It wasn't my original intention to photograph hundreds of breastfeeding women. But when you have brave and bare women with babies or toddlers who breastfeed, the children naturally, innocently and beautifully begin to, gasp! Breastfeed! So as our dear friend serendipity would have it, I found myself photographing those special connections more and more frequently, even though my initial passion was documenting the beautiful bodies of all mothers willing to share their bodies' stories.
Now, you may be asking yourself, given my body of work, "Why is she mentioning this?" And most people who know me know that I grew up in a very, if one needed a label, "hippie" family. And yet. And yet it wasn't until I was 20, living in Taos, New Mexico, that I witnessed my own discomfort with someone breastfeeding. She was my best friend and one day she casually started breastfeeding right in front me. I feigned comfort, but truthfully, I felt really incredibly awkward. I didn't grow up around a whole lot of babies, and the small village in Mexico where I spent my childhood was very Catholic and I mostly remembered babies being bottle-fed...
I can't say that, in the 14 years since then, much had changed: sightings of women breastfeeding were few and far between in my life.
Fast forward to the present and the birth of my son in 2012. My husband and I really wanted to live our "normal" life with our baby. That is, we took him to the dance classes I teach; we took him to brunch with us; we traveled to visit family on the East Coast and beyond. But to do all those things with a baby that you breastfeed, I realized I was going to have to whip my breasts out in public -- or be sequestered to some dingy bathroom stall or, worse, a closet? I was petrified. My husband would watch me try to conceal my anxiety as I wrestled with the cover to hide my baby and my breast. I retreated to the restroom many times. And then...
And then I got over it.
I got over being petrified at offending someone so I could feed my baby. I got over not wanting to photograph myself breastfeeding. I got over needing to feel shameful for what I needed to do. It's not that I just started ripping my shirt off, tossing it aside in a dramatic gesture of rebellion and feeding topless at the B Line restaurant on 4th Ave. But I stopped having anxiety attacks and wrestling with the "cover." I wore loose shirts that made it easy to conceal my breast and suddenly living an ordinary life with a newborn became So. Much. Easier.
And then I realized how darn BEAUTIFUL breastfeeding is. Now I cannot photograph enough women breastfeeding. I am crazy for it.
The truth of the matter is NOBODY should feel shameful for feeding her baby. AND, dare I say, it is also OK to feel beautiful and breastfeed at the same time.
Recently I received this comment from a woman on my Facebook page:
"How many times are you going to post this photo of yourself breastfeeding in headstand captioned 'why do people find this photo offensive' just to get attention? We get it Jade, you breastfeed your son and you love photographing women breastfeeding. I breastfed too, but I didn't need to show the world. Plus I moved on with my life. Get over yourself!"
Let me give you some background on myself: My zodiac sign is Cancer. If you know anything about astrology you know we Cancers are the über sensitive crybabies of all sun signs. I am a sensitive gal and for the past 19 months I have been operating on about three hours of sleep a night and one too many cups of coffee so not taking things personally is a practice I have not yet mastered.
But here is a secret I have discovered with these sorts of interactions: such comments that initially make me withdraw into my Cancerian self and cry tears of self-pity now actually lead to deeper passion and a further commitment to being clear and compassionate, through both my ways of communicating with people I see everyday and my work to empower women to feel awesome, just as they are. I want to hear what everyone has to say, even when the words sting. I have a choice: To be offended and defend myself, which gets me nowhere, or to listen with respect and put myself into another's shoes for a moment.
And then move on.
To the woman who left that comment, I agree: I may need to get over myself in some if not many regards. But photographing and celebrating breastfeeding of both others and myself for the few more months I have left feeding my son this way is not one of the things I need to get over. But thank you for taking the time to comment anyway. It means that somehow, you do care, which to me, IS beautiful.
May we honor our differences of opinions by being mindful with our words and may we always remember how to model respect, especially towards one another, as sisters, who no longer need to feel shameful for being women. Our children are watching. They do what we do... Let's be the beauty we wish to see in the world.
Photos by Jade Beall.
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