Artist unveils haunting portraits of breastfeeding mothers that reflect the feeling of ‘unnecessary guilt and shame’ she went through after giving birth to her own baby
- EXCLUSIVE: Alex Baker’s project is in response to KLM Airline breastfeeding row
- British mother-of-one produces series of portraits of mothers feeding their kids
- Inspired by Rene Magritte’s The Lovers, the 7 mums had their faces concealed
- Women reveal they took part to stand up for women breastfeeding in public
- Some share struggles and backlash they’ve faced for still nursing two-year-olds
A British artist and mother-of-one has unveiled a striking series of portraits of mums nursing their children in response to the KLM Airlines row over breastfeeding on planes.
Alex Baker, who is based in Valencia and recently welcomed her first child, said she was keen to highlight the ‘unnecessary guilt and shame’ many new mums – including herself – often experience after giving birth.
Last week the Dutch airline was slammed for its breastfeeding policy after mother Heather Yemm, from Newcastle, took to Twitter to question it.
A statement from KLM read: ‘Breastfeeding is permitted on KLM flights. However, to ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.’
Alex Baker, who is based in Valencia and recently welcomed her first child, said she was keen to highlight the ‘unnecessary guilt and shame’ many new mums – including herself – often experience after giving birth
Heather Yemm, from Newcastle, tweeted the airline and didn’t expect the response she got – which said they permitted it, but mothers may be asked to cover up if other guests complain
Alex’s personal project, entitled This is Motherhood, is a series of portraits of mothers feeding their children but with their faces completely covered.
The seven new images explore the themes of invisibility and judgement that some women feel after giving birth, particularly in relation to breastfeeding in public and extended breastfeeding of older children.
Inspired by The Lovers painting by surrealist artist René Magritte, whose own mother suffered from severe depression and committed suicide when he was 14, the series also touches on the subject of post-partum depression and the lack of public resources available.
‘I wanted to create this project in the first three months of my son’s life, as a way of processing all these unexpected feelings of anxiety, anger and sadness that I suddenly felt,’ Alex told FEMAIL.
Alex said she wanted to create this project in the first three months of her son’s life as a way of processing all the unexpected feelings of anxiety, anger and sadness that she suddenly felt
Inspired by The Lovers painting by surrealist artist René Magritte, whose own mother suffered from severe depression and committed suicide when he was 14, the series also touches on the subject of post-partum depression and the lack of public resources available
‘Doctors tell you these things are very common and normal, but there is a lot of unnecessary guilt and shame. We need to find better ways to talk about these feelings and to get them out in the open.’
‘After reading about KLM’s poor treatment of a woman breastfeeding on a flight I realised that it was important that my project needed to be released now.’
Here the women photographed share their own stories and why they felt compelled to be a part of this project.
Eilidh Shankland, 30, originally from Wishaw, Scotland, admitted her breastfeeding journey has been tough.
Eilidh Shankland, 30, from Wishaw, Scotland, poses with her five-week-old daughter and admitted her breastfeeding journey has been ‘tough’
‘I’ve had cracked broken nipples and then severe mastitis requiring antibiotics,’ she revealed.
‘It’s been a difficult journey but I refuse to give up because I know it will give the best start for my baby.’
Eilidh now lives in Spain and said people seem to be more accepting when it comes to feeding in public, but she has still received ‘a few strange looks or people staring’.
‘If she gets hungry when we are out I do try to find somewhere to feed her away from the public as much as possible to avoid onlooking gaze, which sometimes does take time and she gets very upset having to wait for me to find a suitable place,’ she said.
‘I know so many girls who decide to bottle feed through the fear of shame or a negative backlash when out in public, which is crazy! It’s the most natural thing to do and provides the best start in life for our babies.
Marta Ordonez, 36, from Colombia, is pictured nursing her 11-month-old daughter and claims her breastfeeding journey has been ‘marvellous’
‘If you are physically able to do it you should be encouraged, not made to feel ashamed. I refuse to sit in a dirty bathroom stall to feed my baby when I can easily sit down wherever I am and let her feed when she needs it.’
Marta Ordonez, 36, from Colombia, claims her breastfeeding journey with her 11-month-old daughter has been ‘marvellous’.
She decided to take part in the project to show people that breastfeeding is ‘one of the most beautiful and committed acts a human being can do’.
Carissa, 35, from New Zealand, admitted she hadn’t planned to continue feeding her two-and-a-half year old son for this long.
She explained: ‘Once I became a mother, started breastfeeding and joined breastfeeding support groups, I began to discover that it is so much more than food for our little ones.
Carissa, 35, from New Zealand, admitted she hadn’t planned to continue feeding her two-and-a-half year old son for this long
‘The connection and comfort through breastfeeding is just as important and influential on their long-term well-being as the nutrients from our milk.
‘When I learned the average age for children to self-wean naturally is anywhere between two and seven years old, my goal was to reach the World Health Organisation recommendation of two years minimum.’
While Carissa hasn’t received any backlash directly, she said friends and family often ask her how long she plans on breastfeeding for with a look of ‘perplexity’.
‘I have found that it is so common for people in our society today to find the thought of allowing a child to wean naturally uncomfortable, as if taking away the breast is a battle to be won and a lesson to be taught,’ she said.
‘I decided to take part in the KLM breastfeeding scandal shoot because I am a passionate advocate for breastfeeding and allowing mothers to feed and comfort their children as nature intended us to and wherever they may be – in a park, on public transport, in a restaurant or a cafe.
Aria Voss, 35, from the United States, is still nursing her two-and-a-half year old and admits breastfeeding was a challenge at first but is now a source of comfort and connection for them both
‘I understand that this path is not for all mothers and respect their right to choose and sympathise with those whose choice was out of their hands.
‘I participated to speak up for those of us on the breastfeeding journey who feel they are made to hide and cover up, those of us who have been on the receiving end of an off-hand comment that has remained with us and pained us on our journey – second guessing the very essence of our nurturing instinct.’
Aria Voss, 35, from the United States, is still nursing her two-and-a-half year old and admits breastfeeding was a ‘challenge at first’ but is now a source of comfort and connection for them both.
‘We travel quite a lot as a family and even in more conservative countries I have never had anyone make any negative comments,’ she added.
‘I feel fortunate to have had only positive support regarding breastfeeding. It’s both beautiful and a natural part of life. I hope that with time as a society we can become less judgmental and more supportive of mothers.’
One mother from Kingston-upon-Thames, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she didn’t anticipate that she’d still be breastfeeding her two-year-old
One mother from Kingston-upon-Thames, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she didn’t anticipate that she’d still be breastfeeding her two-year-old.
The 35-year-old said she had ‘supply issues’ in the beginning and had to supplement with formula and added that her biggest critic is herself.
‘I’m worried about being seen as creating a “Robyn Arryn” (from Game of Thrones) situation, even though no one has actually said anything about it, nor even looked at me funny (as far as I’ve noticed).
‘Thankfully the city we live in is very child-friendly, although I haven’t breastfed in public for about a year, or more.
‘I wanted to protest the fact that breasts are so often sexualised in all types of media, but that being asked to cover up or “go do that in the toilet” still occurs for breastfeeding mothers too frequently in many parts of the world.’
Rebeca G. Roth, 37, is half Canadian but was born and raised in Valencia, Spain. She has two sons – one is nearly four and the other, whom she still breastfeeds, is 10 months old.
Rebeca G. Roth, 37, is half Canadian but was born and raised in Valencia, Spain. She has two sons – one is nearly four and the other (pictured) is 10 months old.
She said she found breastfeeding both children ‘very hard at first’ as she was in so much pain.
‘I had cracks in my nipples and sometimes my baby even had blood in his mouth, it was hideous,’ she admitted.
Although Rebeca has never had anyone comment when nursing in in public spaces, which she does often, she said she’s received ‘annoying comments’ from relatives on how long she breastfed her first son.
‘He stopped at two and there were some comments like, “Are you still breastfeeding him?”, comparing my son and I to Robin Arryn and Lisa Tully from Game of Thrones.
‘Even my partner didn’t like me breastfeeding him when he was close to two; he never said so and always respected whatever I wanted to do, but I could tell it bothered him, although I’m not sure why and I don’t think he could have explained it either, as I think it was somewhat irrational.’
She decided to take part in the project because the idea of a woman being asked to leave her baby hungry so nobody sees her breast makes her ‘blood boil’.
‘I find it incredibly insulting that some people feel the need to censor a breast because it implies there’s something sexual about the act of breastfeeding, which shows how twisted the mind of the observer is and has nothing to do with the mother feeding her child,’ she said.
Geraldine Starke, 32, from France, has a 14-month-old son and said she finds breastfeeding ’empowering and beautiful’
‘Fortunately nothing like the KLM scandal has ever happened to me, but I feel that we should all fight these situations and support breastfeeding mothers and their babies.’
Geraldine Starke, 32, from France, has a 14-month-old son and said she finds breastfeeding ’empowering and beautiful’.
She admitted she’s had some ‘weird judgemental looks in the street’ when breastfeeding in public and is keen to normalise it.
‘It’s about more than feeding, it’s so important for the baby and the connection you develop with your child is so beautiful that I wouldn’t want anyone to miss that,’ she explained.
‘I believe it’s an important topic to talk about for awareness as lots of breastfeeding mums are criticised or judged. Mums need support so they don’t just quit.’
This Is Motherhood is an ongoing project; Alex plans to develop the series with further portraits of mothers feeding their children of a variety of ages.
It will be shown in a gallery in Valencia, Spain, in October 2019 as part of a collective exhibition of female artists.
To view more of Alex’s work, visit www.instagram.com/alexbakerimages.
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