TW: Discussion of childhood sexual abuse
As a young teen, I was groomed and sexually abused. I don’t want to go into too much detail but the man who abused me would talk about my “budding breasts” as he grabbed and twisted at my barely there chest. He would graphically describe my genitals as he pawed at my underwear.
The man who did this are now serving time in a maximum security prison. Unfortunately for me, I still have to live in the crime scene that is my body. No matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to get away from those words they used to describe my body.
Having my first baby: the impact of language
I had my first baby via elective c-section. There was talk about microbiomes, vaginal fluids, healthy development – it was difficult to focus but essentially, my midwife was trying to tell me I should consider collecting fluids from my vaginal canal to help support my baby’s immune system – I was absolutely horrified at the thought of covering my baby in vaginal fluids and quickly declined.
During the antenatal classes I attended, there was a LOT of talk about breastfeeding. I thought it was what I wanted to do. It was the “right” thing. The “best” thing. When my baby was born, she was lifted from my body and placed on my chest. She remained there as the surgeon repaired my abdomen. Once I was in my own recovery suite, a midwife came in to see how I was getting on with feeding. She told me I needed to “grab the breast” and stuff it into my baby’s waiting mouth. The more she said the words “grab the breast” the more distressed I became. Eventually, I gave up and fed my daughter with formula.
It took me years of therapy and unpacking to understand the crux of the problem. I don’t blame the midwife – although she could have been gentler – but there was never any questions or space for me to open up about my experiences and to figure out how that might affect me during my pregnancy, birth and postnatal period.
My second pregnancy: choosing inclusive language
When I came back to the birth-sphere for my second pregnancy, I was ready and guarded. I went looking for specific provisions that would excuse me from using words that triggered flashbacks without question but I was even less prepared than I was the first time around. It seems like people were now trying to use inclusive language as much as possible but they were being met by violent opposition. There were accusations of trying to “erase women from birth” and when I tried to speak up about my experience, I was accused of being a puppet for men and allowing men to abuse women. As a survivor, I cannot tell you how harrowing it is to have such an accusation levied against me.
The only real support I found was from LGBTQ+ providers as their language is inclusive and as such, by default, trauma informed. I had explained a little of my situation to the provider I found and they told me “It doesn’t matter what your reason is for wanting to use a different word. All that matters is you’ve told me and so going forward, that word will not be used in any of our discussions.” and it wasn’t. I decided I liked the term “bodyfeeding” and that was the word we used going forward.
My provider described to me how feeding from my body works, informing me of the mechanics of producing and expelling milk without once using the b-word and it seemed as natural as anything. They explained potential feeding issues and how to navigate them and they also gave me a pre-made card that has some info on it so I don’t have to explain to every provider that I have trauma surrounding my breasts.
After my son was born, I had such an easy bodyfeeding journey because I had been listened to, understood, respected. It made me feel a little sad that I missed out on that the first time around but I’m seeing someone to help me come to terms with that difficulty.
Whenever I see people pushing back against inclusive language, I just know that people like me don’t even come into their realm when in reality, I, and others who have been harmed or marginalised should be front and centre