It was July 2014 and I was up late scrolling photography forums as I frequently did back then. I was talking with some people about some editing software when I noticed the cover photo of one of the women commenting. It was a large group of women in a public park proudly breastfeeding. I was so excited to see it that I changed the direction of the conversation abruptly to ask her how she got so many moms to agree to said photo. She told me it was one of many photos taken for the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project – a photography campaign that aims to normalize public breastfeeding. She said a group of photographers would be sharing a host of similar images for world breastfeeding week. I was so excited and knew I needed to be a part of this project. I followed the photographers that were a part of it and saved it in my calendar.
The next day I woke up and my excitement had turned to fear. I had only opened my business three months prior and was still trying to figure it all out (let’s be clear – two years later and I’m still learning daily). Participating in something so “extreme” seemed like business suicide. I didn’t want to upset clients by posting something controversial. I was scared to post my baby nursing on the internet much less ask other moms to post theirs. I fed in public regularly but taking that to the internet still felt weird. I loved the mission and wanted to be a part of it, but was far too scared to actually commit. So I shelved the idea.
However, on the first day of WBW, I woke up and was so excited for the project. But I had zero images lined up. Still in bed, I told my husband to grab my camera and take a picture of me nursing my baby. He was confused but went along. We weren’t in public, but for the sake of “post it now before you chicken out,” I edited the picture and put it on Facebook along with an announcement that I was joining the project. I was filled with anxiety. Honestly, a large part of me felt embarrassed about having a moment we’re so conditioned to view as private out in the public. But there was no looking back.
I was lucky to have a good amount of friends who were still nursing, so I texted them about the project that morning and much to my surprise they all agreed to be a part of it. Every day that week I met with a different mom and photographed her feeding her child, then shared it for the world to see, letting people know that I support public breastfeeding. Halfway through the week Huffington Post got a hold of the project and this little project I decided to join went viral. So much for keeping my ‘controversial’ stance quiet.
But being a part of the project really helped open my eyes. Being a part of such an amazing community of supportive photographers and mothers really helped me as I navigated my evolving feelings towards breastfeeding. By putting myself out there as someone who stands for public breastfeeding I was forced to step out of my comfort zone. I had to address why I previously held certain beliefs about breastfeeding – and spoiler alert – I was not a fan. Hearing other moms stories, questioning my own beliefs, and participating in mindful conversation brought up from the project has been more powerful than I could have ever dreamed.
This is now my third year on the project. And sitting on this end of things, I am so happy I didn’t let fear win. The amount of moms I have connected with. The countless stories of strength. The different perspectives I’ve been exposed to. It’s been invaluable. I now get messages from mothers about how the project helped them feel confident in their feeding journey. This year I had a two moms join me who previously hid in the car/ bathroom to feed their baby – but were inspired by the project and came out to publicly feed their children.
The project has never been about breastfeeding being the right choice for every mother, because for many people and many reasons, it’s not the right choice. It’s about supporting women who do breastfeed, and helping them feel confident and comfortable feeding their children. In a world that loves to tear people down, it’s so beautiful to have something bringing people together and lifting them up.