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Fighting for Women: Guest Post From The Badass Breastfeeder

Before I had children, I saw my body as solely a sexual resource. The feedback that I got from the media, ads, TV, movies, men and women alike, was overwhelmingly positive. I got the message that I was “womaning” correctly. I never saw any use for my body beyond working out and having sex. And no one was banging my door down to convince me that I could grow life, birth life, or nourish life all with my own body. Expressing myself sexually was fulfilling and I was validated for this from every direction. I loved my body and felt like I knew it well. I was complimented often for how I looked. People smiled at me and wanted to be around me.I felt like I fit in and was part of the crowd.

When I gave birth to my first son, Jack, my body became totally alien to me. My breasts were to perform this act that I had never seen and that seemed so advanced, I couldn’t understand how it was possible. The first time I saw a baby breastfeed was when I latched Jack onto my breast on the hospital bed. It felt like an out of body experience. I knew I should be feeling some emotion, but I felt none. I just felt distant. My belly became a stretchable bag of skin. I was exhausted and sore. And don’t even get me started on my vagina! I left the hospital with so much bad information that I thought my breastfeeding relationship was going to end at any moment. Through my own research into getting started with breastfeeding however, I got a crash course on the magic that my body could do. And it did. The more I learned about my body the more amazing it became and the more it started to do. Breastfeeding started to make sense and it got easier. I felt closer to my son when I learned how my body had grown him inside of me. And I started to love my body again when I learned about the nature of giving birth.

Now I was feeling badass.

By about 2 months postpartum we were going strong. By 6 months postpartum it was like a walk in the park, literally. One day I was breastfeeding in a park with friends. I asked one of my friends to take a photo of me. I wanted to post it to a Facebook mommy support group that I was in. But when I posted that photo something shocking happened. Many people were upset with me. They commented things like, “That’s inappropriate,” “That’s a private moment between you and your baby,” “That’s gross,” and “Cover up.”

“Cover up” was the comment that made me the most perplexed. In 35 years of not having kids, I had never been told to cover up. As a matter of fact, the less clothing I wore, the more positive the feedback. I loved to show my cleavage and wear revealing clothing. No one ever told me to cover up. I was always under the impression that my skin was a welcome sight. Especially my boobs!

If we want to look into the contradiction that is to be a woman, we need look no further than breasts. Those luscious life-giving and sensual lumps of fat on our chests. Such outrage they cause! They produce the most nutrient-dense liquid on earth, so important to life that they rightfully call it “liquid gold.” The milk is specifically made by a mother for her child. It’s so individualized that its composition is constantly changing to address the child’s needs in that very moment. How can something so out of this world possibly be called “gross?” How could the body that can produce this life-giving substance possibly be told to cover up?

The answer lies somewhere in the deep sexualization of women and our bodies. Breasts have been so fetishized in our culture that they have a personality all their own. Sometimes I picture boobs independently bouncing down the street, everyone’s heads bobbing along as they bounce by, stuck in a trance at this sensual flesh dance—only to look a little closer and realize that they are actually attached to a human being. They are not seen as part of a system that creates and sustains life. They are not a part of our bodies, dynamic and powerful. Rather, they are seen as entertainment, as purely sexually pleasing and, consequently, offensive when not being used for pleasure.

The female body is accepted and applauded as a sexual object, but not as a biological resource. When we speak of a “mission,” “movement” or “fight” to increase breastfeeding rates or breastfeeding duration for those women who want it, we cannot only speak of nutritious breastmilk and the need for more lactation consultants. We must also acknowledge that this is a fight for women to gain ownership over their own bodies.

With everything that we know about breastfeeding, we would naturally assume that it is protected and accepted by the larger society. But what we know instead is that women are harassed for breastfeeding. We also know that women are harassed for not breastfeeding. Women are consistently stripped of their decision-making abilities when it comes to so many choices right from conception, to pregnancy, to birth, to feeding, and right into parenting.

Society suffers a sickness about women. Women are picked apart and stripped of our decision-making powers in order to keep us under control. We are powerful, life-giving creatures that have been marginalized in every way. The healing process is long and convoluted, changing all the time as decades go by. We are continuing a fight for equality that began long before any of us were here. It seems the more we learn the more we realize that we are farther behind than we thought. We are learning that we won’t be free until all women are free; no matter her race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, able-ness, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age.

We will know we are healed when we have the same rights to our bodies, life experiences and life decisions as the men around us. When we are free to express ourselves sexually on our own terms, at the same time that  our bodies continue the human race on this planet. When we are no longer told our bodies are offensive and cause men to act out against us. When our hard-earned careers are not taken from us when we decide to have children. When we no longer fear for our lives and safety because we are female. When this is true for all women on earth, then we will be free.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder