We recently came across the work of Ali Smith, who has spent the past eight years photographing and interviewing mothers. Her resulting project, Momma Love; How the Mother Half Lives, tells more about the state of modern motherhood than anything we’ve seen in the last decade. We appreciate the differences and collective wisdom among the subjects, as well as what we see as the cultural refrain: At some point we all come to realize that motherhood is a study in extremes. Most of us slalom on a regular basis—and sometimes from moment to moment—between hope and terror, between bliss and breathlessness, as we reconcile the necessary loss of oneself with a previously unimaginable sense of love and fulfillment. In her words, “the series explores the varying degrees of support that mother’s receive from partners, lawmakers, and each other.” In honor of Mother’s Day, we are running a portrait every day this week in our Remembering spot. You can see the portraits and interviews here as well.
Hannah and Lizzie, Christmas Dinner
Hannah is a trade union lawyer who talked to me openly about personal space and body image, during and after pregnancy.
“There are various aspects to the idea of “wanting your body back” after giving birth. You’re aware throughout pregnancy of this thing growing inside you, feeding off you, and actually controlling your body. In the case of the health profession, they poke and prod and stitch and cut and from the word go, you are just an object, your body just a machine which they have to make sure is working in the right way. Complete strangers feel that they can comment on your shape and condition. You have to learn to let go of control of your body, which I think might be part of the process of preparation for motherhood, letting go of a large part of your old life. I’ve learned pretty quickly, since Lizzie came along, that I’m not in control anymore. So although it would be nice to “get my body back,” perhaps what I was really afraid of was that I would not get my life back. But I know that I’ve had more laughs- more genuine, joyful belly laughs- since Lizzie’s been born than I’d had in the previous 36 years of my life.”
Alyson and Ruby, Backyard
Alyson is a touring musician who has taken her two kids, Ruby and Lake, all over the world on tour. She calls it “road schooling”. This lifestyle is aided by her husband who is also in her band and completely supportive of her choices.
Even with an equal and supportive partner, Alyson points out that “In a traditional pairing, if the male feels as though he’s fairly doing 1/2 the work, child care and shouldering 1/2 the responsibility, he’s doing about 1/4 of what he should. Actual measuring begins upon conception, when the woman physically commits to creating an entire human being inside her body for almost a whole year. Add to that the months and years she spends breast feeding, the hormonal changes, the loss of muscle tone, dewy youth and physical identity, the new fears, vulnerability and exhaustion and then any man who says indignantly, “Hey! I watched the kids for three weeks while you were recording” can blow me.”
Amy and Georgia, Premiere
Amy is a successful actress who has learned a lot about combining motherhood with the image and youth oriented entertainment industry.
“During a recent break on the set of a television show I’m currently filming, my costar asked me what good books I’d read lately. This is an actor I’ve really admired for a while and an adrenaline rush ran through my body as I scrambled to think of an answer even though I knew I hadn’t read a single one since Georgia was born a year earlier. I tried to think of something I may have read in the past that would make me sound interesting, intellectual. Then a feeling washed over me. I wasn’t gonna hide who I am now. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. Plus they’re just making conversation, not testing me. So I just admitted that I hadn’t read any books during the previous year since I’d had my baby. I opened up that vulnerable part of myself that might be seen as not interesting enough or important enough, and it ended up being so much easier than trying to pretend that my life hadn’t changed. My honesty immediately brought that person back to 15 years earlier when he was a new parent. A smile came over his face and he said “Ah, of course! I remember not having time to read either.” As a result, an instant and real bond was formed and I got to proudly wear the skin of my new self.”
Kitty and Olive, New Jersey
At age 35, Kitty realized that with no immediate prospects for a partner/father for a child, rather than settling for a “baby daddy” who may not be a good father, she would take matters into her own hands. She and her best friend of 20 years, a gay man, discussed the ins and outs of what parenting together would be like for months before deciding to actually do it (which, they point out, is much more than most couples discuss having a child before they have one). Olive is biologically Kitty and Darren’s child, but she has Darren’s partner Sam’s last name, and the three of them are raising their daughter as a family.
Kitty says “I didn’t choose Darren and Sam to be the fathers of my daughter because they were my only choice. I chose them because they were my best choice.”
Michele and Elsie Tree, Kiss
Michele was a co-founder & designer of the jewelry company Me&Ro. When she was a new mother, she told me about a dream she’d had. It so perfectly encapsulated the profound love and fear inherent in motherhood that I had to photograph her.
“In bed the other night, a flash in my head.We were hiking upstate at North Lake where the big rock cliffs overlook the Hudson Valley, and Elsie Tree ran right off the edge. It was so fast and there was nothing I could do except run off after her…
Once it played in my head, I couldn’t get it out and I couldn’t make anything else happen…
It’s “the shift”. When all of a sudden there’s somebody else in your life who you really can’t live without. Elsie’s loss would just be the end and I would die.
That’s when I knew everything was now forever changed.”