Photo illustration: multiple photographs of bed with mother and baby layered over one another
Tabitha Soren

The ‘Blurred Existence’ of Motherhood

What it’s like to care for a newborn, in photos

Photo Illustrations by Tabitha Soren

Tabitha Soren documented the months following the birth of her third child, in 2006, with the help of a digital camera mounted in her bedroom and operated by remote. In her new series, Motherload, Soren layers together the resulting images.

This article was published online on May 9, 2021.

I was excited about having a third child, but dreading the first year. A friend of mine who’s a filmmaker said, “Why don’t you just photograph the whole thing?” I had one mount for the camera over the changing table and another where I nursed. I wasn’t sure that anything would ever come out of it. I had not even looked at the photographs until a couple of months ago. They just seemed so quotidian; I couldn’t imagine that they would be interesting at all.

Time can turn photographs into metaphor or allow them to become a symbol instead of a documentary picture; at this particular moment, mothers’ needs are on the minds of the country. Motherload is about what mothers don’t show: the emotions and psychological states that we’ve all been socialized to bury. It’s not so much about my personal existence as it is about the blurred existence, all that time spent keeping something alive.

Photo illustration: from overhead, mother hugging pillow on bed next to swaddled baby in bassinette
The day the baby ended up in the emergency room
Photo illustration: from overhead, layered photos of young girls on mother's bed next to baby in bassinette
The week his older sisters had school vacation
Photo illustration: from overhead, layered images of mother holding baby and grasping baby's hand to her chest
The night the panic attacks started
Photo illustration: from overhead, layered photographs of mother holding baby in bed
The month the baby slept through the night
Photo illustration: from overhead, layered photographs of mother nursing baby and baby in bassinette
The month my sister died
Photo illustration: from overhead, layered images of baby lying on bed, in basinette, and mother holding baby
The month I could walk without peeing on myself

Having a newborn is a very sloppy, ugly, disheveled time of life. I felt out of the picture. I felt very taxed and very needed, but also very invisible. The images get at that ethereal quality of not feeling like a whole person. I’m not really in focus, because my brain isn’t in focus either.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve checked an artist’s biography to see, Oh God, she’s so great, but does she have children? Like, are we in the same race? Because it’s like running with weights on. But when I look at the pictures, I feel like a survivor.

— As told to Sophie Gilbert

This article appears in the June 2021 print edition with the headline “Mother’s Day.”