Being a woman

A friend of mine sent me and some other women those links to know our point of view: https://liberationcollective.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/leaving-liberal-feminism/
http://secretlyradical.blogspot.ca/2014/07/purple-people.html?m=1

I won’t comment specifically about where I agree and where I disagree in those links, if I am more a liberal or a radical feminist, because there’s too much there and I would have to read them a few times. The question of what it means for me to be a woman and what is an individual choice in the context of feminism is however something I think about regularly. I will keep the individual choice theme for another post, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on what it means for me to be a woman. It’s still a bit messy, I might clarify it at some point.

About being a woman, I came to this conclusion. It’s continuously evolving of course and I only apply to myself, I have absolutely no problem with other people attributing the term « woman » to them if they feel that it fits. So here we go, *I* am a woman because I am a human female and I am a female because of the body parts I use to have sex (both for pleasure and for reproduction), to bear and grow my children, to give birth to them and to feed them when they are young. I cannot go further than that.

I don’t deny that our body parts and hormones do forge our global identity, but so do our age, race, upbringing, education, life experience, values, genetics, environment, etc… Preferences, opinions, behaviors, emotional reactions cannot be determined by only one component of our identity. Depending on the context, some component might be dominant, but none of them can fully explain/predict anything on their own. I like knitting, crochet and sewing because I am a « girly » girl? I work in a « man’s » field because I also have a strong masculine side? That does not make sense to me, I find it very reductive. How about I like and I do these things because I am, simply, *me*? I guess my point here is there is no such a thing as acting like a woman/man, thinking like a woman/man, ruling like a woman/man, etc. We act, think, rule, etc. like people with a global  identity, not merely a gender-based one. And how much of our identity is determined by our biology is not relevant to me.

Not surprisingly, the only definition of « mother » that I can fully relate to is « female parent, i.e. parent with the necessary body parts to conceive, bear, grow, give birth to and feed children ». (I include taking care of the children as being a parent). Unless we talk about natural (as opposed to induced for the dads who decide to breastfeed) breastfeeding, I think as long as the baby receives love, cuddles, compassion and appropriate care, it doesn’t really matter who provides it. My daughter met her father before she met me. She connected with him. For the first 3 weeks of her life, he was the only one able to comfort her. He was her reference, her tie to this world. If it’s true that this happened because of how abnormal, un-mammalian and traumatic her birth was, it is also true that he was her main care provider during those weeks and he was excellent at it, despite his dangling genitalia. I, the other parent with breasts and vagina, was not.

I think at this point, it is relevant for me to explain how I grew up as a female. I adore my mom, but I must say that she was irresponsible when I was little. She was partying a lot and she left my brother and I for several months when we were respectively 3.5 and 1.5 years old, and then again when were were 5 and 3. I don’t recall this, but I suppose it must have had an impact on me. My point here is that my dad was the reliable parent and I spent a lot of time with him and by brother as a young child. Fortunately, my mom eventually put herself back together.

My first memory of being conscious of gender stereotypes was when I was 3 or 4 years old. I was in a shop with my grandma and my brother. She wanted to buy us a little something. They had these cardboard tv characters, one representing Nono, the little robot and the other, Candy. We both loved Nono and I can’t remember for my brother, but I found Candy’s show sad and boring. Of course, we both wanted Nono, but my grandma insisted that I must like Candy better since I was a girl. I argued, but she did not listen and bought Candy. Thirty years later, I’m still outraged.

Then I grew up seeing my mom being very self-conscious about her appearance and in constant seduction mode with men. Again, I adored her, but at the same time, I completely rejected her as a female role model (note that I did not reject her as a human role model, she inspired me in many other ways), and I’m very grateful that she respected that. Although I did identify as a female, I rejected what I perceived society thought femininity was about, i.e. being superficial, light-headed, weak, seductive, objectifiable. If transpeople feel that they were assigned the wrong body, I believe them and totally respect that. But for my part, I did not feel my body was wrong. I felt society was wrong to expect things from me based on my body. I know it will seem harsh, but still up to this day, when I see a woman in high heels, I resent her for representing the image of a woman who chooses sexiness over comfort and safety. Or a woman with makeup for contributing to the idea that women need to mask their face in order to look good. Anyway, I went through my teens refusing to play that game, wanting to be recognized for my personality and my intelligence. I was attracted to boys but refused to make my looks more appealing to seduce them, I felt that would be degrading.

I had my first (and still current) steady boyfriend at 19, and it is with him, actually whiles discovering what it was like to have fulfilling sex in a stable relationship that I started to really get in touch with my femininity. And because I had seduced him with my personality and not my looks, I allowed myself to slightly alter my appearance (nothing crazy like high heels or makeup of course!), wearing slightly more revealing clothes, emphasizing my feminine curves. Very soon after I started looking forward to get pregnant. Not having a baby, I was not ready for that, but pregnancy really appealed to me. I thought it must feel very sexy. I guess I was starting to see maternity as the natural extension of my fulfilling sex life and the culmination of femininity. I got pregnant for the first time at 27. It was a euphoric pregnancy. I was growing and glowing and I felt more feminine than ever. I was totally confident in my body’s ability to birth this baby and breastfeed exclusively. I am not a spiritual person, but I was thinking about all the female mammals who gave birth before me and would do it after me and I felt like I was part of something vast and grandiose. Then it happened. My daughter was born via c/section under general anesthesia without my consent and consequently, I did not have an adequate lactation. The fact that for me, femininity was canalized through maternity is one of the main reason why this was such a traumatic experience to me. Am I less of a woman because I did not birth my children or breastfeed them exclusively? Or are infertile women less women? Or women who decide not to have children (I feel grateful everyday that I live in an era and a place where this choice is really mine to make)? What about transwomen? For me it’s not about being, but about feeling less of a woman, and *I* most definitely do. There’s a big part of my femininity I will (more than likely) never access. And it sucks. Beyond reason.

So yeah, I am a woman because I’m a human female with all the bits females should have. I’m a mother because I’m a parent with female bits. And because I did not use all those bits the normal way, I feel incomplete. As a woman, and as a mother.

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A breech in the wall: Negotiating healing on your own terms

This was originally published as a guest post on Momma Trauma‘s blog in November 2013.

Last time I wrote for Momma Trauma, I was explaining why I was taking a pause on my healing journey in The cliff, the wall and the corn on the cob. To cut a long story short, it had been a rough few months with a lot of introspection and I was exhausted. I really needed some distance from my trauma.

Well, the corn on the cob was delicious, as always, and it was quite satisfying to play Bob Dylan’s songs by the camp fire. I managed to recharge my batteries. Spring came with the sun being really beneficial to my mood. Though nervous, I decided it was time for me to look for this darn door again. I admit, I really had to give myself a good kick in the butt. Things were not great but ok and I did not feel the urge to do something about it. But I had the feeling that my new seren-ish-ity was only temporary.

I shall say it straight away; a door did not magically appear. But at least, I noticed a breech from which I could see some light. It came in the form of EMDR therapy. A few awesome mommas from the Momma Trauma’s sacred circle private group had used it with success to treat PTSD. I was very hesitant at first. I was worried it would reprogram me into not caring about what happened. The general anaesthesia without consent being the main cause of my PTSD, the thought of blurring the small amount of memories I had left was also panicking. With much encouragement from my virtual fellows, I decided to meet with the therapist anyway and see if she had any answers to my worries.

On the first meeting, I told her the big lines of my birth stories and I made it clear that I was not seeking acceptance or forgiveness. I keep repeating it but here I go again. I consider that what happened is unacceptable and unforgivable. Trying to accept and forgive would be like a treachery to myself. I’m clearly not ready for it, I don’t know if I will ever be. I don’t even know if I should want to. Voilà.

So I told her what I really wanted was to be more equipped to manage the symptoms. Much to my relief, and surprise, she said ok. If she had told me acceptance and forgiveness were the only way, I swear I would have walked out the door.

We discussed my worries about blurring out my memories. She said it could also unfold some. She then proceeded to explain how we would work. The idea would be to reprocess some “false beliefs” I might have relating to the birth of my daughters. To do that, I would visualize images representing the trauma while muttering a “false belief”. During that time she would alternatively tap on both my knees. The stimulation of my right and left brain hemispheres whiles reliving the trauma would reconcile them, allowing my brain to deal with properly processed thoughts instead of traumatic ones.

Hearing my story and the fact that I blamed myself for choosing to go to the birth centre rather than staying at home for the birth of my eldest, she suggested “I should have done things differently” as a “false belief”. I argued. No matter how you look at it, I SHOULD have done things differently. I accept that ultimate responsibility. Actually, the only little piece of empowerment I managed to find in my birth stories is the fact that I take responsibility for making bad decisions that led me to be transferred to the hospital. So there was no way I was going to try to reprogram that part. She suggested “I cannot accept it” instead. I decided to show an open mind and give it a try.

Now I have to say this: I am an irritable person. Enhanced irritability is one of the symptoms of my PTSD. And the term “false belief” BLOODY IRRITATES ME! Just hearing it makes me cringe. I admit that a lot of my thoughts are negative, destructive even, but that does not make them false!

So when the next session came, I told her straight to the point that I would not work with “false believes”. She agreed to call them “negative cognitions” and I relaxed on my chair, satisfied.

On the third appointment, there was not improvement whatsoever and I told her that I was still resisting the “I cannot accept it” because not surprisingly, it irritated me. As I said before, acceptance is really out of my scope. So we agreed on “I cannot stand it”. The difference might seem subtle, but to me, it finally represented what I had come for.

After that session, I started noticing some changes. I was not necessarily able to block triggers, but when they happened, I felt, for the first time in over 4 years, the urge to fight them. I even started being successful at it after another treatment. If I don’t go into too much detail, I am sometime able to discuss the birth of my children without having tears flooding my eyes. I’m able to browse through a birth textbook keeping my emotions at a distance which was inconceivable just a few months ago. I did not let my anger or my pain go. I am still resentful. I still feel guilty and I can objectively say that I am at least partially responsible for what happened to me. But those feelings are now mostly kept behind a closed door (magical or not) and it does not open every time the wind blows anymore. So far, we mainly concentrated on the surgery and the general anaesthesia. I am still sensitive on some subjects, the breastfeeding issues that derived from my trauma and being disrespected by the medical body. Now we will focus on that.

So, I guess the bottom line is this. I was disregarded during the birth of my children, but there is no way I’m going to let this happen again during my healing process. I am an active part of it. I am the MAIN part of it. I am not going to try to do something I’m not ready to. I am going to fuss and change the phrasing to the last coma until it suits me, because, yes, phrasing can be important. Because I’m worth it. And guess, what, it looks like it’s working. A lot of us birthed under the medical team’s terms. How about, we heal under our own?

The cliff, the wall and the corn on the cob

This was originally published as a guest post on Momma Trauma‘s blog in March 2013.
About a year and a half ago, I realized that I didn’t have to accept how my daughters were born because it is to me unacceptable. I don’t have to forgive myself, the midwife, the nurses, the obstetrician, the anaesthetist, the society and life in general for what happened because it is to me unforgivable. Trying to accept and forgive felt and still feels like a lack of respect for myself. This was a big step. I felt more serene than I had felt since the birth of my eldest 4 years ago and apart from 2 or 3 episodes a month, I was able to keep this whole PTSD thing under control.

Then, last fall, I was hit by several unrelated sources of stress. My energy and moral became very low and consequently, the 2-3 episodes a month became 2-3 episodes a day. I was finding it hard to concentrate at work and started having problems sleeping. I was irritable with my partner and my children. I could see myself falling into depression and I got scared. So I decided to delegate everything I could. I cut down on my hours at work. I went out of town for a weekend to visit my brother, just for a change of scenery. I took an appointment with my psychologist. Within 2 weeks, I was feeling much better. But it made me realize how fragile I still was. Indeed, my mental health has enjoyed a roller-coaster ride since. It’s not all bad. I have been doing more introspection in the last few months than ever and I now have a better idea of where I stand. But it has also been exhausting. Sometimes I’m ok for a week or two. Then it hits me again. Triggers, tears, concentration and irritability problems. Not manageable anymore, but still unacceptable.

I am at a crossroad. I could continue walking on the same well known path, rehashing my old unacceptable story, but knowing that at the end of that road, there is quite possibly a cliff. I could also decide to branch off the next path and really commit myself to embark on the acceptance and forgiveness journey for my own and my family’s sake. I saw my psychologist last week. I had the vague intention of announcing I was finally ready to let go and really start sorting out my issues, rather than just brushing against them like I’ve been doing for 4 years. I thought I had finally worked out the courage, but I chickened out.

At the crossroad stands a giant wall preventing me from branching off. But I know I can’t carry on the main path anymore. So what can I actually do? Dig a hole in the wall? I honestly don’t have the energy. Look harder for a door that I could have missed? All this introspection made my vision blurry, I can’t focus anymore. Wait for a door to magically appear when time comes? Actually, I think I’m gonna do just that. I’m gonna to camp at the crossroad for a while. Make myself comfy, cook corn on the cobs on the fire (never been a fan of marshmallow or sausages…), play some folk songs on my guitar and chill. Forget about introspection and take some distance from my trauma. Recharge my batteries. And wait for this door to magically appear. Then I shall have to strength to open it. I hope. Who knows, maybe the door is already there and I’m just too blinded to see it right now.

Complement: What I can’t let go

My anger. It gives me the energy to write, to organize c-sections support group meetings, to militate for perinatal rights. Being naturally lazy, I doubt I would bother doing all that if I was serene about the birth of my children.

My pain. I didn’t give birth. I wasn’t even conscious when my eldest was birth. Both times I was separated from my baby. I was never able to breastfeed exclusively. Having another child under the circumstances is out of the question. There’s a big part of my femininity I will never have access to. My pain is the only tie I’ve got to all that. What will I have left if I let it go?

My resentment. Why did my midwife tell me birth centre was equivalent to home birth when the latter shows less transfer to the hospital? Why all those unnecessary vaginal exams? Why did everyone start scaring me as soon as I reached 41 weeks of pregnancy? Why, WHY did the anaesthetist put me under general anaesthesia WITHOUT MY CONSENT when nothing in my medical file can justify such an extreme measure? Say it with me: UNACCEPTABLE!

My guilt. Why did I make big decisions so lightly? Why did I trust my midwife so blindly?

My responsibility. In the end, it was my responsibility to inform myself correctly. Was I misguided? Yes. But did I take the time to really wonder where it would make more sense to do such an intimate act as giving birth? No. Did I research the interventions that were performed on me? No. This is my share of blame. “I don’t want to “shave” my faults away, I want to leave them intact and, eventually, learn to accept them. The birth of my children couldn’t have been less empowering. Maybe this could be? (View Empowerment and hairy legs: accept your weakness or try to get stronger)”.

My “high” expectations. Wait a second! The vast majority of women are able to accomplish the extraordinary AND ordinary exploit of giving birth naturally when they give themselves and are given the chance. In the end, I was aspiring to only one thing: being normal. No, I do not find this extravagant.

Empowerment and hairy legs: accept your weakness or try to get stronger

This was originally published as a guest post on Momma Trauma‘s blog in February 2013.
There are three types of women in our society. Those who shave (or wax or whatever) their legs, those who don’t, and those who shave but wished they had the guts not to.

I’m in the last category. I’m not proud of it, but yes, I crack under social pressure and I don’t show my legs in public passed a certain length of hair. Each summer, I make a point of stretching my limits at least once, hoping that one day, I will be strong enough not to care. But truth being told, I don’t like having hairy legs. I don’t find it sexy at all. For some people, this is perfectly normal. We don’t shave for others, we do it for ourselves, right? Well I see things differently. Adults naturally grow hair on their legs. Finding it ugly on women is not coded in our genetics. We let society teach us that hair is disgraceful on women’s legs. Well I should be stronger than that. My mom once told me that she hoped one day I would accept the fact that I shave my legs. I immediately snapped back “Why don’t you wish me to accept my hairy legs instead?” In the end, it leaves us with 2 choices. Accept our weakness, or try to get stronger. Personally, I aspire to get stronger.

The same concept can be applied to my birth trauma. Accepting my weakness would be letting society tell me that it was not my fault, that I did the best I could, that I am not to blame. Who knows, maybe if I said those words often enough I would actually end up believing them. But I choose to try to get stronger. I want to take my responsibilities and admit my share of blame. I don’t want to “shave” my faults away, I want to leave them intact and, eventually, learn to accept them. The birth of my children couldn’t have been less empowering. Maybe this could be?

Ahah! I know what you are thinking! That accepting your weakness also requires a lot of strength. Yes, I have thought about that one, but stick to my point: one day, I hope I will find the courage to show my hairy legs!

Trauma induced lactation problems: a mixed feeding, tandem nursing, co-breastfeeding story

This was originally published as a guest post on Momma Trauma‘s blog in February 2013.

I never made the decision to breastfeed my children. I didn’t need to. Female mammals carry their babies to term in their wombs, they push them out when time comes, they breastfeed. I’m a female mammal and I never questioned those obvious mammal behaviours.

The birth of my first daughter was a really traumatic one. I was expecting an empowering natural birth at the birth centre; I ended up having a c-section under general anaesthesia without my consent. It took hours before I finally met her and even then, I was still stoned. C-section, drugs, mother-child separation, trauma. The conditions were far from ideal to initiate breastfeeding. But I did. And for the first few days I thought we were doing well. By day 5 however, there was still no sign of lactation. She was still losing weight. We had given her water because dehydration was causing fever. I eventually agreed to start supplementing her using a supplementing nursing system (SNS), thinking, or hoping, that it was only temporary. Despite all my efforts to stimulate production (frequent nursing, pumping, medicinal supplements, drugs), I never had sufficient lactation. Mixed feeding was for me a big disappointment. I kept thinking “carry to term – CHECK, push out – FAIL, breastfeed – FAIL. 1 out of 3, well done…”. Of course, I felt like a failure for not being able to breastfeed exclusively. And not because “society” put too much pressure on me. When it comes to pressure and guilt, I am quite self-sufficient, thank you very much!

In the end, it turned out not to be a complete disaster however. Thanks to the SNS, I only introduced the bottle when she was 8 months, because I was going back to work and seeing me coming for lunch to nurse her at day care seemed to trouble her more than anything else. I thought that it would be simpler to switch for the bottle at home as well, keeping the breast for comfort. By then, her attachment for the breast was secure enough, the proof being she is now 4 and I am proud to say that I still nurse her everyday!

My breastfeeding issues are definitely a part of my trauma, first as a consequence, then as a cause, since I now associate my whole birthing experience including post-natal to my trauma. But I am convinced that breastfeeding saved me from post-partum depression. After what I went through, not being able to breastfeed at all would have been the last blow. “Breastfeeding is much more than feeding”. That obvious but important statement from my midwife and the fact that she got me a SNS were life savers. It is while nursing my baby that I felt the first sparkle of attachment when she was 3 weeks old. It was subtle and timid, but she made a cute little face as she was suckling and I interpreted it as content. For the first time, I felt that I was really her mother, that she was happy to be in MY arms and taking MY breast.

When she was 15 months, I got pregnant. I knew a lot of kids were weaning themselves during pregnancy. I was hesitant about tandem nursing at first, thinking that I had not managed to nurse one properly, but I also thought it would be a good way to stimulate my production if needed. So I opted to let her decide what would happen. She nursed throughout my pregnancy. She was used to not having much milk from there anyway.

I was really hoping that giving birth this time would ensure a proper lactation. I prepared physically and psychologically for a VBAC, but in vain. My second daughter was also born by c-section. Although that one was not as traumatic (at least I was conscious!), I was still devastated, even more considering that I had by then decided that this child would be the last one. My hopes to repair what was broken by having a good birthing experience were gone. Breastfeeding was my last battle.

After 24 hours, and despite all my efforts trying to reassure myself, I was already starting to stress about lactation. An acquaintance (she eventually became one of my best friends!) visited me at the hospital. I was surprised at first. We didn’t know each other well, but we both had difficult birth experiences and shared the same convictions about breastfeeding. We talked a little and when she saw how worried I was about not having a proper lactation, she spontaneously and generously offered to pump some milk for me, just in case I had to supplement my daughter whiles waiting for lactation. I accepted her offer with a lot of gratitude and she manually extracted about 1 oz in my room. I immediately felt better, knowing that if it came to that, at least I wouldn’t have to give junk food to my little one. Indeed, 2 days later, my daughter was showing signs of hypoglycemia and jaundice and I still had no sign of lactation. Even the few drops of colostrum I was able to extract at the end of my pregnancy were gone, probably due to stress and psychological distress. I did not have the energy to fight the medical team, so I accepted to start supplementing using the precious milk in a SNS. I thought I would have to fill 15 forms in 18 copies to have the “right” to give real milk, but they impressed me for once by simply accepting my choice. From that time, my new friend and I agreed that she would give me all the milk she could for the first few weeks and that we would reassess the situation depending on my lactation. When it turned out to be insufficient, again despite all my efforts including having a toddler to stimulate my production several times a day, she decided to boost her production, using medicinal supplements. By the time my daughter was 5 months, she was still providing more than half the supplements I needed. It meant that on some days, my baby was exclusively fed breast milk! She was even following the weight curve of an exclusively breastfed baby! I couldn’t have cared less if I had actually been breastfeeding exclusively, but under the circumstances, it was a small victory. When we saw each other, it was simpler for my friend to nurse my baby directly. Some of my other friends also decided to donate some milk sporadically, or to nurse her directly. This co-breastfeeding experience had a real positive outcome on my moral. Although I still had some problems accepting that I did not produce enough milk, I had the satisfaction of giving the best second choice.

My daughters are now 4 and 2, and yes, they both still take the breast. The youngest weaned herself from the SNS when she was 16 months. I still haven’t accepted their birth. As for breastfeeding, it has for me a bitter-sweet, but rather sweeter, taste. Of course it still hurts that I relied on mixed-feeding rather than breastfeeding exclusively. Is it only related to the traumatic birth or do I also have a physiological problem limiting my ability to produce milk, I will never know. But breastfeeding definitely helped me bond with my children. Tandem nursing brought me a rewarding feeling I never thought was possible considering the situation. As for the co-breastfeeding, that was a pure act of generosity, love and support from my friends and as a traumatized momma, I sure needed plenty of that!

March 6th, 2015. Since writing this post, I found out that I probably had insufficient glandular tissues on my left breast. However, even admitting that I had some limitations to start with, I am convinced that I never reached my full potential due to the very poor circumstances for initiation and my psychological state.

My now 6-year-old weaned herself 2 months ago and my 4-year-old still takes the breasts about twice a week. She is slowly weaning.

When what did not happen hurts even more than what did

This was originally published as a guest post on Momma Trauma‘s blog in January 2013.

A sentence from your last blog post got me thinking today: “Often times, we are reminded to avoid our triggers.” I sought counselling about this whole birthing experience but it was never PTSD oriented. I never got professional advice on whether or not I should avoid my triggers, but I do get mixed advice from my family and friends. For example, my boyfriend will say “don’t read this article if it makes you cry”. I do it anyway. On the other hand, when I told my friends I would not see Birth ( the play written by Karen Brody), with them because I knew I couldn’t handle it, they suggested that maybe I should go as part of my healing process. I didn’t. I tend to think that life makes me unexpectedly encounter enough triggers to give me plenty of material to feed my healing process without imposing any on purpose.

For the first time today, I decided to list my triggers. It was quite an interesting exercise. I realized that most of them are not about what happened, but about what did not. Here’s my list:

  • Kiddies t-shirts « I was born with a midwife ». Those cute t-shirt are sold by the Parents council of our local birth centre. I was briefly a member of the council, but I quit because I burst into tears every time the t-shirts were mentioned. I still can’t believe that my children weren’t born with a midwife!
  • Hearing or reading stories about beautiful natural births. I had never experienced jealousy before the birth of my children.
  • Text books about the physiology of giving birth. Those textbooks are emotionless, but reading about the normal process and seeing sketches of a baby simply going through the birth canal is very hard for me. I also remember having to leave a prenatal yoga class when I was pregnant with my youngest, preparing for a VBAC that did not happen, because the teacher was reading about the “passages” the baby goes through during the birth (pelvis, cervix, vagina, perinea). My first daughter was stock in the pelvis and I felt so left out and sorry for her that she did not have the opportunity to prepare for life the normal way.
  • Being asked if I want more children. I wish I could make that decision simply based on “do I want another child?” But truth being told, I would like to be pregnant again. I would love to have another tiny baby who would be happy cuddling and suckling all day. I would love to have another chance to give birth and to breastfeed exclusively. But another child? Maybe not. Or maybe? I don’t know! All I know is that the possibility of spending 9 months anxiously hoping to give birth and ending up having a c-section again is unbearable. So I get very emotional when someone, even a complete stranger, asks if I want another child. I normally end up incoherently, and sometimes through a few tears, explaining all my reasoning on the subject instead of just saying “no” or “maybe”.
  • Only a woman’s heart (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00vle1D97Ck). I know this is a love song about a breakup, but it just speaks to me. It’s all about pain only women can experience, about memories flooding your heart, about mourning for your dreams, about still hoping even when you know that what you want will not happen. I can’t listen to it or play it on the guitar without weeping.

I know I would have found anything different from a natural birth outside the hospital very hard to accept. But I always thought the general anaesthesia without consent was what made it really traumatic. Maybe I’m right and this is just what makes the rest even harder to accept. Or maybe I’m wrong and the trauma was not caused by a single act, but by the whole situation that was a complete opposite of what I expected. I was expecting to live the best day of my life. I experienced the worst. I was expecting a painful and exhausting, but beautiful and empowering natural birth with minimum interventions. I thought it would be love at first sight with my baby and I was convinced to breastfeed exclusively. Instead of that:

  1. I got transferred to the hospital to receive Pitocin because dilation was regressing (I had reached 9 cm!) and the midwife thought the baby’s heart was showing signs of fatigue.
  2. I asked for an epidural. I would have accepted another 12 hours of contractions if they had been mine, but I could not psychologically endure the thought of artificial contractions.
  3. I eventually “agreed” to a c-section when the Pitocin proved ineffective.
  4. I received higher doses of epidural to prepare for surgery. I was waiting for my boyfriend to dress up and join me in the surgery room. They never let him in.
  5. I woke up all confused, alone, apart from 2 nurses happily chatting about my beautiful little girl. I had already insisted that I wanted to discover the gender by myself. Then it kicked in. My baby was born without me! We had started our family life apart! When I got enough strength to talk, I asked to see her. They refused when they realized I couldn’t move my toes. Yes, the bloody epidural had finally kicked in when I was asleep and now they used it as an argument to deny me meeting my baby! I was too weak to fight, especially since I had no allies in the room. It took a few hours before I finally saw her. I remember kissing her little feet, but I don’t recall holding her for the first time. I was still stoned.
  6. I never had a proper lactation and it took me weeks to bond with my baby. It’s difficult not to blame it on my related psychological state that was far from optimal for lactation and bonding.
  7. I got pregnant again. It was a rather anxious pregnancy. Nothing to do with the euphoria I experienced the first time. Although I was full of hopes that actually giving birth would, at least in part, repair what was broken, I was also very worried that it would not happen.
  8. It didn’t. I had another c-section and insufficient lactation.

Although my birth trauma originates in one single day, it now sort of agglomerates two years of my life. Triggers don’t take me back to a single memory, they make me grief for all the things that I didn’t, and more than likely never will, experience.

Le manque de lait : des mythes à déconstruire

Cet article a été publié dans l’édition 2014 de En attendant bébé, publiée par le Comité de parents de la maison des naissance Colette-Julien. Il est en partie inspiré de l’excellent dossier de Chantal Lavigne, IBCLC.

« Vous n’avez pas assez de lait, votre lait n’est pas assez riche »

Lorsque ma grand-mère a eu son premier enfant au début des années 50, elle a laissé tomber l’allaitement au bout d’un mois sous les conseils de son médecin jugeant que son lait n’était pas assez riche. Effectivement, pendant des décennies, il était fréquent pour une femme de se faire dire que son lait n’était pas assez riche, ou simplement qu’elle n’en produisait pas assez. Évidemment, déjà à l’époque, les compagnies de préparation commerciale pour nourrissons (PCN) faisaient déjà beaucoup de publicité pour faire croire que leur produit était équivalent, ou pire, meilleur que le lait maternel. Aussi, pendant longtemps, les femmes étaient encouragées à nourrir leurs poupons selon un horaire précis (3 ou 4h, tout dépendant des époques, des lieux, de l’humeur des « spécialistes ») et à inculquer très tôt de « bonnes » pratiques de sommeil sous prétexte que les bébés ont besoin d’une routine, et pour éviter de les « gâter ». Or, il est maintenant reconnu que cette façon de faire entraîne souvent une diminution de la production laiteuse.

« Bien sûr que vous avez assez de lait, il suffit d’allaiter à la demande! »

Quant à ma mère, elle nous a eus à la fin des années 70-début 80, pendant les derniers balbutiements du mouvement hippie. Elle nous a mis au sein dès notre naissance, et, sans trop se poser de question, nous l’a ensuite offert chaque fois qu’on en avait besoin, c’est-à-dire dès qu’on semblait avoir faim ou qu’on pleurait pour tout autre raison. Pionnière sans le savoir (probablement parce qu’elle a eu la chance de ne pas recevoir de conseils d’ « experts » ni de rencontrer aucun problème), elle nous allaitait selon le principe qui allait être connu sous le terme d’« allaitement à la demande. » Effectivement, un changement de discours a commencé à s’opérer : les bébés ont un rythme qui leur est propre et qu’il faut respecter. Les concepts d’allaitement à la demande (puis à l’éveil) qui allaient devenir le standard de ma génération ont commencé à s’implanter. Le vieux « mythe » du manque de lait allait enfin être dénoncé. Malheureusement, il est vite remplacé par un autre mythe : « Toutes les femmes produisent assez de lait, c’est le principe de l’offre et de la demande ». Le message se répand assez bien, soutenu par les groupes pro-allaitement. Seul problème : il existe un décalage entre ce nouvel adage et la réalité des femmes allaitantes. En effet, on constate que malgré les campagnes d’information et de sensibilisation, de nombreuses femmes ont encore l’impression de manquer de lait.

La perception de manque de lait

Il est vrai que les vieilles croyances sont parfois coriaces. Il n’est pas rare de voir des mamans inquiètes de leur production parce que bébé réclame aux 2 heures ou boit moins longtemps qu’avant, parce qu’elles ont les seins plus mous, un bébé qui pleure beaucoup, etc., et qui l’associe, souvent à tort, à un manque de lait. Mais si le bébé se réveille de lui-même lorsqu’il a faim, s’il mouille bien ses couches, s’il fait régulièrement des selles très molles ou liquides et s’il prend régulièrement du poids, il n’y a pas lieu de s’inquiéter. Dans ce contexte, oui, ces femmes ont essentiellement besoin d’être écoutées et rassurées. Mais sont-elles les seules à se plaindre du manque de lait?

L’hypoplasie mammaire

Effectivement, on concède aujourd’hui un bémol au « Toutes les femmes ont assez de lait. » Oui, certaines femmes ont une insuffisance glandulaire (IGM) ou une hypoplasie mammaire qui limite leur capacité à produire du lait. On parle alors de manque de lait primaire. « Mais c’est extrêmement rare, n’est-ce pas? » En fait, on estime à 2-5% la prépondérance de l’hypoplasie/IGM chez les femmes, ce qui n’est pas négligeable. De plus, bien que le phénomène soit de plus en plus reconnu, il reste encore ignoré de bien des professionnels de la santé et autres ressources d’aide en allaitement. La formation pour apprendre à le diagnostiquer et accompagner les femmes est aussi souvent insuffisante.

L’hypoplasie mammaire/IGM[1] peut être unilatérale (toucher un seul sein) ou bilatérale (les deux seins). La capacité à produire du lait dépend de la gravité de la malformation. Les symptômes classiques sont :

  • Asymétrie entre les seins
  • Peu ou pas de galbe sous le sein
  • Espacement entre les seins de plus de 4 cm
  • Proéminence et orientation (vers l’extérieur) du complexe aréole-mamelon
  • Seins qui grossissent peu ou pas pendant la grossesse

Ces symptômes n’ont pas à être tous présents pour manquer de lait, mais s’ils y sont tous, la production sera grandement compromise.

Mais entre ces femmes trop inquiètes ou peu informées qui ont essentiellement besoin d’être rassurées, d’apprendre à reconnaître les signes de satiété chez leurs enfants et celles désavantagées par l’hypoplasie/IGM qui devront tenter de développer leur potentiel maximal et de supplémenter au besoin, n’existe-t-il pas un zone grise?

Le manque de lait circonstanciel

En fait, ce n’est pas parce que le problème n’est pas physiologique qu’il n’est pas réel! C’est ce qu’on appelle le manque de lait circonstanciel. Dans ce cas, le problème est effectivement réel. La femme ne produit à ce moment pas assez de lait pour subvenir aux besoins de son enfant. Mais cela n’a rien à voir avec son potentiel anatomique/physiologique. Les causes peuvent être multiples et la bonne nouvelle est qu’il s’agit souvent d’un problème réversible, à condition d’en identifier les causes et d’appliquer les solutions appropriées. Malheureusement, il se peut aussi que le problème ne se règle pas. Dans ce cas, le fait d’en déterminer la cause aidera quand même la femme dans son processus de décision et d’acceptation.

Voici une liste, non exhaustive, de circonstances qui peuvent affecter la production de lait[1] :

  • Prise du sein inadéquate résultant en une tétée inefficace
  • Imposition d’un horaire de tétées ou limitation sur la durée, méconnaissance des rythmes de croissance, pression de l’entourage
  • Pratiques hospitalières néfastes : interventions pendant le travail, manque d’intimité, limite du peau-à-peau particulièrement en cas de césarienne, horaires de tétées, réveils, manque d’uniformité, administration de suppléments, etc.
  • Stress : le cortisol nuit à la sécrétion de l’ocytocine responsable de l’éjection du lait
  • Maladie ou syndrome chez la maman (Ex. syndrome des ovaires polykystiques , hypothyroïdie non-contrôlée, syndrome de Sheehan) ou chez le bébé (Ex. trisomie, paralysie cérébrale, grande prématurité, fissure labio-palatine)
  • Particularité anatomique du bébé (palais ogival, frein de langue court, réflexe nauséeux, etc.) ou autres particularités (torticolis ou autre truc de coincé dans le cou, le dos, aux épaules, etc.)
  • Contraception hormonale
  • Difficultés d’adaptation, dépression post-partum, syndrome de stress post traumatique ou certains de ses symptômes suite à l’accouchement
  • Allaitement avec des douleurs ou des blessures
  • Chirurgies mammaires

Que le manque de lait soit primaire, circonstanciel ou une combinaison des deux, il est important de noter que ça ne veut pas dire que la maman doit faire une croix sur l’allaitement! Ça signifie seulement que l’allaitement exclusif est compromis à court ou à long terme et qu’il sera peut-être nécessaire de supplémenter.

Si tel est le cas, la motivation de la mère ainsi que le soutien des proches et des ressources d’aide en allaitement sont des facteurs déterminants pour la poursuite de l’allaitement.

Conclusion

Si une impression de manque de lait est assez fréquente, il n’en demeure pas moins qu’il existe beaucoup de situations qui font en sorte que certaines femmes manquent réellement de lait. Même si nous avons heureusement progressé dans le soutien à l’allaitement depuis les années 50, un scepticisme exagéré envers le manque de lait peut aussi faire beaucoup de tort.

Une femmes qui pense manquer de lait, peu importe la situation, a d’abord besoin d’être écoutée. C’est en la laissant raconter son histoire qu’on peut en arriver à comprendre la ou les sources du problème. S’il s’avère qu’il n’y a en fait pas de problème, tant mieux! Il sera beaucoup plus facile de lui faire voir que tout va bien si on a d’abord été sensible à ses préoccupations. Si au contraire le manque de lait est réel, c’est encore en l’écoutant et en posant les bonnes questions qu’on arrivera à isoler la cause et suggérer les solutions appropriées.

Si vous pensez manquer de lait, n’hésitez pas à contacter une marraine d’allaitement. Entre-Mères, c’est un groupe de mamans bénévoles formées pour soutenir les femmes dans leur projet d’allaitement.