Motherhood in our culture is often a very lonely place. It’s a place that receives criticism from every direction: culture, religion, politics, friends and family. No matter what choices a mother makes, she faces people who will openly tell her that they disagree with her decision, or people who will give her sidelong glances and raised eyebrows. And sadly, much of the time, mothers are the ones doing this to other mothers. But here’s the truth: we are all doing the best job that we can. We’ve all got things that limit us, things we have to deal with and work around. But we all love our babies and want the best for them.
I’ve been a lurker in the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project for a couple of years now. My friend, Leilani Rogers, started this project in 2013 to help normalize breastfeeding in public. She wanted to show the world images of women feeding their babies in all the places babies need to be fed. I joined the project because I believe that women should feed their babies whenever, wherever, and however they choose, but it wasn’t until this year that I finally made the time to participate with photography. I decided to take a group of mamas and their little ones on a ferry ride. As a photographer, I knew that light on the ferry would be beautiful, and as a mama who nursed all three of her little ones on ferry rides, it felt like a very real life scenario. I opened up my model call to breastfeeding AND bottle-feeding mamas because I wanted to show that there are many “normal” ways to feed a child.
What I didn’t expect, though perhaps I should have, was how powerful this session would be. Nine mamas boarded the ferry (and several daddies) with their little ones ranging in age from seven weeks old to over two years old. They sat and chatted and fed their babies and shared their stories, and it was beautiful. We were all there for a common purpose, to normalize breastfeeding in public, but what hit me is how supportive everyone was of each other. We were all mamas, doing mama things, and there wasn’t an ounce of criticism to be found.
Below are some of the images we created, along with a little testimonial from each mama. These mama’s stories bring so much power to this project. I am honored to have met and photographed each of these amazing mamas. Mamas who are doing the very best job they can. Enjoy!
“I never thought I would be the woman to openly breastfeed without a cover, let alone the one to be doing so with a toddler. My original goal for breastfeeding was 3 months, but the by the time we made it to that milestone I felt as if our journey was just beginning. Looking back, I’m not sure how we’ve made it this far, but I also can’t imagine things being any different. Huck and I have always had a special bond since the moment he was born and climbed towards the breast. He’s my buddy and my best friend, and the fact that we have an excuse to sit down together and cuddle several times a day is magical. He is and will be our only child, and I just love that these moments allow me to embrace motherhood and soak up this beautiful and perfect little boy that I’m lucky enough to call mine. For every sideways glance or rare “you haven’t weaned him yet?” remark, I get ten times more high fives and fist bumps from other moms that are struggling. That’s why I wanted to do this project, to give every other mom out there a fist bump and let them know they’re not alone.” — Samantha with Huck
“Growing up, I did not see many breastfeeding mothers in public and if I did they were always covered up. In fact, I remember thinking “weird, why are they doing that in public (even covered up)?” I remember watching so many formula commercials that had me thinking formula is the standard choice in nourishing babies. As I got older and learned more about the benefits of breastfeeding, I decided I would make the effort and nurse my own babies without any expectations. I have had a successful breastfeeding relationship with my daughter for over two years and would not be here without the support of many people. Having a supportive husband, healthcare professionals, veteran breastfeeding friends and fellow first time mothers of toddlers have been crucial for my success. There were food allergies and overproduction issues in the beginning which is always the hardest part of the breastfeeding journey. I breastfeed in public to show women who aren’t yet mothers or mothers who want to try with the next baby, that breastfeeding is so natural and a relationship like no other. Finding support can really make or break it for a new mom and I hope to help more mothers feel confident in meeting their child’s needs anywhere at anytime.” — Erin with Madeleine
“Wyatt was born thirteen weeks premature due to severe preeclampsia. I have been exclusively pumping for him,and now he will be one in September. After I donated my five thousand ounce stash, my supply started dropping. I’m only able to supply about five ounces a day and he drinks about thirty. We started using donor milk due to allergies, and he has been growing fast and healthy. You would never know he was a two pound three ounce 13.5 inch baby.” — Rachel with Wyatt
“I always wanted to breastfeed- I had great role models in my life, my mom had breastfed my sister and I and my sister was still breastfeeding her toddler while I was pregnant. I never understood why people kept going once their kid was older, or why they wouldn’t want to use a cover- that seemed so intimidating to me! But then my daughter arrived and while I felt prepared to breastfeed, it was far from easy for us. It took us a couple of weeks to figure out she had a tongue and lip tie and were able to have those corrected, but it took a lot longer for Sawyer to latch correctly. By that point we were using a nipple shield, SNS, and I was pumping around the clock to supplement her feedings. After she was born I so desperately wanted to be able to just nurse her- it was so much work and I was a very tired new mama. Using a cover was out of the question while trying to man the SNS and keep her in the right position so we ditched it and never looked back! I couldn’t have continued those first months without the help of my wonderful husband and my parents who visited often to help among many other friends and family who brought meals and held Sawyer while I pumped or slept. I was very lucky to have so much support and after 4 months, we finally weaned off the SNS and nipple shield and we’ve been going strong ever since! I’m so thankful I get to bond with her through nursing, to help calm her when the world is just too overwhelming or when she scrapes a knee and all the other little moments in between. I never knew something as simple as a mother feeding and comforting her child the best way she knows how could be so powerful!” — Moriah with Sawyer
“Carter and I knew almost instantly that breastfeeding just wasn’t going to be right for us. We gave it a try, but with his painful latch and my sudden complications from delivery, my husband had to take over with the formula. I did have guilt because I worried I wasn’t giving my baby what he needed. Now I look at my happy, healthy boy and am surrounded by mamas with their happy, healthy babies and I know that we’re all just being mamas giving our babes what they need. I would love to see the stigmas surrounding formula feeding and public breastfeeding to end, because feeding our children is natural no matter how it’s done. Support for women begins with us women and that’s why I am thrilled to take part in World Breastfeeding Week.” — Sara with Carter
“Before having my daughter, I never understood the bond and connection a mother has with their child through breastfeeding. It just seemed like a way to feed a baby. I never thought I would breastfeed to comfort my baby, let alone my toddler! It seemed lazy to me, if not strange and unusual. While I was pregnant, I knew that I would always use a cover and I would probably have my baby weaned at 12 months. Turns out It was so hot the July my little girl was born, and the cover was just so uncomfortable. I also just wanted to see her sweet face. It made me uncomfortable at first, but I tried to ignore everyone else, and focus on what was important: my child’s well being. Deciding to nurse my toddler until she self weans was an easier decision: I couldn’t imagine it any other way. It brings so much closeness to our relationship and solves so many issues such as illness, injuries, sleeplessness, and tantrums, as well as gives her vital nutrients and calories when I can’t get her to eat her veggies! As my breastfeeding community got bigger, I felt braver and more firm in my convictions. I now breastfeed my now two year old proudly, in solidarity for anyone who feels or has ever felt uncomfortable. It only seemed strange to me before because I wasn’t used to seeing it. Public breastfeeding is an important component to ensuring the success of all mothers, including the future mothers we are currently rearing.” — Jenna with Aria
“Breastfeeding for me is about nourishment, connection and really being present in the moment with my baby. Early on when I first became a breastfeeding mama with my older son, I decided to let go of worrying about what other people thought when I nursed in public (which was not immediately easy, but ultimately so worth it). By feeding my baby when and how he needs, I’m able to model for my three sons that nurturing them doesn’t stop at our front door. Being authentic in my own mothering experience, allows me to live my family life to the fullest.” — Jamie with Ewan
“When I was pregnant with my first baby I had a friend who taught me about the importance of nursing your baby. She was an amazing for model for listening to your babies cues, nursing in public, caring for the little being that I had just given life to, AND not worrying about what others thought about our decisions. Now I am here nursing my 3rd and 4th babies out loud and proud. I want people to know this is normal and with twins clearly not something done discreetly! I think that that is one of my favorite things about it, because people seeing more of this will help make it more normal.” — Shannon with Caeris and Burke
“Maeve was born petite and her weight gain was slow. So the first few weeks of our breastfeeding relationship were overshadowed by what I now understand is a not uncommon obsession with weight gain, fueled by her pediatrician’s concerns. Of course I wanted her to gain weight, and all of the pumping and supplementing probably did help get my milk supply up faster. But now, at 4+ months, things are so good that I wonder if Maeve and I could’ve figured it all out on our own. And yet I am very grateful and not taking this for granted – I had always wanted to breastfeed and I know it doesn’t work out for many moms and babies. I plan to breastfeed her on demand, wherever we are, for as long as I am able. I feel supported and empowered by reading the stories of, seeing photos of, and being around moms who will do whatever it takes to nourish their children – whether it means public breast- or bottle-feeding, public pumping, with our milk, donor milk, or formula. We fight for our babies and they fight with us. I’m proud of Maeve and I’m proud to be one of these tenacious mamas. And oh yeah, I wouldn’t want to eat with a towel over my head and I don’t think Maeve does either.” — Mel with Maeve
And one last shot of our beautiful, supportive, inspiring group…
For more beautiful Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project photos, visit Paige Wilks of Austin, TX.