Hidden Mothers

I don’t remember how I happened to run across my first hidden–or even better, invisible–mother photograph.  But I’ve been haunted by the pictures ever since I discovered them.
There’s really nothing sinister about them.  The shrouded mother was never meant to be featured in the photograph.  Here’s how it was supposed to work:
I can remember my mother being asked to do something similar at my baby sister’s first portrait session when she was four months old.  They wanted her sitting up, so they had my mother put her hand under a rug and prop her up from behind.  When my own kids were little, I was asked to sit right next to them just out of view while they were being photographed, for safety reasons.  Remember that not only did these Victorian photographers not have access to fancy baby-propping devices, but that pictures were not instantaneous back then.  The kids needed to be kept safe, and STILL.
But even knowing the history, these pictures still speak to me.  Whatever their intention, the result is that we have pictures of these little children, but not of the mothers who bore and raised and loved them.  Even without knowing the names of these little ones, we can see they existed.  The mothers, on the other hand, are just gone.   Disappeared.  Nothing of them is left.
The shrouded figures signify to me the death of self that takes place in every woman who becomes a mother–because once you have a child you just aren’t the same person anymore.  You aren’t separate and apart from your children, either before birth or after.  And isn’t it the way of many mothers to sit back while their kids stand in the spotlight? To hide their own light in favor of their children’s?
Sometimes when I walk in cemeteries and look at the graves of little babies, I will say to them, “I see your names.  Today someone remembers you, even if everyone else has forgotten.  Today someone cares that you were here.”  And I find myself wanting to say the same thing to these faceless mothers.
Because I know what it’s like to feel like an invisible mother sometimes.  Do you?

I’ve linked this up to the great #WorthRevisit series hosted here and here.  Check it out for some especially thoughtful posts.

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24 Responses

  1. That is the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen. EVER.
    But yea, very poignant.

  2. meri says:

    that is really creepy!

  3. Karen says:

    That is very eerie. My oldest saw the pictures and said, “Oh wow, they made the mom look like a Nazgul.” (Bonus points if you don’t have to Google that!)
    I have an invisible mother. She refuses to speak to me because I stood up to her a few years back and requested that she treat me like the adult I am. Since then she refuses to acknowledge my existence, and her grandkids’ existence, and lives a very solitary, and I suspect, sad, life. She has chosen to be invisible to my kids.

  4. MaxxSilly says:

    I read about this on Cup of Jo. I work in a museum and immediately had our archivist find pics so we could put an exhibit together. It looks creepy but is kind of fascinating – now they can just Photoshop you out.

  5. Julie says:

    Alight, these are really really disturbing . . . and I’m not sure why, really. It’s just a woman under a blanket holder her baby but it looks so haunted. Maybe it’s the black & white? I don’t know. Also going to go look through my old family baby portraits to see if there might be any hidden mothers in the bunch. I’d wondered how they kept the babies so still.

  6. Miss K. says:

    Funny, I saw this blog posting over the weekend. Then, walked into Mass on Sunday, and sure enough, all the statues looked like this (without the babies, of course).

  7. realcatholicmom says:

    Wow. Those pictures are super creepy! But I get it – I’ve done this for my kids (as have many, many Moms before me) both literally and figuratively. I suppose decreasing so they may increase is often what we moms do every. single. day … hopefully not in a creepy way, but in a John 12:24 sort of way. :<3

  8. I have never seen anything like this before but it is fascinating. Being a parent can certainly make you feel invisible sometimes. People always see you as so and so’s mom and don’t give a second thought to the many other roles you might have. Thanks for always showing me something new and interesting. Love your blog!

  9. louisakopp says:

    Wow. This is freaky but fascinating. Also reminds me of how moms are so often not in photos with our kids. I’ve got loads of pics of dad and kids, but when I go through our albums, it’s like I don’t exist! Did you see this funny post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/29/ahna-tessler-photoshop-mom_n_7164426.html

  10. Wow, that’s super creepy! My mom never took a pic like that with me (30++ years ago) and I wouldn’t even consider posed pictures of my son – they’re so… Posed. And fake. Truly fascinating to see what moms used to do for a picture of their children!

  11. this is an interesting piece you’ve written. I think I was “reborn” after becoming a mother. I am myself … plus more! I love it. (I say that, of course, now that the kids are grown and out of the house. I probably would have had a different response when I was in “the thick” of it!

  12. liferedesign101 says:

    Those photos are fascinating! I have never seen them before. I also walk in cemeteries and stop and say a little prayer or send a thought about a baby or child’s grave.

  13. Rita says:

    Wow, I have never seen these. Fascinating!

  14. Crystal says:

    I made my oldest son lay under a blanket to keep my youngest happy while I took pics of her. He thought it was so weird. I also have on where my hand it just barely out of the pic holding onto my daughter’s leg because she wouldn’t stay if I let o of her.

  15. Lee Beth Roberts a Dyer says:

    I actually have one where my arms are under the blanket holding Caroline from behind……..I’ll post it when I find it. I’m shrouded, but don’t think I show……..and that was 1989.😜

  16. Nancy Shuman says:

    I’ve seen photos like these before, and was kind of creeped by them. But I LOVE what you’ve done writing about this… wow!!

  1. January 2, 2017

    […] Hidden Mothers […]

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