For some new mothers, providing breast milk to babies is something that happens naturally and easily. For others, it's a decidedly unnatural path littered with things like plastic pumps, shields, and tubes. And while theres's no one right way to feed your baby, let's face it—there's nothing that feels less divine than hanging around with a breast pump attached to your boobs. And it's just this feeling that artist Leah DeVun captures so flawlessly in her new photo series "In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."
DeVun's stark images showcasing moms just casually using their breast pumps as a means to an end are purposely not glam—and they could basically be any single one of us.
"We were just taking pictures of people doing what they do—it's very straightforward," she explained to People. "That is kind of startling to us, because we're not used to seeing women the way they are with these devices."
DeVun says she was inspired to create the series after having her own child, and realizing that the perfect idea many women have about childbirth and motherhood was far from her own reality.
“I was inspired in part by my own experience with a difficult pregnancy and the delivery of my own son a few years ago, which involved a lot of medical complications and interventions,” she told Parents.com. “When friends talked to me about their own births, a common theme that seemed to unite a lot of them was a sense of mixed feelings, that things hadn’t gone as planned, and that our bodies hadn’t been capable of giving birth or breastfeeding as we imagined they would do naturally. I think these discussions reveal part of a larger cultural conversation that we’re having in which we as a society expect mothers to give birth, breastfeed, and care for their children on their own, without assistance, in a sort of effortless, heroic way that creates a serious burden for those who don’t measure up to this ideal.”
Maybe that's why Devun's images are so eye-opening—yes, the women may seem a little stoic in their discomfort, but that's what makes them all the more fierce. “With so much in the news about women in the workforce, maternity leave, and the recent women’s marches, I think it’s really important now to make visible these hidden but pretty ordinary experiences that are part of so many women’s lives, and to show how much help it takes for a lot of women to do something 'natural,'” she told us. “For a lot of women, this is the experience of breastfeeding.”
Work from the series is on view at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska, through April 29.
Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more.