I’ll be honest. When I first thought about photographing breastfeeding women for the Milk project, I thought a couple of people might contact me and it never crossed my mind they would be anything other than mums and their new babies. I never thought that I would be personally challenged in any way.
My attitude towards and awareness of breastfeeding is entirely positive, but already this project is educating me. I’m learning something different from what I’ve experienced, seeing choices that are different from what I knew as I grew up in my family and friendship groups.
But difference doesn’t have to be divisive.
Difference is rich and full and engaging. It doesn’t have to be the beginning of judgment and distrust. People make choices everyday that differ from mine, or yours, or Debbie’s down the road. It doesn’t follow that only me, you or Debbie can be right.
You know that saying, when we know better, we do better? Well I think that when we see more, when we open ourselves up to the possibility of difference, we accept more. Things kept behind closed doors can seem strange when talked about in hushed tones. So why not bring them out into the light? We don’t need to be afraid or ashamed of difference.
I’ve said before that I love to capture connection in my images, and everyday family life is one of the best places to go hunting for that. You find it everywhere. In the way a mum cradles her young son, sleeping, rocking him without thinking to a rhythm that keeps him peaceful a while longer. In the the crayon-made masterpieces of a daughter’s artwork, scrawled on paper, cheered on by a proud and enthusiastic mum. Then how she strokes her hair, looks down at her and smiles with deep encouragement.
You definitely find it in the comfort and cuddles on the sofa, between a mum and her two children as she feeds them both, giving herself over in a perfectly natural choice that works for them all for now.
I really enjoyed chatting to Kate about her experiences tandem breastfeeding. How it can be a challenge for her now that Avalon is getting bigger, and more difficult to breastfeed alongside her little brother Lucian. But for now, before their time breastfeeding together comes to a natural end, she enjoys the bond shared between them all.
Ordinary, everyday mothers make the personal decision to breastfeed beyond infancy for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t always get talked about openly for fear of stigma or judgment. But people just like me and my friends, mums that love their children no more or less than you love yours, choose to practice extending breastfeeding.
Why have I talked about this here? Well, because I’m not naive enough to think that it won’t cause the odd raised eyebrow or muttering about it being inappropriate. And that’s ok. I get that people have their own thoughts on this issue. But I wanted to address it now, and let the rest of the Milk portraits just be what they are without appearing to thoughtlessly court controversy.
So as I sat on Kate’s living room floor, surrounded by toys and crayons, watching and photographing something alternative to what I knew, it took no time at all for me to see the similarities and not the difference. The expectation that it was an alternative choice melted away.
I saw a mother choosing something perfectly natural for her and her children. It was quiet, calm and peaceful. It was beautiful to see and a privilege to capture.