Following my blog about my own breastfeeding trauma and grief, I have been contacted by several parents that have experienced their own trauma with breastfeeding. I will be featuring these accounts on my blog over the next month.
This first story is from a mother who prefers to remain anonymous but who hopes her story may help others feel that they are not alone in having these feelings.
"It had never occurred to me that breastfeeding might be difficult, let alone traumatic. Among my family and friends, it was just what you did. So when I got pregnant with my son I assumed that I would just do it too. But breastfeeding him turned out to be the most physically and emotionally difficult thing that I have ever done. After three days I was in excruciating pain, crying throughout every feed, and relentlessly dreading the next one. A few midwives and health visitors watched him feed and all said that it looked fine and that I was doing well. So I battled on. The pain and dread continued, not helped by me only getting a couple of hours sleep a night, and trying to ‘get back to normal’ by going to family events and starting to work a bit within less than a week of the difficult birth.
After three weeks I went to see a lovely breastfeeding counsellor who, to my relief, was the first to recognise that there were problems, and the first to really help. The pain finally started to fade, but I was left with very negative feelings towards breastfeeding. I hated that I never had a break. I resented the lack of control over my body. I found the physical intimacy of it icky. I developed aversion, whereby breastfeeding triggered an overwhelming, tense, creepy-crawly feeling that made me want to scratch and pinch myself. Worst of all was the effect on my relationship with my baby boy. I did not have a good bond with him. I saw him as an adversary. On some level I blamed him for my pain and distress. I fantasized about abandoning him. I grieved desperately for my old life.
After two months I cut right down on breastfeeding, and at three months I stopped completely. Almost overnight my bond with my son improved, but I did feel terribly guilty. I felt like I had fallen at the first hurdle of motherhood. I thought I was selfish and should have tried harder. I couldn’t bear to see breastfeeding, even in pictures, so I avoided baby groups and certain friends. I became very defensive about it. I tried to convince myself that it didn’t really matter to me. I was (and still am) sorely envious of mothers for whom breastfeeding is a lovely bonding experience.
Two years later and I was feeling much better, but I had become reluctant to have a second child. My husband longed for one however, and eventually I agreed. While I was pregnant I felt torn by the decision of whether to breastfeed again. On one hand, I felt that my baby deserved it, and I had hope that it might be easier the second time around. But on the other hand the mere thought sent me into a physical panic. In the end I decided to try, and I sought as much support as I could. Most importantly from my two amazing doulas, but also from a lactation consultant, an osteopath, online support groups, and family. This, together with the fact that I fell head-over-heels in love with my daughter the first moment I held her, has made a world of difference. She is now over three months old and I am still breastfeeding, albeit only two or three times a day. It has not been easy. I have had pain, aversion, and anxiety, and I frequently want to stop completely, but it has been more manageable. And this time I refuse to feel guilty about combination feeding. After all, would anyone feel guilty for running a half marathon instead of a marathon?
I have only fairly recently begun to process my experience and recognise it for what it was - traumatic. I read Prof. Amy Brown’s book Why Breastfeeding Grief and Trauma Matter and cried with recognition and relief at the stories of other mothers who have struggled. Considering the importance of breastfeeding, and how many times pregnant women are blithely told to do it, I cannot understand why there is not more expert support available. Breastfeeding support charities do an amazing job but some women need more extensive help than they can provide. This should surely not be limited to those like me who are privileged enough to be able to pay for it. I hope that this can change. And I hope that maybe my story might help someone else feel less alone, as others’ stories have done for me."
If you feel that you have experienced breastfeeding grief and trauma and would like to share your story, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to help, please spread the word!