Be it bottle, breast or both, photographer Esther May Campbells’ arresting portraits shatter the stigma to show the beauty of parents feeding their loved ones in Bristol.
Photos: Esther May Campbell
During the moments of nursing a newborn, parents can experience bliss and trauma and everything in between. It is a sensitive chapter in our lives, becoming something of a saga in itself. Be it bottle, breast or both, I witnessed babies fed in intuitive and inventive ways, each in hugely different circumstances.
Of the dozen babies I met, some latched to nipple, some couldn’t and some did not stop for years. I met a woman for whom breastfeeding was uncomfortable and stressful, so she brought up her children on formula and the whole family thrives. I met mothers who combination-fed out of choice, as well as mothers who couldn’t produce enough milk and so combined breast with formula or milk from a breast-milk bank. I came across radical kith and kin networks, out of photo frame but indispensable—women gifting their milk and time to support one another.
But this intimate nurturing phase can also feel isolating. Women often felt different degrees of shame—they either didn’t feel comfortable bottle feeding in baby groups or breastfeeding in public, or fed for too short a time or too long!
One mother’s DIY inventiveness was realised in a contraption that delivered her milk along with with a bounty of milk belonging to another mother, through a tube taped to her nipple. Fearless, loving, she told me that she wished she had a T-Shirt that said, ‘I’m just doing my fucking best’.
Mothers, fathers and loved ones look deep into the eyes of a baby as it drinks in nourishment – milk, love, a sense of belonging. Each feeder and every babe has their own interrelated story. This is the start of a story that goes on for years, feeding the people we love.