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Mom Behind Badass Breastfeeding Photo Has a Message for Working Mothers

Becoming a mother doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your passion.

That’s what New York City artist Hein (pronounced Hane) Koh wanted to prove when she posted a picture of herself working on her laptop while tandem breastfeeding her twins.

Koh’s post went viral on Instagram and Facebook, inspiring moms and garnering international media attention.

"When my #twins were 5 weeks old and despite the sleep deprivation and frequent #breastfeeding, I was still getting shit done ... #MarinaAbramovic thinks children hold women back in the art world, but as @dubz19 put so aptly, 'FUKKK THAT,'" she wrote. "Parenting is like any other challenge in life—the biggest fucking challenge in my own life thus far—and if you embrace it and figure out creative solutions, you can emerge a better person."

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#tbt 5/19/15 when my #twins were 5 weeks old and despite the sleep deprivation and frequent (every 2-3 hours, 24-7, 45 min at a time) #breastfeeding, I was still getting shit done. #MarinaAbramovic thinks children hold women back in the art world, but as @dubz19 put so aptly, "FUKKK THAT". All Marina knows is her own experience, and it may be true for her, but that is not everyone's experience nor truth. Becoming a #mom (of twins no less) has personally helped me become a better #artist - I learned to be extremely efficient with my time, prioritize what's important and let go of the rest, and #multitask like a champ. I learned to function (even if barely) on very little sleep, and out of the chaos, insanity and even torture at times, a flood of new emotions entered into my work, becoming more interesting & layered as a result. I'm also not saying that artist parents are better artists than non-parent artists, or that choosing not to be a parent will deny you access to these learning experiences. What I am saying is that parenting is like any other challenge in life - the biggest fucking challenge in my own life thus far - and if you embrace it and figure out creative solutions, you can emerge a better person. It's important to think about the ways in which these challenges can help you move forward, rather than hold you back. #artistmom #tandembreastfeeding #multitasking #heinkoh #greenpoint #brooklyn #nyc

“I really just meant it for my friends and my art community. It’s been a pretty insane past couple of weeks,” she tells mom.me.

Like many women, Koh, whose twin girls are now 17 months old, was concerned that having kids would stifle her career. “I was really worried that my kids would affect my creativity. That message is very prevalent in the art world,” she says.

But her experience has proved otherwise, and she wants other women to know they don’t have to make the choice between becoming a parent and following a cherished career.

We shouldn’t think of children as holding us back—becoming a parent can help us positively.

Instead of viewing children as a liability in her career as a visual artist, she’s focusing on the positive. Koh reports that becoming a mother, rather than stunting her work, has added emotional texture to it and spun her creativity in new directions.

“I’m filled with so much love every day. I have so much love for my girls. It’s a new experience,” Koh says. “I’m adding a lot of bright colors and glitter to my work. I’m finding I’m influenced by the aesthetics of my kids’ clothing and toys. Emotionally, my work is becoming more layered.”

Not everyone has been inspired by Koh’s post—she has experienced backlash from women who feel her evocative photo promotes the message that moms should push themselves harder, even when they’re exhausted.

This wasn’t her intention at all.

“I feel really bad about that. I was just trying to refute the point that children hold women back in their careers. I wanted to reframe that and say that we shouldn’t think of children as holding us back—that becoming a parent can help us positively,” Koh explains.

Koh strongly advocates for moms to have a good support system in place. “I don’t think you can do it yourself. My husband works long hours, but when he’s home, he’s very present and great about dividing housework and cooking.” In addition to a having a supportive spouse, Koh also employs a part-time nanny and a studio assistant who works a few hours a week.

Koh encourages other moms to make the most of whatever child care is available to them so they can pursue their passions. “When I get to my studio, I just hit the ground running,” she says. Having limited time to work has helped her become more focused during the windows of time spent in her studio. “I’ve learned to be very efficient with my time. I don’t second-guess myself as much. I trust myself more. I’m more decisive.”

In an environment where many moms feel torn between their dedication to their families and their careers—a problem most men don’t experience to the same extent—Koh reminds us that time away from our kids to pursue our own dreams is a gift to ourselves, but also to our kids.

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“Don’t feel bad about taking care of yourself and your own needs. I really believe that makes you a better parent. If following your passion makes you happy, do it. I want my kids to grow up seeing that I pursued my passions. I want that to translate to them,” she says.

Koh is giving her daughters the example that moms can choose love—of both our families and our work.

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Photograph by Jim Horowitz

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