Parents

'I see happiness': Mom celebrates breastfeeding with pre-mastectomy photos

A poignant photo series tells the story of a heartbreaking end to a new mom's blissful journey and the start of the battle she is about to begin. Shining through the images is pride and joy; the unbreakable bond between mother and child; a strong and loving young family.

Kari Dallas / vintagelensphotography.com
Natasha Fogarty nurses baby Milo as her husband, Jimmy, looks on during a photo shoot to commemorate her time as a nursing mom. Fogarty stopped breast-feeding late last month to begin treatment for stage 2 breast cancer.

For first-time mother Natasha Fogarty, breastfeeding was a “magical” experience, a favorite time with baby Milo, who is now 5 months old.

“It’s like a love connection,” she told TODAY. “You can look down, he looks up at you and you get to stare into each other’s eyes. It’s like the world just stops around you and it’s your time together.”

But on June 10, several months into what she hoped would be a year of nursing, 29-year-old Fogarty received a shocking diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer. One of her first worries was about feeding her son.

Kari Dallas / vintagelensphotography.com
Nursing was a great bonding experience for mother and baby.

“Here you have cancer, you should be worried about yourself,” said Fogarty, of St. Louis. “My initial reaction was, 'How am I going to take care of him and how am I going to nourish him?' My first thought was not about me, it was about him.”

With months of chemotherapy and other medications to come, Fogarty knew that the day of her mastectomy would be her last nursing Milo.

“I was scared and devastated but I knew I needed to save my life,” she said. “I knew that stopping breastfeeding was part of it.”

Two days before the surgery to remove her right breast, she had the idea for a last-minute photo shoot to commemorate her joyful experience of breastfeeding.

“I looked down and I was like, this breast that has nourished my son for these almost-five months is going to be gone,” Fogarty said. “I thought, 'What better way to remember this moment than to capture it with somebody taking pictures of us doing what we love to do?'”

She put out a call for a photographer on Facebook, and quickly heard from a high-school friend, Kari Dallas, who offered to do the shoot the next day for free. Taken June 26 on the eve of her mastectomy, the photos captured Fogarty's penultimate nursing session, images she cherishes.

Kari Dallas / vintagelensphotography.com
Natasha Fogarty breast-feeds baby Milo on the eve of her mastectomy, the start of treatment for stage 2 breast cancer.

“I think they’re beautiful,” she said.

With Fogarty’s dark blond hair dyed hot pink, her favorite color and the hue for breast cancer awareness, the photos also mark the start of the fight against cancer.

“It’s the end of one chapter in our lives, the end of me nourishing him,” she said. “And it’s our new fight, beating this cancer and us being a strong family together.”

Fogarty sees so much joy in the photos. “I see happiness,” she said. “I see a family that is strong.”

Kari Dallas / vintagelensphotography.com
Jimmy Fogarty played a strong supporting role in his wife's breast-feeding journey.

Many others do too. Fogarty shared the photos on her Facebook page and the Breastfeeding Mama Talk Facebook page as well, where the story spread like crazy.

As her story went viral, countless strangers, along with loving friends and family, are sending heaps of support.

“There’s been no negativity, which is amazing because breastfeeding photos tend to have a lot of negativity,” Fogarty said. “I’ve been really lucky. People realize this is a beautiful thing.”

She’s thrilled the photos are providing inspiration to women who may dealing with breast cancer, having a tough time nursing, or are struggling with something else.

“We can be a support system for each other and see that even in this dark time, that we can find joy in the small things,” Fogarty said, “and the photo shoot was our joy.”

Now, Milo is drinking breast milk donated by friends and Fogarty is preparing for chemo later this month. She feels confident about overcoming cancer and caring for her son for years to come, all while holding dear the memories of nursing Milo.

“I’m blessed I have those five months, and it’s heartbreaking,” she said, “but we were able to have those moments and I get to remember them by having a picture to remind me every day.”

Kari Dallas / vintagelensphotography.com
The Fogartys: Jimmy, baby Milo, and Natasha.

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TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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