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Invisible Mothers & The Need to Feel Seen

hidden mother photography
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Lee Marks and John C. DePrez, Jr. (2019.1843), (2019.1879), (2019.1855) via The Atlantic

Invisible Mothers

I'm not going to lie, this image is creepy AF. In the Victorian era taking a photograph would take about 30 seconds, and babies being babies...well, it was hard to keep them still for that long. So, photographers came up with different solutions for mothers who wanted portraits of their offspring. One of them was this. The mother would cover herself with a thick blanket or drapery as to not appear in the picture yet to be able to keep her baby still. At that time, this was absolutely normal. #timeschange

When I first saw this picture, I couldn't get it out of my mind (I still can't unsee it). I looked it up because I wanted to understand why they did this, but even then, it didn't make it any less disturbing. Something deep inside has been brought up to the surface:

The need to be seen

When you welcome a child into the world, everyone's attention suddenly shifts. Whereas during pregnancy your family, friends, and even strangers (!) would cater to you, all of a sudden you fall into the background. You are no longer just you, you are a mother to a child. Of course, this is unintentional, unconscious even. In some ways, the medical community (in prenatal and postnatal care), social structures (I see you USA without paid maternity leave) and the patriarchal motherhood paradigm reinforce the idea that the mother doesn't really matter. If her well-being is brought into the conversation, it's to a lesser extent than that of her new baby, quickly dismissed, or binary in nature (you're either suffering from PPD or thriving, there's nothing in between).

If that was not enough to make us feel invisible (like the mothers in the creepy photograph), we also internalize this discourse and believe it to be true. In my opinion, this is even more destructive! We find ourselves not taking care of our bodies, our minds, and our souls. How many times have you heard a mother say that she doesn't have time to shower? To shower!! 🤯 Yup, I've been that mom. When the children were little, my focus was on them 100% of the time. Day and night. I thought that if I did anything for myself it would make me selfish, not devoted enough, or simply put, a bad mom. This was my experience and I bet I'm not alone in it.

Becoming the proverbial covered mother slowly but surely eroded my feeling of self-worth and self-esteem. When I didn't value the woman in me enough to make time for her, when I made myself a by-product of my child, my identity became unclear.

Becoming visible

As with any challenge, you can either sink or swim.

Truth be told, I sank. For a few months with the first, and then again when my second was born.

But each time, I slowly reemerged and made myself visible. To myself first.

Looking back now, I recognize this challenge was an opportunity to rebuild myself, from the ground up. This process is not easy, finite, nor linear. Self-discovery is neverending because we and our circumstances change constantly. I did, however, start making pockets of time for self-care, for activities that made me feel good, or just to take a break. To shower without feeling guilty, or to see friends alone.

I became visible when I valued the woman inside the mother as much as my kids. Yes, AS MUCH AS my kids. Truth is, we are human, them and I. I am no lesser than. I have a role, yes, the most important role in the world. It is an immense honour to be a mother to my children and there is nothing I value more than my relationship with them. That being said, I also have an important relationship with myself.

And I refuse to be covered.

to be a by-product.

to be made invisible.

I matter. All mothers do.

As for the mothers in the photograph, I wonder...what was going through their mind sitting there, while taking this picture?

I'm curious to know: How did your experience of becoming a mother make you feel seen, or unseen? Share with me below! 👇

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