I can see your dirty pillows. Everyone will.

Getting ready to go to her high school prom in a low-cut dress, Carrie’s mother confronts her…

Margaret White: I can see your dirty pillows. Everyone will.
Carrie: Breasts, Mama. They’re called breasts, and every woman has them.

The fact that that video, a clip from the movie Carrie, is age-restricted despite featuring no nudity, no swearing, and no violence, only showing the outline of a nipple, speaks to our collective fear.

Acceptable breast and nipple

Midwife Ina May calls it nipplephobia in her book Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding. As a whole, we are confused and frightened about breasts, especially nipples. I’m not special. I too used to be horrified about breasts in any condition that wasn’t sexualized.

Silicone enhanced, spilling out of a dress on magazine covers = totally normal. Seeing a mother nursing her child at the aisle at the military exchange, I literally did an about face and ran far, far away, certain I had just seen something I was never meant to see and disturbed to find it out in the open. Some things were for home and private time.

I was in middle school and like many Judy Blume loving girls, I was dreaming of the day I’d finally pass the pencil test. Yet I lacked a complete understanding of a woman’s physiology and the actual biological purposes of breasts.

Breasts were sexual. That is all. No. Other. Use. That’s what formula was for. I mean really, in this day and age why are we bothering acting like animals?

I don’t know where this attitude came from, but I do remember one sleepover with a girl from church. I was young, maybe 7 or 8. It was my first time at their house. I went looking for her mom to ask her a question, and I walked in on her feeding their baby. I turned to escape, and she called me back in and asked me what I needed. I remember trying to look at anything but her. I also remember never going back to their house.

Unacceptable image of a breast.

As I became older, I began to accept that my fears and views were juvenile. I was grateful that I did have the choice to learn better and get over myself though there was still no way I was breastfeeding.

I heard it hurt. It ruined the shape. They’d never be good again.

Plus, I was going to have a career. Breastfeeding was for rich stay-at-home moms with something to prove.

Besides, black women don’t really breastfeed anyway. It’s just not in our culture.

Finally, there’s no way of knowing it actually makes any positive difference. There’s a lot of speculation about the benefits of breast milk, but come on scientifically, how can you prove it is best? What’s the control?

At best you can get a bunch of correlations, no causations, and the problem with correlations is they can suggest a relationship, but they cannot eliminate other potential influences such as socioeconomic status, general health, a two-parent home, time shared, innate intelligence, etc. Sure, there’s a nice long list of why breast is best, but I wasn’t breastfed, and I turned out fine.

[pullquote]

The infant formula industry is big business. Worldwide, $6-8 billion worth of formula sales are generated annually, with half of that, or about $3 billion, being sold in the U.S.African American Women and Breastfeeding

[/pullquote]

I repeated this for years.

Yet somewhere between learning to make my own bread and being horrified at ingredient labels on packaged food, my attitude began to change. Just look at my yogurt situation. You don’t want to know how much I pay for yogurt. It’s obscene, but it’s important to me to have a product I trust. We’ve spent years working on our diets, attempting to eat mostly whole foods, raised in responsible manners that are healthy. Our bodies thank us every day with more energy, better moods, smaller waistlines, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and a higher quality of life.

When I started thinking about feeding our children, I couldn’t reconcile my fears about breastfeeding and my knowledge of the importance of a diet. While the breast is best is correlations, there are some certain facts I could no longer ignore.

Only about 20 percent of black moms are breastfeeding when their child reaches 6 months of age. - Breastfeeding in the United States: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2006

Namely, corporations are not concerned with what is best for me or my children. They are concerned with profit. It’s not that they want to poison us; it’s just that it’s cheaper to use lesser ingredients with negligible nutritional value and poor labor practices. They definitely function attempting to put the minimum in to get the maximum out, and our food and drug laws allow them entirely too much leisure.

Unlike with formula, the greatest thing about breastmilk is I know the source. I know what I eat. I know the process, how long it’s been stored, who has handled it, how far it had to travel, and how much marketing went into it. With my own supply, there’s no need to worry about artificial ingredients, unnecessary sugars, contaminants, recalls, or country of origin. It’s a natural process, a natural food. How could I not want that?

So it’s true, I’m planning on breastfeeding. Honestly, it’s probably been my biggest concern about this whole baby situation. To intellectually understand why I’m doing it is easy, to get over all those years of fears and negative associations is not.

In the early months, I’d worry what if I can’t get the latch right, what if my breasts are inadequate, who will help me, and how will I deal with the lack of potential family support? When around my family, am I going to have to go hide in a back room so no one is embarrassed? I have no desire to pump from day one to maintain a false sense of modesty.

[pullquote]When around my family, am I going to have to go hide in a back room so no one is embarrassed?[/pullquote]

Still, I bought a cover though I know many babies and moms find them cumbersome. Just trying it on, I felt ridiculous. It’s just a boob! I’m going to be feeding my baby in the most natural way possible. Why do I need to hide? I can wear a dress or a shirt that exposes a lot more and not feel immodest, but still the thought of feeding causes me pause?

Pause, yes at one time it did, but it is not stopping me now. I am breastfeeding, at home, in public. When my baby needs to eat, he will eat, and I will not hide or feel ashamed. I’ve been reading. I’ve got my local resources including moms who have successfully nursed and the La Leche League. I’ve got the support of my husband. I’ve got the expertise of my midwife who will not only assist me through labor and delivery but will help with breastfeeding not only on that day but when she returns to my house to check on me and the baby.

To create an environment of low-stress, after the baby comes, we plan on taking at least 3 days to ourselves, so I can nurse freely wherever and whenever as Ennis and I both can start learning what works without any comments such as “just give him a bottle” or worse referring to it as “gross.”

No, it won’t be long before Ennis is here, and he needs to eat. Those who don’t like it are just going to have to suck it up!

Man, becoming a mother sure thickens the skin.

Bonus clip:

A shocking Sesame Street clip where Big Bird learns about breastfeeding.


3 Comments

  1. Jenn

    This is a great post- I love the Big Bird clip!

    I have to say I loved breast feeding, even with him being given formula in the hospital, a couple of bouts of mastitis and biting. It was just so calming and relaxing (not the biting obviously, heh). We ended up going for 7 months before we started introducing food, and a year and 3 days before we stopped completely. We switched it up between direct from the breast (whenever I was available) and pumped bottles (when I was at work). If we were just going out, I got to a point, I wasn’t really bothered about feeding him directly. The nursing cover I made was too hot and dark for me to use it much, so I started wearing shelf-bra tank tops under my shirts, which made it much easier to hide everything (tank top got pushed down and shirt got partially pulled up)…

    Anyway, it doesn’t matter which way you go, Ennis is going to be much loved! Email me if you want to talk about any of it- my mom breastfed all of us and it was amazing having someone who’d been there to talk to about it.

  2. Misti

    Yup! It’s great, easy, cheap, and healthy. I even had to use a ‘prosthesis’ since my nipples weren’t large enough. Who would have thought??? But Asher survived on my milk for 14 months and he stopped when he wanted. I quit pumping (which was one of the most time-consuming and annoying things ever) around 10 months. I remember the few days at work when I forgot my pump, rushing home early to release the rock-hard dams.

    If you don’t use the cover, use a scarf like I did. Not for modesty reasons, but to keep Ennis focused on your breasts, because sooner or later, in public, he will want to gaze at everything else. Oh, and in winter, a scarf keeps your neck and nipples warm while still being fashionable. You’ll still have people stare at you out of the corner of your eye and you may even have a restaurant waiter/manager ask you to stop, but don’t be defensive. Make eye contact, smile, and enjoy the time. That’s the only way to begin to change public opinion.

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