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!)

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