When photographer Tara Ruby put out a call for moms to stand in the middle of the Main Parade Field at Fort Bliss and breastfeed their babies while wearing their U.S. Army uniforms, she knew she was asking a lot.
It’s not illegal to breastfeed in the Army, not even in uniform. But it’s still a hotly contested issue, with an amendment to the House Armed Services Committee’s defense authorization bill draft that would protect female soldiers’ rights to nurse and their needs for support still making its way through Congress. The Army is currently the only one of the four services to not have a specific, servicewide breastfeeding policy.
Which is exactly why Ruby asked moms to show up with their boots laced and their babies hungry and to nurse while she shot photos of the group to share on Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else she can put the photo.
The El Paso, Texas, photographer and mom of three wants her photo, which she says might just be the first of its kind, featuring an assemblage of numerous women in uniform breastfeeding in the middle of an Army base, to help Congress make its decision to support female soldiers.
“I’m a firm believer that if someone can visually see it, it can change their minds,” Ruby tells SheKnows. “If they see this, people will understand there’s no reason to choose between being a mom and being a soldier.”
Which is something that happens all too often. Even as she shot photos on Thursday evening at Fort Bliss, the owner of Tara Ruby Photography says some of the upper enlisted women told tales of younger moms they know in the Army, moms who are considering leaving the military because juggling breastfeeding with their duties has become too much.
Married to a soldier, Ruby herself was once in the Air Force, and she recalls quitting breastfeeding her oldest son — now a high school senior — after eight weeks because of the strain of irregular shifts mandated by her unit at the time. “I remember pumping in whatever dark room I could possibly get,” she recalls, musing that she could have breastfed for much longer if there had been more support.
That’s what she hopes comes of the photo that’s already being shared like wildfire on Facebook: support. The brass at Fort Bliss have given it — they put their stamp of approval on Ruby’s shoot before it even happened and have backed a pump break room that Ruby helped decorate with photos of newborns that she’s taken to help enhance letdown.
“Some of the moms kept asking me, ‘I won’t get in trouble?’ and I said, ‘No, you won’t get in trouble!'” Ruby notes. “These women are amazing. To be the first people to stand up and do this is huge in the military.”
Ruby says the moms have made history and hopefully made a difference too. Now they are looking for support from around the world as they try to change minds about what it means to be a mother and serve your country at the same time.
Already the photo has mysteriously disappeared from the wall of her photography business’ Facebook page at least once. Posted Thursday night around midnight, the photo was gone when she woke up Friday morning, but she could find no messages from the social media site explaining why. She can only guess that someone reported it, but she has since put it back up and seen likes and shares skyrocket.
And if it comes down again? She’ll put it right back up.