not ashamed of my past because I know that I have gained great knowledge and strength from it. I love who I am and know that I would not be here if I hadn't been there. So, here goes - my story of how birth and breastfeeding impacted me as a sexual abuse and abandonment survivor:
My mother breastfed me for awhile, though, I'm not exactly sure how long. What I am sure of is that by the time I was one my mother had better things to do than to fully accept the responsibility of a child. Through these years I lived with my mother only occasionally and when I did I was often subjected to harmful people who fed on little girls of mothers like mine. When I wasn't living with my mother I was shuffled between relatives and eventually ended up in foster care. I was an angry teen and I was really good at expressing it.
I got pregnant with my first child at 16. His father was a con-artist from Indianapolis (at least, that's where I met him) who had committed a crime and was essentially on the run when he came to be with me here in Michigan (I did not know about the crime part of the story at the time). I, desperate to get out of a small town and find some sort of stability or "family" of my own couldn't turn down the "love" (or escape?) he was offering and within months I was pregnant. Shortly after I realized he was crazy.....and on some dangerous drugs which made him delusional. I left him and had my baby on my own almost exactly two months after I turned 17.
When I was pregnant with Calvin I really believed that I would somehow create the family that I had never known. That this baby would be the first person to come along who would not reject me, who would love me unconditionally and teach me about motherhood - something I desired a connection to strongly. I also felt like this would be my way of reclaiming my body as my own and as my childs. I expected my inner "mama bear" to kick in and protect not only my child, but me as well. As I waited for him to come I didn't give a lot of consideration to many of the decisions I was making. I just knew what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. My birth would be natural or with just narcotics (epidurals have always given me the willies) and I would breastfeed. These things just made sense to me and I never once considered that I would not be able to accomplish them.
The birth, though almost 3 weeks past due, went basically "as planned". I received Stadol and he did end up getting the vacuum used on him. I did not really know what was expected of me after I had him, though. I remember being in shock and repeating "Oh my god, he's out. There he is." in total disbelief. I did not want to try to breastfeed right away - I do not know why, and no one ever really told me that I should have. As I was transferred to the maternity ward Calvin went with the nurse and was given a bottle (without my knowledge). When he returned and I eventually tried to breastfeed he refused to latch....and he never latched. I worked very hard with a lactation consultant and even stayed an extra day in the hospital to work on it and nothing. I felt so completely rejected...and alone.
I did not know it at the time, but, I was developing some pretty hard core PPD. Now, instead of rebelling against my mother and my absent father and all of the things that had happened to me, I was rebelling against motherhood. I left Calvin with my foster parents often and partied for days. I abused and pushed myself to the limits of life and I believe there were times I came close to going completely over the edge. But, I held on. Somehow. Then, I met Shawn.
Shawn was my mechanic, we went on a date and we've been together ever since. Minus a few bumps in the road. Our third wedding anniversary may be next week (6.21.08) - but we've been together for 12.5 years now. Something about Shawn made me feel safe and to this day he is the closest thing that has ever felt like "home" to me. He took Calvin and I, and all of my crazy baggage and never left my side. When Calvin was 4.5 we welcomed our first child together, Kiyra. Another natural birth, but this time she took right to the breast and fed beautifully. This moment transformed me. Not only did it bring our family completely together, I was feeling better emotionally and much more ready to be a mother. I was actually enjoying the experience and I was very proud of the fact that she was nursing well. We never needed to supplement and she self weaned at around 1 year old.
Something interesting happened to me through being a breastfeeding mother. I suddenly felt powerful and alive! I felt the truest of connection between a mother and a child, and I was there for my children as much as a mother possibly could be. These were big things to me. And, I always felt sexy, but breastfeeding made me feel beautiful. I felt like I was part of nature, which was important to me and resonated with me deeply. It was just so right.
I can not put into words the effect this had on me fully, but, I began to talk about birth and breastfeeding and advocate for it. I also attended my first birth around this time for a friend of mine. The experience left me profoundly aware that I was good at something. I was completely unaware, however, that there was actually a name for it until years later - when another friend requested me to attend her birth as well.
Once I had attended a couple of births and was introduced to the term "doula" and what they did it was like a revelation. "I'm a doula!", I thought excitedly. I began to do research and take in as much information as I could. It was around this time when I figured out that I had probably been suffering from some severe PPD along with the PTSD from my childhood when Calvin was born. I spent a lot of time forgiving myself and others and healing from those wounds that I had not only received - but inflicted. This was also around the time that I married Shawn. We tied the feathers in a traditional Native ceremony and every regret, every piece of sorrow faded away from that moment on. Exactly one week later we found out that we were expecting our third child.
I was overjoyed to learn of this pregnancy. We were much older now and we have so much love to give. Sure, there was a significant age difference in the children (Kiyra was now 7), but, I didn't care. I thought it was wonderful. Unfortunately at 10 weeks I had a miscarriage which left me a complete shell of a person. I had gone through a couple of other miscarriages before, but I have never wanted a baby so much. This was on a whole other level of depression because I really felt like that might be it for us. Shawn thought we might be better off not having another, but I now had a deep desire to have a baby. Then my best friend got pregnant. Then quite literally about 85% of ALL of my close circle girlfriends got pregnant. And, as badly as I wanted to, I simply could not find an ounce of happiness that I could genuinely express for them. I felt terrible about that, but I was in such a state of grief that I simply couldn't even fake it. I knew, however, that I wanted to work with pregnant mothers. And, I also knew I was going to HAVE to get over this and find my peace with all of my beautiful friends having babies. As soon as I decided to "let it go" we found out we were pregnant again.
Zander was born 9.7.09 completely naturally and was put right to my breast. My daughter was right by my side the entire time. My husband, son and mother in law also in attendance. He nursed for 1 hour and 12 minutes that first feeding. I cried because I was so proud that I finally felt 100% like I was in control of my life, my body and my choices - and that I was making the best and wisest decisions that I could. There was no more self destruction - only the giving of this love. By choosing to evolve through my life, by taking the things that have been difficult and turning them into lessons that I can grow and become stronger from. I had fully evolved from a scared, hurt, motherless child into an informed, strong, beautiful mother.
Zander is now 22 months old and he is still nursing. I have fully embraced becoming a doula and have become a babywearing, breastfeeding and natural birth advocate. I have also co-coordinated a breast milk donation drive locally to support a baby in need on the east side of our state as well as making a line of handmade nursing supplies for mothers everywhere. I worked for a lactation consultant for a year and learned a great deal about breastfeeding technique, troubleshooting as well as the emotional aspect of it from many different perspectives.
Breastfeeding is certainly a journey, as is parenting. Every individual will have a different experience even from child to child. I do not judge people who can not breastfeed, or who quit when they maybe did not need to because I know that few people have all the information or support they actually need. I can not judge women for the choices they make under these circumstances. All I can do is hope to spread the knowledge of how wonderful birth and breastfeeding can be, to provide the information so that they can make informed choices. I believe very strongly that we can create stronger bonds and better starts for babies everywhere and that ultimately this could heal ourselves and even the world.