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Breastfeeding After CSA

Breastfeeding Awareness Month 2018

The first week of August was World Breastfeeding Awareness Month, but in the US, the United States Breastfeeding Committee has declared the whole month of August Breastfeeding Awareness Month. In honour of that (not in the least because I didn’t blog about the issue during the first seven days of August!), I wanted to share a few thoughts on breastfeeding after child sexual abuse (CSA).

While so many of us want to breastfeed, and spend our pregnancies imagining doing just that – and, indeed, preparing for it, it’s not always that easy. Aside, altogether, from the issues and difficulties that many women without a history of CSA encounter, there are additional difficulties that may manifest if the new mum such a history.  I’ve enumerated a few of them here:

  • If our breasts were a focal point of our abuse, we may be reluctant to offer, or share them, with anyone else – even our own babies. The physical contact may be just too much.
  • Dissociation is something I’ve discussed on this blog before – it’s often a huge part of our experiences when we are being abused. Dissociation, sadly, can also be part of our experiences when we’re breastfeeding – which can effect the mother-child bonding that is a much-mentioned positive element of breastfeeding. This, in turn, can lead to further shame and guilt around our bodies.
  • There are three kinds of touch that can be difficult for a woman with a history of CSA: self-touch, touch of another, and medical touch. Breastfeeding is, often, comprised of all three: The touch of the mother’s own hand on her breast – before, during, and after, a feed; the touch of the baby on the mother’s breasts; the manipulation of the mother’s breasts in order to assist with a latch etc.
  • Bodily fluids – even her own breastmilk – may be disgusting to the new mother who associates such fluids with abuse.
  • The shame that CSA visits on a woman, on her body, on her sense of self, can be mirrored in the shame that attaches to ‘bodies on display’ in many parts of the world. Then, there is the fact that  many societies visit shame on women who breastfeed in public, so this adds to the difficulty.
  • The mouth of her child on her breast can be triggering for the new mother with a history of CSA. It may remind her too much of her abuser/s slobbering all over her breasts.
  • If her birth didn’t go how she planned, the new mother may well have the old tape of ‘I can’t do anything right’ playing in her head. This may mean that she is convinced she can’t breastfeed her baby, either – so she may not even try.
  • If breastfeeding is difficult – or impossible – for the survivor of CSA, it can add to her feelings of guilt, and of the fact that her body is ‘failing’ her.

It’s not all bad, though. For many women with a history of CSA, managing to breastfeed successfully can be an hugely healing experience for women. It is a(nother) example of her body ‘behaving’ properly; of her body doing what it’s supposed to do.

If you are supporting a new mother who has a history of CSA, there are things you can do to help:

  • Reassure her that her choices are valid.
  • Reassure her that she is not being judged.
  • Reassure her that there are myriad other ways to love her baby.
  • If she really wants to breastfeed, discuss using a pump and expressing milk for her baby to exclusively feed breastmilk to her child.
  • Help her to see her milk as a ‘good’ / ‘useful’ fluid.
  • Remind her that she birthed beautifully, and that she can breastfeed beautifully, too – with help and support.
  • Encourage her to attend La Leche League, or Cuidiú meetings while she’s still pregnant.

The transition to motherhood is a monumental one for every woman, but it can be harder for those of us with a history of CSA. Ditto breastfeeding. Being sensitive to the possibilities can make the experience so much easier, and empowering, for these women.

The Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

NarisscissI am delighted to report that Headstuff has published a piece I wrote about Narcissistic Mothers. You can read it here.

On foot of recognising the terrible damage my own narcissistic mother is responsible for, I set up a support group for daughters of narcissistic mothers. It’s a secret group on FB (so no one knows you’re there, except you and the other members).

Being the daughter of a narcissistic mother can be a very lonely place; Society would like us to be very quiet about the fact that our mothers don’t love us. Even people who didn’t have ideal childhoods, even people who were abused by their mothers, find it difficult to believe that there exist mothers who simply refuse to love their daughters. Those of us who have suffered – and those of us who continue to suffer – the terrible impact of narcissistic mothers, however ‘get it’.

In part, that’s why the FB group is such a wonderful place to hang out – it’s populated by wonderful women who completely understand how it feels to have a mother who doesn’t care about you; who pits your siblings against you; who lies about you; who refuses to celebrate your wins; who puts you down at every turn; who is jealous of your every success and attempts to take the good out of it; who cannot bear the idea that you might be happier than she; who is filled with rage at the idea that your standard of living might be better than hers etc. etc. Having somewhere to bring this hurt, where you will be understood, and not judged, is a huge relief.

If you’d like to join, this group, please contact me via this page, DM me on Twitter, or send me a few words on Messenger .

 

 

Birth Trauma Awareness Week

Traumatised Woman Eyes - Edited

Content Warning: Sexual Assault / Sexual Abuse / Incest

This week is Birth Trauma Awareness week.

For many women, the birth itself is traumatic because of how they are treated during labour and birth. For women who have been sexually abused as children, however, labour and birth can compound the trauma they have suffered.

While she was growing up, Orla’s* father ‘played’ with her by playing ‘tickling’ with her. He would chase her, catch her, and then hold her down tickle her, kiss her, and – as she hit puberty –  touch her breasts, buttocks, and genitals.

Like many people who are abused over a period of time, Orla started to recognise the ‘cues’ from her father that an abusive incident was coming. She would try, desperately, to get away from him, but she was never successful. Orla felt helpless, but still, when he tickled her, she laughed. This would result in him calling her ‘a little flirt’ and saying things like ‘you’re just pretending you don’t want me to do it.’

Orla couldn’t get away from her dad because he was too strong. Her laughter would give away to tears, and then to crying, and eventually to screaming. Finally, he would stop.

When Orla grew up, she did not look back on her father’s actions as abusive, because it was labelled as ‘play’, and she remembers laughing at the time.

Years afterwards, however, when she was in labour with her first child, she was hooked up to a foetal monitor, had a canula inserted, and a blood pressure cuff. She had a panic attack on account of the restrictions on her movements. Her reaction seemed disproportionate until later, when Orla connected the events during childbirth with being restrained while her father abused her.

Like Orla, many women are surprised by the degree of their distress over routine aspects of maternity care. For abuse survivors, distressing or traumatic events can bring up the same feelings of helplessness and fear that they felt with the original abuse. It can be difficult to understand, however, why seemingly innocuous or helpful interventions can also bring up feelings of helplessness and fear. If the trauma of the original abuse was never correctly addressed, they are at risk for re-traumatisation, and may end up  suffering from chronic post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

Much of this distress can be alleviated for pregnant women survivors of CSA if, before labour, they have an opportunity to explore some of the features (events, procedures, and care policies) of childbirth that might bear similarities to their abuse, and to plan strategies for avoiding, or coping with, them.

Women often dread the prospect of deeply exploring the origins of abuse-related symptoms. Once they do take that step, with the support of understanding health-care practitioners / birthworkers, they usually feel relieved and unburdened of guilt and responsibility. Our capacity for healing is enormous, through it requires hard work perseverance, and courage. Finding the time, and the energy, for that is hard at any stage – harder again when you’re pregnant. A birthworker who brings compassion, and understanding of the trauma of CSA will make the biggest of differences to her client.

 

*Not her real name

‘Making’ Readers

Books (Drama)

I’ve been reading since before I was three, and books have always been sacred to me (then, Hinduism taught me that they really are sacred!). Books helped me to make sense of the world I knew I didn’t fit into (and often believed I didn’t belong in). They gave me new words, opened up new arenas, showed me things, taught me things, gave me different perspectives, nudged me towards decisions, instructed me, and even annoyed me.

I had books for my girls before they were born, and read to them several times a day. Reading was never ‘just’ about books – it was about signs, menus, cards, posters, advertisements, magazines, and timetables. Yet, I still managed to produce a non-reader. I couldn’t understand how she had no interest in reading and tried everything to get her  to love books. The library was (and is) a place we visit for pleasure. The Kindle is stuffed with books that might interest her, our home has shelves full of books, boxes full of books, bags of books, tables littered with books and yet – and yet – she doesn’t read.

I tried everything to interest her in books; I continued reading, and talking about books, and sharing bits in books I was reading. I presented a trip to the library as a treat (well, it is!); I got her books in different genres; I got her graphic novels; I borrowed audiobooks from the library, and played them in the car when we were all together. Believing that there is no difference between a reward and a punishment, I never tied reading into getting ‘treats’ (reading is a treat itself).

Niggling away at the back of my mind was a conviction that reading was difficult for her. But was reassured, on a number of occasions, that her eyesight was so good, she could nearly see around corners, and she definitely wasn’t dyslexic. A few years ago, however, she was diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome, and the difficulties I knew she had with reading were finally recognised.

It was too late, however. She hadn’t learnt to love reading; she’d learnt it was difficult and time consuming, and painful. She could read – she just didn’t choose to.

One day, I realised that the problem wasn’t hers, it was mine. Books had been such a relief for me – such a joy, such an escape, such a wonderful gift, that I wanted to give that gift to my children. A gift, however, is only a gift if it brings joy to the recipient. I was pushing something on my child that she really didn’t want. Unpacking what I wanted her to get from reading, I realised it boiled down to four things:

  1. Love of story.
  2. Storytelling skills.
  3. Increased vocabulary.
  4. Pleasure.
  5. Critical thinking skills.
  6. Critiquing abilities.

Then, I realised that she could get all these elements are available from things she does enjoy – films, television programmes, and live theatre. And I was reminded – one size does not fit all; there is more than one way to skin a cat; as a parent, I need to provide access to what my children need – not what I want them to need, or what I think they need; my children are ‘of me’, but they are not ‘mine’; not everyone is a ‘reader’ and that’s okay.

 

My daughter can read, she just chooses not to. If she needs information that can only be accessed via text, she can navigate that text. In much the same way as I can sew – I just choose not to. If I need to fix, create, or mend something, I will drag out the sewing machine and set to. I’d much rather, however, pull my knitting close, and enjoy that. Knitting does for me what sewing (or other crafting) does for other people. Theatre, films, and TV programmes do for my daughter what books do for me. And that’s okay – we have plenty of shared passions and interests to provide us with common ground and opportunities to strengthen our relationship. What’s far more important is that we already have the ability to read each other like books.

 

The Power to Rearrange

This is a wonderful read; it’s profound, and thoughtful, and insightful.

A Voice Released

Recent events have taught me many things. Importantly, though, they have taught me that the future is not just ten years away, one year away, one month away, one week away. The future is our next breath, our next step, what we’re having for dinner. Tomorrow is the future – not just sometime; not just some other time down the line.

We can’t put off what we want to do, what we need to do, and pretend there is still time.

Old age is not a certainty. A healthy old age is most definitely not a certainty for us. We (as a couple) know now that our old age – if we are lucky enough to have one – will come with some big challenges. And we don’t know which ones.

A Parkinson’s diagnosis shouts “Uncertain shit ahead!” in a way we’ve forgotten to look out for. Life is all…

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Fathers’ Day

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Here we are again, ‘celebrating’ another Hallmark holiday. My friend, Martin McMahon tweeted this morning that it might be a good idea to do away with the notion of separate parental celebration days. I’d go even further and suggest that is might be useful to do away with parental celebration days altogether.

Let’s face it – if you need a day set aside to remind you that you have parents that you should be kind to, then that day will not make you a ‘better’ son or daughter. If you don’t have a father or mother worth honouring, then these days have the  potential to be the source of much anguish for you. Many of us have neither a father nor a mother to celebrate, so annual reminders (on top of the daily reminders) are unhelpful, to say the least.

Spare a thought, too, for the children at school whose parents are absent. I’ve been an active member of SPARK for about three years now, and I am aware that some children are acutely hurt by their schools’ activities around making cards and gifts for parents  who are not part of their lives.  I remember my own daughter being very hurt by a teacher asking her, when she was only 7, if she had ever even met her father (the principal took her teacher’s side, so I started homeschooling).

 

What, really, is the point of ‘Mothers’ Day’ and ‘Fathers’ Day’? Like Valentine’s Day, they just seem like an excuse to encourage people to spend money (that they may or not be able to afford) on things like gifts, cards, and meals out. They can add pressure to already pressurised relationships.  They serve, as far as I can see, no useful purpose.

 

What are your thoughts?

The #SaveNonso Campaign

Image result for nonso Muojeke

Yesterday, this petition popped up on my timeline. It details the plight of a young man who is the same age as my youngest daughter (14). Please bear in mind that I know nothing about this family, save what I read on the petition page, and saw on an RTE news-clip.

 

From what I can glean from those sources, Nonso Muojeke has lived in Ireland since he was two years old. His mother was widowed, then ‘claimed by’ her dead husband’s brother. According to Mrs Muojeke, he – and the rest of her in-laws – treated her horrifically. She fled to Ireland, from Nigeria, with her two children, arriving in 2007.

 

The family was refused asylum in 2009, and has lived in a terrible legal limbo since. Nine years is a long time to live, with no security, with no idea whether or not you’ll be allowed to stay indefinitely. Not knowing if you might be taken from your home and sent back to a place of danger. I can only imagine what that does to a person’s mental health.

 

For me, though, the person at the centre of this tale is not Nonso himself, but his mother.  This is a woman who was treated horrifically by her in-laws after she was widowed and ‘taken’ by her dead husband’s brother, as his wife. She gathered the courage and the internal, and external, resources to leave the house, the village, the country, with her two young children. She arrived in Ireland – a place she knew little, or nothing, about and has stayed here, in spite of her case being fouled up by her solicitor (solicitors can pretty much do what they like in this country, by the way – without fear of censure). She has managed to provide for herself and her family without drawing from the public purse in terms of receiving a cent in social welfare payments, or getting healthcare for herself and her children.

 

She has held herself, and her family, together all this time. She has helped them to become part of the community where they live. She has kept her boys fed, warm, educated, housed, loved. And safe. She has kept them safe.

 

Now, however, the family is at risk of being returned to Nigeria. To a place where Mrs Muojeke was abused and degraded. To a place where the boys don’t feel a part of the society (because they never have been), to a place where the boys’ mental health would be at risk. None of this appears to matter to the Department of Justice, or the Minister for Justice. What this tells me is that returning a woman to a place where she is seen as nothing other than chattel – where she can be ‘inherited’ like a piece of furniture – is not something that this government objects to. This government is fine with the notion of a man ‘claiming’ his dead brother’s wife for himself (and then abusing her). This government is clearly absolutely fine with the idea of a man abusing a woman. But then, we know that already.

 

We may have voted to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, but we haven’t yet managed to repeal patriarchy.