*My Body* On Demand

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Content Note

This piece focuses on sexual assault and includes discussion and detailed description of birth including birth trauma, anxiety, and mention of sexual assault.


The sweet smell of a new baby was more intoxicating than I had imagined. My heart swelled every time I held her, I thought I had known love, this was even more. Joy, relief, peace, total contentment.

It had been a difficult pregnancy and an even more difficult birth. So often, most of the time, I felt completely out of control as though I had no say over my body or what happened to me. Spending hours and hours reading text books, reading personal accounts, absorbing all the literature I could on pregnancy and birth, I had taken advantage of every resources I could to be prepared. Long ago I had found that learning as much as I could about an experience I was facing helped me feel less out of control and more calm. It helped me to think rationally, ask informed questions, and make decisions that didn’t seem desperate. So I managed better than I expected with the sense of lack of control and autonomy. Reading and listening to the stories of others that had traversed the path of parenthood through pregnancy and birth before me, I understood that modesty might fly out the window, that decisions may need to be made quickly, that plans may need to be altered for life saving measures.

As a sexual assault survivor who was still processing and recovering, I saw a therapist regularly, journaled, and read materials on sexual assault survivors giving birth. It was important to me that my birth partner- my husband and my birth team be aware that I was a survivor and that consent was particularly important to me for any touching. We were all prepared.

But in the end it wasn’t the pregnancy and birth that brought anxiety flooding back for me as I became a mother for the first time. It wasn’t the incessant vomiting, multiple hospitalizations for hydration, the numerous failed IV placement attempts, the premature rupture of membranes at 32 weeks and the rushed amniocentesis without anything to numb the insertion of the largest needle ever to enter my body, the diagnosis of asymmetrical IUGR, the weeks of steroids, or the diagnosis of pre-e that made me feel that I had no say over what happened to my body. Even when we had to fight in the hospital for certain accommodations to help me relax in labor I didn’t feel out of control. And when an episiotomy was performed without my consent I was angry but at the time accepted it was necessary (it wasn’t but I made peace with it). Not even when my doctor shoved her arm up inside me to her elbow to manually scrape out my uterus and perform an extraction of my partially retained placenta when I was hemorrhaging, not even then did I feel that my autonomy was threatened.

It wasn’t until a few days later, at home, as my milk flooded my breasts making them hot and swollen and my baby suddenly was desperately and constantly in demand of my breasts that I experienced my first panic attack.

Feed on demand.

sexual assault survivor breastfeeding

I wanted to run away. I wanted to say no. I felt trapped and stuck and completely at the mercy of another human being.

Every time she rooted or fussed, her little mouth searching, I felt it wash over me.

Feed on demand.

Those 3 words were the sentence that thrust me back to when someone else had the control, the say, and all the power over my body. Their hands, their mouth, their fingers, their body probing mine and demanding what they wanted from me. I had no say, I was overpowered. And later, in another context, there was a charade of my own power but if I truly loved them, truly trusted them, I would give my body over to their demands, because that was what love did, even if it hurt. Love meant obligation.

Feed on demand.

But this was my baby. The greatest love I had ever known. And this wasn’t sexual, this was nurturing and caring, this was mothering.

What was wrong with me? Why did I feel like this?

Feed on demand.

This other person outside of myself had all the say over my body. She had the right to demand my body and I had to give it to her or I was failing in loving her fully and in giving her what she deserved. Her right to my milk was so much more important than my right to my body, what kind of mother would I be to deny her demands?

Feed on demand.

I loved her. I was obligated to her. I would do anything for her.

So I would expose my breast to her demanding mouth. I would draw her close through her demanding cries. I would try to control my reaction as her suck demanded my milk. I offered myself to her demands because she mattered more than me.

Feed on demand.

Utilizing breathing exercises I had practiced for labor and staring up at the ceiling as I ran through songs in my head trying to distract myself from the anxiety that clawed at my throat as she suckled at my breast. I got through weeks and weeks of feeds. Months. I was loving her, I told myself. Love required sacrifice, motherhood is full of sacrifices. I would meet her demands for my body because I loved her.

Feed on demand.

Mommy and Arden bfing hand kiss

Eventually it got easier for me. I didn’t stay stuck there and I even found feeding my baby to be a healing experience. As she grew our relationship developed and I could look into her eyes as I fed her, her contented sighs and complete trust helping my anxiety to subside. I’m sure oxytocin helped too. But personally, it was having the option to always say no by instead offering a bottle of breastmilk that helped me find the autonomy I had in saying yes too. It took time but slowly I was able to reframe what was happening.

I wasn’t losing control of my body to a demanding, controlling, abusive person in an imbalanced relationship that was causing me pain. No, my baby was dependent on me and powerless herself as an infant. I was choosing to respond to her and care for her needs.

I no longer saw it as feeding on demand but rather responsive feeding. Responding to her cues and cries for me, the safest person she knew. She was safe for me too.

Love is responsive.

Responsive feeding. Feeding with love.

____________________________________

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.
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15 Signs You’re a Breastfeeding Junkie

by Jessica Martin-Weber, illustrations by Jennie Bernstein 

There are fashion junkies, pinterest junkies, home decorating junkies, birth junkies, health food junkies, exercise junkies, you name it. Anything can become a passion and then slip over into almost addictive behavior patterns. It’s all you really think about, it’s all you want to do, it’s what you can’t wait to get back to, too long without it and it’s what causes you to break out in a cold sweat. Like most teens with their smart phones. There is a point where it crosses over from a normal interest level to practically accosting strangers with information and wearing t-shirts announcing your fan status. Breastfeeding junkies can be particularly enthusiastic and start seeing breastfeeding and boobs everywhere thanks to breastfeeding on the brain, just itching to get back to breastfeeding information, support, and advocacy.

Wondering if you’re a breastfeeding junkie? They say it takes one to know one so here are 15 signs I’ve spotted in myself that may indicate I’m a bit of a breastfeeding junkie.

1. Every outfit you encounter is assessed for Breastfeeding compatability. In stores, online, random women on the street… All clothing is assessed on how well one could get a boob out. That 50 year old stranger’s smart looking outfit you mentally dissed because “her baby would be freaking out by the time she got her boob out of that dress” even though it’s obvious she wouldn’t currently have a nursling.

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2. When out by yourself you find yourself checking out where a breastfeeding mom could find a comfortable spot to sit and feed her baby even though you won’t be using it. 

3. If a store or business indicates they welcome breastfeeding moms you thank the person behind the counter for their support even though you don’t have a breastfeeding baby with you. 

4. Without being asked, you are ready to launch into a detailed explanation of the composition of breastmilk whenever someone mentions any kind of milk. 

5. You see what should be a somewhat disturbing nature video of something eating something else that has nothing to do with breastfeeding and think: “you know, what a good latch, look at those flared lips.”

6. You know HAMLET isn’t just a Shakespeare character

7. Without meaning to you spot tongue ties in pictures of babies or talk with someone and notice they have some restriction and mentally cringe for that baby’s mom’s nipples wondering if there is restricted movement that led to nipple damage. 

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8. Coffee cups, lights, signs, hubcaps, patterns, gourds, melons, a pint of ice cream, you name it, you see breasts everywhere of everything. Life through boob colored glasses. 

I see boobs breastfeeding junkie meme

9. Somehow, someway, you always end up talking about breastfeeding. It just works it’s way into every conversation, even conversations with young single men. It happens so often it doesn’t even surprise you any more.

10. Off the top of your head you can cite the recommendations for breastmilk storage including the temperature and duration of storage, the signs for low milk supply, and 

11. It’s not uncommon for you to get texts, emails, or calls from people you know asking for breastfeeding help for themselves or someone they know. Some of these come from men asking for their partner and new baby and nobody feels awkward about it.

12. You look forward to a nurse-in just so you can spend the day with a bunch of Breastfeeding moms and their babies. 

13. It’s not uncommon for you to cry over and share the breastfeeding photos of others, even strangers, on your social media.

14. There is at least one breastfeeding crush in your life, an IBCLC, doctor, or advocate that you would love to meet and hang onto every word they say… about breastfeeding.

15. For baby gifts you put together a gift basket that includes breast pads, your favorite breastfeeding book, a list of online breastfeeding resources and support groups, phone numbers for local breastfeeding group leaders (you may be one) and IBCLCs, a water bottle for mom, a jar of nipple cream, a breastfeeding pillow, and a note to call any time she needs some breastfeeding help or encouragement.

If you are a breastfeeding junkie, there’s really not much you can do about it. Spend some time with your kiddos, open pinterest to distract yourself (no looking for breastfeeding on pinterest! Look for crafts, recipes, decorating, fashion, anything but breastfeeding), take up running, and find some balance. There is hope, you don’t have to be trapped in this place forever. Unless of course you’re ok with it, in that case just head over to The Leaky Boob Facebook page and help out all those moms needing the support of a junkie like yourself.

 ____________________

Jessica Martin-Weber 
Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com,co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and co-creator of OurStableTable.com, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book and a children’s book.

 

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Healing Power of Breastmilk Donation After Loss- In Memory of Maya; a #MyStoryMatters Leaky Share

 by Ulrike K. Ingram

***Please note, this piece covers infant loss in detail and may be triggering for some.

infant and pregnancy loss

My daughter Maya was stillborn at 35 weeks gestation. It was a sudden and devastating loss to find out that after an easy, uncomplicated pregnancy, she had died due to a cord accident. While still being in shock after her death and birth, I started to think about what to do once my milk came in. I knew early on that I wanted to try to pump for donation purposes, but wasn’t sure if I could really do it, physically and emotionally. I planned to just take it one pumping session at a time. I didn’t want to make a long term commitment and then fail. My milk came in when I woke up on the Friday after she died on Wednesday. I started pumping that day and collected maybe 2 ounces of milk during the first session.

I have two older children who I breastfed. When they were younger, I was working part-time and I only had to pump occasionally. Pumping exclusively after Maya’s birth was a challenge. I tried to pump 6- 7 times in a 24 hour period. Three weeks later, I was consistently getting about 5 ounces of milk per session. I was still taking it one session at a time, always worried that my supply was decreasing, or that I was just too tired to get up in the middle of the night to pump. I was very close to stopping maybe five weeks after Maya was born. I struggled for several days with whether to continue or stop. After talking to my husband and praying about it for several days, I felt a piece in my heart about continuing on this journey. It felt like a God given guidance that it was good to pump and good to continue for longer.

Three months went by and I was still pumping, though not as frequently, probably only about four times per day. I didn’t plan how long I would continue to pump because it my only connection to Maya.

Sometimes when I pumped during the day, one or both of my sons would sit with me, or play on the floor next to me. My younger son would ask, “Mommy, why do you have to pump?” or when I’m done, “Mommy, why are you stopping?” I have explained to them why I pump. Although I wasn’t sure they really understood, I recognized that it was okay. Once my younger son told my husband that he likes to play in our guest bedroom because that’s where mommy pumps.

Almost five months went by and I stopped pumping at the end of July – 4 1⁄2 months after Maya was born. I decreased my pumping frequently from four times to three times per day. I then limited the remaining pumping sessions to 10 minutes, then 9 minutes two days later, then 8 minutes, and so forth. I was eventually able to stop pumping without feeling engorged. It was a slow process of letting go, physically and emotionally.

In total, I pumped for 131 days, and donated 470 breast milk bags, an estimation of 2300 ounces of milk. I donated the milk to local moms through a Facebook page, which matches milk donors with moms looking for milk, who for various reasons do not have enough milk for their baby, or want to provide breast milk to their adopted child.

guest post, leaky to leaky

It has been a privilege and an honor to use Maya’s milk in a meaningful way. It was one of the few things I was able to do in my daughter’s name. It’s part of her legacy. It’s her milk. It was made for her, and I was able to give it to somebody else who needed it. On the difficult days, when I was tired or emotionally drained, I sometimes wondered whether it was worth it. I suspect that the recipient cannot appreciate the value of this milk to the full extent. There is a lot more meaning and love in this milk and the act of pumping and the invested time than the recipients will ever know. I imagine that Maya has been watching over our family from heaven, seeing me pump, and understands that it was for her. It’s her legacy and her memory that is being carried forward and passed on to others.

 ____________________

If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

____________________

Ulrike and her husband have two older boys and then got pregnant with their daughter Maya in 2013. After an easy pregnancy, they found out that she had passed away at 36 weeks gestation due to a blood clotting issue. Ulrike pumped and donated Maya’s milk for several months. It was a way to keep her memory alive in one tangible and physical way for Ulrike.
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