Clarissa Marie, a photographer and mom of 3 girls in Windsor Ontario, set out to commemorate her breastfeeding journey with a beautiful milk bath photo session showcasing the bond between mother and daughter, but when she shared them online, Instagram had other plans.
Within days of posting the artistic images, which were the product of a collaboration between Clarissa and her photographer friend Sarah Barichello, her pictures were removed as a violation to Instagram’s policies, and Clarissa was floored.
“When I woke up to the message from Instagram that my images were deemed a violation to community standards, my inner rage rose from zero to one hundred,” she said.
Clarissa was already feeling hurt after receiving an angry message about the photoshoot in her inbox from someone who wasn’t following her but had been shown the images by one of their mutual followers.
“The message was hurtful, angry and completely inappropriate, ” she said, adding that someone was trying to stir up drama in her life based on their own agenda. “I chose not to acknowledge this at all or engage this person about their words.”
Clarissa breastfed all three of her daughters, although this final journey saw her nursing beyond 15 months, which she hadn’t expected.
“If I’m being honest, extended nursing always seemed incredulous to me. Until I was doing it, and I finally understood.”
Not only did Clarissa exclusively breastfeed her third and final daughter for the first year of her life, but she also pumped and froze breast milk and began to donate to other babies in need. At one point she donated more than 60 litres to 7 different babies.
But her breastfeeding journey wasn’t always a smooth sailing one, and Clarissa faced some devastating challenges along the way. Her marriage to her husband of 11 years ended before her youngest daughter turned one, and she came down with an aggressive case of mastitis and thrush that led to numerous hospital visits and ultimately a trip to the ER to be treated for a more serious issue, multiple pulmonary embolisms.
When the cardiologist delivered the news that Clarissa would have to begin blood thinners and stop breastfeeding, Clarissa was hit with a wave of emotions and she burst into tears.
“I wasn’t ready. My baby wasn’t ready to be done with this journey. So much had already changed and been taken from me that I couldn’t accept this,” she recalls.
She brought her case to Jack Newman, a professional breastfeeding guru, and with his guidance she pushed through the pain and continued to pump. After 2 weeks, she was given the nod to breastfeed again, and she recounts that she’d never seen a happier smile on her baby’s face.
Her daughter is now 3 years old and she has been weaned down to once daily just before bed, although Clarissa says that her daughter would still be content with full time breastfeeding.
Clarissa and Sarah of SB Photography staged the beautiful nursing milk bath session using a combination of their skills and creativity; Clarissa says that her vision was perfectly executed in the images.
“I worked SO HARD and endured SO MUCH to continue my breastfeeding journey that I knew I had to have this,” she says about the photoshoot.
The response to the images on both of the photographer’s Facebook pages was a positive one; people reached out to say how beautiful and touching the photos were, and even those who were initially uncomfortable with extended breastfeeding admitted that the photos held more beauty than they expected.
When Instagram removed her images, Clarissa says she was dumbfounded and enraged by the double standards of what is considered nudity or deemed inappropriate by the social media network. She points out that her newsfeed is filled with sexual imagery, vulgar and inappropriate posts and even pornography that flies under the radar.
She notes a trend on social media where sexual images and provocative nudes receive the praise and accolades of society, while the images of the innocent act of breastfeeding a child has become controversial.
“It’s complete and utter bullshit,” she states. Do you know that I prepared myself for a fight, negativity, or some sort of comment EVERY SINGLE TIME I nursed in public? Why is it that a nursing mother must be on guard, be ready for negativity and narrow minded comments? I’m literally feeding my baby!”
Clarissa says that she wants to shout a giant F*CK YOU to Instagram and to anyone else who chooses to sexualize the photos, or chooses to degrade her for something so beautiful and innocent as nursing a child. She feels that society is over sexualized and that people who are offended by breastfeeding are not educated on the bond and the benefits of breastfeeding.
She has been called selfish for continuing to breastfeed her daughter beyond 15 months, and has been accused of doing it for her own benefit, which she concludes has no merit given that breastfeeding isn’t easy, and that it’s a selfless act.
But she also sees the negativity as a driving force to empower her three daughters and teach them the value of their bodies in the face of people’s ignorance.
“I want them to know if they have children, and should they choose to breastfeed, that they are met with unconditional support and love,” she says, “that they are valued for the incredible amazing things they can do.”
And when it comes to her personal reasoning for the photoshoot and the overall message she wants her daughters to gain from her breastfeeding journey, Clarissa says that she wants them to be proud of what she was able to give to them, and to know that the love and sacrifices she made were out of love.
“I want them to remember the comfort of being in their mother’s arms, safe and loved. I want them to feel my love for them and the bond we created,” she says. “I wanted to do this nursing session as a way to begin the final chapter of weaning. To remember this incredible time, a time of my life that my body did an amazing thing; it sustained life. Soon our journey will be over.”
Images are courtesy of Clarissa Marie, photographed by Sarah Barichello of SB Photography.
Clarissa’s professional pages:
Sarah’s professional pages: