It's Okay Not To Breastfeed — A Sexual Abuse Survivor's Story

My Past Trauma Makes It Impossible To Breastfeed My Baby

December 17, 2020 Updated December 18, 2020

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When I was pregnant with my first daughter, at the naive age of 17, there had only been one option: formula feeding. It only made sense, I would be spending my daughter’s infancy muddling through my senior year as a single teen mom and succeeding at being a less than average waitress at Chili’s. To my surprise, no one blinked an eye at my decision; this could have been due to the “bless her heart” attitude they had geared towards my situation. “As long as the kid is fed, what more can we expect from her?” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had been let off the hook easily.

Fast forward ten years; I am now married and pregnant again, only this time I have a career that can be worked from home and we aren’t in the front seat of the struggle bus. I am in what you would call an ideal situation. (Don’t roll your eyes, it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get here.) However, despite our financial security, doing things in the “traditional” order, and having age and wisdom on our side, I have never felt more judged and condemned in my life for one decision: I have chosen to exclusively pump or, depending on how pumping goes, possibly formula feed our newborn.

When I made the decision to (try) to be a pumper, I felt like Rocky on the top of the Philadelphia Museum stairs; the victory music blared behind me as my fist-pumping through the air. I had made such a wonderful and selfless decision for my baby, I was going to put in the work and make sure my baby had the golden breastmilk everyone raved over. (That being said, I am still 100% pro formula feeding, a fed baby is a happy baby.) When I was asked the common question “Are you going to breastfeed?” I would proudly state, “Yes, that’s the plan. but I’ll be exclusively pumping.” To my surprise and dismay, their faces would fall or their tone would change, “Oh, well okay, but you know…” Insert unsolicited advice here.

But wait, wasn’t I giving my child the coveted breastmilk everyone is so hyped up about? (Regardless of whether it came from a bottle instead of my boob.) I immediately felt I needed to defend my choice — the choice I had made in pure confidence, knowing it would be the best decision for me and my baby. However, I felt I couldn’t truthfully defend my decision without revealing the most vulnerable parts of myself, further amplifying their judgments. Therefore, I came up with a few secondary reasons why I chose this path and not traditional breastfeeding. (Because, you know, we owe the world an explanation for everything we do.)

My husband can help out more if the baby’s bottle-fed, especially with those long nights spent working. It’s a better fit for our family. It’s quicker and I can monitor her intake better.

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The universal response I received wasn’t understood or applauded. It sounded more along these lines, “Well, it’s more of a bonding experience if you breastfeed. Don’t you want that? It’s critical.” Darn it, Karen, you caught me. I would rather not bond with the human I prayed for and grew for the past nine months. To be fair, she has wrecked my body for nine months and will most certainly turn me into a sleep-deprived swamp monster. Sorry, but this just isn’t enough to convince me I was bound for Mommy purgatory. I bonded extremely well with my oldest daughter, who by the way, loved her bottle.

The next most popular unsolicited gem I received was, “You should just try it and see. You’ll regret it if you don’t.” I call bull on that one too, and let me tell you why: I am a sexual abuse survivor. I have always had issues with certain forms of touch or close contact. Apparently, this is common for many survivors. A Norwegian study found that women who had been exposed to abuse in the past were more likely to not breastfeed, or to stop breastfeeding before their child reached four months old. This could be for a number of reasons: insecurity, feeling mentally or emotionally “dirty” by the act of breastfeeding, PTSD, etc. Whatever the reason may be, let me be the first to tell you: It’s your body, your baby, your choice!

“But it’s the most natural thing in the world.” An eye-rolling response that even my poor naive husband threw at me. The mere thought of such a “natural” act made my skin crawl. Let me tell you what isn’t natural: reliving the fear, pain, and twisted past you have to carry around while trying to simply feed your child. The guilt alone is enough to make you want to give up altogether. I have struggled for years with there being any contact near my chest or my arms, even during a guilt-driven ten-second attempt to breastfeed my firstborn in the hospital thanks to a pushy nurse.

Ten years later, I am still there, still wrapped in the chains of my past traumas, still pushing through the concrete mental blocks. I cringe as I browse Pinterest tips for pumping or come face-to-face with the pump’s flanges. The thought of the pump coming near me or letting my newborn attempt to latch on, only for me to pull her back, is a crippling and pathetic feeling.

With that being said, I am trying. I am trying to not let my past steal something I want to try for my child. I am trying to find some wisdom in your unsolicited advice. I am trying to be a good mother and tackle my own demons.

“Just push through it. It’s temporary, but the benefits are forever.” While some women can acquire tunnel vision or muster up a strong determined front to push through each second of the 15-minute intervals of the infant to mother contact, others can’t, and they shouldn’t be penalized for it.

A comfortable and confident mom is worth her weight in gold. You have to do what makes you comfortable emotionally and mentally, or it will only cause stress and tension for you and your baby. The naysayers won’t be up in the dark at 3 am while you are a human milking machine trying to grapple with your past.

I am still not sure if the pumping deal will work out on my end, but if it doesn’t, I can guarantee my child won’t starve or suffer from not consuming breastmilk. Sure, my oldest kid is a little strange — she still talks to inanimate objects and pretends she is a man-eating eagle in a cape — but I highly doubt the formula or lack of boob contact had anything to do with it.