I love what Narratively did with my Women’s Work project, and am so glad to have the opportunity to speak about this work I’m doing (all of it!).
I loved seeing the Women’s Work project on Lens – Rena Silverman’s questions were so thoughtful!
Slate published an interview with me and a selection of my Birth Culture photographs. I’m so glad to have had the chance to explain why I care about this project, and to share the work widely. I’m amazed and happy about the response it’s gotten – 24,000 shares on Facebook!
Much like death, the subject of birth is often taboo, a fact of life that is rarely explored beyond established procedure. Proujansky has been fascinated by the various ways in which each culture she has explored approaches birth but said that in the United States, gender and generation often dominate the conversation.
“We have ideas about what women’s bodies are for and it’s not this,” she said about American views on birth. “You see a woman naked but her body is performing functions that are intense. Our culture has a weird thing about images of women’s bodies doing this kind of physical work that isn’t young and sexy; birth has elements of struggle, power, transformation and mortality that don’t fit with our ideas about women’s bodies: they’re ok to look at when they’re sexy but when they’re working it’s something else. Birth is uncontrolled and that freaks us out.”
She also feels it ties into the idea of how we view motherhood.
“We sometimes celebrate mothers and put them on a pedestal and they’re supposed to be self sacrificing with an endless well of love but we also have stereotypes about them being intellect free with snide jokes about mom jeans and soccer moms.”
I worked on a piece about full-spectrum reproductive care for the New York Times Sunday Review with my frequent collaborator, writer Alissa Quart.
Buffalo Womenservices is unusual because it is a birth and abortion center in one. It is part of an effort to reframe reproductive care as a continuum — the phrase for it is “full-spectrum reproductive health” — that spans both birth and abortion. Facilities for each are typically distinct.
Combining the two in one place underlines how many women experience both birth and abortion. Three in 10 women will have an abortion in their lives; eight out of 10 will give birth. About 61 percent of women who have an abortion already have at least one child.
Kayla, the nurse pictured here, gave birth at Buffalo Womenservices before returning to work as a nurse who assists during the abortion procedures, taking breaks to pump breastmilk for her infant daughter. Like her co-workers, she believes that women’s choices around terminating pregnancy and around the way in which they give birth are related forms of essential reproductive choice. The facility’s doctor noted that all pregnancies are not the same, and women have a range of reasons for what they decide to do with them.
The women whose abortions I photographed were already mothers, and both of them took the interests of their children into account when making their decisions. The facility’s doctor expressed frustration at people’s tendency to project their own experiences onto other people’s complex lives.
I’ve just promised to read a book on the critical theory of photography each month this year.
It’s the kind of thing I always want to do but never think I have the time. But Jo Lien, a photographer and English professor in Idaho, created a blog circle and it was just the commitment device I needed.
We started off with Henri Cartier Bresson’s The Mind’s Eye, and the quote that stayed with me was this: “[Photography] is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.”
I recently photographed a stay-at-home father and his corporate lawyer wife for my project on Women’s Work. HCB’s words helped me ignore my thoughts that I should be photographing something grittier, or breaking news-y, or farther away from myself. I feel strongly about birth and other kinds of women’s work, and it’s relevant to my life.
My head is curious, my eye is interested, and my heart is full when I photograph these things. So on I go.
Here are some photographs of Aaron, Miki and baby Oliver during their evening routine: dinner, bath, and a family reading of Harry Potter. A framed picture in their living room says:
The measure of a man is not the size of his
paycheck, the car that he drives or the
clothes that he wears.
It is the strength of his hands that hold
you close, the intensity of his smile when
he looks at you and the size of his heart
that will always love you.
I love you, dad. Oliver
Feel free to read the other blogs in this circle, starting with Annie Morris’ post (her photographs are dreamy and beautiful, and she lives in one of my favorite places in the entire world).
Picking the kids up from daycare, training for a run in honor of a friend lost to leukemia, bathing a child – small actions that add up to a life.
(More photographs of Jen as a working mother here.)
But before she went back to work, Jen had to get through dropping her baby off for his first day at daycare. The morning was hectic and rushed, but everyone made it out of the house (and Jen remembered all of her breast pump supplies).
She looked forward to being around other people and using her intellect more, but she felt a strong pull toward her kids as she left them at a local daycare. Jen’s working two days a week now, but her days in the office are intense and the work tends to leak into her days at home with baby Wiley.
I photographed Talia Braude, a 39-year-old self-employed architect and single mom by choice, for The Daily Beast. Paula Szuchman wrote about women who aren’t waiting for a partner to come along before starting a family.
Talia’s matter of fact competence and sweetness with her baby Rian are impressive, and I loved photographing this little family.
I photographed anthropology professor Carla Bellamy and her daughters Dessa and Margo for the New York Times Sunday Review recently. Alissa Quart wrote about the high cost of child care and the middle class moms who are struggling to afford it. Says Bellamy:
“It’s not a tragic story, but is tiring and tiresome. I have a career, I work really hard, and yet I get no break.”