This two-part project uses documentary photography to ask questions about women and labor, specifically childbirth and working motherhood. I examine labor’s effect on identity, and the aspects of women’s work that are unique and universal.
In the first section, I photographed deliveries around the world to learn about the strange work of birth.
What is birth? Is it medical, dangerous, spiritual, normal? How do tradition, providers and individuals shape the process? I’ve looked for answers to these questions in hospitals, birthing centers, clinics and homes. The process contains so many ideas: struggle, beauty, culture, power and transformation.
Maternity carries risks – 287,000 maternal deaths occurred in 2010, though nearly all of them could have been prevented, and women living in developing countries are more than 15 times more likely to die from complications.
The U.S. has the highest first-day infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation, in part due to excessively high rates of intervention and difficulty accessing prenatal care.
But in my travels to the Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Mexico, the Navajo Nation, Massachusetts and Florida over the past seven years, I’ve seen how women can have meaningful experiences wherever they deliver. Mothers, caregivers and circumstance make each instance distinct, but birth itself is universal.
The second, ongoing part of the project asks which aspects of working motherhood are elemental and which are dependent on family structure, income level and occupation.
I have begun photographing New York women from various backgrounds as they integrate their identities as workers and mothers in a society with ambivalent views of motherhood and women’s work. Cultural ideals about stay-at-home moms patiently raising babies clash with economic reality. What’s more, these mothers welcome the stimulation and achievements their careers offer outside the home. Their goals and work inform their identities as much as their children do.
In my own life, these overlapping, entangled, conversing identities enhance each other even as they conflict. How do other women integrate these aspects of themselves? The conversation is deeper than "leaning in" or "having it all." As a worker, as a mother, I need to know more.