An update: We will have made it to four months of nursing this Sunday. I am still having lots of days and nursing sessions that I struggle through, but it is incrementally getting better. I think that giving myself permission to stop if I want to and really being aware that I need to respect my need for body autonomy have helped greatly. I am still searching for specific strategies to get through the actual breastfeeding sessions. I am going to try the visualizations that Adeline's Mama recommended. I will come back and post the resources that I have found when I have time so that anyone who lurks this thread looking for solutions and support can benefit. I also want to say that I think that some of what has made things so very difficult is a struggle with postpartum depression in addition to the PTSD from the sexual abuse. I am now also focused on treatment for the PPD and that might be a big part of the progress that has been made. My specific responses to each commenter are below:
Originally Posted by goldenwillow
I applaud you for reaching out. Sounds like you have done well with finding resources for helping yourself through triggers. I was molested most of my childhood and have triggers breastfeeding. I managed to continue and also have a supportive husband, which is huge. Now 3 years down the road, I am so grateful that I managed to push through my triggers, it has benefited my DS and myself in ways that are hard to describe.
It does get easier, I promise.
Golden Willow- I agree that partner support is so very important and I am blessed in that department. I am happy to hear that you are as well. I am glad that you were able to push through and have a successful nursing relationship. That gives me hope. I am still struggling quite a bit, but I do see small amounts of progress. That keeps me motivated to work on improving and not giving up. I appreciate your support.
Originally Posted by Adaline'sMama
Remember, that even a small amount of breastmilk is good for the baby. Your baby has had your colostrum and milk from you for three months. Good job!
I am a survivor of rape, it has never influenced my feelings during breastfeeding, but if it did, I'd stop if I felt like it was doing me emotional harm. You are important too- and you baby will thrive from other sources of food. Remember, you've done great.
One thing that has helped me in situations where I have flashbacks to traumatic events in my life is to have a picture of something that I find inspiring and beautiful in my mind. For me, when I gave birth to DD I as staring at a woodcut stamp of a fish that DH gave me for our wedding present. It is amazing and I really love it. Whenever something triggers me to think about childhood abuse, rape, or visualizations of my son's death I just try to tell myself, "see the fish, what does the fish look like?" It works about 75% of the time- sometimes you just cant move past traumatic stuff.
Another thing that helps me is to give myself time and space to think about these things in a safe environment where there aren't triggers. I've found that if I just do distraction visualizations, eventually what Ive been putting off thinking about catches up with me. So ,for me a safe place usually means writing on my blog or talking to a dear friend. DH is helpful for some of it, but he has his own issues to deal with with other parts so I cant unload everything on him. I think switching therapists is a good idea, or at least moving in that direction. It doesn't mean stop going to your friend, it means go to someone else a couple of times and see how you feel afterwards.
Adeline's Mama- I am sorry for what happened to you, but glad to hear it has not affected your nursing relationship. I don't believe the nursing is doing me emotional harm, though I did question (do?) if I was re-traumatizing myself for a while. I am often triggered by other things and now that I am back on this planet (I felt like I was on a different planet for the first three weeks or so) I am back to the same amount of being triggered by bedtime, physical contact, smells, etc. Nursing is just another trigger, though it is admittedly the most intense. I like your idea of a visualizing a beautiful object. Sometimes I go to my "white room"...a safe space in my mind that is a blank, white space in which I can create what I need in the moment. I "decorate" or transform the space depending on what I need. Now that I am so often feeling trapped, I enter into the room and transform it to an outdoor space. It is difficult to do when I am in the middle of a flashback, though, so I like the idea of the visualization of a loved object. And I wholeheartedly agree, distraction is only good in the moment. The "Stuff" is still there and needs to be dealt with. I am toying with the idea of creating a blog specific to my survivor issues. It would function as an outlet for me and perhaps a resource for other moms. I appreciate your very moderate, middle-of-the-road suggestion to my therapy issue...perhaps that is the best answer right now...I will see if I can find someone to add on for the time being... Thanks for all of your wonderful feedback!
Originally Posted by MichelleZB
At least it is nice that your therapist is supportive of breastfeeding. Some might not understand why you are trying to breastfeed. I commend you for getting this far. Your baby is benefitting.
Here's Penny Simkin's podcast about early sexual abuse and breastfeeding. I have no idea whether it will help or not, but I thought I'd post the link: http://breastfeeding.blog.motherwear.com/2009/03/podcast-early-sexual-abuse-and-breastfeeding-with-penny-simkin.html
Perhaps it'll even help, just knowing that there are others who have had this problem. You are not alone.
Thank you for nurturing your child.
Michelle ZB- Yes, it is great that my therapist understands firsthand how important breastfeeding is. She has even been able to help troubleshoot some issues. I do recognize that truly caring about her approval could dissuade me from weaning if it was truly necessary, though. Thankfully it isn't necessary. I am committed to making the breastfeeding work and have decided that there are enough avenues of support that the only way I will stop is if the only other choice to keep me well is hospitalization. Short of that, I am using the resources that I have and struggling through. Thank you for your response and for finding the podcast. Penny is amazing!
Originally Posted by bootsvalentine
Hi, I don't have any suggestions but I am also a sexual abuse survivor that is breastfeeding right now. I was really worried about breastfeeding because having cold nipples gave me an intense trigger for many years, but somehow I have mostly avoided it, but I've only been at it a month! I find the oxytocin is stronger than the bad trigger most of the time. I'm sorry you're going through this. My only suggestion would be to try more kangaroo care/skin to skin to try to get more good hormones flowing. I think you got a lot of other good suggestions with therapy, considering meds,etc. good luck! You aren't the only one.
Boots Valentine- Thank you for the reminder that I am not alone in this. That is one of the reasons that I posted in the forum; I always figure there is at least one other survivor mama looking for the same answers and support that I am searching for. I don't notice the oxytocin rush at all. :( I guess the PTSD just overrides it. I have been doing lots of skin to skin since birth but it is a good reminder to keep at it as it is helpful to us both. I also find bathing with her helps sometimes, but I have no bathing related triggers. I am so glad that you have had a good experience! Sending you wishes for continued breastfeeding success...
Originally Posted by gemasita
HappyHappyMama's suggestion is a good one! Also, may I ask, are you or would you *consider* medication? It might be helpful to get through this period. I am not a survivor but I had LOTS of pain breastfeeding for 5 months and was finally out of pain at around 7 months and the pain can really wear on you and then you have the emotional piece to deal with too. I am just bringing this up because some people don't know that there are medications that are compatible with breastfeeding so I didn't want you to not consider it because of that.
You might also Google EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). It's easy to learn and you can do it yourself either while nursing or not.
Gemasita- I am considering medication. I have taken medication off and on for years. I am only reluctant because I am low serotonin and low norepinephrine and the only drugs that I ever really responded to are SSRNIs and they are not recommended for use during breastfeeding. It is unfortunate that I did not do well on Zoloft in the past because it is the first choice for a breastfeeding mom and for PTSD as well. I have debated doing a trial of Zoloft even though I did not respond in the past because I am wondering if it would react differently in my system with the different hormones I have now being postpartum and breastfeeding. Interesting you recommended EFT as I just started using a guided meditation mp3 that walks you through EFT. It helped with a general anxiety moment but I haven't used it during a nursing session yet. Thank you for your suggestions!
Originally Posted by dogmom327
Not SA survivor but am working on past traumas. EMDR has been extremely helpful. Just thought I'd put in a plug for it. I hope you find something that will help OP!
Dog Mom- Thank you! My therapist doesn't recommend EMDR. How has it helped you? I have heard others have had success with the treatment.
Originally Posted by HappyHappyMommy
Hi Nette, welcome to MDC and congratulations on your new little one. I believe that Penny Simkin (author of When Survivors Give Birth) has some information specifically for survivors about breastfeeding. You might also try posting this question in the Ask the Experts forum as some of the experts might have suggestions.
Sending you support for your continued healing and good wishes to you and your family!
Happy Happy Mommy- Thanks for the welcome, support, and the suggestions. There was some information in When Survivors Give Birth about breastfeeding but it was not very helpful in my case. I am looking for specific strategies to cope with the uncomfortable feelings, PTSD symptoms, and difficulty balancing my need for body autonomy. I will look around and see if Penny has more specific information elsewhere. I think I will post this in the Ask the Experts forum; there has to be at least one other mom it will benefit. Most of what I keep finding is directed toward making a decision about continuing to nurse or wean...not HOW to continue nursing through the difficulties.
Originally Posted by Lottie12345
HUGS, have you considered DMER? http://d-mer.org/ Pop "DMER breastfeeding" in Google for lots more info x
Lottie- It doesn't sound like it is DMER in my case because the discomfort doesn't pass in the 30 sec- 2 min time frame, but I will do some more research to see if it is still a possibility. Thanks for the suggestion.
Originally Posted by Karen F Riley
I'm so sorry for what happened to you in the past and the issues you are struggling with now. I applaud you for continuing to breastfeed and reaching out to others for suggestions.
Everyone's situation is different, but I can tell you this - it does get better with time. I'm not saying that "time heals all wounds" as I loathe that expression - we all heal on our own timetables, but reaching out for help will ultimately progress your healing journey.
I am a sexual abuse survivor, also living in NJ. I speak to hundreds of men and women about this topic and there is a lot of common threads (i.e. scars) that run through us all. Reaching out for help is a tremendous, courageous first step. I see that you are doing that in lots of ways and I'm glad that you are seeing a therapist and have a supportive husband.
A group that I belonged to said, "If one of us can heal, we all can." I try to offer hope and healing to others based on my experiences and that of others. I have written a book called Healing in the Hurting Places and if you would like to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with an snail mail address to send it to, I'd be happy to bless you with an autographed complimentary copy. I hope that you may find things in the book that will help you, as so many others have. It is an inspirational story meant to provide hope, healing and resources to turn to.
And by the way, I am the mother of 3 and grandmother of 1 with another on the way. I successfully breastfeed all of my children, even though I was still in tremendous emotional pain at the time. I had struggles, too, but I hung in there and am glad that I did. In the end, you have to do what is best for you - as well as your baby. It's hard for abuse survivors to put their own needs first, but sometimes you do need to do that and it isn't selfish. It's finding that balance that is the hard part.
I hope I have given you some encouragement and let you know that you are not alone. I will pray for you and your continued recovery and that beautiful new life you just brought into the world.
Founder of Healing in the Hurting Places
Karen- I appreciate all of the work that you put into creating your website. I do find that the more I reach out, the more I dispel the darkness. It's not a secret I need to keep anymore. I would love an opportunity to read your book and will gladly send along my mailing info since you so kindly offered to send a copy. I do agree that finding balance is a huge struggle for survivors, myself included. I don't want to sacrifice myself on the altar of Motherhood, but it is important to me to work through the breastfeeding issues because I believe it is best for my daughter. I think it may be another opportunity for deep healing if I can manage that balance. Thank you for your encouragement, prayers, and hope.
Originally Posted by Alenushka
I would start by getting another therapist ASAP. Friends are friends and therapists are therapists.
Alenushka- I hear you...as I related, I am aware of the issues that stem from our boundary issues. It's not as simple a fix as it sounds to just get someone more objective. I have no insurance and we live on one income and she has made it so we can afford my sessions. I also have a complicated history and it feels like I need the stability of someone who truly knows all that I am dealing with right now. I'm not ready to move on quite yet, but agree that it will need to happen. In the meantime, I am looking for someone compassionate but more objective to add into the mix. Thanks. :)
Originally Posted by cyclamen
[most of this felt really personal, I'm sure OP has seen this, not sure if I need anyone else to :)]
edit - one of the things that i have discussed with my therapist is that I have many coping strategies that worked for me in the past even if they aren't conventional. We talked about how I often completely withdraw when stressed and if I can make arrangements to be sure DD is receiving the care she needs in my absence, it is okay for me to completely withdraw and do whatever other things that I need to do to be well for her and for my family.
Cyclamen- Yes! I found benefit in remembering that "Me Time" doesn't mean taking a break from being a mother, just from the responsibilities of motherhood. That I am not abandoning my daughter, I am just having her dad take care of her needs while I take care of myself. I also forget sometimes that I AM coping, even when I am feeling like I just.can't.cope. I also have developed non-conventional coping strategies and even "dysfunctional" methods, dissociation for example, serve a purpose for me. I am grateful you shared your experience...it is nice to know someone else who needs extra space sometimes.
Originally Posted by tropicana
i'm not a sexual abuse survivor. but i did have an unmedicated birth... and with my first child, the NURSING was by far much more painful. i almost didn't make it. my daughter got a bottle at the hospital and it affected her latch. it was extremely painful to nurse, and the pain went on for 10 weeks before it became comfortable.
we ultimately prevailed in nursing. she went on to nurse long and proud.
how did i get there? i gave myself permission to quit. this was in the face of all the breast is best advice, all the well meaning friends (who ultimately were my inspiration to keep nursing), all my good intentions.
despite all that, i gave myself permission to stop.
i got down to one single solitary nursing session, and i even had her bottle prepared.
after soul searching and prayer, decided though to do another nursing instead. each nursing session was like that, could have happened or not, i had bottles at the ready. somehow we kept going and ultimately turned a corner on the pain.
i can't speak for your trauma, however, and how you will react to this scenario. i will pray for your peace with this issue though, if that's OK.
and can i just add that nursing DOES get easier? the newborn period is so taxing, so all encompassing. it WILL get easier and better.
good luck to you! and know you are not alone. i have more than a few friends who are childhood sex abuse survivors. you guys are strong and survivors. i view the PTSD as a sort of "shudder" or "unwinding" of the trauma that you have endured. it is possibly your body's way of letting it go or shaking it off of yourself.
Tropicana- I thank you for sharing your experience...it was extremely helpful. I have given myself permission to stop nursing which helped me feel less trapped. I also try to stay out of "all or nothing thinking" and as much as I would like her to be exclusively breastfed, if needed I can always supplement for some feedings if it means being able to breastfeed even part time. I have given myself permission to have an imperfect nursing relationship. I appreciate any prayers and good thoughts. Your point of view on the PTSD is interesting...I guess I can see at times that it is like my body is trying to work through the old material.