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A Healing Experience

Sue Zwicker
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 5, 2008, p. 27

As a 35-year-old in my first pregnancy, I was well aware of breastfeeding's health benefits for my baby. I intended to give it a try; but I knew I had some emotional barriers to overcome first. From age 14 to 15, I suffered sexual trauma at the hands of an older boyfriend. Twenty years later, I still carried some emotional scars and was hypersensitive about having my breasts touched without my explicit permission.

The idea of breastfeeding panicked me. How could I possibly give over that highly sensitive part of my body to another's constant need? When I discovered I was pregnant, I sought counseling, but it took me a couple of tries to find a therapist who was the right fit. The first coached me in "self touch," but didn't seem to get it that that was not my issue. I moved on after one session.

The second therapist was quick to understand my issue, and to tailor her therapy based upon my reactions. After having me write letters to my ex was ineffective, she moved onto a combination of talk therapy and visualizations. In a hypnotic state, she had me "go to" a safe and beautiful place, hold and kiss my beautiful baby, and be totally comfortable and at ease before bringing the baby to my breast. These visualizations were very helpful to me, and while I still doubted I would endure breastfeeding beyond the colostrum stage, I felt a little less panicked at the idea of trying. Whenever I thought about breastfeeding, I would make myself flash upon my safe place, and imagine a beautiful and nurturing moment with my child.

In those first few days after my beautiful daughter was born, the hardest parts of breastfeeding turned out not to be emotional at all, but rather positioning her, and getting her to open her mouth wide enough to get my breast in. Once she was latched on, she was a champion nurser, and I was amazed to feel the strong contractions as my uterus shrank down to its pre-pregnancy proportions. Breastfeeding, I found, was one of the most beautiful and intimate acts I had ever participated in (giving birth was right up there too!), and I found I treasured those quiet moments with my baby. Through La Leche League and my own experience with my daughter, I soon learned that nursing was also much more than a way to feed my daughter, but also a way to nurture her emotionally. As my now two-year-old son says after a big emotional upset, "I need nonnies, Mommy, to feel me better."

My daughter remained an enthusiastic nurser throughout her infancy and into toddlerhood, and I continued to enjoy those regular opportunities for us to sit quietly together...something easy to forget to do, especially with a busy toddler.

It was not until my daughter passed her second birthday that I encountered issues. Her continued demands for frequent nursing sessions, and her habit of lifting my shirt or nursing flap as high as her arm could take it was beginning to wear on me. After several months of escalating tantrums and shirt grabbing whenever I suggested we'd have "nonnies later," my old wounds were being rubbed raw. I spent a few months preparing her for a weaning party to celebrate her transition to a new life stage, and weaned her at about 32 months. Even after our nursing relationship ended, cuddling with "nonnies" remained an important form of comfort for my daughter for many months. I was able to make peace with this gentler demand for access to my body.

For other women who have suffered sexual abuse or trauma and are concerned about giving of themselves in this way to a new baby, breastfeeding a child is so very different even from a healthy sexual relationship, both physically and emotionally. For me, I found that each time my child needed to nurse, I subconsciously said, "Yes you may." You may at some point find your old wounds reopened, but you can give yourself permission to say yes when you want to, and no when you need to. You will undoubtedly find, as I did, many joys and blessings by committing yourself to creating a breastfeeding relationship.

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