To become a mother is to disappear and reappear as a different person; it is not immediate, but rather tortuously slow at times, leaving us in a liminal space of invisibility, wondering when we’ll be able to see ourselves and be seen again.
These pieces are made using other mother’s donated expired frozen breastmilk, or their “freezer stashes”. A freezer stash is many things to many mothers. It is security, time spent, effort, struggle, each mL fought for, machine sucked from your body. Whatever the reason for pumping, the frozen bags of breastmilk are heavy with emotion and hard to let go. They have a way of outlasting their use. When I asked, women gave them to me, almost all stating that they didn’t know why they’d kept the milk for months or even years after it had expired and their baby no longer needed it. There was an embarrassment or shame in thinking it was a weird or grotesque thing they did. They had no idea that other mothers felt the same, did the same, that they weren’t alone in their attachment to the milk. Many expressed relief and happiness that it wouldn’t go to waste, that it could be used for something; mothers always want to be useful and provide.
I know why they kept the milk. The frozen bags become the only thing a mother has left of the breastfeeding experience. They are tangible evidence of something intangible that happened to our bodies, maybe something traumatic, maybe something perfect, probably somewhere in between. Breastfeeding is a thing we pass through mostly alone with our babies and then it is gone. Women are not given the space to process or talk about their breastfeeding experiences during or after. Any negative feelings of anxiety, resentment, sadness, burden, are rarely shared because mothers are supposed to be selfless. These thoughts instead remain invisible in our heads. I use other women’s milk to paint what I could not always say out loud as a way of honoring them. The milk goes on the paper invisible, a parallel to the invisible labor of breastfeeding and pumping. As the milk ages, subtle changes develop, making it more visible over time, lending permanence to something fleeting.
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