Sexual Assault Awareness and Breastfeeding Advocacy

Every year I approach April with mixed feelings.  It’s my birth month, I celebrate “me” every April 8th.  That has it’s own mixture of feelings though I long ago decided I was ok with growing older.  I think I still am.  Maybe.

But it’s also tax month.  Again, mixed feelings.  Taxes are good, an important part of our society and I’ve benefitted from taxes.  I also kind of hate it, handing over money just isn’t easy.  Still, I support taxes.  *cough cough*

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month too.  The mixed feelings I have on this are all on the dark side of my soul.  An awareness that touches me personally in very deep ways.  An awareness I can never let go of and yet I would love to let it go even for just a day, let alone a month.  I am a sexual assault survivor.  So are 2 of my daughters.  So are at least 3 other female members of my extended family.  Three that I know of.  Likely more.

Last year I wrote about Sexual Assault Awareness Month, challenging all of us to remove the cloak of shame.  This year I’m considering what I want to write in keeping with the theme set forth by the Sexual Assault Awareness Month Campaign “It’s time… to get involved.”  I also want to talk about sexual assault in relation to breastfeeding and the impact it has on breastfeeding relationships.  If the statistics are true (and they are likely low) then sexual assault has touched a large number of breastfeeding mothers or would-be-breastfeeding mothers.  A woman’s experience with sexual abuse may directly impact a woman’s willingness to even consider breastfeeding her baby.  The potential issues sexual abuse creates should not be outside our consideration when discussing breastfeeding and how to support breastfeeding women.  In fact, not talking about sexual abuse in terms of what women have experienced and how it has affected all aspects of their mothering including breastfeeding does women a great disservice in their journey of healing and mothering.

Let’s find our voices, share our stories, and build up families to overcome the challenges that sexual abuse puts in their path.  My experience with sexual abuse caused me great anxiety with breastfeeding.  Not just because I struggled to understand how my breasts could be sexual and yet my baby required them regularly and often to survive but also because I felt like I had no control over my body and that it (my body) belonged to someone else.  Someone else I know felt like breastfeeding helped her heal from her traumatic experience with sexual abuse and was empowered through breastfeeding her babies.  Sharing our stories not only gives us a voice but helps others find theirs as well.  More importantly they offer hope and the opportunity for education.  And education is the only road to prevention.

Are you a sexual abuse survivor?  Would you be willing to share your story?  Whether you’d like to post anonymously or publish your name and link to your own blog I welcome your submissions. Please email me your submissions at theleakyboob @ theleakyboob.com with the subject “Breastfeeding and abuse.”  It’s time… to talk about our experiences and involve our network.

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Comments

  1. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual assault! I abused by the man who was meant to be my step-father from the age 12 until I was 15. It affected my body image greatly. By the time I was pregnant with my 1st child, I was in a place where I could cope with my life and didn’t think about the abuse too much. When my daughter was born, I was terrified but not for the usual reasons, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to protect her or that I would resent her for growing up without any abuse at all. I had always known I would breastfeed any baby I had, for me it was the only option. I was worried that I would “freak” out and have flashbacks, but I reasoned with myself that I was able to have a healthy relationship with my husband without any problems. I was carrying a lot of guilt for not being able to deliver my child without the help of a section.
    Breastfeeding for me was healing in 2 ways. Firstly it eased the guilt from the way she was born, my body did work the way it was supposed to. Secondly I was choosing what I did with my body, no one was forcing me to do something for their gratification, these where my breasts and I was choosing to use them to nourish my innocent child. After a few weeks of nursing, I let go of the last remnants of shame about my past I was carrying, I no longer had any nightmares. I thank my daughter for that, she healed something in me which has allowed me to raise without any fear, either of jealousy or constant worry.
    My 2nd child, a son was born nearly 4 years later, and this time there was no fear at all. I put him to my breast for his 1st feed, and enjoyed it for what it was – my son nursing.

    • Mandy, that fear almost crippled me. I will be writing more about that. I can relate and wow, it’s so hard. I love that breastfeeding was healing for you, I wish more women could hear that it can actually help. Thank you for sharing.

    • @Mandy
      Thank you SO MUCH for bravely sharing your story. You are amazing! I am very happy you were able to overcome some of your pain and feel that breastfeeding was healing for you. As a health-care provider, it helps to hear moms’ feelings, stories and steps they had to go through to overcome painful abusive pasts and work on building positive lives for themselves and their babies. Not all woman can overcome as you have. I want to try to do the best I can to understand the women in my care. Thank you.
      @theleakyb@@b. You are amazingly brave to openly blog about this very important subject. You are awesome. Thank you!
      SS

    • Mandy I could have written this exact post. The details of my abuse are very different but the rest is my story exactly.

      My C section put me in a very bad place; being so utterly out of control of my body like that and at the mercy of strangers, unable to see what they are doing still haunts me now and, although the surgery itself was straightforward and routine, the experience was hugely traumatic for me mentally. I still find it hard to talk about to this day, especially as people can’t really understand why it is so upsetting for me – I have a healthy baby after all…

      Nursing my baby was something I had always known I would do (I saw formula as a fall back, not a choice) and I was so thrilled that I was able to do it without too much physical trouble. I had worried for months before the birth about how I would rectify the physical feeling of a baby nursing with the memories of my assaults but when it came to it, all I felt was love. Ok a fair bit of discomfort too but nothing I couldn’t work through.

      I hate the word ’empowered’ but I really did feel this way; I had chosen this path and it made me feel in control and strong for the first time in a long time. I nursed in front of friends, I nursed openly in public, we even went on holiday and I had no shame whatsoever in nursing my child. Quite the opposite: I was proud that I was able to do it at all and proud that I was able to do it so openly.

      Thank you for this article. When I think of the inner turmoil I endured during my last pregnancy it makes me quite sad that I thought I was alone in this. That I was somehow a freak for even considering these two totally separate issues together as one: babies and sexual assault. I now realise I am not the only one, thank you.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I am a survivor of sexual assault as well. I never had any issues with breastfeeding however. I told myself the man who raped me could not take away my power to give myself to another man or to my child. That thought helped me a lot although I failed to successfully bf my first two children.

    • I’ve heard others express that thought as being a powerful one in their healing journey. How wonderful that you found something that helped you to be true to yourself and your desires for a healthy life.

  3. Hugs to all of you. Reading this made me cry. It is awful to know that so many of us have gone through similar ordeals but I find it so comforting to know that we are not alone. What a great post that addresses the issue without self-pity – we don’t have time for that – we have the next generation to nurture, protect and breastfeed!

    • I couldn’t agree more. One of the amazing things I have seen is the incredible strength of sexual abuse survivors even when they don’t feel strong. In knowing we aren’t alone we find strength and healing. We can do this, we can raise awareness, empower the survivors, nurture our children, educate the public and one day eliminate the issue! I believe this, sexual assault does not define the survivor.

  4. What a great story! I too struggled facing birth but I never expected to struggle with breastfeeding and it turned out the breastfeeding part was much more difficult for me than the birth part. We all process and experience things so different and yet similar. It is amazing how we can draw strength, hope and encouragement from each other. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I’m a multi sex abuse survivor. I was molested from age 2- 6the grade by various step father&friends father & When I was a teen I put myself in a bad situation & was gang raped along with my friend. I refuse to let them have my power. I honestly never gave it a thought when I breastfeed. I can see how it would be hard for some. I would encourage others to try to take your power back. Don’t let that person take this away from you & your child. We are a sisterhood in BF..but unfortunatley we also belong to a club no one would wish on an enemy..Good luck ladies & stay strong

  6. monstermom says:

    i am a survivor as well. its impacted my life on many levels, made me fearful in a lot of aspects in my life. but i grew up with everyone around me breastfeeding. it was pretty much ingrained into my mothering instincts and i always knew that i would. i didnt so much have a fear of breastfeeding, in fact it was my pregnancies that made me relive my horror. my nightmares were recurring and after having a miscarriage i visited a very dark place in my soul. i felt totally out of control, that so much had been stolen from me that could never be returned. i blamed myself for allowing myself to be assaulted, believed that because of that i had lost my baby to miscarriage. because of that every time since that i got pregnant, i made myself sick with fear until i could see for myself that i was carrying a healthy baby. by my last pregnancy (i have 3 babies) i was able to overcome some of my fears, saw the beauty in my 2 healthy babies and the darkness that had crept over me subdued and i was able to see the light. now i live my life one day at a time. i dont dwell on the things of the past, they only make me a stronger person because i was able to deal, a more nurturing and compassionate mother because i need my babies to know that if anything like that ever happens to them (and i pray to God that nothing ever will) that they are loved and accepted no matter what, and a more steadfast and loyal wife because DH knows the truth and loves me regardless and helps me cope at times when i cant do it by myself. i wish i could reach out to all women who are afraid to be happy because of sexual assault and let them know how truly beautiful life can be

    • This is just beautiful. I am so glad to hear that you have found your way to the other side, a light at the end of a tunnel.

  7. For me, I was nervous about breastfeeding my first. What if I was turned on by it or something weird? Don’t they say sexual abusers are usually victims themselves? And while I hadn’t had any feelings towards small children, for me to put myself into that position seemed like I was trying to tempt fate. So I found myself worrying about that..worried for me and worried for her. Luckily my fears didn’t come to pass, and as I first brought my nipple and pressed it against my newborn daughters lips I felt the opposite. Instead of a wrongness, I felt a rightness. That this is how it should be. I thank God for that. That I wasn’t one of the many victims that was injured by my sexual abuse so badly that I turned into one of them. I feel blessed to have a healthy breastfeeding relationship with not one, but two daughters now, 2.5 years after beginning my bf journey.

  8. I, too, am a survivor. My older sister and I were both abused by our stepfather. We both believe that our mother knew and did not intervene. This has had just as terrible an effect as the abuse itself.
    My worst days have not been during pregnancy, birth, or early breastfeeding. I had few problems when my son was small, either. What has affected me most strongly is my daughter approaching her second birthday, which is the age I was when my stepfather entered my life. It is now that the memories are triggered, that I feel touched out and anxious about nursing, and that the fear that I won’t be able to protect her invades. My greatest fear is that my daughter will have to live with the kinds of memories and pain I carry. That scares me more than anything. My anger at my own mother for her complacency is amplified by my own experiences – I cannot imagine making the choices she did. The rage and fear are so powerful.
    I’m in very intensive therapy right now to resolve some of these feelings so I can be the best person, parent, and wife I can be. I will not let him win.
    Hugs to all of you sharing your stories. When we speak out, we take away some of our abusers’ power.

  9. Whoa boy. Here goes.

    I hate saying I’m a “survivor” of anything. It happened, just like anything else in my life. But I also know that distancing is part of how I’m able to live with it and not hate myself so thoroughly.

    When I was 18 I was raped by 5 different men that summer. How ironic is it that I ended up in that situation because I was getting away from a decade of domestic abuse? When I was 8, there was the baseball bat across my legs. Out of the frying pan…

    When my son was born, I was so divorced from my body that everything was happening to somebody else. I’d been well-trained not to speak up for myself. When my son was a few months old, one evening I was breastfeeding him and all those repressed memories from my childhood came back in a flood.

    It wasn’t healing. That came later. But it was the gateway through which I began the very long process of taking myself back from everyone who had beaten, raped, and bullied my power away from me.

    It began with remembering, and I believe it was triggered because I so desperately wanted to connect with my baby son. But there has to be a soul inside you in order to connect with another soul, and mine had been driven out for most of my life. So I had to get it back before I could truly be his mother. That was almost 11 years ago now.

    I still blame myself, and I suspect I always will on some level. But I can be damn sure I teach my daughter (7 1/2 mos) something better, and safer. I’ve got my power and my Self back, and can be the example I never had.

    Delena

    • I found what you wrote about needing to have a soul in order to connect to another one, and how wanting to connect to your son in a deep and meaningful way helped to begin your healing…it really spoke to me. And made a lot of sense and helped me to put some of my own feelings into words so I thank you for sharing.

  10. I am a survivor of domestic violence and rape. This year is the 10th year since it happened.

    I gave birth January 5th at home to a beautiful baby girl. Birth itself was an extremely empowering experience for me.

    Before I was pregnant I thought I would never breastfeed. I did not feel comfortable with the idea of having a baby “there” and the act of breastfeeding – the suckling – greatly disturbed me. I could not think too much on it without getting upset. However, once I was pregnant it seemed completely natural to me that I would breastfeed. I desired it so greatly that I was nervous my body would not work right and that I would fail at it.

    Once my baby was here my midwives and doula worked with me to learn how to breastfeed and got us (baby and I) off to a good start. Now at three months I can honestly say breastfeeding my little one is the highlight of my life right now. It is such a special time between us. So many smiles and looks are exchanged between her and I that nobody else sees or feels. Its our special time together. I love that my body is so amazing that it can nourish this wonderful sweet baby. I love that my baby looks at my breasts with such love and eagerness that she can’t get to them fast enough.

    I never imagined that breastfeeding would also be as empowering as it has been for me. In addition to breastfeeding my baby I contribute to a mother-to-mother milk donation group.

    What I had experienced in the past and the things that were done to my body used to weight heavily on me but birth and breastfeeding have awaken something that is so sacred. If you had told me going into this that I would feel this way about breastfeeding I never would have believed you. I feel a new appreciation for my body and all that it is doing to provide for my little one. I completely agree and understand with the others that have stated that in many ways breastfeeding has been very healing.

  11. I was sexually abused when I was 10 by my own father. It’s left its own scars, and while I’m not ‘over it’, it’s left me very detached from my mother. Oddly enough, I blame HER instead of HIM. Maybe if my mother hadn’t been so busy breastfeeding my brother to have sex with my father (not rational, I know).

    That was 20 years ago. When my children came along, I said that if my children were boys, I’d try but if my child was a girl, I wouldn’t do it. I can’t explain my rationale.

    By the time I had a daughter, my thoughts had changed, but I never was successful at breastfeeding (instead I pumped exclusively). 30 year old me looks back at 18 year old me with pity that I couldn’t overcome my aversion to breastfeeding. I have such a special bond with my breastfeeder.

    I do believe that the abuse I suffered and the healing that needed to be done, and my irrational blame of my mother, negatively affected my willingness to try harder.

    If I can leave just one bit of wisdom is that it’s not your fault.

  12. I don’t frequent this blog but it was brought to my attention because of my work as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse. Thank you for making a connection between sexual assault and breast feeding. It is with sharing that we can let others know they are not alone. I was 15, and the women in my family were having coffee and cake for my (Aries) birthday. Conversation came to plans for my life. I planned only to get through the day. The subject of kids came up, and I firmly stated that I wasn’t going to have any. OMG you would have thought I’d flown in from Mars on a rocket ship! The response was basically “of course you will. why wouldn’t you?” Because I dared not bring one more child into my screwed up family. If I couldn’t protect myself, how could I protect a child? I had fears similar to those expressed here, but no support system to overcome them. Fast forward 40 years. I think I made a conscious choice back then, but was it really? Was I robbed of motherhood? Would I have made a choice 4 motherhood if there had been no incest? No need to worry now for myself. I am glad to see that for others there is a blog that addresses the concerns of the 1 in 3 women who is abused. This discussion shows a measure of healing in terms of open conversation in our society. Bravo to bringing up the topic. And thank you for letting me visit here.

  13. Such an important topic! Thank you so much for raising it.

    I did a podcast interview with Penny Simkin on breastfeeding after sexual abuse, and she shared some wonderful stories and resources:

    http://breastfeeding.blog.motherwear.com/2009/03/podcast-early-sexual-abuse-and-breastfeeding-with-penny-simkin.html

    And at iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/motherwear-breastfeeding-podcasts/id280545880

  14. I was sexually abused as a young child (from ages 4-6 or so, I cant remember exact start and stop) by my next door neighbor who was my babysitter. My situation was different in that it was more like he was taking advantage of me. When it happened, I was willing. I was opened up to the world of sex at a very early age. It wasn’t until I was in 8th grade that I realized what he had done was wrong, and I became mortified. It’s been a long time and I have come to terms with it. I even worked as a sexual assault services advocate after graduating high school. Now that I’ve had my son, it has had a slight affect in me in that I am terrified of doing anything to him. Of course I would never abuse my children, but that thought still haunts me. When it comes to breastfeeding, I sometimes feel guilty. Breastfeeding for me releases a ton of Oxytocin into my system, and my libido is definitely feeling it. So, when I am feeding him, sometimes I feel ashamed that I get a little aroused. I know it’s all horomones, and has nothing to do with him. But I still feel weird about it. I wont let it affect our breast feeding though. I want to make it to a year. It’s been 11 weeks.

    • Sunshine says:

      Alison, I just wanted to point out to you that you are completely normal (though a lot people might not like to admit it)! I’ve never been sexually abused and I still feel ashamed when that oxytocin kicks in! If it helps, whenever I start feeling it kick in strongly, I just mentally equate the feeling to when I get my hair brushed by someone else. Somehow in my mind it seems okay that I get that feeling when my hair is brushed by another, but not okay when my child is breastfeeding, but thinking that it equates calms my nerves at least. I hope you last at least a year!

      • Thanks Sunshine,

        It really does make me feel better to know I’m not alone in that. (c:

        • You are definitely NOT alone in that; we all get intrusive, unwanted thoughts of that kind. Most of us dismiss them easily, and don’t even realize they exist. Those of us who are anxious will give it too much importance, try to analyze, find fault with ourselves, etc. You may even be looking so actively for signs that you’re aroused that you think you’re feeling them lol- and anyway, fear and arousal are easy to confuse because they lead to the same symptoms 😉
          You sound like a brave, caring, inspirational woman.

    • No, Alison, your situation was not different. You were not willing, you were not simply taken advantage of. You were a CHILD. There are age of consent laws for a reason, and the reason is that CHILDREN are INCAPABLE of deciding whether or not sexual activity is a good idea for them, because their brains aren’t ready for that. Did you know that the ability to make complex decisions (where there is good/bad on both sides of the equation) does not develop until AT LEAST age 12? That means before age 12 you literally do not have the capacity to understand/decide that someone molesting you or abusing you sexually is wrong. You were molested. You were abused. You did not “open up to it”. Someone who was older and who was capable of making complex decisions decided to hurt and abuse someone who was younger and incapable of making those decisions (YOU). Your body received physical sensations that made it feel good – why wouldn’t you play along? But you cannot use your adult brain (you said it was in 8th grade you began to realize – WHEN YOUR BRAIN’S decision making processes DEVELOPED!) and decide in retrospect suddenly that what you did as a child was wrong. It wasn’t wrong. You were innocent, and you were abused.

  15. I guess you could say I am a survivor. My mother and father divorced when I was 11/12 yrs old. My two younger sisters and I would visit our father every other weekend. One day after sledding we went to get out of our wet clothes in his room(it was a one bedroom apartment) he followed us in and undressed too. I knew it wasn’t right and I grabbed my sisters and ran to the bathroom with them and locked us all in there.
    When we got home that weekend, I told my mom and she immediately called the police. Nothing actually happened, but thinking about it later, I realized there other little gestures and touches leading up to it that I just didn’t register.
    I went to lots of counseling over the years and learned to deal with what happened. Though nothing serious was allowed to happen(others have suffered much worse), it was still a huge betrayal of trust.
    Birth and breastfeeding have not been a challenge, but I always get this little twinge in my stomach when I see fathers with their daughters. I have two little boys right now, so I don’t know how I will feel if I ever have a daughter of my own.

    • Amanda, it has been so hard to have a daughter. I’ve been mom for almost 10 years, but the feelings didn’t become so intense until I had a little girl. I feel like I am re-experiencing my abuse through her. She’s nearly two now, and I was abused from ages 2 – 5. The older she gets, the more painful the memories become. Thank goodness for good therapy.

      I understand that twinge, too. It was a very long time before I could allow my husband to give my daughter a bath or change her diaper without watching over him. Fortunately, he knows my history and has been incredibly supportive. Part of that support is to tolerate and understand my interference, and to honor my need to have doors open, a direct line of sight, etc., when he’s alone with my daughter. We’ve had to work on him not internalizing that and taking it as an insult, but with communication and lots of love we’ve come a long way.

  16. I just wanted to thank everyone for sharing their stories. I know it takes great courage. I have never experienced abuse, but have worked on behalf of abuse women. So I understand the importance if drawing attention to these issues and to
    The importance of survivors themselves leading the way to awareness and understanding of sexual and domestic abuse. what an amazing, inspiring group of women you are!

  17. I am so thankful that so many courageous women shared their stories and struggles with such honesty.

    I dealt with sexual abuse as a teen, but it didn’t affect my breastfeeding experience at all. Becoming a mother increased my stores of inner strength and brought about a lot of healing.

    However, my younger sister became a mother at 16. She wanted very badly to breastfeed her son, but because of her age and her uncomfortable orientation to her body due to past sexual abuse, the lactation consultant at the hospital actually gave up on helping her and told her to bottle feed! The day she gave birth to her son, she was molested by a male CNA working on the maternity floor.

    I think, some women secretly believe “she asked for it!” regarding the sexual abuse of other women. I can honestly say I felt that way about my sister for quite a while, and cast blame in the wrong direction.

    I hope that sharing these personal stories will cause other women to pause and reconsider how we view others in the sisterhood of mothering. There really is no room for condemnation and judgement, because adopting those attitudes does nothing to solve the wrong.

    Peace!

  18. My father used to visit my room from my earliest memories until I was about 10 or 11. I never told anybody about it and continue to keep up the facade of normality for the sake of my mother and brother. I thought I’d dealt with the abuse quite well but as I get older I see how much it has influenced my thoughts and actions and has been behind some poor decisions, especially in regard to having sex. As a teen I had sex with anybody who wanted to because I didn’t know how to say no and didn’t think I had anything else that people would value.

    I never wanted or intended to have children and had never thought of my abuse in that context. I was pretty surprised to find myself pregnant at 40, and I have to be honest: I was pretty unhappy about it too. I was afraid of pregnancy. Not in the sense of the real health issues it can cause but I felt that my body wasn’t mine anymore. I felt that although it had been used and abused before, it was nevertheless my body. But now it was working against me and using my resources to build something that was going to ruin my life. I’d fought so hard to become an independant person, to put my childhood behind me and to have life on my terms and all of a sudden I’d become nothing more than the legs that carried the pregnancy. Everytime somebody addressed me as “bumpy” or touched my abdomen without permission, I became more angry and more convinced my anger was futile. I was right back to Little Miss Invisible, powerless to do anything but keep the fake smile on. When I found out I was having a girl I started to feel guilty that I hadn’t aborted the pregnancy (as I had seriously considered). What kind of person was I, bringing another female into the world only to endure what I had endured? I made a solemn promise to the feotus that I would do my best to make her as strong and able to cope as possible.

    As the pregnancy wore on and I started to leak, I also started to worry about breastfeeding. To me, there weren’t other options but I was afraid of how it would feel (father focused very much on the chest area) and whether I’d be able to cope with my feelings when the baby was feeding. Memories that I thought I’d dealt with started to resurface and I began to get flashbacks again.

    My daughter was finally born a couple of weeks late after a long labour (curiously, I’d never been too concerned about labour) and had her first breastfeed as soon as I was stitched up. Although feeding got of to a reasonable start and I didn’t have too many physical problems with it, I did not bond with my daughter at all. I honestly couldn’t say I loved her. When she wanted to feed, I would settle down with something to do and ignore her until she finished so I didn’t have to look at her or think about what was happening. The flashbacks got worse and I couldn’t face having sex with my husband at all, even after I had healed up.

    My HV asked me to do the Edinburgh PND test and I scored 21. After chatting about it, she offered to refer me to an attachment counsellor who I saw until my daughter was just over 6 months old. I can’t speak highly enough of this lady! She was sensitive without pandering and brought me to the revelation that I was seeing my daughter as a person who also had to suffer and be disempowered as I was, almost as a continuation of my pain. I suddenly saw her as the fresh new life that she is and saw myself as somebody who could protect her as my mother couldn’t protect me. I began to enjoy her and see that I had a positive role in her life. The counsellor also persuaded me to try anti-depressants which I’m still taking but which have made coping with all of this that bit more doable.

    Our breastfeeding relationship changed too. I had done a lot of reading about breastfeeding (The Politics of breastfeeding is an awesome book!) and about how it is seen in our society and I had had a lot of disparaging remarks from people who thought I should have switched to formula after a few weeks. I became determined that my breasts should fulfill their function and nourish my daughter as well as possible for as long as possible. I felt that I’d thrown off a shroud of deceit about breasts and sexuality and yes, I too felt empowered.

    My daughter is now 14 months old and still feeding on demand. I hope to feed her for some time to come and ideally to an age where she will be able to remember it so that she will know breasts are for babies first and only come to understand the sexual element later. I believe that will help her to have a healthy self-image. Mine has certainly improved since feeding my child.

    I can now honestly say I love my daughter more than anything and enough to tackle issues I’ve ignored for 40 years. I believe breastfeeding has played a huge part in that and I am so glad I was able to do it.

  19. I am also a sexual abuse survivor! I’m dedicating my blog to SAAM, and it’s true that sharing your story can help others more than you’ll ever know! I love this post, and the perspective you bring to this topic! I can imagine how breastfeeding could be hard. If I hadn’t been through therapy or if I had a baby before therapy, before I allowed myself to heal (which happens so often) I would not be able to do it. It would be traumatizing and I can see how it would affect a mother and child relationship, bonding, and health. This is an important aspect to the story! I’m so glad you shared this!

  20. Its is encouraging and strengthening to see so many beautiful women open up and share their stories. I have a history of molestation in my past, via my father, but little to no memories of it. I have memories of the legal results of it all and how it tore my family up (my parents were already divorced though), so from this I have strong guilt and blame issues. Dating a string of jerks and getting into destructive sexual situations growing up has not helped me.
    When I was pregnant with my daughter I had to ease myself into giving up my body to another in a nourishing, positive way and was proud of myself. A traumatic cesarean stripped that all away and made my bodily autonomy issues much, much worse. I managed to breastfeed my daughter, through various challenges, for 6 months. Not long enough by the standards of those close to me, but I was struggling with new motherhood, school, work, and family.
    There is a freedom to breastfeeding that I see other women have that I don’t think I can ever reach. These women laugh together about the cute words their children use to ask for milk and how they happily, freely pull up or down a shirt to breastfeed. Pregnant now, I know that I will breastfeed my new son when he arrives, and want to do so for a year. But honestly, I don’t see myself going past that. Much of the parenting communities that I identify with are all about extended breastfeeding and child-lead weaning, but I don’t think I can do to my body control issues. It hurts and is like this little voice in the back of my head that something is ‘wrong’ with me. I would give my life a hundred times over again for my children, but I have to work with where I am at right now mentally and emotionally and how these play into my physical self. I am working on allowing myself more grace and patience, to accept what I can do and celebrate it. I am planning a natural VBAC that I hope will aid in this as well.

  21. decaturmamaof2 says:

    Dear ladies – thank you all so much for caring enough to share your painful memories, and for explaining the effects such experiences had/have on your lives as mothers and wives and women. I am lucky to not have experienced abuse myself, but have some friends who were abused. I am honored by your sharing and proud of you all!!

  22. T. Brown says:

    I was sexually abused from about 4-7 yrs old, then again in highschool & college. My last assault was in the parking lot of an abandoned house near my apartment while my friends were inside waiting for me with my 8 yr old daughter.

    I am pregnant for the 2nd time now (thankfully not by the rapist) & birthing is where most of my anxiety lies. I dissociated for most of my ~35 hr labor with my daughter & still harbor guilty feelings for the lack of feeling that followed her birth. My childhood experiences stripped me of my rightful response to birth. However, I have worked on healing a great deal since then & have tremendous support so I am hopeful that my son’s birth experience will be better.

    I do not have any anxiety (yet?) about breastfeeding him because breastfeeding my daughter, although much more difficult for the first couple MONTHS (not merely weeks) than is common for most mothers, became the single most healing experience that I’ve participated in. It gave me ownership over my own body again! *I* was choosing how they functioned, not someone else, & their function served a far greater purpose, finally giving me the sense of awe that I felt cheated on during birth.

    I still struggle with many aspects of survivorhood & I am not a religious person, but I have more faith in my own inner spirit now….

  23. I have been sexually assaulted and abused from childhood to adulthood. I became the victim that the first abuse made me. I didn’t know how to control my own life or safety. I didn’t know how to cope. I didn’t think twice about breastfeeding, I always knew it was the best for my kids. I didn’t get help for the depression and I struggled with breastfeeding with my first. I felt my child was sucking the life out of me, I just did what I had to do. With my second child I had started to deal with my hurts, and my depression. I have been able to enjoy this wonderful connection. I accepted that I was depressed and stopped being so ashamed. I know I am a “survivor” but I don’t have to do it alone. I don’t have to pretend everything is okay.

  24. How harrowing to read these articulate and chilling accounts. Thank you everyone for the willingness to share these stories. The pain, the (misplaced) shame, the empowerment, the healing — all come through.

  25. Wow, these stories on here are amazing. I was abused by a neighbor when I was 10. He fondled my new breasts, put his hand between my legs, exposed his penis to me (once following me into my bedroom and blocking my way out) and locking me into his bedroom and showing me pornographic photos of himself and his girlfriend. I never felt like I was “really” molested because it stopped after the bedroom/penis incident. I told my mother and thankfully she believed me and got the police involved (he moved from his house before the police were able to arrest him). I wasn’t afraid to breastfeed however I was wary of discomfort. My breasts are very sensitive and, even 30 years later, when my guy touches them it is a reminder of what had happened. When I was pregnant with my son, I used to rub my nipples with a washcloth to try to desensitize them. It didn’t help but it turns out that it wasn’t necessary, a feeding baby gives such a different sensation than a man does, no matter what his intention. My experience did affect how I raise my children. I have tried to teach my son to be respectful of women and that both my son and daughter should not remain silent if they feel that something is wrong.

  26. I just wanted to say how fantastic it is that all you ladies are sharing your stories! It’s great that so many of you wanted to breastfeed even if you didn’t manage it. You didn’t let these people take away your God given right to provide for your children! and you all managed to feed for longer than me and I haven’t had to deal with anything nearly as difficult as you all!
    Those of you that didn’t breastfeed have ‘stuck it to them’ by become wonderful women and mothers despite all the wrongs done to you! Well done!
    God Bless you all and power to ya! ;0)

  27. Thank-you for posting on this extremely important topic! Your post and the comments are very powerful… I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and I have an article half-written about my experiences with breastfeeding (especially with my first baby) and how my past affected my nursing relationships. I’ve been working on writing it for about thirteen years – I’ll see if I can actually finish it sometime soon.

    To all of the women who have shared their stories… you rock! You are strong and you are wonderful… I am thinking of you all 🙂

  28. I have been trying to write my submission for sexual assault awareness month for the last few days but have found that the veil of shame is sometimes too heavy to lift in order to start typing my experiences. But the thought that my experiences could inspire someone else compels me towards sharing this piece of myself.
    I was molested as a young child by close family members. I started smoking weed at the age of 12 in an attempt to self medicate. At 12, I was raped by a 19 year old boy who I was buying weed from. I became completely detached from my body and did not feel I had any control over what happened to me. My childhood was completely over. Throughout my teens I dated much older people and was an easy target for abusive types to take advantage of. One abuser exposed me to heavier drugs and I became addicted to cocaine. I was able to completely hide not only the childhood abuse and rape, but also the drug use and self medicating from my parents. I eventually got myself into counseling, finished school and enlisted in the army. I am in a healthy relationship with my partner who I am completely in love with and feel like most of the issues from the past trauma are processed, though I do still suffer from some symptoms of PTSD including nightmares and flashbacks.
    I tried unsuccessfully for 6 years before I became pregnant with my now 14 month old daughter. When I finally did become pregnant I was convinced the whole pregnancy that at any moment I would miscarry or something would go terribly wrong because my body just didn’t like co-operating with me. I felt like it had been betraying me my whole entire life. When I went into labour I was insistent on wearing a bra during delivery until the last possible moment as I was so ashamed of my body I didn’t want my breasts exposed unless absolutely necessary. When my daughter was born she spent 7 days in the NICU and as a result our nursing relationship was severely damaged. I had to use nipple shields in order for her to drink from me; basically the shields fooled the baby into believing she was drinking from a bottle as she would not latch to my nipples. I felt devastated to have a barrier between me and my precious infant. I didn’t want to leave my house or go anywhere because I didn’t want anyone to even partially see my breast while I nursed her. I often felt myself tensing up and getting anxiety during nursing sessions if I felt any type of uterine contractions. My irrational brain would tell me that if I found breastfeeding in anyway a pleasurable experience that I was sick and twisted and abusing my daughter. These feelings hit their climax a couple of weeks into nursing when I was able to remove the nipple shields and the breast soreness subsided. I was miserable, short tempered and hated nursing. I felt like a horrible mother for not wanting to nurse my daughter.
    I was able to connect with some great online resources and literally spent hours and hours reading other moms experiences with breastfeeding and eventually I began to feel empowered. As I began to see my daughter grow bigger and stronger I was so proud that my breasts had the power to nourish her. Each time she would get hurt and nurse for comfort I would feel so proud that my breasts have the power to stop her tears. Within a few months I was able to proudly nurse her where ever we went I felt no shame surrounding my body. I felt like my body was in harmony and working exactly the way it was supposed to for the first time in my life. My breasts are the key to this unbreakable bond I share with my daughter that no doubt will last a life time. I love being able to offer her a breast when she is thirsty, hungry, scared, tired or cranky and she can a take refuge and feel safe and protected with me. I never felt safe, so it means so much to me that I am able to give that to my child.
    I mentioned that I became addicted to drugs at the hands of abusers. Unfortunately I will always consider myself an addict, even though I have been in recovery for a number of years now. Even still, I don’t think the cravings will ever completely stop. There is so much pain from the past, and it’s just habit now to want to numb out when things get difficult. But when the cravings do come, it’s so easy to quiet them because I know that I am nursing and would never do anything to harm my daughter. I plan on nursing for at least another year so I’m happy to know that I have such a powerful reason to not even allow myself to entertain the thought. I know that I will never use drugs again, but knowing that I am nursing my beautiful child just gives me one more reason.

  29. Wow. As funny as this sounds, I haven’t thought about this at all. I’m a survivor of both childhood sexual abuse and late teen/early adult physical & sexual abuse. But a lot of strange reactions I’ve had are suddenly sliding into focus. I’ve got some thinking ro do, it would seem.

    I swore I’d never have kids. But after 7 years with my husband, who is so totally supportive & understanding & non-threatening, I changed my mind. I didn’t know men like him existed. I’m still not entirely convinced he’s for real, although I know that’s not fair to him (9 years with no problems). That’s a different discussion though.

    I was abused as a child by a male cousin. Like a pp, I was taken advantage of, and pretty much thought it was normal. Then adolescence came & I realized that it definitely was not normal & ok, in high school I met an older guy & that 4 year relationship followed the stereotypical abuse pattern of isolation & breaking down self esteem and then physical & sexual abuse. I’m still not sure how I got out, really – only I found out how very strong I really am & oddly draw a lot of strength & confidence from my survival & escape.

    Never went to therapy. I’ve worked through my issues for myself – lots of reading, lots of thinking & reasoning. Largely successful. I had a doula for my sons birth and she asked during one of our meetings prior to the birth about any abuse history. I had put it so far behind me that it didn’t occur to me that it would relate. Denial maybe. Regardless, the birth went fine. Drug free, 2nd degree tear, I was ok.

    Nursing has been mostly ok. Sometimes I get mad, feel trapped and feel that rising flood of sheer panic. But I can usually refocus and it’s ok. Sometimes I feel that physical sensation of just dread; I can feel it pass through me/wash over me. Maybe that’s the oxytocin for me. But As of next week, I’ll have been nursing 2 years. We keep going; sometimes it isn’t pleasant for me at all, sometimes I hate it, but it’s not going to kill me. And at my sons age now, I can break off a session & distract him without feeling guilty about short changing him.

    But until reading THIS blog entry & these responses I haven’t really connected that dread feeling with nursing & prior abuse. But now that I think about it, it’s the same feeling I got as a child (in very specific trigger situations). I do seem to recall trying to explain that feeling to my husband after nursing when my son was a newborn, but I dont think I’ve considered it since.

  30. I too am a survivor of sexual abuse. Thankfully my girls have NOT had to suffer the pain of any abuse. I would go insain if that happened.

    My abuse was by my father who was a police officer, so that causes …a whole other mistrust to say the least. I was a toddler and it happened to my older sis who was 6. My sister told about the abuse at about age 12 I think. She wanted to protect me. I had been having night terrors so bad they feared a brain tumor. Everyone focused on my sister. She had many issues from the abuse. She acted out a lot! No one ever acknowledged that anything happened to me. I knew everything about sex as a small kid. More than many adults know. I acted it out with my barbies lol. I can remember the dreams I had… they were of things being forced in my throat. For some reason it was circles and cubes in my dreams. I would feel the fullness and the inability to breath. It was only when I was 18ish and had a boy friend that I realised what the dreams really were. As a young girl-teen, I had MANY issues with my body. I could not even place my hands on certain areas as it might ‘look’ like somethng. I hated my self and all my parts.

    Having my first baby helped with that. Although certain points in labor put me over my edge, like as soon as my lower parts were viewable I lost all concentration and had to have meds. Nursing, however came easy for me. My mom and sis nursed. It was never sexual for me. And maybe because my abuse centered around other acts, and that I was so young and did not have breasts might make a difference. The hard part came when my baby was toddling. Thats the age *I* was. I would have panic attacks and flashbacks for certain sounds she made. I had terrible fear that she was not really just sitting on her daddys lap, or laying innocently with him on the bed. It was all bad in my mind. I had to constantly have her in my site, check on her. No one was allowed to be alone with her. It took years to let go of my issues just a bit. Now I am on daughter number 4 and the pain is less. The fear is less. My youngest is not toddling yet so I dont know how I will be, but I feel ok. My girls are OK. It did not happen to them. and I am stronger for it happening to me.

  31. and to add. One of the worst things about my abuse was going to the Dr. to be examined. Having to lay on the table with my legs spread and let a stange man look. It was HELL> I remember I was promised a cabbage patch doll if I did it. Thats how young I was. The promis of that doll was the only reason I did not have to be held down during the exam. I never got the doll 🙁 I still through that up to my mom when we argue. I want my cabbage patch doll! LOL!

  32. I was so relieved to see this post last week. I had written on a similar topic on my blog and someone found it and me and pointed me to this post.
    I’m a survivor. I was abused as a child and my parents were not educated in how to treat me. My father became abusive and my mother stood by her man and continues to do so. I am a new parent and really didn’t think anyone could understand the conflicting emotions attached to breastfeeding (and to pregnancy and birth). I am so grateful to others who speak out and find the courage to keep surviving. I hope we are part of a whole new generation of people who protect our kids and don’t pass on all this crap of guilt and shame and anger.
    Thank you for this post and to all the other survivors on here.

  33. I too am a survivor of childhood sexual assault. My dad raped me repeatedly from the time I was about 3 until I was 15. He was an alcoholic who also beat all of us (myself, brother, and mom). The day he died was the best day of my life.
    I’m a mom of 3. All 3 of mine were born by c-section, something I refuse to feel shame in. I chose my youngest child’s c-section birth because 1) I was tired of failing (1 was failed induction, 2 was failed vbac attempt) AND 2) I wanted to breastfeed but knew I could only mentally handle one or the other.
    I was unable to nurse either of my sons. My oldest I never even considered breastfeeding. It simply was not an option. I tried to nurse my middle child, but the flashbacks and repulsion were too much to handle. At 5 days old, he was put on the bottle.
    When we found out last year we were having a little girl, I freaked out. I can admit that never wanted a daughter. I’m religious, and after much prayer, I knew I wanted to try to nurse her. Frankly, I needed the bond that everyone talks about with breastfed babies.
    Since I had put in a little over 4 years of intensive therapy following the birth of my 2nd son, I was more prepared to nurse my daughter. My hubby was the most amazing support! Our baby was born in November, and she has been exclusively breastfed. I feel whole again for the first time ever. I have won.

    • Your comment made me cry. Your strength is an inspiration mama 🙂

    • Mrs. P, you’ve brought me to tears. I relate so much to what you’ve shared. I was unable to nurse my son, but didn’t truly understand why until he was much older. I never really connected it with my childhood experiences until my daughter was born. The day my stepfather died was the best day of my sister’s and my life, too.
      I can honestly say that parenting my daughter has been the hardest part of my recovery. Having a girl to raise is terrifying to me! I’m at the beginning of my intensive therapy journey (just 6 months in), but I can already feel the changes in me. I lived in denial of what happened to me for many years (I was very young – 2 – 5 years old – and convinced myself I was making it all up). My daughter’s entrance into my life changed all that. The triggering has been intense. I am so motivated to resolve my pain, so I can be the best person I can be for myself and my children.
      My husband is beyond amazing. I would not be where I am today without his support.
      I am so proud of you, and am inspired by your strength. I am sending you the biggest virtual hug.

  34. Thank you so much for posting this! The connection between sexual assault and breastfeeding is one i had not really considered– or not honestly considered, anyway–before reading your post. As a survivor of sexual violence, it’s been something unnamed for me to be a very emphatic breastfeeder and advocate of breastfeeding who at the same time struggled with the very act of it. Thank you for helping me to find words and feel less abnormal.

  35. i have many words, but the most resounding ones are: THANK YOU. Thank you for being bold enough to share your Stories, and for helping me to realize that i am not a weirdo or a bad mum because i don’t love the act of breastfeeding.
    i am proud of what my body can do for my babe, but i struggle with what it means for me to let another person– even one i love most dearly– participate in making my body DO something. Will i breastfeed my kids? Yep. Does it take a lot of hard work to quiet my past hurts in order to breastfeed? Absolutely.

  36. Wow, reading some of these stories has been so helpful! It is nice to know I am not the only one who has trouble connecting to my child because of things that happened to me out of my control. From about 12-14 my oldest brother’s best friend did lots of terrible things to me and I never told anyone when I finally had the courage to tell me parents I was not greeted with support and understanding, instead they were mad at me for not telling him to stop and so many other things. My brother and I have basically no relationship because I finally came forward and I am often told I am just being dramatic, it has been over 10 years and I need to get over it and move on with me life. HA! If only it were that easy! I was doing so well with things, able to have an intimate relationship with my husband, doing things I never thought I would be bale to enjoy in my life until my son was born. At the hospital when I tried to feed him I did ok, it was uncomfortable but I just pushed the memories back then out of no where the day after we got home everything hit me like a ton of bricks and I couldnt stand to look at my son or my husband. I cried non stop, started having nightmares all over again. I was a mess. My husband tried his best to be understanding and was very supportive but I still felt horrible about myself for not being able to do what I have always considered to be one of the most natural things in the world. So after about 5 weeks I gave up and switched to a bottle for him. I got on zoloft and started seeing a counselor. When my husband is in port he often goes with me and I love him for it. It makes it not seem so bad knowing I dont have to hide this part of myself from him and he still loves me and wants to be with me. Although my son is now 8mths old I still struggle with not being able to BF him like I wanted. I am not 23 weeks pregnant with a little girl and already I am starting to worry about how things will go with her. I am starting to get very stressed and afraid to even try. At least I am a little more prepared for the flood of emotions with this pregnancy but at the same time I am scared to death.

  37. Brittany says:

    Im reading all of these posts and I just cant stop crying. I was sexually assaulted when I was 18 by a guy who I babysat for. He had volunteered to give me driving lessons because my mom wouldnt do it. During these lessons, he would touch me all over and force me to do things to him. He even told me that my body belonged to him. I was really shy and introverted and just didnt have the courage to tell anyone what was going on. What if no one believed me? I felt so guilty. What had I done to make him think that I wanted it? It went on for about 3 or 4 months. Id gotten a job and couldnt babysit anymore. I was able to bury it all for a while. It began to resurface everytime I became intimate with someone new. The worst was any contact with my breasts. I would get flashbacks of everything that he had done to them. It was what he loved the most. It was so disgusting. Im cringing right now. Finally, I met a guy who was, for the most part, supportive and patient. He was gentle with me and I was able to be intimate with him and I actually began to enjoy it. I am now almost 37 weeks pregnant with his baby and the flashbacks have returned. They started close to the middle of my pregnancy and they have not gone away. I feel so dirty and gross every time that he kisses me and touches me. Its so terrible. I feel so guilty. He is not the one who hurt me but he is paying for it. We cant even have sex anymore because of the flashbacks. He loves my breasts but I cant bear for him to touch them. I have absolutely no idea how I will be able to breastfeed my daughter. I know that its best for her and so I want to at least try. But just thinking about it disgusts me. I feel so horrible. I have such a fear that I wont be able to protect her. She is due in 3 weeks and I am so scared and unprepared.

    • Brittnay,
      Feelings of guilt and shame are very normal for sexual abuse survivors. It may not be logical to have those feelings because you did NOTHING wrong and it was ALL his fault but it is still quite a normal way to feel. These feelings are something that you should talk to a trained professional about because no matter how much you try to supress them they will always reserface at different points throughout your life and even though talking to a professional about them may not make your negative feelings about yourself disappear, they will give you ways to not let it take over who you really are.
      Some sexual assault survivors are able to overcome bad feelings while breastfeeding and some even find it empowering, but some can’t breastfed. None of these women are better mothers because they breastfed or not. The best thing you can give your baby is love. If you are truly struggling with breast feeding, having flashbacks every time your baby comes to your chest and you start resenting your baby, then breastfeeding for you and your baby for your own individual circumstances may not be best. And that is OK.
      It is your choice to breastfeed or not, the best thing you can do is make an informed choice. If you feel like you can try then find a breastfeeding support group before you have your baby, collect your support network now and tell them about your concern and that you want to try. But also prepare your self if you find after trying that it is not something you want to do. Prepare an alternative, would you be able to pump and bottlefeed pumped milk? If there is a milk bank near you – look into that, make a decision now on whether or not you would want to use one, maybe there is someone close to you who you could do informal milk sharing with, look into what sort of bottles you might use and also what formula you might use. Once you have made some alternative decision tell your breastfeeding supporters that if it does not feel right for you to breastfeed what you would like to do. Sometimes we are not able to have control over the feeling which crop up into our minds but we are able to have control over the decision we make if we are informed and supported.
      I wish you the warmest of luck with the up coming arrival of your baby and the beginning of a new journey with that new little life and always know that no matter what happens your baby will love you as long as you love your baby, no matter how your baby is fed.

  38. I think you are all amazing and your stories are so touching, and humbling. It is amazing how many of you managed to “take the power back” and breastfeed despite your ordeal. It is great to know that it has even helped many of you. What you have achieved is, in my opinion, nothing short of heroic and you are really telling us all something about ” girl power”.
    I am wondering about mums who have not managed to BF as a result of SA, or had to stop earlier than they wanted? The reason why I’m mentioning this is because it seems that guilt is a major issue after SA. It shouldn’t happen, absolutely not, but we all know it’s easier said than done and you don’t get rid of negative feelings by “snapping out of them”.
    What I’m trying to say to those of you who didn’t BF, possibly as a result of SA, is that you really don’t need, on top of everything, to feel guilty about not BFing. It is truly inspirational and wonderful to hear that so many of you could, don’t get me wrong, and maybe I’m overthinking this, but I just wanted to show some support to the ladies who couldn’t BF- with the right support, the right timing, it is clearly possible, but let’s also celebrate those women who are, wrongly, feeling ashamed and guilty about not nursing. Let’s support them too, let’s address that issue, because no one who went through what you did should ever feel bad.

  39. I am long term sexual abuse victim. When I had my son I felt (and still do) that the pregnancy and nursing gave my body a new new meaning. My body had a new purpose that no one could use against me or made negative. Nursing my son made me feel like I had regained control with my body image. I wasn’t just an object for people to use and abuse and toss away like garbage. I am a lifeline for which another human needs to survive.

  40. Hi All,
    I hope you can give me some suggestions. I am a therapist and work with a woman who was sexually abused as a child. She has a baby boy that she breastfeeds. She is tremendously worried because she has sexual thoughts while breastfeeding, and fears closeness with her older male toddler because she fears being aroused by his innocent touching. Can anyone relate to this woman? Can you recommend any reading or research that would help me help her? Thank you.

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  1. […] something I can do for Sexual Assault Awareness Month I’m helping Sexual Assault Survivors share their voice.  In telling their stories they are […]