Shae O'Brien is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mother to three beautiful girls. She takes life with a grain of salt and two spoonfuls of sugar! Please be sure to follow her on www.facebook.com/catholicmamablog.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Photograph Me Breastfeeding!

 Photo by Leilani Rogers 

There is no moment that makes me feel more beautiful, strong, and proud than the moment I am able to comfort and nourish my daughter--the human being I grew within my womb--with food I create from my own breasts. It is beautiful, both in its intrinsic bond between us and also the serene nature of this act in itself. It represents the incredible design of a mother's body, as well as the determination and persistence one requires to push onward with breastfeeding despite the many challenges breastfeeding mothers often face. So, why is it that when I breastfeed my child in front of others, their instinct is not to capture this miraculous moment in a frame but to avert their eyes and ignore my very presence in the room?

I have been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for pretty much the last five years of my life. I am currently breastfeeding. And I have begun to notice something. We do not have many pictures of me. There are tons of pictures of my daughters, my husband, grandparents, friends...yet my photographic presence seems to be missing lately. Perhaps it has to do with how often I am the one holding the camera, but I started paying attention to others as they took their photos. With all of the best intentions I'm sure, I would watch the camera/phone come out, the scanning of the room, and then the embarrassed flush of the cheeks and quickly turning away once they realized I was breastfeeding. Even those who were completely comfortable with me breastfeeding would sometimes say something along the lines of "Oh, I'll let you finish first" as though the act was fine as long as it wasn't captured on film.

Now, I get it. Our society has thoroughly sexualized the female breast. However, I am not trying to turn anybody on when breastfeeding. News flash: breasts were created for feeding babies first and foremost. It's just science. So, I am not ashamed of my need to expose my breast for the purpose of feeding my children--in fact, I'm quite proud of it! I have worked very hard to be able to successfully breastfeed, like most breastfeeding mothers have experienced, and I am simply saying that I would appreciate it if people would stop viewing this accomplishment as some sort of embarrassing act that I should keep out of our picture frames and shutterfly books. 

There is a professional photographer named Leilani Rogers in Austin, TX who photographs the subjects of births, newborns, and breastfeeding. She describes her profession as "a love for snapping the rare, magical moments that all families experience". I was so excited the day I found this amazing woman, who understood that breastfeeding was "rare" and "magical" and needed to be captured on film! She believed this so much that she founded the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project (PBAP), which is a group of 75 photographers around the world who work to normalize breastfeeding in public through their beautiful photography of these moments. Leilani, as a child, was amazed at the ability to preserve moments in history for hundreds of years through the act of photography. I wonder how much of our history is lost forever because we continue to stigmatize the mothers in our communities who give of their very bodies to provide nourishment to future generations. 

Here is some of the incredible work of Leilani and other PBAP photographers:

PBAP is rare, however, in how most photographers (from anyone with an iPhone to those who get paid to do it) view breastfeeding and whether it is appropriate to capture the act on camera. For this reason, mothers have started resorting to their own ability to photograph by taking selfies of them breastfeeding--an act that has now been coined the #brelfie. Across social media, mothers have begun to show their beauty and pride as breastfeeding mothers by posting their #brelfie to be seen and shared. Oddly enough, in a society where selfies are the norm and many people post them daily, #brelfies get a lot of criticism for "seeking attention", "inappropriate content", and "lack of modesty". So, not only will no one else take my picture, but now I am not supposed to take it either?

Listen everyone, I am proud of my breastfeeding. I worked hard to get it right. I fight through sickness and pain and comfort to do it. I sacrifice to give my child nourishment and health. THAT is what you should see when you catch me breastfeeding near you. THAT is what you should think of me when you judge my breastfeeding near you. And THAT is why you should want to take my picture. Because I am a beautiful, proud, strong, and selfless mother who deserves recognition in history. Even if for no other reason than I gave of myself for my child, and that is a selfless act worthy of being noted. 

By all means, if you are a stranger, ask my permission first to take a photograph (like you really should of any person you do not personally know). But don't be afraid to take the picture! Breastfeeding is worthy of the space on your phone, the frame on your wall, and the post on your newsfeed. I am worthy of all of those things too--not despite my breastfeeding, but because of it.

(Thank you to my sister Clarissa for taking this beautiful photo of me!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dear Bugaboo, From a Fluffy Mama

Dear Bugaboo,

You've been getting a lot of flack lately. Your latest ad of a stick thin model jogging around in a bikini while using your $800 stroller has caused some upset. Moms feel shamed, mocked, and just plain inadequate. I can't say I blame them (have you seen that model's stomach?). 

(Bugaboo ad)

The truth is though, while your ad may seem absurd, it is meant for a different mother than I. I am the mother of four children under four, living on one income, choosing on a daily basis whether to go to the park or get the kitchen clean. I do not have the money for your stroller--or the personal trainer that I'm sure would have to come with it for me to begin looking like that model. In fact, the only stroller I've ever purchased was $25 at Target. (Do you know what a Target is, I wonder?)

But--I don't judge the mother who CAN buy your stroller. I don't judge the mother that is able and willing to hire a maid, nanny, and personal trainer to make it possible to attain that model's body. I don't fault any mother for having those kinds of funds and using them in a way that promotes self-love, a healthy lifestyle, and (God forbid) a little mommy pampering!

I just know I will never be that mother. I will never look like that. (Though if I did, I would totally go everywhere in that bikini--grocery store, play dates, you name it!) However, I am ok with that truth. I have a word for my stomach, and it's not "tight", "six-pack", or "hard". 

It's "fluffy". 

I don't use that word to equal "fat". I have a beautiful body. I simply recognize that my stomach is softer after having four children, it is a touch wrinkly and resembles tiger stripes. And I have to admit--I love it! I love my body just as much as the mother who buys your stroller. 

(My fluffy tummy)

Perhaps the mothers who are offended by your ad have not yet learned to love their body. Maybe they are struggling to remember how beautiful they are in a world that believes we should be up and running once the baby hits the bassinet. It can be a difficult transition to go from "sexy single", to "glowing pregnant", to  "your baby is sooooo cute!" (Note that last one forgets the mother all together.) When that transition happens, it is up to us to find our self-love and new understanding of beauty...and sometimes ads like yours feel like an attack on our insecurities. 

I am proud of the mother who jogs. I am just as proud of the mother who eats Oreos at 3am while nursing her 6 month old to a sound track of Netflix movies. (And the truth is, I fully believe I may have just described the same mother in those two sentences--depending on the day!) So, by all means, sell your couture strollers and glorify the fit-focused mother. I'll do my part on this end to glorify the fluffy, not-quite-as-able-to-afford-couture mother. And I'll pray for all of us, that we realize the beauty we hold in this new role and remember to love ourselves for who we are. 

A Fluffy Mama

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

From "That Mom" to St. Albert the Great Catholic Church

TO: St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, Austin TX

FROM: That Mom

Today I was that mom. I was that mom who walked into church with my hair in a frizzy ponytail and flip flops on my feet. I was that mom who snuck in barely on time, with four daughters under four in tow behind me. I was that mom who forgot to genuflect before entering the pew and whose children climbed into their seats and immediately began asking for snacks. I was that mom whose kids sounded like they were tearing your hymnals throughout the mass (though they didn't, I swear!) and kept trying to talk despite my pleading for whispers. I was that mom who had a hard time corralling my 18 month old who kept squealing and pointing at every thing she saw because I was busy nursing my 7 week old--without a cover or care. I was that mom that I've heard so many Catholics discuss in abstract:

"Why can't she dress with respect for God?"

"Why couldn't she just go into the Cry Room?"

"Snacks during mass? Really?"

You could have easily judged me. In truth, I was judging me already. But you didn't. Instead you chose to love. You chose to love by rushing to hold the door open for our little party of five as we entered. You chose to love by greeting me with sincere smiles and compliments for my daughters. You chose to love by distracting my 18 month old when she began to get fussy. You chose to love this stranger and her family, and for that I am so grateful.

What you couldn't have known is that I have been struggling with post partum depression, and I have felt lost and alone the last couple of months. I've been hiding from God, feeling unworthy and conflicted. Making the choice to go to mass this morning--by myself while trying to handle my four daughters--was not an easy one to make, but I was encouraged to seek God out by friends who knew what my faith means to me. I was almost certain that your congregation would see me as that mom, but instead I felt renewal in my faith as I spoke the prayer with tears in my eyes, "I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord our God."

I had no doubt that you were praying for me and not picking me apart, that you were offering the love of God not the judgment of society, and that in your church--though I had never been there before--I had found acceptance not condemnation. You, St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, reminded me what it means to be a Catholic, to be part of the universal Church. It may not have seemed like much to you, but it meant the world to me. Thank you for reminding me of my place in our faith. Thank you for choosing to love.

God bless.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Every Life is a Gift: Why I Don't March

Today is the international March for Life Day. It is very well known among Catholics as the Day in which we stand up for those who cannot--the lives of millions of babies lost to abortion. January 22nd is the date that the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision was made, which made abortion legal in the United States. Even the Pope has spoken up on behalf of this day to show support for this demonstration of the appreciation of life.

So, I am sure at this point that my title is cause for some confusion. If I am indeed a Catholic (as my blog title suggests) and I support life (which my past posts regarding Natural Family Planning and three children suggest) then why wouldn't I march?

On this day, millions around the world think about and pray for the little lives lost through abortion. Millions of people talk about what the world missed out on by the taking of these lives, how we will never know the potential those lives held for our future, who they would have become and the worth they had. Everyone talks about the babies...What people don't talk about is the slightly smaller, yet no less important, group that is also thinking about these babies. The group made up of the incredible, strong, beautiful women who faced what they believed was an impossible decision. The group of women who had no one to confide in for fear of judgment and scorn, who believed choosing life for one child may mean an inability to care for the other three, who had no support or education or financial stability to encourage a different decision, who didn't have a choice when the child was made, who believed their child would face the same abuse they did, who chose life when they knew a pregnancy would have killed them. These women are out there today, watching the news and reading the social media articles. They are getting the message loud and clear: EVERY LIFE IS A GIFT.

But when is the last time someone told them that they are a gift, too?

I know...too many women who have gone through an abortion. Friends, loved ones, family members. They aren't murderers. They aren't evil. They are people who continue to act out of love every day toward the people in their lives, their children, their friends, even strangers. They are beautiful beings, and I am incredibly grateful for their existence. Yes, their existence resulted in another life being taken from this world. I also happen to know that their existence has resulted in lives remaining in this world, in lives being enhanced and appreciated and loved. They have made my life better, my world a better place, and it breaks my heart that movements like #marchforlife too often trivialize these women's lives or motives or souls....somehow these women become the enemy.

And why? Why do we find it so important to place the blame, mold the villain, and sharpen the stakes against these women? Is it not bad enough that they had to face such circumstances, such a choice, such judgment, that now they must also hear time and time again the condemnation of the very God that made them?

I cannot march. Every time I think about the marches, the protests, and the demonstrations, I think of the women I know and love and wonder if anyone has told them lately that they matter, that they have worth, that they are more than one moment and one choice. I cannot march. Instead, I pray. I pray for the lives taken through the act of abortion. I pray for the women who thought they had no choice. I pray for the women who continue to feel shame and have no support to help them overcome it. I pray for the women I know and love, that they know they are a gift. Because they are. They are an incredible gift. And perhaps the more we share that message, the more we can work toward changing an attitude that outcasts the broken. Because as broken as they may be to us, they are a priceless gift to God.

**If you or someone you know has experienced an abortion, Rachel's Hope is an organization created to provide support and healing to those in need. Please feel free to visit http://www.rachelshope.org/ **

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je Suis Catholique. Je Suis Charlie.

I took five years of French in school. I am embarrassed to say I didn't learn much, but grateful today to know this: Je suis désolé. 

My heart broke with sadness yesterday morning over news of the horrible tragedy that took place in Paris. No one deserves such an ending to life, and surely not those who spent their lives as advocates for freedom in this world. Not everyone may agree with their opinions or choices, but as an American I assumed we would all agree that mass murdering those who simply stood up for their freedom to speak is wrong in every way. 

Sadly, it turns out this was not the case. A friend of mine posted an article on his social media page that deeply disheartened me, both as an American and as a Catholic. I am deeply offended and ashamed to say that it was published on www.catholicleague.org. The Catholic League states that the organization is "motivated by the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment" and "the Catholic League works to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics". I think it is an important and courageous fight to advocate for freedom of speech, especially if and when believing in that freedom means standing up for those you disagree with. However, according to this article, The Catholic League seems to only support freedom of speech they agree with. 

The author of this article, Bill Donohue, discussed the topics addressed in Charlie Hebdo and mentioned its "disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures". He then went on to discuss the death of Stephane Charbonnier, saying, "It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death." What role was this, you may ask? "Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive," Donohue wrote. 

(Photo from https://twitter.com/anggun_cipta/status/553049013168386048)

Let me be clear: acts of violence and terrorism are never deserved by its victims. Rape is not caused by provocative clothing. Domestic violence is not caused by an inadequate spouse. And mass murder in the name of God is not caused by the victim's attitude, opinions, or behavior. We, as Catholics, should not be looking to blame those tragically taken from us yesterday. We should be angry that any person would kill in the name of God and use religion as a weapon instead of an instrument of peace. We should be angry at those who would do harm for any reason, especially under the farce of a faithful spirit. Those terrorists yesterday did not commit actions from a spirit of faith but a mind of insanity, and I ask that all Catholics stand up against this violence instead of making excuses for it. 

Today is a day of mourning for the tragedy against Charlie Hebdo. I will be praying and mourning with Paris. Je suis Catholique. Je suis Charlie.