The need to show realities there didn’t seem straight out of a catalog pushed the creation of MILK, the most recent project by the British photographer Sophie Harris-Taylor, that used her own experience as a mother as a starting point. The results are raw images of tender and intimate moments between mothers and their babies as portraits of one of the most natural processes of humankind.
"I didn’t expect there to be so much of a problem with feeding publicly. Some people just don’t like the fact that I’m feeding my child and think that I should go hide away or just stay home, which I think is ridiculous, and I feel as though it should be embraced more in the public eye so it’s not seen as a problem." - Elizabeth
This project about motherhood and breastfeeding is your latest work and theidea came up right after you too became a mom, right? Yes, it was soon aftergiving birth, I think I found those first few months kind of boring if I’m being completelyhonest. Not many women talk about it, but it can make you feel a bit lost, you’vesuddenly got this new identity as a mum and despite loving that side of things, I felt abit lost in myself. I was itching to start on a new project and kind of wanted to be ableto reflect on my experiences. At the time I was completely taken back by how much ofa minefield breastfeeding was and whilst experiencing complications myself it mademe want to open up the conversation surrounding the subject and try and showsomething a little more realistic than perhaps what we are used to. Having a newborn is pretty all-consuming so it seemed like something I could explore whilst carrying around the little one.
What can you tell us about MILK and how it was to shoot these women thatwere in the same situation as you? MILK shows a range of mums capturedwithin their own homes breastfeeding. The images sit alongside quotes fromthe mums themselves talking about their own breastfeeding experiences.Making the work was completely inspiring, therapeutic and it felt like a real sense ofcollaboration between us. Together we shared our birth and breastfeeding stories andI felt a real sense of connection with all the mums I met. It definitely filled a bit of the voidin those early days of motherhood.
How did you decide that you wanted to portray breastfeeding as the main topicfor this work? I was completely taken by surprise when it came to breastfeeding, likethis whole world that I knew nothing about. I wanted to show this in ways that hadn’tbeen shown before. In the early days, you’re feeding literally round the clock every 2-3hours, it’s all-consuming and I think it felt certainly at the time a real focus point and Iwanted to open up the conversation surrounding breastfeeding a bit more.
Do you feel like motherhood taught you a new way of loving? Loving your childand loving yourself as well... I think it’s love like no other, love that I’d neverexperienced before, a completely unconditional love that feels like it’s always beenthere somehow. I’m not sure I’ve learned to love myself completely but I’ve probablylearned to have a little bit more self-respect.
How did your relationship with yourself change during this period? I struggledwith my own body during this time, having had an eating disorder most of my adult life,becoming pregnant, and having my body go through all those natural changes I foundpretty difficult to cope with. I think I learned over time to be a bit kinder to myself.
"I think the most unexpected thing I’ve found in breastfeeding is down to Raya’s personality. The images of breastfeeding I have seen always show the baby lying peacefully in mums arms, feeding away serenely. Other mums in my antenatal group say their babies will feed for 45 minutes to an hour at a time. Raya doesn’t feed like that. She always wants to be up and active and we often feed just a few sucks at a time, here and there as she clambers over and around me, milk spraying over everything in the vicinity as she pulls away just as my milk lets down." - Aisha
"The feeling of being connected to him, intrinsically, like when I was pregnant. It brings me so much joy that I am his safe place and I can tell how happy he is when he feeds." - Bella
"The most challenging part for me has to be the heavy ugly, uneven boobs. I just hate the feeling of being soooo full at times. I’ve never had big boobs and I find it uncomfortable" - Emma.
"Everyday since Sunny was born we have this huge unspoken dialogue with each other just around eating. As he grows and I try to understand what it is he wants out of each feed, I am amazed how each time its really just about us listening to each other more then I could have imagined." - Rosie
What was the main goal of this project? Of course, this isn’t a guide tobreastfeeding in any way, but I hope that women who have breastfed, or in particularare currently breastfeeding, can realize they aren’t alone and it is a minefield that formany bring up lots of emotions both positive and negative. And for anyone seeing theseries, really I’d hope it gives people a slightly more rounded understanding of the insand outs of it all. For some people, they find it kind of gross… I guess women’sbreasts have become so sexualized, that actually what they were originally for hasalmost been forgotten. So maybe it’s just about showing something that’s so natural ina bit more detail than what we might be used to seeing. I tried my best to capturesomething truthful in every shoot. I didn’t want the women to be seen as weak or powerless in any way. Motherhood is an emotional roller-coaster, and I guess I wantedto reveal some of that and explore the range of emotions in both mothers and theirbabies.
How was your personal experience with breastfeeding? I’d say I kind of had a love/ haterelationship with it. But certainly, as soon as I stopped I missed it.
Surrounding yourself with women that were in the same spot as you was,somehow, a safety net during this period? Absolutely, it was really reassuringknowing that I wasn’t the only one struggling with mastitis and cluster feeding yet ialso learned about so many other difficulties that mums were having too. I think as awhole it connected us all.
Do you think it is important to clear up some misconceptions aboutbreastfeeding? I think that it’s easy, anyone can do it. In reality, it can be hard and for some women, it doesn’t work for various reasons. Whilst there’s so much pressure on women tobreastfeed, making women who can’t or simply don’t want to feel this huge guilt. WhenI was in antenatal class someone asked if breastfeeding hurts, the teacher replied“only if you’re doing it wrong”, which in my opinion is bollocks.I think, when it comes down to it, the most important thing is that the babies being fedand the mothers are looking after themselves too. I think throughout all my work I try tofind that balance between strength and vulnerability and find the beauty within that.Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a really powerful thing.
How did you find the women who participated in your project? I actually found alot of the mums through social media and also through people I knew. I put out a fewcasting calls and when I started to share some images from initial shoots more womencame forward and seemed to want to be part of the project.
What was the response, once the final product was out? It has been amazing, I’vehad a great reaction from mothers all over the world and some dads too. As well asmidwives, doulas and scientists too. I think people have found the images, in particularthe ones which show expressing milk to be refreshingly truthful. And I think the storiesof the women really help give context and reality to the images captured. It seems tohave resonated with other mums who are currently going through the sameexperiences which I’m really grateful for.
"The opportunity to study her face, noticing little things like the shape of her eyebrows and the direction of her eyelashes up close. I love the determination I can feel in her tiny body as she latches on, something so primal and full of life. Her hunger is so immediate and all consuming for her. Determined to thrive, determined to survive and to grow. I find it a huge privilege and also a huge responsibility that my body is somehow creating everything she needs to live in the outside world." - Katie
“And finally – having big porn star boobs and a cleavage for the first time in my life is a bonus!” - Ludavine
"I enjoy the intimacy between me and my daughter during breastfeeding. I like having her close to my body, moving her around so she's comfortable, stroking her hair, meeting her eyes when she looks at me distracted by other noises, then I say its all ok go on feeding and she does. It makes me feel very connected to her." - Elodie
"I never imagined how tough it would be. Throughout my pregnancy I had visions of how easy it would be and how much I’d enjoy whipping my breast out in public without a care in the world. I never, ever thought I wouldn’t enjoy it. Whenever I thought about it, my head was set on breastfeeding for a year with a ‘breast is best’ attitude. In reality, I’m counting down the days until we can start weaning and I’m not sure I’ll even make it to six months. I’ve realised that ‘best’ is whatever makes me happy and relaxed because only then can I be the best mum to Nova." - Thea
"When he was 3 days old, he was diagnosed with Jaundice and my midwive suggested expressing milk and then potentially giving him formula, even at that early point, the realisation that i might not be able to continue breastfeeding really upset me which I wasn’t expecting." - Emily
"I’m her greatest comfort. Everything can be wrong with the world but she can curl up on my lap and find a bit of calm." - Alice
Translated from the original article from Vogue Portugal's Love issue, published in December 2020.