Register Tuesday | June 15 | 2021

Becoming Not a Mother

A photo essay.

There is a kind of sadness in not wanting the things that give so many other people their life’s meaning... There is a let-down feeling when the great things that happen in the lives of others—you don’t actually want those things for yourself.”—Sheila Heti, Motherhood

When I decided I wouldn’t become a parent, my life didn’t simply carry on as it was before. I experienced intense feelings of loss, alienation and unworthiness in the wake of my choice. So in 2019, I started exploring what life as not-a-mother looks like. After all, when you decide not to become a mother, there’s no word for what it is you are becoming.

In the months that followed, I documented this period of transformation by taking spontaneous snapshots of my day-to-day life, creating a journal of things that comforted me: the shadows cast by a flower on my windowsill, my cat descending onto my bed. I also documented the rituals of self-care and healing that I leaned on as I transitioned into this next phase of life, from tarot-card reading to snowshoeing. 

It isn’t easy to find role models for not-motherhood, as our society seems to value motherhood for women above all else. The lack of examples of women living the life I wanted often led me to question my choice. But my women friends took care of me as I moved through the confusion. To honour how they helped me, I brought them into the studio to pose for black-and-white film portraits. Some of them are mothers and some are not, but they all grounded and supported me during a lonely and uncertain time.

Becoming Not a Mother investigates womanhood, grief, personal growth and healing. While these candid and posed photographs capture my external surroundings, ultimately, they form a self-portrait. The images document a period of great upheaval and introspection—one that many people go through, but rarely share.