Breastfeeding: it’s the most ‘natural’ thing on Earth. Or is it? A New York photographer created a project that challenges the concept of ‘natural’ when it comes to nursing.
Photographer Leah DeVun was living in Austin, Texas when she was pregnant. She was surrounded by friends and acquaintances who all recommended and experienced ‘natural births’ — from home births in the bathtub to delivering babies on the beach.
Related: Medications and Breastfeeding
Her own experience with pregnancy and subsequent childbirth was sadly quite the opposite.
DeVun said she could have been depressed about her body’s ‘failure’ and the necessity of medical interventions to give birth, but instead her curiosity about pregnant and nursing bodies, and what society thinks about them in relation to medical and technological interventions, was piqued.
DeVun found that cultural conversations surrounding childbirth tend to emphasize how the process is such a natural one, which leads some to believe or feel that medical intervention or technological assistance is a ‘failure’ on a woman’s part to do something so ‘natural.’
This explains her quest for photographing the various paraphernalia that accompany mothers in breastfeeding — instruments she believes are hidden to emphasize the ‘natural-ness’ of nursing.
She feels that we sometimes shy away from the reality of how much technological aid is used even in such ‘natural’ processes as nursing one’s baby. Even more than breastfeeding itself, she believes instruments that aid in breastfeeding are often sort of secrets.To open the door to those secrets, and help other mothers like herself realize their bodies do not ‘fail’ them if/when they need technological assistance, DeVun put a call out for her photography project, “In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
She asked mothers to sit for photographs while they demonstrated the various materials they used to help them with the process. The photographs showed women covered with different shields, tubes and pumps they used in their breastfeeding journey, and showed a vast difference in pictures often shared of nursing mamas.DeVun said she was struck by the contrast in the common articles that seemed so foreign to her before her pregnancy and their ordinary-ness once she was part of the club of women who used them. She believes that once you use a breast pump or nursing system, the pieces of equipment immediately go from unknown to something very close and intimate, entangled with your body.
DeVun says that nursing accessories just become part of who you are and what you do once they’re needed in your life, and she hopes her pictures challenge the myth that nursing is a natural, innate process that one’s body needs no help with.
She hopes the photos show some of the discomfort she’s experienced as a mother, and how complex our bodies are in what they do and what they need, even in the most natural processes.
Hopefully, mothers will be encouraged to see realities of nursing and not feel like failures if their own path isn’t quite as easy as they’d imagined.