When I was in my twenties, I wanted to go to the Burning Man Festival more than anything. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an annual event that takes place in Black Rock City, Nevada that starts on the last Sunday in August and lasts until the first Monday of September. It’s sort of like if you took performance art, combined it with radical ideas about community living, and turned it into a full-on contact sport. Basically, it’s bananas and wicked awesome.
So, when I heard there was some Internet uproar over images of a woman double pumping breast milk — and giving it away to festival goers who were using the breast milk to make lattes — I was not in the least bit surprised to learn that it was going down at Burning Man.
Miki Agrawal, who many may know as the founder behind the brand Thinx, which makes reusable period panties for women, posted the much-talked-about images of herself on Instagram along with a lengthy caption.
“I pumped my breasts every three hours at Burning Man and gave away most of my milk,” she wrote. “Some people downed a whole four ounces hoping for a hangover cure. Some wanted it for their coffee to make lattes. So many were excited and curious to try it.”
Agrawal goes on to describe that even she tried the milk when she ran out of water, writing, “I drank some too when I ran out of water, it tastes like sweet coconut milk!”
Agrawal described the curiosity others had when they learned why she needed to pump.
“So many people told me that they had no idea that I had to keep pumping every three hours because they didn’t know that breasts would become engorged and super painful if they were not pumped — nature’s way of keeping mama and baby working together,” she wrote.
This realization helped her to understand just how compartmentalized the concept of motherhood can be for many.
“Every human has been birthed and raised somehow and yet even the smartest people have no idea what this process looks like,” she said.
As a mom who pumps milk at work, I know full well how hard it can be logistically and emotionally to make sure that my milk is pumped, stored, and used properly. There are a lot of taboos about breastfeeding in public and even pumping milk at work — taboos that I sometimes feel in the form of shaming.
It may have been radical artistic expression that helped inspire Agrawal into action at Burning Man, but she was totally responding to this long-felt taboo that forces women to make tough choices about how they feed their babies.
“First of all, we still live in a patriarchal system where breasts are over-sexualized and made to be for the ‘male gaze only,'” Agrawal tells Babble. “So it makes sense to ‘our current society’ to sequester women in back room closets to pump quietly — because heaven forbid our breasts be useful tools to keep our children alive. That’s not sexy, is it?’
“Second of all, and one of my girlfriends said it best: ‘It’s so funny to me how people have no problem (through indoctrination and marketing) drinking milk from a cow breast that has been obtained in an inhumane, filthy manner, with rampant udder infections, drugs, steroids, and fecal matter — yet, balk over drinking human milk from a clean, healthy source … indoctrination is powerful!'”
For Agrawal, breast milk shouldn’t be a taboo subject. And to the women who feel shamed for pumping anywhere, she says, “Don’t feel shame. Pump with pride.”
As for the use of her breast milk as a hangover cure, a base for lattes, and other funny things, I just had to know what other odd uses she had found for breast milk.
“Personally not much,” she admitted, “except any excess that spills out of my breasts, I massage onto my skin.”