Wedding photographer Chelo Keys snapped a photo three years ago of Alicia Caldwell breastfeeding her infant daughter on her wedding day. When Chelo shared the photo on social media, she met resistance from “people who felt that breastfeeding should be a private moment or didn't feel it met the definition of a bridal portrait.” While she disagreed with those opinions, she didn’t want to “subject Alicia to unnecessary hate,” so she took the photo down, and it has remained dormant for the last three years.
Whenever I look at this photo, it brings me back to the happiness the day brought me. It reminds me of the fact that my baby, Scarlett, got to be there to celebrate with us the day we became the Caldwells.
Recently, a prospective client reached out to Chelo, mentioning how much she loved that breastfeeding portrait from all those years ago. Chelo explains, “Something clicked after that conversation, and I posted the image again.”
Bride Alicia knew she wanted to be a mother but felt somewhat indifferent about the wedding. She describes meeting her husband, Tyson: “Our story isn’t the most romantic, but it’s mine. I thought: here is a guy who knows how to snowboard, has long hair, a motorcycle, and a shorehouse…I’ll take it.” Not long after, Alicia and Tyson decided to have a child:
We moved to an apartment in Philly. It was there that I received a phone call from one of my favorite people in the world. His brother had bought a farm in our hometown and wanted to know if I would be interested in moving there, and Tyson could work on the land. And the rest is history. A couple days into living on the farm, I looked at Tyson and said, "I don't care if we get married, but I'm having your babies on this farm." Soon after "farm baby" was born. Scarlett Gemma was born on her due date on a warm day in December. She is the most beautiful, empathetic, funny, smart (pretty sure it was all that breastmilk) little girl.
While Scarlett was perfect, planning a wedding while pregnant and then with a newborn wasn’t so great:
In one word, nightmare. My husband proposed to me in October after hearing horror stories of how long it took to get pregnant...needless to say, I got pregnant in March. I wanted my brother to marry us on the farm, barefoot with a flower in my hair. But, being the youngest of three and the only daughter, my Catholic Italian father had different plans. I was too busy and tired to fight, but we wound up having the most beautiful wedding. I can't say I did much of the planning. I recall saying to my dad at one point, "you know what Dad, why don't you wear the white dress!?"
Being a bride and a mother meant Alicia needed to take a break from the celebration to breastfeed her daughter. Chelo was hesitant to photograph Alicia breastfeeding, attempting to honor her privacy:
At the time of Alicia and Tyson's wedding, the pro-breastfeeding movement was in full swing. Though I was fully supportive of mothers breastfeeding anywhere, the roadblocks during my own breastfeeding journey with my son two years prior were still fresh in my mind. I had been very shy about breastfeeding in front of other people and still lived in a world where breastfeeding was a private act.
Chelo felt surprised and pleased when one of Alicia’s bridesmaids told Chelo that Alicia would like a photograph of her breastfeeding her daughter, Scarlett:
When I first met Alicia I immediately knew she was a badass and wasn't shy about a thing, but when she took a break to breastfeed her daughter during her wedding, I was in a frame of mind that she would want her privacy. I decided it would be a good time to photograph their rings instead. But, then a bridesmaid called me over to say that Alicia wanted a photo of her breastfeeding her daughter Scarlett, and I was both happy and surprised.
Alicia explains why she asked Chelo to document this moment:
This picture is a symbol — a symbol of love. To love something enough to breastfeed it is the ultimate kind of love, the ultimate kind of bond, the ultimate kind of sacrifice. Whenever I look at this photo, it brings me back to the happiness the day brought me. It reminds me of the fact that my baby, Scarlett, got to be there to celebrate with us the day we became the Caldwells. It might not have been my "dream wedding," but it wasn't about the flowers in my hand, the food in our mouths, or the music in our ears; it was about the love we share.
For Chelo, documenting this moment shifted her thinking about bridal photography:
This moment brought me to a place where I could deeply feel my role as their photographer, which was to be fully present and mindful of the moments that would be most important to them. When I walked into the room where Alicia was breastfeeding, I immediately knew that the image to follow would be incredibly special. It was a paradigm shift for me as a photographer, as this moment peeled away from me traditional narratives of brides and motherhood, and I am extremely thankful for that.
A few weeks ago, Chelo decided to repost the image to her Instagram in order to “stand up and support brides that are mothers.” She knew it was time to “let this image shine.”
Established in 2008, Chelo Keys Photography documents portraits and weddings in a candid and editorial style. Based in NY/NJ but traveling world-wide, Chelo Keys enjoys using both digital and film, and has a talent for seeing what others don't see.