Pregnancy is an extraordinary life changing experience, it is complex both for the body and mind. Soon after she gave birth to her first son, Silvia Conde, one of our favorite photographers, feel the need to explore, understand and share the mixed thoughts, feelings and emotions that came with motherhood. That’s how An Ode to Mother was born. Part an ongoing photographic essay, part a community, this carefully curated platform has now become a space to exchange real experiences and raw conversations around the amazing journey of being a mother.
Now expecting her second child, we speak with Silvia about her own experience with motherhood, and the many things she’s learned interviewing and portraying so many inspiring women.
With your personal projects, you were already exploring womanhood and femininity. An Ode to Mother comes off like a natural evolution to your practice. Tell us a bit about the project. How did you start it?
The first months after giving birth to my son a need appeared and grew inside of me. It was a clear necessity for sharing and exchanging thoughts and experiences with other women. I wanted to talk frankly about everything related to real Motherhood. What we are told is usually the bright side and there is so much unseen. I believe it’s necessary to integrate that part too, so that we can be in peace and understand that it’s ok. Motherhood is to me the ultimate Yin and Yang experience, at its best. And it’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, we all do what we can..
Would you say that your gaze and your approach to photography has changed since becoming a mother?
Yes. I became more and more interested in observing and documenting the journey of other women and families. I had been very focused in Mother Nature: landscapes, shapes, colours. Somehow it just felt consequent to photograph Motherhood too, as a part of our own nature as humans.
How has having a baby changed your relationship with your body?
I have learned to love it more. Suddenly it wasn’t about appearance, but about understanding its power. What it is capable of doing for me and my baby during pregnancy, birth and postpartum was so revealing. I had no idea of most of it. I accepted all body changes as a part of the journey. There is a reason for them to happen and it’s all right.
You’re now expecting your second child. How is this second pregnancy different from the first one?
So far it’s been a complete different story. Or maybe I just have a great memory of the first pregnancy. On a physical level, I was full of energy and practiced Yoga daily until the day the contractions began. I prepared for birth in many ways and even visited an osteopath and acupuncturist during the last days. On a mental level, that pregnancy helped me a lot to set boundaries with people and ideas that I didn’t want to tolerate anymore. It felt tremendously empowering.
This time I’m worn out, both physically and mentally. The first months have been unpleasant, especially because I was still breastfeeding my son. Suddenly, what had been a precious journey for us both had turned into something I couldn’t stand anymore. So I had to stop. I felt so guilty. The “mother guilt” is quite an issue for many of us. Surprisingly, in the end, it was easier than expected. I’m convinced that our relationship has expanded and we are finding new moments and ways of intimacy and love. Now I have recovered some energy, but I’m a bit concerned about the coming months. It’s strange times to be pregnant and have children. Still, is there ever a “perfect” moment? Not really. That thought calms me down deeply. I’m trying to stay present, not planning too much, not expecting too much. I grew up firmly believing in expectations and I’m glad Motherhood is teaching me that they don’t help at all. Life is now. While I am writing these lines, or the moment you are reading them.
What about the skin. Have you noticed some changes?
So many. Before my first pregnancy I always suffered from skin irritation and small acne breaks. The pregnancy balanced my skin. Some freckles and marks appeared because I was late using sunblock. Apart from that, my hair got so much stronger. During postpartum all the hair that had not fallen did fall, but it was ok, nothing dramatic. And I think my hair has continued being a bit stronger than before.
With the second pregnancy, I have been feeling quite exhausted and anxious. You can really see that on my skin. I hope the hormones will balance, I find my calmness and my skin shines again. My hair is stronger like the last time and I have been using sunblock since almost the beginning to avoid marks.
Do you treat your skin differently during pregnancy? What products are you using now?
I reduced the amount of products that touch my skin, trying to use natural organic vegan ones. I would say I specially use oils for the belly. They help a lot against stretch marks. I have been applying Rosehip Oil daily since the moment I found out I was pregnant. An organic sunblock SPF 50 is also a must for the face.
For postpartum I used Sesame Oil to heal. It worked wonderfully. My midwife also recommended me to wash myself with Chamomile tea every time I had to go to the bathroom during the first days after birth. It helped so much. I also remember applying some Coconut oil after breastfeeding to calm down the irritation on my nipples. For a while I avoided all kinds of products with strong smells.
It is often said that taking care of yourself feels like taking care of your baby. Do you have some kind of body or skincare rituals?
My beloved midwife shared a recipe for bathing with baby A., she called it the “Cleopatra Bath”. It was a mix of Coconut oil, breastmilk and a drop of Lavender essential oil. You pour the mix into the tub. Both my partner and I would bath with the baby like this once a week for months. It left our skins incredibly soft, and the smell…
Would you say that motherhood has made you more aware of your connection with nature? What has surprised you the most?
Absolutely. It has made me realized how disconnected we can live from bodies and our true nature. Women have been birthing since the beginning of times. When I see how pregnancy, birth and postpartum are treated in today’s society, especially in countries like Spain (where I live now), I feel terrified, a bit offended and even frustrated. It’s like we, women, have been told to forget what we are capable of. There is so much fear spread. Truth is, we don’t need to be scared. It feels like pregnancy is treated as a sickness. This is the complete opposite experience, we are carrying life. We are bringing light to the planet.
You’ve been able to get into very varied and intimate scenes of motherhood. What is that thread that connects all these stories?
The series is about understanding the naturalness and the complexities that surround the experience of Motherhood, finding the intimacy of ordinary everyday life moments, with the spontaneity and magic which they entail.
What have you learned about yourself since starting An Ode to Mother?
That in life you cannot generalize. Every experience is unique. Every pregnancy, every child, every family… they are unlike anything else. We cannot generalize with recommendations and ideas of any kind. Because we are unique beings, with unique needs. And this diversity is the beauty of the world we live in.
Photography by Silvia Conde