How do you normalize breastfeeding when nothing about the lives of mothers is normal in 2020? Photographer Alicia Samone had been wondering about this all year leading up to this Breastfeeding Awareness Month, as she prepared for an annual shoot she has been organizing in and around Glendale, Arizona for the past five years. Last year, she gathered 171 breastfeeding mothers for a moving photo in the desert. In the age of COVID-19, she couldn’t make quite the same impact this year… except she did.
“The group photo is what makes the statement — all moms together standing side by side, breastfeeding together,” Samone told SheKnows via email of her previous photos. “Two weeks before the first session I was still hoping there would be some miracle of an announcement that we could be in groups again. It never happened but I knew I had to pull something together.”
By spreading the word on Facebook, she managed to break her previous record and recruit 236 moms. Instead of one big group photo on a single day, Samone put in an entire month of work taking individual photos of mothers nursing their children over the course of 10 sessions in nine different picturesque locations all over Arizona. It wasn’t until the third session that Samone realized that if she put the photos together in a collage, the mothers could be in this “together” after all.
“We shot in the rain, lightening, a HUGE dust storm, 115 degrees most days,” Samone told us. “We got kicked out of a location with 53 moms still waiting to get photos done. Each session had its own hiccups, and it was so much more time consuming this year because I had to keep the moms in the car for their safety and state guidelines. We had to stay 6 ft apart as well, so we had a texting app that would let everyone know when they could come up!”
Despite the dangers of COVID, these women were eager to participate. Maybe some of it had to do with the great goodie bags she put together from sponsors like Medela and local vendors. But it also had to do with the message they knew they could send.
“Some of these moms had their baby during this pandemic and had never been in public to feed their baby,” Samone said. “They all wanted to make a statement that it’s normal, no matter how they breastfeed, how long they breastfeed, where they breastfeed, and why. That they have a right to breastfeed any time, any place without judgment and without feeling ashamed. Even during a pandemic, they were going to make this statement loud and VERY proud for moms around the world breastfeeding their babies, to tell them they aren’t alone in this.”
Over the years of doing this shoot, Samone has noticed that attitudes about breastfeeding are finally shifting, as evidenced by the lack of nasty comments she gets on the photos she posts.
With Breastfeeding Awareness Month coming to a close, we dared to ask her how she’d top this effort next year.
“I feel like each year, I’m worried I won’t be able to top the year before, but I learned this year that the mom force is strong, even through the worst of the worst conditions, and they will always show up to fight for their right to mom,” she said. “I just have to trust the moms will top next year by my side and we will make it!”