Erica Farwell Photography captures Breastfeeding World’s first ever Guam Photo Shoot:

A mother’s breastfeeding journey is no doubt a life event that is most successful and enjoyable when we have the support of others, and guidance of those who have gone before us.

That is why it’s no surprise that when Alexia Garcia began her New York City photo project through Alegares Photography, it became a vital resource,encouraging and empowering mothers. What began within the NYC community, now stretches across the globe.

Breastfeeding World has grown so much over the few short years of its existence.

After having our first-ever out of country event in Ecuador in August 2017, we headed to the West Pacific Island of Guam and held Breastfeeding World’s second out of country photo shoot with Erica Farwell Photography.

Quick Facts About Guåhan (Guam)

  • Guåhan, as locals refer to Guam, is a territory of the United States, similar in country status as Puerto Rico. The tropical island is nearly half way across the world from from Washington, D.C. (about 7,920 miles!). It is roughly an 8 hour flight west of Hawaii, 3.5 hour flight south of Japan and is home to over 160,000 island residents.
  • The weather is summer all year around. IT. IS. HOT! But it is also the island paradise many seek, with its white sand and clear blue beach waters.
  • The local food is amazing. It’s a blend of pacific-asian flavors – heavy on the rice and soy sauce. With just the right touch of Chamorro flavor, it’s incomparable to others.
  • The hospitality of the people is like none other in the world.
  • And if you ask any tourists from Asia, the luxury shopping is just the topper of what makes Guåhan such a renowned destination for travel and vacation in the pacific.
An island full of diversity

Guam is native home of Chamorros, though a vast majority of the population, identify as Guamanian – locals who consider Guåhan home but may not come from native lineage. It’s a fascinating diverse population full of culture from other outer Micronesian islands like Palau, Chuuk, Kosrae, Yap and Pohnpei, further combined with Asian flare of residents with ties to Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines. And that’s just a few!

And while there was much political controversy the month prior to the Guåhan Photo Shoot (the first instance of North Korean missile threats to the island in August 2017), there wasn’t much to stop local moms from gathering for Breastfeeding World’s event.

Guåhan’s Iconic Latte Stone Park

The most remarkable aspect about Breastfeeding World that sets our community apart from others in the #normalizebreastfeeding movement, is documenting mothers and children in the most iconic places of our cities. For Guåhan residents, aside from the beautiful beach shores, the Angel Santos Latte Stone Memorial Park is iconic as it gets. It’s lies in the city capital of Hagåtña and makes for a central commute for residents.

Breastfeeding World, Guam

Latte Stones are one of the very few artifacts from Chamorro ancient society that remain.

These megalith structures are carved from limestone and were then used as a foundation for traditional hut houses. The stone’s height is also a symbol for class, with larger latte stones belonging to higher class residents, like chiefs. Smaller latte stones, thus, belonged to lower class residents.

Throughout Guåhan’s history – through multiple country colonization and the World Wars – a majority of existing latte stones of the island were destroyed. What remains standing give locals and academic scholars a glimpse into what ancient Chamorro villages may have looked like prior to western influence.

 
Capturing the Spirit of Guåhan

We couldn’t have asked for a better landmark to capture the spirit of Guåhan. The setting of Latte Stones in the background and gathering of event attendees were a perfect representation of the island as it is today.  Seeing a gathering of both local residents and military personnel was beyond AMAZING.

Bridging the Gap between local and military families

There is an inherent gap between local and military communities in terms of shared community resources. This is often seen in countries with overseas military bases, like Guåhan. Often, locals do not have access to military resources, and military families are less familiar of available local resources. In the mist of it, having Breastfeeding World’s event open to the public  meant all families could gather in support of normalizing breastfeeding and connect with each other as breastfeeding advocates for the island.

 

The Breastfeeding Community of Guåhan

So, what is it like, breastfeeding on a tropical island in the Pacific? It’s nearly the same as other countries! Just like other communities around the world, Guåhan’s efforts to educate and build awareness of the importance of the breastfeeding and giving mothers options after birth is small, but growing considerably.

 

There are dozens of volunteers from a handful of local organizations who lead the island’s breastfeeding movements.

They are the Breastfeeding Action Team Guam, which is comprised of educators, lactation consultants, medical professionals, doulas, nurses, business owners, government leaders, etc. Their expertise play a hand in guaranteeing that local moms have their breastfeeding rights heard at work and in public spaces. Contributing hard spent time, they focus on bringing awareness to the island. Together, they do this by educating the community of the benefits of breastfeeding and the resources of support that are available to families.

 
Sharing resources as a community is the goal

Breastfeeding World’s Guåhan shoot gave the perfect opportunity to share these resources with attending guests. While some moms knew about local breastfeeding groups (like IBCLCs Kirsten Robert and Barbara Mafnas’ Guam Mama’s Breastfeeding Support, or the La Leche League of Guam), others did not.  While online and physical support systems are in place on island, like other communities, awareness of these resources is limited to just a small portion of the motherhood population.

It was exciting to exchange support groups between military and local moms. Most exciting was encouraging mother’s to attend the free Saturday Socials at Guam’s birthing center, Sagua Managu. Every week, Barbara Mafnas, IBCLC, holds free community classes for mothers. She does assessments on babies, checking weight, checking latch, etc. It’s a great opportunity for families with no health insurance to see a specialist who can help recommend or suggest needs for a their newborn as it relates to breastfeeding.

Mafnas goes the extra mile by providing other exemplary parenting classes for first time parents. She holds Daddy Classes once a month. There, first time fathers can learn the basics of swaddling baby, changing diapers, assisting mom during breastfeeding and other important teachings such as looking for baby cues.

Resources for Local Moms and Military Families

We also shared local government resources for families. Learning about Guåhan’s Women, Infant and Children Program (WIC), gave insight to families who need assistance. It helped clarify questions for those who were curious if they qualified. And it was so nice to have a WIC representative stop by the event to meet with families. This reassured us that there is support for our cause.

For military families who prefer closer to base events, we shared the efforts of Guam’s La Leche League. The group meets twice a month – once in the north, then in the south end of the island. Like BATG, LLL Guam is spearheaded by volunteers, who resumed La Leche League presence on island about 2 years ago. Connor Kelly is the point of contact for LLL Guam. In her work, she speaks about breastfeeding bi-monthly at the airforce base’s Bundles For Babies Program.

What attendees had to say

Let’s preface the highlights of our event by saying that Guam is HOT! We knew traveling from a temperate stateside climate to a tropical island paradise would mean diving into warm weather. However, what we failed to remember was the humidity!

My favorite part was seeing babies of different ages that are being breast fed.

-BFW Guam Guest, on her favorite part of the event

The weather was worth it

We have to (have to!) thank all the families that showed up, socialized and gracefully continued to participate in the shoot despite the weather. The week prior was a never ending rainstorm for the island. This meant that on the first day of no rain, the day of the shoot, there was much more humidity than usual. Top that off with Guam’s heat, gave families a limited amount of time before babies became uncomfortable just hanging outside. It really was so hot with very little breeze that time of day.

There was nothing we could do but laugh and spin our facial sweat as a “glowing” part of the portraits. (Insert chuckle here.)

But that is island life – and island weather. Because of this, the shoot started a few minutes earlier than planned. However, even after group photos were done, guest were still making their way to the shoot. It was nice to see mothers drop by and get individual photos taken by Erica Farwell to contribute to the Photo Project.

I just recently found out about this group online, and for me it meant that there are mothers out there who are successful BF mothers who achieved thier goals with the help of others support. They have thier own stories to share, with struggles, but were able to finish thier goal by getting help from support groups like this.

-MJCT, on what Breastfeeding World means to her

 

Empowering and encouraging mothers is our mission

While the weather wasn’t the most comfortable, many of the guests said they would attend another event like this in the future. It was great to hear that mothers were encouraged to be comfortable nursing in public. This most especially for locals who come from very traditionally cultured backgrounds. In sense of encouragement was felt in every conversation.

For me and my family it made us comfortable feeding around others most especially new people!
– BFW Guam Guest, on the impact BFW has on her community
It helps encourage me and other mothers to continue breastfeeding, and to show first time mothers and the rest of our community that breastfeeding is natural and that we should be able to do so publicly.
– BFW Guam Guest, on the impact BFW has on her community
Creating a Community

Before and after the photo session, we raffled off Breastfeeding World Swag Bags that included state side sponsors from the Big Latch On. We also had great giveaways from local shops like The Modern Bump and Shop Guam Mom Life.

Beyond the photos, beyond the raffles, was the highlight of creating a community, then connecting mothers with each other face to face.

The online community of motherhood is a very strong, empowering one.   So, naturally, meeting people in person really makes an impact on that camaraderie.

Which was made evident through the guests’ response to their favorite part of the event:

“Being with and meeting new people.

-BFW Guam Guest

“Taking the photos and meeting everyone.

-BFW Guam Guest

“Meeting other moms.

-BFW Guam Guest

“The mothers who i got to meet during the shoot.

-BFW Guam Guest

 

Sharing impact

One suggestion that spoke volumes of the need and want from mothers for more community support in breastfeeding was:

 More mothers ! Also a word of mouth publicity about more events like this.

-BFW Guam Guest, on what could BFW Guam better

The power of community is strong. The movement of normalizing breastfeeding is border-less. Whether it be online or in person, finding that tribe which supports families in the journey of parenthood is an amazing feeling. And that is the heart of Breastfeeding World.

Connecting in Struggles and Triumphs through Breastfeeding

“After months of struggling, I finally reached peace. I found confidence, self love and the empowerment to be proud of my breastfeeding journey. Attending Breastfeeding World for me was a life changing experience. For the first time I’d been a part of something I felt passion for. Even as a mother I still to that day had never seen women proudly breastfeeding in public. I always felt ashamed for even thinking about feeding my daughter without a nursing cover around other people who weren’t my husband. On that day my attitude changed for the better and I couldn’t be more thankful. I now feed my daughter without a doubt or worry in my mind, my concerns are back to revolving around my daughter instead of other peoples opinions.”

– Kat Hovey, on her BFW Guam experience

Building Breastfeeding World Awareness

Guåhan’s success in creating a breastfeeding friendly community lies within the work of local organizations.

This includes BATG, LLL Guam, the Guam Mama’s Breastfeeding Support Group and the many breastfeeding advocates who call Guam home. They’ve made impressive achievements in recent years.

Just a few years ago, BATG helped Guåhan make public breastfeeding and employer support law through the Nana yan Patgon Act. They’ve helped the local hospitals commit to seeking WHO baby friendly status. They were recognized by WHO with a generous grant to help fund educational efforts of breastfeeding on island. Later, BATG would be awarded a National Recognition for Guåhan’s MagPRO Awards, the prestigious Government of Guam Employee Recognition Awards. Additionally, they’ve recently provided uniform training on breastfeeding to local hospitals and clinics. This ensures that both families and medical staff are aware of options for baby after birth, which eliminates the often quick handed prescription for formula during feedings.

A Successful Event by Community Support

Breastfeeding World, GuamWe’d like to thank all the community organizations that helped to spread the word of Breastfeeding World’s First Ever Guåhan Photo Shoot. The Mommy Support Groups on Facebook have been extremely kind. Thank you, Guam Mama’s Breastfeeding Support, The Guam Mom’s Group and Guam Mommies! We’d also like to thank the Guam Daily Post for publishing the event announcement through the #MomLife Column. To KUAM, for featuring our project on the evening news. We’d also like to thank K57 radio for having us on the air to discuss the importance of empowering mothers to breastfeed. Extra special thanks to the Dept of Parks and Recs for assisting with photography permits so quickly!

We so much appreciate our local sponsors who provided awesome giveaways to our guests. Thank you to The Modern Bump  for the amazing gifts to raffle off. Thank you to Graceful Journey Doula Services, Shop Guam MomLife, and Guam Birth Boot Camp for your contributions as well!

A Very Special Thank You

Breastfeeding World, Guam

We deeply appreciate all the families that attended our event. Capturing Guam and the small portion of it’s breastfeeding community through Breastfeeding World’s Lens could not have been possible without your presence and advocacy.

 

Finally, at the heart of all this is Erica Farwell Photography. Erica was such a joy to work with on our short trip. She made the group shoot and individual shoots fun, friendly and relaxed. Even with babies uncomfortable from the heat, she still found a way to capture the most darling moments between mother and child. You can find her work at http://www.ericafarwellphotography.com. She specializes in family and senior portraits on Guam.  Fun fact: it was Erica’s first time to Latte Stone Park herself!

Welcome to Breastfeeding World, Guam!

After all was done, the shoot was much more than just an event to attend. It was an opportunity for island residents to come together. To encourage each other’s breastfeeding goals. And join the community of Breastfeeding World that extends beyond Guåhan’s shores.

  

 

Betty Rose

Betty Rose

Betty Rose is a writer and the voice behind the #MomLife Column. Born and raised on the Pacific Island of Guam, she now resides in Seattle, Washington. After having her first child, she began sharing her new role as a Chamorro mother living in the stats and continues to contribute feature stories of Pacific Island communities in other publications. She embraces the diversity, the struggles of motherhood and hopes that, through her writing, she can break and bring awareness to the barriers set on minority communities across the world.
Betty Rose

Leave a Reply