Me & Her in the studio

#breastfeeding #familymentalhealth
My cis experience of having breasts has been a strange one, I’m not alone, in order to help anyone with a similar experience Im sharing mine. I was writing about breastfeeding and some ideas came up that helped me see my experience a little bit clearer. How my body has been used and viewed in ways I hadn’t thought about in great detail. Content warning domestic abuse and not the average narcissistic mother.

Oil on Canvas, Work in Progress

I had my baby 12 years ago, shortly after my 21st birthday. I knew I had to breastfeed, I was poor and lacking any self esteem, I was scared of making my baby ill by messing up bottle prep. I never felt like I had a choice not to have my baby, I never felt like I had a choice not to breastfeed. My mother had been a part of the local breastfeeding support group 3 years previous with my youngest sibling. She talked about how an estranged aunt never got over her abortion and it definitely contributed to her mental health problems. Which came across as “ we don’t have abortions, mental illness is weakness” My baby was the one she wanted but was glad I was having. It meant she could do a degree instead of having another baby despite being in(out, in, out) of a ridiculous relationship. I was single and living with my mum, as a live in baby sitter for my younger siblings. Writing that makes me realise why it was easier for my mum for me to have this baby.

Breasts are so weird!

They Are theses lumps of fat and tissue, with nipples like cis men’s but that aren’t aloud out like theirs. They are often named the girls or my puppies or theses babies. Cooed at and fondled by the people who appreciate them most, that’s often not a baby. Boobs are there to feed babies and for the owner of love lumps to enjoy as part of a consensual sexual experience.
I never enjoyed mine. I was blinded with delight if anyone enjoyed them or gave them positive attention. They were tiny. I had these puffy 50p size areola and nipples like chapel hat pegs. I was so ashamed I hid them in foam cupped bras so my nipple erections were never seen and loathe swimming because at the time, I didn’t know or couldn’t find swimsuits didn’t have this option.
I hated my boobs, one was noticeably bigger than the other and I was mortified, offended when the girl at la senza handed me a bra with one foam filled of padding removed to even out their look. She noticed, she knew, it’s not just in my head, I felt so ashamed.

I heard that breastfeeding would even out my lopsided mini mounds.

(It didn’t.)

Age 18 or 19 I’d got one nipple pierced in an attempt to be cool and distract anyone who saw them of their odd ness. Turns out that was a lot of people when I got drunk and flashed them and again when I got a back tattoo tried going braless by necessity. My boobs were never mine for me.
While braving a maternity swim, in the changing room I hear a woman refer to her boobs as spaniels ears, small flaps of skin where tiny pert boobies used to be before she breast fed, thats what was going to happen to me. They will fill up with milk and deflate when it’s all dried up. I would become even less desirable, someone would make off my bra and be disappointed.
There was this nagging feeling in my head as soon as I knew I had to use these to feed a baby. It was going to be gross.They had only ever been in someone else’s mouth as part of sex. Boobs were sex things. My boobs were there to hopefully entertain and occupy someone during sex. My body was for sex. For others. Primarily for adult men, often without consent and never for my pleasure. 

So I had a baby, I was “off my tits”

and out of it, he latched on, fed, we went home. My milk came in, never had I known size and tenderness like it. My areola were stretched tight like canvas over doughnuts of full firm nutrience. The skin was tingly, itchy but I had boobs that looked how I was taught boobs should look.
Everything hurt for 2 weeks so I don’t remember much. I remember getting a cream for my nipples because they were so chapped. Every time he latched on I had to do breathing exercises to breathe through the pain. The visiting midwife confirmed it was a good latch, I wasn’t doing it wrong. She looked at my blonde ginger hair and said it’s probably just sensitive skin and they’ll tough up.
My tough tits did ok, my baby got fat and grew, I was congratulated on making good milk. I felt useful. There was a feeling of accomplishment and I think I felt thankful of my one breasts. I got one out any time, any where this little bundle of need needed. I wore ugly comfy bras and washable leak protection ( one turned up in my washing machine filter when he was 18 months, bag your small washables! ) and smelt of sweet, sour milk a lot. I often had a bra on, slept in it, but when I didn’t all it took was a cry from him and they would tingle & leak. I often got drenched as he fed from one side the other side made a fountain until I learnt to practically stick my finger in my boob through the nipple to stop it. Turns out I loved breastfeeding. Something I was good at, I fed him till he was one and I went back to uni. 

Over a decade later

I have learnt a lot about my body, my relationship with it and where I have had difficulties and why. Learning how to put them right, to feel worthy, to appreciate my mind and the meat sack that it inhabits. I’m learning to have and understand autonomy. This year I have focused more on a single breast in my painting, rather than a pair or set, I’m mindful of their appearance, a boob with stretch marks and nipple hair, why lie? It’s real, normalise bodies and it takes the power away from self loathing and bullying.  I’m bored of looking at other women’s bodies painted, captured or airbrushed be cis men, so I make my own, my way, I look for those who are doing the same. Im enjoying my boob and wave phase, but will probably go back to vaginas, teeth and eyeballs at some point because I did a lot of healing doing the last phase I had.

The thing about recovery and therapy is that you talk or work on a thing till you are board of it. Im a long way into recovery, I have healed so much, some things are still tricky. My work and concepts deal with taboo subjects like motherectomys, Mental health, domestic abuse, child abuse, and CSE/E (yep Im still uncomfortable with writing those wordswhole). I’ve learnt to talk not just draw, so now I do both.

Confrence talks and workshops booked aroud Norfolk August, September & October.

I’ll share events when there’s pubilcations to share. Free the nipple already!

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