MOM Takes Manhattan: The First Museum of Motherhood Opens

An increasing number of contemporary women are casting themselves while pregnant. Here, at MOM, they can have an artist paint it to their specifications. The museum also displays and sells a “pregnancy vest” that weighs 40-60 pounds, the amount of weight that many women gain while they are pregnant.

The pregnant woman has also become a source of inspiration for many photographers, painters, and sculptors. The works of Alexia Nye Jackson (who created the installation “Mother: The Job”), Deborah PutnoiElla Dreyfus,  Jo Jayson,  Elizabeth Coe Sheehan and Joy Rose, Paula Rendino Zaentz and Ronnie Komarow are on display. Artist April Bey has been acquiring and painting the mannequins that dressmakers once used to fashion dresses for pregnant women. Bey’s mannequins are vividly striking and boldly colored. They are the kind of work that may soon go on display at the MOM.

I’ve described visiting MOM as a “redemptive” experience. Here’s why.

Before I became pregnant, I did not “see” pregnant women. Somehow, they were mysteriously invisible to me. After I became pregnant — I saw pregnant women everywhere.

Before I became a mother, my ego knew no bounds. I thought I could overcome all obstacles through force of will, not by bending to circumstance, or trusting in forces larger than myself. For me, motherhood was something of a reverse Zen experience. Having a child was a passage from detachment to attachment.

Becoming a new-born mother changed my life. It humbled me, slowed me down, made me kinder, and infinitely more vulnerable to cruelty. I learned that life does not stand still, that it is always changing, growing, dying, being renewed. For years, when I had looked in the mirror, I always looked the "same" to myself. Time became real for me when I began to measure it by my beloved son's obvious, visible growth. Time became more finite.

I comprehended, in my body, that one day I would die. I quickly came to understand that pregnancy and newborn motherhood was one of the greatest human rites of passage. I needed to read books — even one book — with this perspective as I was going through this experience. It was 1977, and there were no such books to be found. I decided to write the kind of book that I needed to read.

I could not easily find a publisher. One female editor literally said: "What is this bulls***? You can write a 'real' book, why waste your time on this non-subject?" A male editor at another publishing house, whom I'd never met, told my agent: "What could she possibly write about pregnancy or motherhood? She's a feminist, a career woman, she’s not a 'normal' woman and she can’t be a 'normal' mother." A third publisher said that the subject had already been “done.” Ah, by whom I asked: Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes? Proust, Hemingway?