Jade Langton Evans is inspired to share real stories about breastfeeding through photographs, to support mothers and educate young people
In 2014 I became a mother. It changed my concept of the world in every way. I questioned everything. I hadn’t thought about breastfeeding very much at all prior to that, yet when I had my baby it was a completely natural instinct. However, when I got home from the hospital for my first night I had a screaming baby and engorged and painful breasts. My nipples felt like they were on fire.
Another thing that bothered me was not being able to get up quickly enough to calm and feed my baby, because I had had a c-section. I also realised that I didn’t know anything about breastfeeding. My husband suggested that perhaps we should use a bottle if it was too difficult. Well, I won’t write the words that came out of my mouth, but from that moment a determination grew within me. It dawned on me how ridiculous it was a woman not knowing about breastfeeding. I realised quickly that it was not my fault, but something had to be done about it. Once I had the help I needed, I ended up breastfeeding until George was 2½ years old.
I was lucky enough to be able to spend four nights in a midwife-led unit (MLU) to get support with breastfeeding. The midwife there suggested that I use a breast pump and feed the baby the colostrum. I remember she squeezed my nipple and out came all of this glorious gold liquid. She smiled and said excitedly: “It’s oozing out of you – isn’t it wonderful?” It was fascinating, and as we couldn’t get George to latch for hours, a breast pump seemed a good idea. So for the first night I pumped, and I fed George from a syringe. I was amazed by my body. I stuck at it and eventually I was able to get George to latch and feed successfully. It took another three months for it to feel OK, and then we were away.
But it wasn’t an easy start. I started having pain in my breasts at 6 weeks. It was agony. I went to the GP and she said there was nothing wrong – that I should go home and carry on what I was doing. I was so angry; I knew this wasn’t right. The health visitor arranged for a breastfeeding counsellor to visit me, and she told me I had thrush. It was at that moment that I realised that many doctors don’t have a clue about breastfeeding. No wonder the rates are low. If you can’t get honest, clear and supportive information, how on earth can breastfeeding rates get any higher?
After this I attended my first breastfeeding group, where I met women with different stories. Many of them were struggling – not getting support, and basically feeling like rubbish mums through no fault of their own. This is where I felt inspired to start documenting women’s stories through words, videos and photographs. I wanted to put these amazing women on a pedestal and say, “Wow, look at her in all her glory!” To show the normality and messiness and honesty of breastfeeding mothers.
I started the project in 2015 and I run it alongside my family photographs business. I had women contact me so openly with support and love, sharing their diverse experiences. I believe it is so important to have true-to-life photographs of breastfeeding mothers. The formula companies are creating more and more clever promotions to get women to buy their products. Formula milk is helpful if you need to use it, but the marketing preys on vulnerable mothers. It is not OK when women are made to feel they don’t have enough milk or they’re not doing a good enough job.
"I chose to breastfeed. I fought to do so over a system that did not want me to. I fed both of my children together and gave up because I didn’t have the support from peers to enable me to continue. I am now still feeding a toddler and have been breastfeeding for nearly 5 years. It’s important to me that other people know that is an option." Tessa
I feel that, in a small way, the photographs and stories I share that contain open and honest conversations about breastfeeding will help more women access and find truth. I found an online group monumental because there was always someone who would answer questions if a mother was worrying that something was wrong. Sometimes it’s the ONLY place women can get honest answers. From other women sharing their experiences. My aim is to create an exhibition and book with a variety of stories and photographs. All children, boys and girls, need to see realistic photographs of how babies are born and how babies are fed. Because that’s where it starts.
"I wanted to tell my journey just to show that I know how tough breastfeeding is, and how there can be so many different obstacles in the way. I hope that this story might give someone with a similar problem hope, and show that it can be possible." Hannah
"I’ve returned to work and been promoted while still breastfeeding." Tessa
Jade Langton Evans lives in the Shropshire countryside with her husband and their little boy and enjoys peaceful long walks, reading and helping others. Keeping life simple and focusing on the small everyday moments makes her truly happy.
First published in issue 57 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.