La Leche League Leaders

La Leche League Leaders
La Leche League Leaders

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

In Honor of Dylan

By Caitlin Fennell Aburrow

Trigger warning - this post contains content about sexual assault that may be difficult for some readers.

Today my baby is one. One year in this world. A mere 365 days. It seems like no time at all, yet in that short span, my baby has accomplished feats one would think impossible for a babbling, chubby, two-toothed wonder. 

In her first year, my baby has made me complete, fixed something in my soul that I didn’t know was broken, and made me a better woman, a better mother. So for her first birthday, and in her honor, I want to share with you our breastfeeding journey, so that I may pass along the precious gift my daughter has given me.  

When Dylan was born it was immediately clear: this girl was a born nursling. She latched on with skill and strength, the most beautiful, textbook latch. Dylan gently sucked, tongue-flicking, nipple-pulling, perfectly drawing milk. We happily nursed, she and I, in calm comfort, the perfect dyad. 

But it was too perfect, she was too good at this, it was too painless. I should have been enjoying how wonderful it felt to nurse. Instead I began cringing every time she rooted, fidgeting and counting the minutes until I could take her off. I began to hate nursing. I hated the thought of nursing. I hated that gentle tugging. I hated that closeness. And worst of all, I hated that I hated it. 

One day I sat on my couch, settling in to yet another torturous 10 minutes per side of anguish. As I nursed Dylan my mind tried hard to wander far, far away, but it couldn’t escape. With one little tongue flick and one little squirm, the truth of my pain became all too clear. In that split second, I remembered what had evaded my mind for years: my aunt used to stroke my nipples when I was young. 

Panic. My heart raced, my head spun, my eyes watered, my body grew weak and I felt the contents of my stomach rising up my throat. The sexual abuse in my family’s past was no secret, we had brought it to the light from the deepest, darkest depths of our minds years ago, but this detail never made it to the surface. This new detail was something I feared I couldn’t face. I unlatched Dylan and swore off breastfeeding. I was done. Forever. 

But then I looked at Dylan, this perfect little child, full of innocence. 

The monsters from my past tried to ruin me, they took things from me that I’ll never get back. But I won. I’m an adult now, more importantly I’m a mom, and they will never get to take anything from my daughter. 

I made the decision in that moment of clarity that we would breastfeed for as long as we damn-well pleased. 

I’m not going to tell you it was easy. For months I struggled. Every gentle suckle, every errant little hand running across the opposite nipple, every playful tongue flick, drained me of every last ounce of mental strength I could find. 

But Dylan got me through it. Her smell, her skin, her eyes pulled me back when my mind started going to dark places. Her tiny hands held mine through the hardest moments, her soul taught mine to trust again. 

And now, Dylan and I are celebrating one year of nursing. If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t think we’d make it. But here we are. And I’ve emerged from this year a more complete, more powerful woman, and it’s thanks to Dylan. 

I share this with you because sadly, I am not alone. 1 in 6 American women is the target of sexual assault in her lifetime. 1 in 6. But still, this isn’t something we talk about. For these women, the idea of breastfeeding can be terrifying. Instead, let’s show our friends, our sisters, our daughters how empowering breastfeeding can be. Let’s make it clear that we support them. Let’s bring this into the light. Let’s have a conversation about this. 

I’m starting it now, in honor of Dylan. 

La Leche League Leader's note - please see these links for more support or information:

Breastfeeding After Sexual Abuse 

Best for Babes - How a history of sexual abuse affects breastfeeding 


Scotty Buff said...

Caitlin, I admire your courage and candor in speaking about how previous sexual abuse impacted your breastfeeding experience. Congratulations on your one year anniversary! To both you and Dylan :)

Meghan said...

Thank you for your courage and for showing Dylan how you love her. That love is stronger than any monsters from your past. You rock!