Mums Not The Word - Denise Felkin (photographer)

I conceived Mum’s Not The Word because there appears to be a massive negative premise that suggests that women who do not reproduce are selfish, do not like children or are not real women. Females who do not procreate are too often misrepresented by negative terms: barren, spinster, wicked stepmother or crazy cat lady. On many occasions, I have heard people say: “You wouldn’t understand unless you are a parent yourself.” I label myself as being child-free because I don’t want children. However, being infertile is not a choice. For many, it’s also a grieving process, which for some may slowly grow into acceptance, while for others it may be a cause of constant pain. There are also the childless by circumstance.

Today, women are expected to provide reasons not to have children. The choice to reproduce is not regarded as needing any thought or justification. Mum’s Not The Word debates the social stigmatisation of women, who, by choice or for medical reasons, go against the instinct of childbirth and maternal productivity. I photograph the childless, child-free and childless by circumstance. The images are of women in the foetal position, as a reversal of the recognised visual of the unborn child.

I create these images to challenge the negative attitudes within society towards people without children and to share stories of birth control, choice, freedom, regret and pain. I recruit participants through word of mouth and social media. I ask them bring along their duvet cover and I shoot from above and in natural light.

At present, I have 29 case studies of women from a range of backgrounds. I aim to photograph 60 and publish the images in a book. My subjects come from all walks of life – professionals, artists; a few have mental health issues or disabilities; some have fragile relationships with their birth mothers. A couple of the participants also identify as other than heterosexual.

The childless/child-free/childless by circumstance are newly recognised breeds of women who are contributing positively to decreasing the human impact on the natural world. There are more than seven billion people worldwide and 400,000 births per day. As the population soars, a growing number of communities will continue to be displaced by climate change, environmental disasters, wars, famines, technology and industry. The one in five who live a life without descendants are creating a much less of a global strain. Could civilisation be guided to identify it is acceptable to opt out of parenthood and by not procreating, humankind can inherit the key to a sustainable future?

Denise Felkin

If you would like to know more and are considering participating please click here