“I remember the day after she was born, the midwives drew back the curtains from around my daughter and I. We who had not slept but had lain all night looking at one another, through the clear plastic of the cot, taking each other in, “Oh it’s you”. Breakfast was served in the middle of the room with much liveliness and chatter from the other women as they gathered to eat toast and drink tea. It seemed I was expected to join them. I dutifully went to the table and tried to sit while keeping a watchful eye on the cot, wondering what, if anything, I was supposed to do with her. I had to perch on the edge of the seat to keep pressure off the area that felt like it had been pulverised – how could these other women sit so normally? How could they talk and laugh – had they not just been through the same experience as me? I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to behave, I wanted my husband, I wanted my home but most of all I wanted someone to tell me what I was supposed to do with the baby. The tears came and I left my uneaten toast, picked up the still wide-eyed bundle that was my baby and tried to find somewhere private. The tears didn’t stop for days as I cried for my loneliness, my physical distress, my shock at motherhood.
During our antenatal classes we learn about the physical process of becoming a mother with brief mentions of post natal depression – but there is no real exploration of the enormity of the transition we are about to make. The loss of innocence, the loss of being a girl – the rite of passage to true womanhood. Does every mother know this experience? Is it just me who feels strange, is it just me who never copped on or understood before? If it’s not just me, if becoming a mother is traumatic for all, why do we not speak of this? Why does all of society not talk about this? Is it such a taboo that the transition to motherhood is a painful one?”
I wrote this piece 21 years ago, after the birth of my first child and I realised recently that it informs the work I do as a photographer with new mothers. When I meet new mothers, and mothers of second or third or more – I understand that there is darkness alongside the light. I know that you have been to a vulnerable place, baring all, physically and emotionally as you birth your baby. The reality is that just as that small perineal tear can, in reality, feel like you have been ripped from front to back, so too the transition from the yesterday to today, from being pregnant to becoming a mother can actually feel like a hurricane that has torn through your understanding of what life is all about.
That is why the pictures that I make with you, while they capture all that is beautiful and wondrous about this extraordinary time, will also respect the depth of what you have been through. Together we will honour the darkness along with the light. The pain and all the glory.