The History of Black Women and Their Breasts

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Black women’s bodies tell a story that should be heard by the masses. From the history of wet nurses during antebellum era to people who don’t believe women who are sex workers have a right to their own bodies. Women are often exploited and idolized in unhealthy ways. There is an obsession with what women do with their bodies in society that needs to be addressed. Many views are divided about when and where women’s breasts should be displayed publicly. Until everything is saturated with pink in October, many people rarely rally around promoting the health of the two masses that protrude on either side of most women’s sternum. We detach the whole women from the breasts that they possess too often.

During the antebellum era, it was not uncommon for enslaved Black women to serve as a wet nurse for white children. This forced many of them to have to forfeit feeding their own infants. In the narrative “A Negro Nurse”, an enslaved women recounts how she was only allowed to spend time with her children on Sundays, once every two weeks, because she had to nurse and care for an 11 month old baby in the slave master’s home. Fourteen to sixteen hours per day of her time was dedicated to caring for this child.

Many Black mothers forfeited the right to experience that mother-baby bond that comes after a baby is born during this time. With that fact in mind, I believe we should support women who want to breastfeed. Women who breastfeed are less likely to have ovarian and breast cancer.
   I remember talking to a lady at a community health event one day. I remember telling her my healthcare career on the OB/Gyn floor of a hospital. She told me that she wanted to do more work in public health herself, specifically with Black women, and she’d written a book about her health experiences. She revealed that was a breast cancer survivor. I pride myself in being someone who pays attention to details, but I never looked down to notice that she’d had a double mastectomy.

That conversation reminded me that breasts can not only serve as a lifeline between a mother and infant, but can also harbor a deadly disease, cancer.

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