Guilt free

Athlete speaks out about viral photo of her breastfeeding baby while she was in the middle of a 105-mile ultra-marathon

Endurance athlete Sophie Power was photographed breastfeeding her 3-month-old son Cormac at a rest stop about halfway through the 105-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc race. (Instagram / Alexis Berg)

With another ultra-marathon under her belt, runner Sophie Power has offered some reflections on maternal guilt and that viral photo showing her breastfeeding while in the middle of an epic race.

It all started when Power, 36, was photographed by Alexis Berg around halfway through one of the world’s most grueling races, the 105-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) in France, breastfeeding her 3-month-old son Cormac at an aid station. She’s also seen in the photo pumping milk from her other breast so Cormacy can feed later, while she would be out finishing the unforgiving course. Ill-prepared for the huge amount of attention the image received, including a Runner’s World survey that asked readers whether the act was “gross” and “selfish,” she nevertheless has no regrets about the resulting conversation about motherhood.

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Elle s’appelle Sophie Power. Elle a 36 ans et Cormac, son fils, 3 mois. La scène se déroule à Courmayeur, à la mi-course d’un UTMB que cette Anglaise aura finalement bouclé en 43h33. En prenant cette photo, j’étais loin d’imaginer qu’elle serait publiée dans le monde entier, reprise par @runnersworldmag, @stern, @foxnews , @leparisien , @dailymail , @thesun , @yahoonews et tant d’autres médias qui ignorent d’ordinaire celles et ceux qui courent à la recherche de leurs limites. Ce qui est exceptionnel, bien entendu, ce n’est pas la photo, mais c’est bien elle, dans toute sa force, Sophie Power. « C’est ma photo de running préférée, m’a-t-elle écrit @ultra_sophie. Car cette photo est bien plus réelle qu’une image de papier glacé d’un coureur qui dévale un sentier de montagne ». Je ne sais pas mieux dire.

A post shared by Alexis Berg (@alexis_berg) on

“It has highlighted something that women feel really unable to talk about,” the London mother of two told The Guardian. “There is this huge mother’s guilt that all the time you need to be 100 percent focused on your baby, and I’m saying that by not focusing on your own physical and mental health you can’t be the best mother. For me, personally, I need to be physically fit and have those mental breaks. Women really struggle to be open about saying that.”

However much the debate roiled around what is appropriate, the message is unambiguous, she says. “When we become mothers our self-identity doesn’t change.”

With admirable matter-of-factness, Power describes what was going on in the scene, including her husband’s efforts to convince her to eat a sandwich, and how she was feeling compared to the deflated male runner to her right. “I’d gone through the first night with no sleep, as a lot of runners had. But as a mother I was really prepared for that. In terms of sleep deprivation, I was probably the best trained person on the start line. I’d had 20 minutes’ sleep over two nights. But I was taking the race really gently. Some people racing UTMB were pushing themselves to the limit. I had to do the opposite. I was trying to keep a lot of food down for my milk supply. I was almost refreshed when I got there compared to a normal race.”

While she managed to complete the course in 44 hours, Power says she was not going to be hard on herself if she didn’t see reach the finish line. ”I just wanted to be in nature, to see how it goes,” she said. She remained motivated by the goal of running the last meters through Chamonix with her older son, 3-year-old Donnacha. “I had to tell him to slow down, he was too fast, my legs were too tired. I picked up Cormac about 50 meters [164 feet] from the finish and crossed the line with both of them.”

“We shouldn’t have to lose who we were before we were mothers,” says Power. “Men certainly don’t. You see all these great pictures of dads crossing finishing lines with their babies. Why do we as a society see that as different for the mother?”

And despite the deluge of negativity surrounding the photo, the uproar has been tempered by support from other mothers around the world, Power told BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire during a visit to her show. “It’s been incredible,” she said. “I’ve had so much positive support from mums that thought they couldn’t do anything for themselves straight after they had babies, that [thought] they had to lose their goals.”

She also said that the photo has helped inspire men “to say, ‘You know what? As a father, I need to give my wife a little bit more support so she can do the things that she wants to do.'” Power, holding little Cormac on her lap during the interview, discussed whether she thinks the photo may put pressure on other moms to quickly get back in shape after giving birth, the importance of staying physically active while pregnant but also “listening to your body” and why her 3-year-old ran alongside her as she crossed the finish line of the grueling ultra-marathon. Watch the interview below.

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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