From A Black, Queer Birthworker: How To Make Black Lactation Spaces Inclusive

by Mystique Hargrove
A mom breastfeeding her baby in a public space who needs black lactation spaces to be inclusive
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Trigger warning: history of trauma to Black bodies, racism, homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, microaggression, colonization

Breastfeeding. Chestfeeding. Body feeding. Infant feeding.

Whichever way you choose to call it.

It’s all the same.

Recently, the importance of lactation in Black communities has been revolutionized and amplified to create more diversity and inclusion, especially when it comes to Black Breastfeeding Week.

Many continue to use binary terms such as “breasts, mommy, daddy, mothers, mamas, moms” and so forth without realizing how it excludes and dismisses many Black bodies who do not identify with these cis-gendered and heteronormative labels.

In the Black community, we are continuing to fight the power in raising awareness of how white-led lactation spaces continue to create unsafe practices due to classism, racism, and other forms of microaggression. Don’t even get me started on how there remains the infectious spread of anti-Blackness while others continue to claim how Black lives matter.

However, homophobia, queerphobia, and transphobia play a part in our communities as well. Imagine being a Black queer and trans person trying to navigate the concerns of low milk supply, having babies with lip and/or tongue ties, medical conditions, and more, all while having your identity being judged by lactation professionals who are so against your lifestyle.

I speak on this from both personal and professional experience. When I was seeking services to assist with my lactation concerns, I experienced discrimination as a Black queer, nonbinary parent from white lactation professionals along with Black lactation professionals and medical staff as well. It was heartbreaking trying to juggle my discovery of my authentic self and not receiving the support I needed as a single parent. I was told that I was “confused” or even overheard medical staff make jokes about how me constantly correcting them about not calling me, “mommy” or “mama” with bad impersonations of how I sounded.

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I remember a time when I overheard the white and Black nurses say, “Can you believe her? (inserts bad impersonation of me), ‘I don’t like being called mama or mommy.’ Little girl, you need Jesus.”

Now let me be perfectly clear. I was in too much pain and completely exhausted from a traumatic birthing experience where both my child and I nearly lost our lives, to even check her and the rest of the staff by telling them all where to go and what to kiss. I didn’t even know the proper protocol of how to report them and neither did my limited support. You see, Black bodies have always been targeted with ridicule and shame. Our bodies have a history of being experiments to create medical interventions that were to save white bodies.

So if you’re thinking I should have done something or said something, let’s also check, collect, and correct your colonized mindset. Not only do Black bodies have a history of being tortured as human experiments, but Black queer bodies have a history of being in danger as well. Statistics show that Black queer and trans bodies report more discrimination and more trauma mentally and emotionally than other bodies of color who are not a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Do you want to know why? It is due to the lack of accessible resources that provide inclusive and affirmative care all because nobody knows what the hell they are doing. Nobody knows how intersectionality plays a role in marginalized communities.

Then there are Black queer and trans bodies who are disabled, who come from nontraditional family dynamics (such as kinship and poly relationships), and so on. That is a whole other side that needs to be explored more in this work of lactation.

So in the spirit of Black Breastfeeding Week, many do not get or even know what being inclusive and affirmative looks like or how it should show up in spaces to make marginalized Black bodies feel safe. As a professional in this work, that is where I come in. My own personal experiences, although traumatic, are my testimonies as to why I do the work that I do and how I do it. I’m what others may refer to me as a “perinatal table flipper” because I’m done shaking it up.

My role in this work is to educate and inform how to call out the barriers against marginalized Black bodies such as those who are LGBTQIA+ individuals and who represent other marginalized communities (or villages as I like to call them). I am here to call out the bullshit in lactation and to teach those who need to learn how to do better as lactation professionals. I am even taking the necessary steps to be a future radical Black queer, nonbinary IBCLC as a Pathway 3 mentee — so more Black queer and trans bodies can feel safe and secure to come to me with any concerns they may have with nursing their lovely babies that they can’t receive from others who have a lot more work to do on their end.

As a lactation professional, it is important to do the following on how to specifically support Black people in lactation:

  1. Check, collect, and correct your biases. Begin to research various Black queer and trans perinatal professionals and support groups who have a passion for this work such as The Queer Doula Network. Even Black-led spaces that actually support and protect Black queer and trans lactating people such as Mahogany Milk.
  2. Get in the habit of dismantling your colonized and binary narratives by paying Black people in this work accordingly (meaning pay our worth). The story of the Fultz sisters is a great example of how colonized agendas took advantage of a poor Black Indigenous woman all for a white doctor to use her children to gain wealth and fame. Also, hire Black queer and trans perinatal professionals for consulting work to overlook your practices that have possibly caused harm in the community.
  3. Practice active listening. Understanding the importance of storytelling is huge in our community, but you must actively listen to our needs. Quit being so hung up on completing your assessment paperwork and pay attention to what is actually being said (if we are comfortable sharing our concerns with you).
  4. Be mindful of how binary language can be harmful. I’m going to upset a lot of you when I say this but I really don’t care. Everyone does not identify as a mother, a mama, or a woman. Let that really sink in. Then repeat. Repeat it as many times as you need to until you get it. If I hear or read “Hey mama!” or “the joys of motherhood” one more time, I am going to scream…at you. Because many clearly do not get that everyone that you serve does not identify with being a female. Begin to check your habit of calling everyone “mama/mommy” and actually use the language that they use. This is also to say this is not to take away anything from anyone who does identify as a “mother/mom/mama.” So relax and calm down. It is to call out your binary biased perception that “all moms/mommies/mamas breastfeed.” Even the term “breastfeeding” is heteronormative and binary. I would suggest informing yourself on how to serve the community better, especially when you are coming from a privileged background (i.e. white, cis-gendered, heterosexual).

Once we all check, collect, and correct the biases we continue to carry out in our daily lives as well as problematic narratives and agendas that are so cis-gendered and heterosexually forced, we can finally rebuild after dismantling hate, racism, and other “isms” in lactation for effective healing at a community-based approach to this work.