Mama, take the photo (or get a professional to do it)... part II
BY HELEN ARMSTRONG, GUEST WRITER & PHOTOGRAPHER
I'm here as a cheerleader for breastfeeding parents; using my skills as a photographer to share your story.
I'll start with the disclaimer that I am not a mother and I don't know the struggles of breastfeeding, but I am a proud aunty and have always been in awe of what women's bodies can do.
The incredible ability to create and sustain life.
I've been a photographer for more than ten years. I've always photographed people - from headshots and commercial work to weddings and events, but recently decided to specialise in birth and newborn photography.
What drives me as a photographer is connection, real and honest photos.
For me, there is no area more honest, raw and centred around connection than birth and newborn photography. I focus on lifestyle imagery, documented in the home - shooting every day moments as you make memories with your little ones.
For World Breastfeeding Week I ran a photography competition.
I used the theme 'Through the Glass' which seemed right given the current pandemic. I've done breastfeeding photography before but usually as part of a newborn shoots. They've always been private keepsakes.
However, this series has completely changed my perspective.
I've now launched a dedicated Breastfeeding Portrait session option for clients. It's been my most requested shoot this week! I hope this is a sign of what's to come and that more mothers choose to capture this precious time. Too many women have told me they wish they had photos of them breastfeeding their children.
I've put together this photo essay with @Ittasteslikelove based on the shoots of this week.
The women, selected at random, have blown me away. We need to normalise breastfeeding, we need to open up the conversation around the challenges and struggles women face.
But we also need to celebrate it.
Highlights: Helen Armstrong's 'Through the Glass' Photo Series
💕 Colleen & Stevie
Excerpts from Colleen's story: "I've found breastfeeding the most difficult part of all this. After 13 weeks, I still haven't mastered it. Everyone says it gets easier but unfortunately for me, it hasn't.
I've had mastitis 8 times, a baby that uses me as a dummy all day, a numb ass most of the time, a dead hand from having to hold my large boobs while she feeds (sometimes for hours because she won't sleep unless my nipple is in her mouth), not being able to feed in public for fear that she could choke because of my fast let down, and a fortune spent on pumps and bottles that she refuses to take.
But when she feeds well, it really is so beautiful. The little noises she makes, her hand squeezing my boob, her nodding off to sleep so peacefully, being able to soothe her after vaccinations, the feeling is indescribable! I know I'm giving her the best start in life and creating this amazing bond between us.
I know this exhaustion is only temporary and there are women who can't feed their babies and would love to be in my position, so every day, I check my privilege and get on with it. She's so healthy and thriving and that's what matters most to me.
💕 Linzi & Matilda
Excerpts from Linzi's story: "Just over one year ago today we started our breastfeeding journey with Matilda and it has been my biggest accomplishment to date. She was born with down syndrome and a heart defect that required surgery at 2 weeks old.
We had the odds stacked against us from the start. Babies born with Down syndrome can be bottle or breastfed, but they may require a little additional assistance. Many factors can affect eating, but the most common ones are due to a small mouth size, low muscle tone, or heart problems, which can make sucking difficult and very tiring.
I expressed for 8-9 weeks and Matilda was fed via NG tube. I had an amazing health visitor who supported my wish to breastfeed her and after following her advice we eventually managed to get her latched. It certainly wasn't easy in the beginning and there were many times I almost gave up.
Mentally & physically it was exhausting, but I knew for Matilda it was the best thing for her health and I wanted that bond that so many breastfeeding mothers talked about. She's now one year old and we are still breastfeeding. It's made us both stronger (literally).
I'm so proud of how far we have both came through all of our struggles.
💕 Claire & Lughán
Excerpts from Claire's story: Breastfeeding is more than just food, it is love, it is comfort, it is connection. And here I am nursing another two (and a bit) year old and through another pregnancy. I would never have known any of the these things where possible, never mind normal 8 years ago.
We’ve been through lots over the years, the fun times and the not so fun times (sleepless nights & regressions ) and every single moment is closely linked to breastfeeding. I'm so grateful to mother my children through breastfeeding. It's honestly the best tool in my kit bag & our safe haven.
I've had some wobbles and I need sleep moments but I can honestly say I wouldn't change it for the world and nothing feels better than breastfeeding my baby . This is my third journey and just like the others, we’ve been thrown some curve-balls (tongue ties, oversupply, allergies to name a few) along the way but what I’ve learnt is nothing worth doing was ever easy.
💕 Mairghread & Cáragh
Excerpts from Mairghread's story: "Feeding a 10-month-old isn't always so serene as she likes to latch on and off to have a nose around her or play breastfeeding gymnastics, but thankfully after feeding her big brother I'm accustomed to the ups and downs. I thought I'd give breastfeeding a go and see how it went, envisioning that it would last a few weeks but i ended up feeding Cáragh's big brother Fionn for three years so after a first great feeding journey it was a given that I would also breastfeed Cáragh - thankfully with no issues. [There are] so many misconceptions around feeding I'm passionate about encouraging supporting and educating everyone around breastfeeding."
💕 Nicole & Mabel
Excerpts from Nicole's story: As a Midwife, my decision to breastfeed came mainly from a place of research and knowledge of the amazing benefits it provides for mum and baby. It was a conscious decision I made pre-pregnancy rather than a romantic feeling at birth.
I never considered any other way of feeding my babies. Luckily for me, it worked out.
My babies latched and my body fed them. It came quite naturally to me and I'm so grateful (as pregnancy and birth did not go so smoothly). My breastfeeding journeys have been therapeutic for me, the special bond with my babies being the ultimate reward. With Mabel being born amidst the panic of the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, I felt reassured that she was protected in the best possible way I could do so, an added little perk to this journey. As both a midwife and a mummy (especially to daughters), I am passionate about normalising breastfeeding. The more it is seen (and photographed) in all its beauty, the more 'normal' and accepted it will be.
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ABOUT THE MUSES: To read the stories in full please visit the Instagram links in each section, or visit the BelfastBirthPhotographer page.
MESSAGE FROM THE PHOTOGRAPHER: "I've launched an offer of pro-bono portrait sessions for breastfeeding parents that are under-represented in social media.
I want to hear from parents who are non-binary, trans, lesbian couples where the mother who didn't give birth is breastfeeding, parents who are expressing to feed their baby by NG, parents who are overcoming physical challenges to breastfeed, adoptive or foster breastfeeding parents.
I want to amplify your voice and help you share your story with powerful photographs.