Friday, 29 June 2012

The Art of Stillness: Breastfeeding Statues

An artist in search of a model to sit for them could do a lot worse than ask the mother of a breastfed newborn. Never in my life have I sat so still for such long periods as in those first few weeks of my eldest daughter's life. At first, it seemed an impossible task: my body, tense with the fear of not getting it right, ached; my mind, used to the constant stimulation of my former life, fidgeted and paced restlessly like a caged animal. In a way reminiscent of my many attempts at meditation, I have learnt, or begun to learn, through breastfeeding, the art of coming to stillness, and - harder still - accepting it. Even now, four years on, I have nursing sessions filled with frustration and resistance, when my mind and body together refuse to accept that it's time to just be there, to just be. Sometimes, difficult feelings, dark thoughts arise, and, as in meditation, there is no easy means of escape. On other days I relish the chance to spiral inwards and float around in the depths of my consciousness, bumping into new ideas and old friends and enjoying the stillness.

On a recent trip to the Italian island of Sardinia, we made the grave error of taking two small children on a sight-seeing trip to the medieval walled town of Alghero. After a couple of hours of struggling and family arguments, it was 5pm; the heat was unbearable, the narrow cobbled lanes hard to navigate and the restaurants shut for another two hours. To create a distraction and in a desperate attempt to escape the sun, I spontaneously pulled the two girls into the Cathedral of Santa Maria Immacolata. Covered in scaffolding, it looked pretty unimpressive from the exterior, but inside, we entered another world: suddenly all was cool, marbled, and still. In a side chapel, a priest murmured Mass to a small congregation, there were candles dotted around, and everywhere paintings and carvings of the Madonna and Child. As we basked in the relief that the change in atmosphere brought, I noticed one of the statues, tucked in an alcove to the left of one of the many images of Mary:

Her left arm supports a nursing child, whilst with her right she reaches to touch the head of a toddler clamouring for her attention. A moment in time that was no doubt chaotic and stressful is immortalised here in the stillness of stone. For me, the sculpture captures a great truth about nursing; no matter how busy or fraught our circumstances, it forces us to pause, it brings a change in energy, an altered state, it is the still point of a turning world. We move as from a hot street to a cool cathedral, as from the hustle and bustle of life to the mindfulness of meditation - through breastfeeding, we discover the art of stillness.

Through return to simple living comes control of desires. In control of desires Stillness is attained. In stillness the world is restored - Lao Tzu

Sculpture is the art of the hole and the lump - Auguste Rodin

and here's one to make you smile from London Zoo:

Each image has been credited by a link back to its source. If you are displeased by being included, please contact me and I will immediately remove your photo. If you have an image that you would like to be added please also get in touch. Thank you.



  1. This is a lovely post, I especially can relate to the enforced stillness feeling - that's definitely something I struggled with at the beginning!

    1. Thanks Eleanor! right now i'm typing one handed with a booming toddler on my lap. it's kind of annoying but, like the stillness, you just get used to doing everything more slowly and laboriously i guess! Thanks for your comment x

  2. thank you for this post, your thoughts describe those first days so beautifully...

  3. Thank you for this post. I really enjoyed it and all the images. I totally relate to the enforced stillness. I guess that was one of my first and most important lessons as a new mother: to give in. To pause even when there were a million things to do (sometimes I wonder whether I learned that lessons a bit too well ;-)
    I especially like the fact that some of the statues seem to depict breastfeeding toddlers rather than tiny babies. I find with toddlers in the house, the stillness is even more important. My youngest is 3 and while I sometimes feel that I am more than ready for our breastfeeding relationship to come to an end, I still love the break it gives us at the end of a busy day. The chance to re-connect after a day that was often hectic and filled with moments of us butting heads.

    1. Yes, so true Alex. To give in. I was talking to a new mother about this today. I wondered if perhaps the frustration she was feeling at the sleep deprivation was really more about an overall frustration / shock / struggle to deal with and accept the big life change that takes place when we become mothers. It was for me anyway. Sleep deprivation was (and still is) just a convenient place to park my protest ;-)
      Thanks for your thoughts x

  4. Just read this after a lovely long feed in bed with my 22 month old - it's the only time she lies still to feed these days. If she has feeds in the day it is gymnurstics all the way with her sometimes managing to squirm right off the sofa without letting go... absolutely agree with the need to accept (and learn to enjoy for their own sake) those moments of calm in busy lives. It's hard to do when the lists of jobs are pressing, but we are all less frustrated in this hold when we manage to live more in the moment. Thanks for your post x