Mother, Me

by Jenny Stratton

[Audio excerpt] of Mother, Me poem reading

Our bodies held not one heart,

but two.

-        Excerpt from “Mother, Me” poem by Zoe’s Place resident

Mother, Me is a participative storytelling project using photography, embroidery, writing, and skill sharing to explore personal ethnographies, counter-narratives, and ideas of motherhood. The project is an ongoing collaboration between 2016-2017 Lewis Hine fellow Jenny Jacklin Stratton and the young mothers in residence at Zoe’s Place-a program of Children’s Aid and Family Services of New Jersey designed to provide safe housing and support for pregnant teens, teenage mothers and their children.

In the United States more than half of the teenage girls who bear children never graduate high school, and less than two percent earn a college degree by the age of 30. Each photograph, word written and stitch embroidered emerged from a series of shared perspectives and creative workshops to render the experience of young motherhood in ways that counter prevailing media dialogues and reach beyond statistics.

we started with time and light

Our first conversations were in photographic compositions and shutter clicks. Time shared during and in between creating portraits of each other and our children brought us closer together. In connection with making photographs, each of us wrote a letter to another woman in our life who had some sort of impact. We wrote to our daughters, our mothers, sisters, mentors and friends. The resulting letters were filled with emotion, and like a photograph, also created an exposure of the letter writer.  These texts became our project’s affirmations; a new way for mothers with diverse stories to come together and support one another.

then wove together pictures and words

The feminine history, tactility and delicate nature of embroidery not only aligns with our work, but our experiences are also echoed in the process - the photographic paper undergoes trauma in the form of poked holes and weaving the needle in and out. However, through this physical trauma something beautiful was ultimately created. This process reflects upon both the trauma and healing the body goes through during birth as well as personal traumas we have individually experienced. We see in the collective vulnerability and softness of making these photographs immense strength.

-       The former/current residents of Zoe’s Place & Jenny Jacklin Stratton

Mother, Me continues to grow through the generous support of the Price Family Foundation, working with a new group of young mothers, with several of the program’s pilot participants returning this year as peer mentors.