My first weekend visiting the university where I would eventually earn my graduate degree, I went to a pub with a friend. The place was packed to the gills and folks were crammed into a tiny waiting area with those foolish buzzing contraptions waiting to vibrate. Bored, my eyes wandered over to a woman with a strange bundle clutched to her chest under a calico sheet. I couldn’t figure out what it was she was holding until a tiny hand protruded from a fold in the fabric. Girlfriend was breastfeeding. Right there– in public. I lost my appetite and we left quietly in search of another venue to eat.
Fast forward a couple years and I am in labor waiting to be admitted to my birthing room with my husband and the intake room has a giant poster of a gal breastfeeding. Like, naked boob and all. No calico sheet. Nothing to cover a baby on a nipple. I couldn’t look at it; it was like nails on a chalkboard-awful, just gross, vile even.
But when my baby was born a few hours later, healthy and hungry, I scooted him right over to my own breast and winced slightly as he clamped down (it wasn’t THAT bad), seeking the very first comfort he would experience after moving from a snuggly womb to a cold hospital room. Three months later, we are still breastfeeding. It feels normal, natural and the most important piece: it feels nonsexual.
You heard me. See, when I really thought about why breastfeeding turned my stomach, the reason boiled down to something so simple and so heart wrenching, that I became angry.
I feel so sexualized by this culture that I have internalized the notion that my body is for MEN to be enjoyed by MEN and to be appraised by MEN. My breasts? Definitely belong to me, but they only do so insofar as I agree that they are sexual tools…for MEN. See the trend here? Sucking on a boob is something a man does, certainly not a baby. Are you with me thus far? It’s like placing the words “newborn” and “dildo” in the same sentence: it’s just not OK It’s kind of nasty. That was my perspective before having my son.
Though once my hormones kicked in, reminding me that my body can have many purposes, specifically nurturing a baby, nursing felt marvelous but not in a sexual way.
Thing is, I can’t always make my baby happy. Immunizations, diaper changes with cold wipe, gas: there are a million things that can and do annoy him to tears. But give him some warm milk and skin to snuggle against, and he holds his little fists up against his own chest and his eyes roll back in his head. Yeah—he is that happy. In turn, I’m relieved to be able to give him that moment of reprieve and I get a subsequent does of oxytocin. Good shit. No men involved; no sexualization necessary. Breastfeeding wasn’t about that at all.
What infuriates me is how hetero-normative sexualization interfered with my self-image, my ability to process a natural function many babies benefit from (in addition to the benefits moms can enjoy if they choose to breastfeed).
Is this a platform to push breastfeeding? Not really. I know outstanding moms who chose not to breastfeed for medical, personal reasons that are none of my damn business.
Rather what irks me deeply is the notion that male oppression can sneak into the choices I might make about someone so vulnerable, my baby. He didn’t ask for this bullshit. He just wants to feel loved and to have a full belly. I would hate to have chosen to not to breastfeed because male oppression told me not to. I would hate to not breastfeed because I thought my breasts belonged to my husband or that they was reserved for sex.
When I think about the way breastfeeding turned my stomach before, I’m ashamed, to be honest. These women were feeding their kids, maintaining a bond and providing comfort in their own ways and I couldn’t understand it, couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t show some damned solidarity, and that really bugs me.
Moving forward? I am learning to respect the mom-code: judge not lest ye have a paltry circle of mom-friends.