Everyone who has ever been born has had a mother; most women have been mothers; women have been mothering children since the dawn of time. Historically, most women have spent up to twenty to forty years of their lives being pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding, and tending children and grandchildren. Until recently — and still today — this meant facing an agonizing labor, potential death, or lifelong injury for the sake of perpetuating the human race.
Where, then, are all our MOMs — our Museums of Motherhood? Until last month, there were no such museums, at least not on planet earth. But on Sept 1, 2011, the visionary and energized Joy Rose, a mother of four, a rock musician, the founder of “Housewives on Prozac” (1997-2007,) and an organizer of countless conferences, fairs, and festivals for mothers all over the country, opened the first such museum. It is located not far from where I live on the Upper East Side.
Visiting it is a redemptive experience. In non-motherhood museums, in marble silence, women are hanging, beautifully clothed and beautifully naked, painted by great artists who loved the female body. Strange how few of them are pregnant. A hint, a swelling, a critical interpretation is all we have to represent the most common female experience in history. Similarly, there are few high fashion models who are shown while pregnant. Imagine the demoralizing psychological effect this has on women who understand that pregnancy and motherhood, or at least pregnancy and womanhood, go together. Those women who want children desperately and who love being mothers do not see themselves and their choices valorized or even depicted in High Culture.
Here at MOM, the Museum of Motherhood, pregnant women, women in labor, and mothers with children are cherished and displayed throughout the museum as brave champions. The subject is not hidden because it is sacred. It is honored for precisely this reason. The cheerful, brightly colored space is filled with artfully painted plaster casts of real women’s pregnant torsos — like so many modern-day versions of ancient fertility goddesses, like so many Venuses of Willendorf.