I'm pleased to present a guest post today by Rebecca Jackson-Artis, a mover and shaker in the breastfeeding world in Chicago. Rebecca inspires me with her passion and you will understand why after you read this post. *Trigger warning for talk of sexual molestation*
When Elita asked me to write a guest post about my personal breastfeeding story, I thought, “What should I write….hmmm… I KNOW!” Okay, it’s going to be kind of uncomfortable but in the end you will have more of a grasp of why I am so extraordinarily passionate about the empowerment of breastfeeding. *Inhale, exhale*
When I talk about exclusive breastfeeding I talk about the empowerment that automatically comes with it. Many people don’t really get why my words are so blunt and abrasive at times. Often their response is, “Okay, Rebecca, I get it. “ My friends joke with me. Many send me articles via e-mail. My mother and her friends even cut out articles and photocopy documents they come across on the subject of lactation. Their e-mails or cut-outs are introduced with, “Have you heard about this?” or “I thought you’d be interested in this.” I love it all even if I know about it already. It lets me know I am getting their attention and my voice is reflecting the empowerment I received from birthing Thrice and Jack naturally (both with midwives and one of them at home) and putting them to my breasts, nourishing them mind, body and soul. The word “breasts” is a very powerful word even for me to type. Breasts. The reason is (get ready for the uncomfortable part)…..I was molested.
Yes, I was molested. It took me many years to say that and a lot of forcing myself to accept repressed memories of the multiple times my female cousin raped my innocence. Wow, powerful description, true description. I was so fearful for years to talk about it thinking people would be disgusted with me, blame me and lash out at me for allowing the despicable acts I faced as a child from four to about ten years old. I don’t remember when was the definite time it stopped because I told myself it needed to be forgotten. My cousin became a highly sought after basketball player who eventually dropped out of college, used illegal drugs regularly, birthed a son and became a faint figure in our family, appearing at family events every five years or so. Ironically, she made me the godmother of her son who is amazing in every way and I applaud him for not succumbing to the abandonment by his mother with rebellion.
When my cousin would groom me for her personal suppression of pain and sexual domination over the creeps who her mother allowed to violate her natural childhood maturation, she would use words that made me feel uneasy about my body. Words that may be difficult for you to know were said to a five, six, seven-year-old girl whose mother wouldn’t allow her to even hear “y’all” too many times in an hour. She would do these acts at family gatherings while the adults trusted the children to play amongst themselves, safely. My older cousin would always end the dark room moment with a threat to not let anyone know and how they wouldn’t understand what went on in the dark room. I hated her. I hated the feelings I felt. I hated myself which included everything about being female.
My grandmother, mother and, to my former frustration, I have the large breasts gene that suddenly crept up on me at the age of 13. By this time, I hadn’t been molested for a few years, started having crushes on boys and worked really hard at proving I was a good kid. My father’s affection toward me lessened (he was rarely affectionate before I hit puberty so imagine what it was like while going through it and after…a hand shake was a Hallmark moment for us) and he repetitively listed at random moments why boys were evil, low-life beings who roamed the Earth. So, I hated my body, hated my female energy, I was so fearful of connecting with males and most important, I hated my breasts. It was no wonder I spiraled into a deep depression that lasted until I was in my twenties. I was in and out of therapists’ offices until I finally found one I felt comfortable with. It was a December day while home from college that I finally told him what I had learned so well to bury. “I was molested.” I waited until the very end of our session at the last appointment before heading back to college for Spring Semester. I was 20. I went back and had some more sessions with Dr. G but we never brought it up because I wouldn’t let him. In my early twenties I had a problem with sex. I associated it with chores. It was something you had to do when you are in a relationship even though you would rather go to work and surf the internet for that coupon code to the department store seasonal sale that coupled with your department store credit card’s 10% off discount would give you all the escape from reality you needed. Weirdly enough, I always had a date, a boyfriend or a guy to call me and put up with my extreme artistic, neurotic personality. After my father made his transition in 2003 and my live-in boyfriend died after a motorcycle accident in 2005, I met this amazing man who spoke to me in ways I had never been spoken to with words that fit into my life like missing puzzle pieces which guided me to creating a firm foundation and brought me out of serious clinical depression. I married Craston in 2006, got pregnant with our first son in 2007 and gave birth two weeks after my 30th birthday in January 2008.
Okay, I know what you thinking now, What does this have to do with breastfeeding? This is where I tie it all together. *cracking my knuckles*
While I was pregnant I firmly decided on two things, (1) I was going to have a complete non-intervention birth and (2) I was going to exclusively breastfeed. There was no negotiation in my mind, none! I meditated on it, got one of the best doulas in Chicago and had a very supportive husband who researched everything. I had a completely natural birth and I did it at a pretty progressive hospital with a great midwifery program. Now, it’s time for the breastfeeding. No problem. I took a class, have a holistic husband to support me, there’s a great doula at my side and OH NO! ONE THING I FORGOT! You need to expose your breasts when you breastfeed! OH MY WORDLY POSSESSIONS!!! It was like everything went into slow motion in that birthing room. The midwife signaled to the doula that everything was fine. The doula began speaking in the slow motion voice that makes even the most high-pitched mousey voices go baritone. “Noooowww, taaakkke offffff yoooour goooowwwwn.” I did. Surrounding the bed were my mother, the midwife, the nurse assistant, my husband and the doula. Well, send me to San Fernando Valley and yell action for God’s sake! Thrice then scooted, ever so gently, to my left breast with the doula’s help for his first latch. I was gearing up for that emotional molestation recall when *latch*: a flood of joy, amazement and spiritual awe poured over me. The room became much smaller and everyone in it disappeared. It was just my newborn son and me. I realized the negativity I had for so many years about my breasts was wasted negative energy that was easily turned into love. I realized my vagina was the path to the onset of life (creating and producing). I realized my body was not sexual at all but beautifully functional, created with balance. Most importantly, I realized I was everything I needed and more, completely and abundantly. The hate, fear, pain and anxiety came from something that had been passed on to me which was made up of lies and rage.
The first couple of weeks I was closely monitored due to my history of clinical depression. I had a slight case of baby blues which my husband reminded me of this past weekend while we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. I completely forgot because even though I had a small case of the blues I gained so much power in the first month. I became a woman in every sense of the word. The culmination of giving birth and putting Thrice to my breast helped to complete a rite of passage. It was the beginning of me healing from years of violation, fear and anger. I began allowing myself to forgive my cousin. I saw her with a different perspective. I started to open up to my husband, family and friends about the molestation. I viewed it differently, almost thanking my cousin for helping me to see my strength by having the ability to get to the other side, still loving a man and allowing myself to be vulnerable to a partnership of unconditional spiritual love. I wrote a play talking about the story. I forgave myself.
This all hasn’t come without a cost. My mother, the following year, had a massive stroke which left her partially paralyzed. Our relationship has changed vastly and the molestation has been brought to the surface which she cannot deal with. I totally understand. She feels like she let something slip by her and she is upset with me for not telling her years ago. Many of my relatives are upset with me and tell me, “Just get over it, Rebecca, please. You’re holding on to something that won’t change.” Every time they tell me that I share my story again. I am slightly overprotective of my step-daughter and sons. I make sure at family events all doors are open and the kids are where we all can see each other at all times. Also, my youngest son is 18 months old (we are not having any more children) and I know I have about another year to nurse him which makes me wonder what level of empowerment that milestone will take me. Thinking about it makes me clutch my chest.
So, breastfeeding has opened a wonderful new chapter in my life which has made me face some elements of it that I had been avoiding intentionally. I learned to trust; trust my body, trust my babies. I had no clue what I was doing but innately I knew to just put them to the breast and nature would take its course. Breastfeeding has empowered me in ways that has taken me to levels of enlightenment and peace and healing and love. Breastfeeding has been a path to my Creator, my Source, God, The Universe. I see the world much clearer. I see people as part of the collective source energy. There is a strong connection between mind and body. Thoughts and words are powerful. I truly see every living being as One. I know it all sounds like a big cliché but it is so true for me. The subject of Oneness is not just talk anymore, it’s reality.
I may get upset with someone but I turn back to my Source energy and give thanks for that someone being in my life. I give thanks to my cousin. I slowly let the negative part of her go, no longer controlling my freedom. I send her joy, peace and love. You see, she’s a part of the collective Source which many of us call God.
Now, that’s the power of Breastfeeding!
Rebecca Jackson-Artis, CLS lives in Chicago with her very supportive husband, Craston and her two breastfed sons, Craston III and Jackson. She is a professional actress and writer who became a Certified Lactation Specialist in April 2009 when she realized the lack of resources and support mothers of color have regarding breastfeeding. She started an online community to support mothers of color called The Abiyamo Omo Society in 2008. In August 2010, she co-founded The Monolatry Group with Vanessa Stokes, a company that provides lactation resources and clinical assistance to municipalities, corporations and mothers of all racial and economic backgrounds.
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