Let Down with Let-Down

Abba. PLEASE help me. Jesus, please deliver me. As Dear Husband prayed over me tonight – heal me from these deep emotional wounds that seem to be hindering my precious quiet moments with our newborn.

The shame that flows through my spine and makes me want to hide in a corner when I’m nursing. The beautiful breastfeeding mother with babe image is forever tarnished for me, I feel “let-down” and I want to run and hide. I hold Cora Beth (and earlier, Claire) as tight as I can, staring into their beautiful faces knowing I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, but my body, my physical/emotional body rebels against this beautiful, natural, INNOCENT moment.

WHY am I still struggling with this?

Joyful Sleep

I remember the intense fear I had when I thought we were having a boy (and the guilt-ridden relief when I knew that our baby was a Cora not a Kenny) because I didn’t think I would be able to nurse a baby boy. That the shame would be too much for me. And already, even with my baby girl, the shame overwhelms me. She is 11 days old.

WHY am I ASHAMED to have a baby on my breast?

I don’t think it’s the society of people trying to not be intimidated by a barren breast. I am all for mamas breastfeeding in public (with dignity and some modesty). There are definitely times that it doesn’t bother me at all. In the hospital, with Mimi or Dear Husband around, even when my 5 year old is asking a thousand questions about pumping and where milk comes from, I don’t have any problems.

But my WORST moments of shame are when I’m at home, with just the baby and I, and the let-down happens – it’s not just the physical movement of the milk starting to pour into my baby’s mouth, it’s the horrible feeling I have that I am doing something sick, wrong and deserving to be punished, and that I want to hide. Even from God.

The deep, dark corners of the closet feel like a place I should be hiding. Reminiscent of a time when I was a victim and couldn’t hide.

Tears fall.

I keep trying to tell myself that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. I have a lot of milk. I’m blessed with the ability to provide nourishment for my baby. And the best nourishment that she can get. Especially with our sensitive intestines (celiac, colitis, and multitudes of auto-immune issues).

I tell myself how much I love her.
I tell HER how much I love her.

And I still shake in guilt, fear, shame.

For the Momma Cow

Like I’m a “naughty” girl doing bad things. When Dear Husband is around, I don’t feel that way. When ANYONE is around, it doesn’t happen (usually). But sometimes it really just strikes me out of the blue. Like tonight, when I was pumping. My first breast filled a 5 oz packet in 5 minutes. But then the shame poured over me and in 15 minutes I couldn’t get another ounce out of my second breast. And I wept.

It’s not like I’m getting sexual pleasure from the pump or the baby. Mostly I am still dealing with either raw, sore nipples OR hard, engorged breasts. It’s not a physically good feeling, it’s rather quite painful, and I am pretty sure I’m not a masochist. Especially considering I’m weeping and NOT getting any “pleasure” from the process.

SO WHY do I deal so heavily with this? WHY is it poisoning my mothering of my newborn?

WHY am I a pile of sobbing tears (with pillow pushed into my incisions tightly) tonight? And for so much of my breast-feeding with Claire?

Has anyone else experienced this “let-down” with let-down? Or is it something that is just special for me and my history of abuse? Will you, can you pray for me in this process? I want SO MUCH to enjoy breast feeding. I longed to breast feed Claire longer and couldn’t because I couldn’t fight the feeling anymore, I had too much lead in my milk AND not enough calcium to keep my bones healthy (and she drew blood more than once when she bit me).

I WANT to be able to nurse Cora Beth for a LONG time, but I don’t know if the crazy feelings I face when I feed her are worse or better than the guilt of not nursing her for a longer period of time.

How do I do this? It didn’t pass last time. Is there something I should read, do, try to make this (I suspect) remnant of sexual abuse fade, if I can’t find a way to deal with/accept/grow through this. Does anyone have passages of scripture that would be healing to meditate on? Books or articles (even in psychology journals) that deal with this horrible feeling so that I can really enjoy this time with Cora Beth? I don’t want to be fearful of these feelings (they don’t happen every feed, but often enough that I do get a knot in my stomach after particularly difficult feeds) I really do want to enjoy the intimate (and not sexual) moments with my child. Is there something “stuck” in my memory that has wounded this most precious time of connection?

I “denied” that I suffered with PPD after Claire, but I wonder if this isn’t some kind of PTSD related PPD that I haven’t connected with other people on. I originally wrote this in my journal, but wondered if any of my peers who have faced similar histories have had similar experiences in their early mothering moments.

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10 responses

  1. Jen – you know I can’t imagine what you’re going through – but my heart aches for you all the same. What a conflict of emotions. I wonder if it would help to learn a prayer by heart that you could recite over and over in your head as you nurse. Perhaps the chorus of St. Patrick’s breastplate (“Christ be with me, Christ within me…”), since it reinforces Christ’s presence? You are so blessed – my hope for you is that you will be able to experience this blessing fully.

    • That is a beautiful idea Stacey! I am compiling, right now, a list of suggestions and the prayers that people have sent to me. I’m going to find a small photo album/scrapbook to put them in and create a playlist for those times when I need to be surrounded by the presence of Christ. I have been SO blessed by people sharing with me their own vulnerabilities with breast feeding and pasts of sexual abuse – that knowing I am not alone, although horribly upsetting, is also comforting in a way – knowing that God DOES have us in His hand, and does heal, even if the wounds may need to be re-opened to drain away the poison.

      I have been praying St. Patrick’s breastplate since you messaged me it recently. It has been such a beautiful reminder of His enduring presence, even when I feel like the black hole inside of me is swallowing up all the light around me, I can FEEL the overflowing cup of His mercy and grace as I pray it. Thank you SO Stacey!

  2. Jen I get wanting to breast feed but millions of excellent mothers don’t breast feed. Being a good Mom is not defined by breast feeding, a good Mom knows her limitations and strengths and works with them. Let the guilt go and know that Christ loves you no matter if you breast feed or not.

    • Thank you Tanya. It is funny how we define “good mom” isn’t it? We get all worked up about what we think others think about us – instead of searching our hearts before God and seeing if our desires are good and life-giving before Him.

      I have longed to be a “hippie” momma who nurses until the child is in preschool, but my current goal is to make it past six months. I have a bone scan in November, if my bones are not recovering, I have to stop nursing and focus on rebuilding my bones so that I don’t spend any more time in bed (which also decreases bone mass). I am wondering if maybe I’m too old to be a momma! Although not because we didn’t try to start earlier! God has a plan!

  3. I continue to rely on your prayers in this area. The panic sets in the pit of my stomach, the guilt that makes me want to run and hide – and then the physical pain of let-down quickly follows. The panic is such that I cannot cry (because you don’t cry when the adrenaline and cortisol is coursing through you) but I want to LOUDLY sob when it comes in. And there is no fight or flight when it’s your own body that is causing the feeling.

    So I am trying to face it. And I eat chocolate. And when I can, sip wine. I can’t escape the feelings. And I don’t know exactly what it is that I am facing. I don’t know how to.

    In a recent post, To Rachel, I talk about the internal pain and wanting it to leak out (well, I don’t exactly, but I do talk about getting tattoos on my wrists so the physical desire to cut would be stopped with a visual reminder of mercy, grace and love)… well, I have never cut or tried to, I KNOW I am loved (even though in the midst of it I think the people are foolish and would be better off without me) and I know that me being in bed was enough of a burden – me not being here at all would really make life difficult (who would feed the baby?).

    It’s more that there is just SO MUCH PAIN in my body (physical, emotional, current and memory) that I feel like I might explode – and a seam to let the pain free almost feels like it would work.

    And so you are my seam. You, sweet reader, are the release of my pain. All the prayers that have been sent to me – letting me know that I am not alone – have kept me KNOWING that this will end. And that God’s love IS surrounding me, even in my imperfect state…this awful, anxious, messy state.

    Instead of tattoos or knives – I am wearing a wristwatch (do people still buy them? I never look at it for time) that my children bought for me for mothers’ day a few years ago. . . and I am having a charm bracelet made – an expensive-ish one – with a handmade chain – with charms for each of my children to wear on the other wrist. I am finding the reasons outside of myself to BE – I want to find reasons WITHIN myself. Through CHRIST.

    Maybe I am not finding motherhood as fulfilling as I thought it would be. Maybe not being able to fold an entire load of laundry at one time is starting to weigh on my ability to accomplish. Maybe my little boy bursting into tears of despair, no, resignation, has eliminated any good I have done.

    There are no strategies. I see in his relinquishment a lack of hope. There is no joy. Nothing to look forward to. Everything points towards him being “wrong.” And I get so annoyed with his self-depreciation. But that is how he really feels. And, that is how I really feel, all to often. Am I creating this in him? Setting THIS HORRENDOUS example for him? Forcing him to live up to expectations that are impossible – so that when he fails he feels crushed?

    I am doing the same thing to myself – and to the eldest. Why not the little girls? Why do I expect so much out of myself, and out of the oldest 2 – but not the younger 2?

    What brings me joy and inspiration? What brings them joy and inspiration? How can the three of us get out of this perfectionist/easily distractible/failure mode that we are in?

    Oh Jesus! Help me. Help US!

  4. You may find interesting to know that I found this website by searching “breastfeeding letdown and shame.” Because this is something I experience as well and I was wondering if this was something uniqe to me or something others have dealt with as well. I believe I know the origins of the feeling and I think having this understanding helps me cope. Let me explain. During letdown, the same hormone is released into the body that is released after sex. This chemical, oxytocin is what is supposed to make us want to cuddle & bond with our partner after sex & with our baby while nursing. I believe that it is this hormone release, and my early experiences associated with it that have led to my feeling of shame with letdown and perhaps yours too. My first sexual experiences took place way too young and in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. As a result, when it was over, I had no desire to cuddle or bond with this person who intimidated me and I felt very shameful about what I had done because I know I enjoyed it on one level but that it was something I was not supposed to do. I believe it is these circumstances that have tainted sex for me for many years and now breastfeeding because from early on I became accustomed to associating the release of oxytocin with feelings of shame and guilt.

    Having come to a realization of how this negative association is affecting my emotions upon letdown I am able to bear the letdown without being so overwhelmed with the emotion and once it has passed I do not hold onto any feelings of shame that may have washed through me with the oxytocin & proceed to enjoy the feeding….

    I hope that by reading this post you realize that you are not alone and perhaps be able to let go of the strong negative emotions you have been enduring while nurturing your precious one. You are clearly a strong woman, finding the strength to strive towards your goal of a long term breastfeeding relationship despite this internal battle you are fighting. I myself am still breastfeeding my 2 year (although if for some reason it’s too much to bear at times I know I can always cut the session short knowing he is no longer relying solely on me for nutrition), and I am confident you will find success in your journey as well. Don’t get discouraged, this can be overcome. Best of luck to you!

    • Thank you for your comment. It makes so much sense. I physically do not feel (unless sharp little teeth bite) around my nipple- whether that is normal or another way my body shut down when I was little- but over the last few weeks, I have been feeling – physically, and it has been an interesting experience. Maybe I am starting to live in my own body now.

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