The Brooklyn-based photographer and mom of three took the photo when her second child was starting to wean. "I wanted to have a tangible memory of those cherished moments," she told The Huffington Post. "This self portrait encapsulates love and motherhood in all the little details I want to remember. But more importantly, it stands for strength and perseverance in the name of challenges."
According to McGrew, one woman commented on the photo, "I would be so ashamed if my mother had a picture like that of me breastfeeding" -- a statement which prompted a "heated (mostly respectful) debate coming from all sides." During the discussion, the photographer recalled, another commenter wrote, "It is a beautiful thing, but definitely not table conversation."
"One could argue it is exactly that, quite literally," McGrew told HuffPost in response to the commenter's words. "Shouldn’t a baby be able to eat at a table with the rest of the family? Or are we starting a whole new type of segregation, by ostracizing mommies to a corner with a blanket over their baby’s head while we all enjoy hearty anecdotes over chicken and rice pilaf?"
After observing the back-and-forth of the debate, the photographer felt compelled to take more breastfeeding portraits, "to celebrate and bring awareness to a topic that unfortunately still remains as taboo as it is natural," she said.
McGrew issued a casting call, inviting breastfeeding mothers of all backgrounds and experiences to participate in her photo series. "My intention was to represent a diverse but unifying photo series," she said.
Photographing the seven women who came forward filled the artist with "a sense of peace," she said, adding, "The connection and love present is powerful, organic, sometimes raw, but absolutely beautiful."
For McGrew, breastfeeding was very challenging at first. The photographer has a 7-month-old son and two daughters, ages 4 and 5.
"Before children, I always assumed that nursing would come naturally to me," she recalled. "I prepared myself for the difficulties of pregnancy, birth and postpartum, but never expected the struggles to latch, the ‘failure to thrive’ notices from the pediatrician, the painful, engorged and raw realities that frequently accompany breastfeeding."
Nursing her eldest daughter was not easy, she explained. "My breastfeeding battle scars include multiple blocked ducts, mastitis that turned into an abscess, and many excruciating nights wrought with emotions of failure and guilt," McGrew said.
With her second child, breastfeeding was much easier, and she was able to experience the kind of joy and bonding she'd always wanted.
Now breastfeeding her third child, the photographer says she understands firsthand that nursing is not necessarily a simple or easy endeavor.
"It often presents a series of challenges that range from physical to emotional," she told HuffPost. "It is not for every mother, or for every child. Sometimes it isn’t even a choice. I recognize the difficult decisions all mamas make to provide what is best for their babies, and I believe they deserve respect and support for whichever path they chose."
Since sharing her breastfeeding portraits, McGrew says she's received many "outraged, bitter comments." But more importantly, she added, she's received beautiful messages from mothers thanking her for shining a light on this topic.
"Mothers from all over the globe who have been shamed for breastfeeding in public, for breastfeeding too long, for breastfeeding at all, are reaching out because my images made them feel empowered," the artist said.
With the breastfeeding series, the photographer's goal is clear. Said McGrew, "I am hoping that these beautiful portraits will continue to remove some of the stigma surrounding breastfeeding, remind us what breasts were biologically intended for, aid the ongoing movement to normalize breastfeeding, and celebrate mommies everywhere."