In the beginning, I was not a fan of nursing, but I patiently kept going to meetings and nursing, hoping that I would attain some kind of strategy, or trick to make this experience more pleasant. I knew nursing was the best thing for my baby, so I kept at it. This was one of my better decisions in those early days. It wouldn’t be long before I realized that nursing provided so much more than love for my child. I was soon to discover I was sitting on a wealth of love and healing for myself as well—and it was more than I ever than I ever dreamed.
As a teen, and again later as a married woman, I had the misfortune of meeting some very bad men, and was raped multiple times, by partners, bosses, and strangers. This is something that has haunted my days and almost every facet of my life. Through years of counseling I have developed skills for coping, but never felt like my body was a good place to ‘live’. I always felt that it was no good, unattractive, and a target for potential predators to find me with. I never really felt safe in my own skin, and really had some very serious body image issues, as well as issues with my body as a sexual object. It was rare I allowed my husband to touch my breasts during intercourse because the sensations I associated with that tender act were less than loving. I worried how I would cope with this while nursing. In my last trimester I was more frightened of nursing than I was of labor and delivery!
My labor and delivery was a planned, natural home birth, but things didn’t go as I’d hoped and I ended up on a pitocin drip with an ineffective epidural I didn’t need or want, and lots of issues about how my body had failed me. I also had a very difficult pregnancy that at many points, endangered my life. I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarium, and lost 42 pounds in the first weeks of my pregnancy. I had scarcely controlled vomiting for 7 of 9 months, and at delivery time, was still 20 pounds lighter than before I became pregnant. These issues only served to compound my feelings of resentment for my body, and I felt like it didn’t work, and never would– I hated it all the more for these reasons.
It was very difficult for me to surrender control of my body on someone else’s terms, and someone else’s schedule, even if it was a tiny, helpless, perfect, little infant. I really struggled with my baby’s seemingly constant need for my breasts in the first days. I called my La Leche League Leader for support more than once, and cried to my husband about how difficult it was for me to ‘let go’ of the control I had maintained over my body for so many years in order to feel safe as a result of the violence I’d been through.
But slowly, after a few more weeks of nursing, the soreness and engorgement went away, and I began to treasure the time my baby spend nuzzled and sleeping ‘at the tap’, as my husband would say. The resentments I had harbored against my body for years as a result of violence and mistreatment, and my pregnancy ‘failings’ all began to melt away as I began to realize that my body was doing the most amazing thing… it was nourishing my son with the milk and love he needed to learn, grow, and bond to me in those critical first days. I suddenly stopped resenting the seemingly constant need for him to nurse, and fell in love with my son and my breasts. Surrendering this most feminine part of myself became a source of pride, and strength. My mind was filled with wonder as my son nursed ‘early and often’, and we established the most intimate connection I have ever felt. For the first time n my life, I felt safe sharing my body. I felt powerful, strong, and loved– all from this one act. I became a milk-maker, a super-hero, and I LOVED my new milk-makers! This changed my life, and my relationship with my body– something that 10 years of therapy could not do.
My breasts have always been large, and I felt they were a ‘target’ to attract unwanted sexual attention from sexual predators, and when they ballooned out to a 36G as my milk came in, I was appalled, embarrassed, and very nervous. With time, however, I came to know my body in a way I never had, and as my son continued to nurse with vigor, I learned how amazing it is to be a woman, and that my breasts were the most amazing gift I had ever been given. For me, breastfeeding had redeemed every act of violence against me, and taken back every perception on my own failure, and allowed me to love my body and realize it’s power for the first time.
At 14 months I developed a condition that needed medication—or so we thought. I weaned my son only to find out that I didn’t need to! So after 2 dry months, I quickly re-lactated and was soon nursing with a full supply, and we were both happy as can be! I have never felt so powerful!! What a trick—to make milk where there was once none! I think I earned bragging rights until he’s old enough to tell me I’m embarrassing him! For my son, breastfeeding provided nutrition, love, protection, and the feeling that he was the most important little boy on this earth. For me, breastfeeding provided self-love, acceptance, safety, and a confidence I have never felt. This has truly changed my life, and shaped my future.
Breastfeeding alone, was the single instrument of healing I have been searching for all my life. Who knew that feeding this tiny baby would be the most profound joy, and sense of accomplishment in my 30 years? I feel strong, I feel powerful, and I have overcome so much. Breastfeeding is so much more powerful than I ever imagined—but I sure am glad I stuck with it to find out!
Colleen Curry is a mother, DONA certified labor doula (see her website), certified childbirth educator, and La Leche League leader.