Lactation rooms are everyday spaces that embody deeply felt subjective experiences of motherhood. Symbolically and materially, expressed milk is a substitute for the mother’s physical presence and emotional intimacy when separated from her child. The breast pump and baby photographs on cell phones, which women commonly view in order to stimulate milk flow, are surrogates for the child. My photographs offer insight into women’s personal experiences, the maternal body’s status in the workplace, and ideological contradictions inherent in modern parenthood and government policies.
The absence of mandated paid maternity leave causes women’s return to work soon after giving birth, making pumping pervasive in America. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants feed exclusively on breast milk for the first six months after birth. Women must pump milk every few hours in order to continue to produce milk. Although The Affordable Care Act requires some employers to provide lactation rooms, only 40% of women have access to dedicated pumping spaces. Moreover, lacking secure, dedicated spaces, women pump in cars, bathrooms, utility closets, etc. Bodily expectations at work are at odds with the practicalities of lactating women, thus the production of a gendered and secluded space where the maternal body is banished. Pumping is sometimes considered liberating because it allows women to have more autonomy and participate in the workplace, but it also erases the intimacy of breastfeeding and bodily contact. Lactation rooms are an inadequate substitute for maternity leave.
Through my images I endeavor to help normalize pumping, create a public discourse concerning the politics of care, and highlight the importance of women’s voices/visibility. Milk Factory is relevant due to workplace inequality and continued threats to remove legal protections for women and children. The photographs are named for the diverse professions of the pumping women. The solitary pumping rooms take on collective power through the accumulation of photographs.
Milk Factory is an ongoing project. If you have an interesting pumping space that you would like me to photograph please contact me: email@example.com
Each participant is given an 8” x 10” photo.