Every year in August, people all over the world celebrate World Breastfeeding Week coordinated by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. This year, it was celebrated from August 1-7. Let me just tell you, women in Austin go HARD for World Breastfeeding Week, and it is an amazing thing to witness a coming together like that! I had the incredible privilege of participating in the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project organized by the fabulous Leilani Rogers, Photographer.
Over the course of several months, she recruited over 50 photographers worldwide that wanted to participate in the project, and collaborated with us on ideas. Each of us sought out nursing mamas willing to be photographed nursing their babies in a variety of public places, including some of the places mothers admit to being the most uncomfortable feeding their babies: church, grocery stores, parks, pools, work, restaurants, and the library -- according to a poll that Leilani put out on her Facebook page.
In talking about the project, Leilani says:
On a global level, the purpose of this project is to help normalize public breastfeeding, something the world unfortunately sexualizes. The majority of people support breastfeeding, though the minority that trolls pro-breastfeeding articles/pictures online is very vocal.
I love preserving this beautiful and natural bond for mothers, and I've seen that through exposure, society becomes more accepting of it and it becomes more 'normal' in their eyes. Not only that, but other mothers see the images and feel a stronger sense of community and support. They walk away from conversations about these images with more confidence, and they are empowered enough to not place so much importance on their society's misguided views about breasts.
So we all gathered our mamas, we shot, we edited, and when World Breastfeeding Week 2014 rolled around, we were ready! We all posted images daily of the candid, tender moments we captured, and added the hashtag #PBAP2014 we had coined for the project so all the images could be seen in one place.
For my personal involvement in the project, I tried to focus on shooting at local businesses that backed our cause, including Big Top Candy Shop and The Natural Baby Company - Austin, but also at a small neighborhood park and a larger city park as well. The response to the project was overwhelmingly positive -- almost immediately, what our small group of passionate photographers was doing was covered by The Stir, Babycenter, and even The Huffington Post (!!!!)
In my interview for the article on The Huffington Post, I shared what I hoped to help achieve with this project:
For mothers current and future, I hope these images can empower them to feed their babies, in whatever form that is, anytime and anywhere without shame. Being a parent is a difficult job riddled with guilt, second-guesses and judgements. Feeding your baby shouldn't and doesn't have to be like that. I do feel strongly that breastfeeding is the standard for infant nutrition, and we're slowly working toward breaking down the barriers that stop new moms from even trying.
So many people are afraid of the unknown or that which they don't understand, and I want people to see that this isn't an exhibition! This isn't immodest, it's not about getting attention, it isn't about shaming mothers that don't breastfeed. Breastfeeding is about addressing the needs of a hungry baby, never anything else. I want to see America's view of breastfeeding match how the rest of the world sees it: the natural way to feed a child.
Indeed, I hope we are doing just that. I can say that this project has surprised me and inspired me in many ways unexpected. Mostly, I was thrilled to see the diversity among the women that wanted to get involved. Especially when dealing with a topic that seems to divide so many unnecessarily, it was great to see women banding together. One of the women I photographed, Cori Bessard, who is also a local photographer, had wanted to participate in the project as both a nursing mama and a photographer. In May, a tragic car accident ended her nursing relationship with her daughter unexpectedly. At last minute, we met mid-week for a PBAP mini session paying tribute to the time she and her daughter had spent nursing, a sweet 20 months together.
Another mama contacted me about participating as an exclusively pumping mom, to bring awareness to what she calls "unconventional breastfeeding". I loved the idea! Yes, her daughter drinks milk from a bottle, but she is still breast-milk-fed and fully deserves her spot in the breastfeeding community! It takes an admirable amount of hard work and dedication for a mother to pump breastmilk every day, store it, feed it to her child, and ensure her supply stays up - she is truly an inspiration to mothers everywhere!!
I've said it once, but I'll say it again -- it was TRULY an honor to be a part of this project. Thanks so much to Leilani and to ALL the photographers who participated, it was truly the effort of a whole group of talented ladies who made this what it was. I can't wait to do this again next year! This is only just the beginning of something really great. See you in 2015!
If you are a nursing mama (or plan to be) interested in participating in next years project, please follow me on Facebook so you don't miss the casting call!!
Pssst! When you're done here, hop over to Leah Jent Photography to see more images from PBAP2014!