By Malikah Garner
Recently, I had a conversation about all of the obstacles and various experiences I encountered in my breastfeeding journey. I breastfed as a stay at home mom, while working from home and latched exclusively for the first 6 months. When I transitioned to working outside the home, I pumped and hand expressed while my son attended daycare. I breastfed using a syringe shortly after birth and continued to nurse well into toddlerhood. I nursed in public, uncovered and helped other black moms along the way. With so many different experiences, I was reminded of the meaningful ways I reclaimed my power and my body through breastfeeding.
When I became a breastfeeding mom with my second son, breastfeeding was no easy feat. We spent many late frustrated nights latching and relatching until it was bearable. Once we got in a good rhythm, I was so proud. This was not the case with my first son, who I breastfed for a few weeks, and that made this win even sweeter. I proved to myself I could do it. I felt empowered that I could feed my baby from my own body. It opened my awareness to the possibilities and I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t do.
Through every breastfeeding challenge, we persevered. I carried this learning moment into other aspects of my life. Breastfeeding revived my ambition, helped me to embrace myself fully and look at challenges as learning opportunities. These lessons wouldn’t have come to me in this way without breastfeeding and the support I got throughout my journey. I have Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association to thank for the black-momma-centered support that helped empower me as a mom of 2 and to breastfeed for over 4 years or 1,564 days to be exact.
One thing I didn’t expect during my breastfeeding journey was being uncomfortable with my partner touching my breasts. Simply put, my breasts became off limits for anything unrelated to breastfeeding. My husband was patient although disappointed. In true fashion to my way of processing discomfort, I asked myself, “why are you uncomfortable?” and “does it have to be this way?”
I gently challenged myself by considering the multiple functions our bodies serve. We use our lips and hands for both pleasure and non-sexual affection with those we love. I began to entertain the idea that I could do both and the function of my breast as a breastfeeding mom is separate from my sexual pleasure. After thinking long and hard, with special attention given to cleanliness, I gave it a try. I was surprised, I did not feel weird. My new mantra for breastfeeding moms experiencing the same dilemma became, “Do yo thang, clean em off and nurse that baby sis.” I believe a key part in my mental shift was that I had taken the time to re-imagine the possibilities.
All in all, I want black breastfeeding mommas to feel empowered to reclaim their power, bodies and sexuality. Abundance is always available to us if we remove the limitations. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs reveals sex as a part of our most basic physiological needs as humans, on the same level as food, water and shelter. This need deserves to be honored and tapped into, in all seasons of life including breastfeeding. Being a mom does not have to mean that we deny other sides of ourselves that are worthy of feeling. We can experience the full duality of our being. We are caretakers. We are nurturers. We are sensual. We are fierce. We are goals.