Local photographer Sarah Fowler specializes in capturing special moments with babies and their families, but she had no idea a recent project about breastfeeding would go viral.
Fowler, of Sarah Kate Photography in Sedalia, had the idea to photograph a breastfeeding mom dressed as Rosie the Riveter and Alex James, 20, of Lee’s Summit, agreed to the idea for her photo shoot with her 7-month-old son, Carson. Since the photos were taken in March, the photo of James in the iconic denim shirt and red bandana in her hair has spread across media outlets and the Internet.
“That was crazy,” Fowler said of the public’s quick response. “About a month ago Alex called me and told me Donna Pitman from KMBC had gotten a hold of her and wanted to do a story on us and I thought that was so cool. It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to my photography career. To swim in a sea of over-saturated photographers and everyone is biting and clawing for every shoot they have to get, to be recognized was very surreal. It was very humbling.
“After KMBC it went all over the news across America and then her and I both got an email from the editor of Cosmopolitan and then What to Expect contacted me and they want to use some of my labor and delivery photos for a gallery, which is completely mind-blowing. Stuff like this doesn’t happen to me, I’m a stay-at-home mom and part-time military.”
Fowler, who is in the Air Force but quit her full-time job to stay at home with her daughter, Georgia, said she wanted to showcase how tough breastfeeding moms, and moms in general, can be.
“It’s a full-time job in itself and whether you formula-feed or breastfeed, motherhood is a universal language,” she said. “We’re all on the same side. I personally nursed my little girl for 13 months and it’s horrible — you can’t sleep through the night, you can’t sleep in. You have to be extremely tough to do it, not saying that mothers who formula-feed are any less tough — being a mommy is really hard. Keeping a little human alive can be really tough sometimes,” she added with a laugh.
Fowler said both she and James have received an overwhelming amount of support, although, like with any social media post, there were negative views too.
“We had a lot of haters that had some pretty nasty things to say about it, like they wouldn’t let their wives breastfeed in public and it was disgusting, but that’s all the more reason to keep pushing it to let moms know they’re not alone,” she said.
She added that many women have said the photo motivated them to be more open about breastfeeding and what works for them, something Fowler can relate to. She’s had her own tough experiences, including passing up the opportunity to carry out the American flag with her unit at the World Series at Kauffman Stadium because she didn’t have anywhere to pump while there.
“I know one of the reasons why I wanted to gear it toward breastfeeding was because when my daughter was 4-weeks-old my husband and I went out to eat at a restaurant in Jeff City and I was too embarrassed to feed her at the table because the restaurant was really crowded so I went in the bathroom,” she recalled. “I ended up having to sit on the floor, I was trying to get her latched on and I couldn’t see anything, the lighting was horrible. I was crying, she was crying, so I just thought, this is ridiculous. I went back out to the table and latched her on and nobody cared. I was the only one who cared.”
While Fowler does many types of family photo shoots, some of her favorites are the shoots she offers for free at the NICU at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia.
“I have some friends that had a baby in the NICU and I went up there to go do pictures for them … I was looking as we walked by and these parents in there, they have to quit their jobs to be there,” she explained. “… They don’t get to do any of the normal milestones with their baby, and some of them don’t come out of there and those are the only pictures they have, so it just gives them something to look forward to.”
Fowler’s specialty is labor and delivery photo shoots, being there for the very first moments.
“I like to catch the raw emotion and capture people’s personalities in their shoots so that no shoot is ever the same,” she said. “It just struck a chord with me. I think every photographer has one area where they feel really strong in and that is mine, is capturing that moment of a baby’s first breath or their dad’s face the first time he sees the child and the mother’s first time breastfeeding.
“I just love those moments because I know how much I love my little girl and I like being able to take the pressure off the dads so they get to hang out with her while I follow the baby around the hospital for baths and stuff like that.
“I have the best job in the world.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.