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A New Book Looks At Our Mothers Before They Were Mothers

Written by Erin Feher

Photography by Photo Courtesy of Mothers Before

In 2015, The New York Times best-selling author Edan Lepucki published a novel called Woman No. 17. The plot revolved around mother-daughter relationships, so to promote the book, she created an Instagram account that invited women and nonbinary people to share photos of their mothers before they became mothers. “Their captions, just a couple of sentences long, would tell us about their mom: about the image of her, or about what’s occurred in the decades since the shutter opened, then closed. They would tell us how they felt about their mother,” writes Lepucki. “The project, I hoped, would offer glimpses of this most seminal relationship, whether it be easy or fraught or beautiful or damaged or intimate or distant or all of that at once.”

As goes the origin story of so many pieces of viral online phenomena, Edan didn’t really expect too much from the account, which she called Mothers Before. But it resonated, and the account now has more than 76,000 followers, and nearly 700 submitted posts from around the world. Now it also has its very own book, Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them, which comes out tomorrow (April 7, 2020 by Abrams Image).

“Between the covers of this book are images of elegance, gumption, innocence, knowingness, frailty, naïveté, willfulness, beauty, strength, resilience, vulnerability, triumph—and more.” writes Lepucki in the intro. “What came into focus for me as I read the pieces that accompanied these images was how much work it takes to connect with our mothers before. It takes respect and compassion to consider the woman we will never get to know and to try and square her with the woman we do know, and to accept that not all the discrepancies will be resolved. For some of the contributors, their experience of reading their mothers is a celebration. For others, it’s a reckoning. Either way, it’s work. It’s an effort of love.”

Click through the slideshow below for an excerpt from the forthcoming book Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them, collected and edited by Edan Lepucki.

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