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Photographer Suzie Blake was tired of seeing only glammed-up photos of women breastfeeding: superwoman mamas tandem nursing their smiling, well-behaved kids; celeb moms nursing while having their hair and nails done, that sort of thing. Sure, some mothers may look picture-perfect while feeding their little ones. But most of us, she believes, look a little more exhausted, a little less glowy and not so camera-ready. So she snapped a self-portrait of herself nursing her baby, then 6 months old, posted it to Facebook … and What Does Breastfeeding Look Like was born.
I often nurse our baby in our family room, and the spot on the couch I sit in is smack dab in front of a window that is open 100 percent of the time. The blinds are made of heavy wood, almost like horizontal shutters, and they require Herculean strength to be raised and lowered, so I leave them up. There's a house next to us and I've often wondered how many times the renters have peered through their lace curtains and seen me settling in with my nursing pillow and whipping out a boob or two.
Most photos are highly stylized, airbrushed and unrealistic; many are sheer fantasy.
In the early months, I looked haggard and crazed—hair falling out, cavernous circles under my eyes, either zoning out or trying to simultaneously entertain our older daughter. Today, 17 months later, I look slightly more rested, and I adore gazing down at our baby as she eats. But I can guarantee you that if my neighbors happen to look over, they're definitely not seeing an ethereal, nude flower-child mama nursing in white lace panties while standing in a lake. They're seeing the real deal:an exhausted mom of two in a tattered beige nursing bra, with one big boob and one small one, just trying to keep it together until the kids go to sleep. This is why Blake's project is so important.
"Most photos are highly stylized,
airbrushed and unrealistic; many are sheer fantasy," she wrote on Bored Panda.
"This project is about portraying breastfeeding in all its beautiful messiness.
This is about tired eyes and no makeup. This is about milk leaks and ratty
hair. This is about giving in to all the demands of your 2-year-old while you
try to feed your newborn. This is about dishes piled up in the kitchen and
dirty laundry building in the corner. This is about puke on your shoulder and
toys on the floor. This is about let down milk sprays in cafes and engorged
breasts at the park."
This is also, Blake maintains, about empowering
women. It's comforting to see real images, warts and all. Because sometimes we
are just sitting
on a couch when we nurse.
in bed, clothes hanging off our headboard.
Or praying our toddler doesn't
poop in the middle of the room while we feed
her younger sibling.
Just like the non-nursing images we see posted to social media tend to be glossy, idealized images of what people want us to think their life is like—smiles, happy families, highly stylized food—many times, the breastfeeding images we see are happy-go-lucky, "nursing in the park while sipping sparkling water" shots. But there are cracked nipples and clogged ducts and 5 a.m. engorgement.
I'll never forget the first time I hooked myself into a hands-free pumping bra; the pressure caused milk to spray everywhere, like two little firehoses. Surely, if you were to take a blacklight to our family room, it would look like a crime scene. If only Blake had been with me to capture that real breastfeeding moment. Oh well—hopefully one of the neighbors saw.