Being Seen by Seeing Others

Motherhood Through Another Lens

Words and images by Nicki Sebastian

Mompreneur, momager, momzilla, momster, celebumom, momoirist, momtographer (my least favorite)—the list of coined, and admittedly irksome, mommy terms grows by the minute, as motherhood has never been more prominent in the zeitgeist, nor has it been more difficult to navigate (in my mom-ly opinion). We’re told to lean in, lean out, be present in the moment, think big-picture, multitask, single-task, attachment-parent our children, let our children figure it out for themselves, and a host of other maddening contradictions fed to us through media that has formed a completely unattainable picture of what motherhood “can” and “should” look like. In my short six-and-a-half years as a mother, I’ve already learned that “having it all” and “having it all together” is the sparkly unicorn of our time: it’s an elusive, eye-catching idea that looks great on a t-shirt or mug, but it just doesn’t exist.

Why have I kicked off this Mother’s Day piece with a defeatist tone, you may ask? Because my road to and through motherhood has been a rocky one, and I know I’m not alone. And while my body of photographic work strives to capture snippets of beauty in the mess and chaos of child-rearing, I’m also on a quest to spread truth about the journey, and in turn, do my small part to de-stigmatize the struggles that we face as mothers. After having my first baby (now a kindergartener), I battled severe postpartum depression — I lost the ability to sleep, eat, and care for my child in the way that I had dreamed of for so long — the way that society told me it would surely look like. I cried for weeks on end, suffered from thought patterns that weren't my own, gave up completely on breastfeeding (and hated myself for it), and quite frankly felt as though I needed to escape...permanently. And while all of this was excruciatingly difficult, I found that one of the hardest parts of PPD was that, other than a psychologist and a Brooke Shields book, I had no one in my life at that time who could fully relate, and therefore I was alone and paralyzed with guilt on top of it all.

After months of therapy and meds, my story’s trajectory took a decidedly upward turn, and I eventually found glimmers of light through all that darkness. I poured myself back into photography, and my way of seeing the world shifted completely. I started focusing on telling the stories of families through my lens, spending most of my sessions with new mamas, sharing experiences of complete despondency — and also complete delight — and as such, finding that my reality as a mother looked no different than that of my peers.

Not until I started connecting with and photographing my mama clients (many of whom became dear friends) did I begin to clearly see for myself slices of joy throughout my own parental path. In essence, creating my work became a survival tool, and to this day I see my motherhood photography as a means to not only frame this wild life in a way that can show mamas how much beauty exists in the breakdown, but also as a conduit for communication.

My career has unexpectedly become a way to spend quality time with my mama peers and reassure them that the visuals of windswept moms in wheat fields with a baby sleeping peacefully in their prairie-dress-clad arms are only a fraction of the full picture—and that there’s complete validity and value in both the final image and the war story that’s most definitely behind it.

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