Designing Motherhood: Things that Make and Break Our Births
More than eighty designs--iconic, archaic, quotidian, and taboo--that have defined the arc of human reproduction.
While birth often brings great joy, making babies is a knotty enterprise. The designed objects that surround us when it comes to menstruation, birth control, conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood vary as oddly, messily, and dramatically as the stereotypes suggest. This smart, image-rich, fashion-forward, and design-driven book explores more than eighty designs--iconic, conceptual, archaic, titillating, emotionally charged, or just plain strange--that have defined the relationships between people and babies during the past century.
Each object tells a story. In striking images and engaging text, Designing Motherhood unfolds the compelling design histories and real-world uses of the objects that shape our reproductive experiences. The authors investigate the baby carrier, from the Snugli to BabyBjörn, and the (re)discovery of the varied traditions of baby wearing; the tie-waist skirt, famously worn by a pregnant Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy, and essential for camouflaging and slowly normalizing a public pregnancy; the home pregnancy kit, and its threat to the authority of male gynecologists; and more. Memorable images--including historical ads, found photos, and drawings--illustrate the crucial role design and material culture plays throughout the arc of human reproduction.
The book features a prologue by Erica Chidi and a foreword by Alexandra Lange.
Luz Argueta-Vogel, Zara Arshad, Nefertiti Austin, Juliana Rowen Barton, Lindsey Beal, Thomas Beatie, Caitlin Beach, Maricela Becerra, Joan E. Biren, Megan Brandow-Faller, Khiara M. Bridges, Heather DeWolf Bowser, Sophie Cavoulacos, Meegan Daigler, Anna Dhody, Christine Dodson, Henrike Dreier, Adam Dubrowski, Michelle Millar Fisher, Claire Dion Fletcher, Tekara Gainey, Lucy Gallun, Angela Garbes, Judy S. Gelles, Shoshana Batya Greenwald, Robert D. Hicks, Porsche Holland, Andrea Homer-Macdonald, Alexis Hope, Malika Kashyap, Karen Kleiman, Natalie Lira, Devorah L Marrus, Jessica Martucci, Sascha Mayer, Betsy Joslyn Mitchell, Ginger Mitchell, Mark Mitchell, Aidan O’Connor, Lauren Downing Peters, Nicole Pihema, Alice Rawsthorn, Helen Barchilon Redman, Airyka Rockefeller, Julie Rodelli, Raphaela Rosella, Loretta J. Ross, Ofelia Pérez Ruiz, Hannah Ryan, Karin Satrom, Tae Smith, Orkan Telhan, Stephanie Tillman, Sandra Oyarzo Torres, Malika Verma, Erin Weisbart, Deb Willis, Carmen Winant, Brendan Winick, Flaura Koplin Winston
Praise for Designing Motherhood: Things that Make and Break Our Births
Included in CURBED's the Best New Books to Give Architecture, Design, and Urbanism Enthusiasts
Included in VANITY FAIR'S Books to Read and Bookish Gifts to Buy in 2021
Included in The Guardian's Best Designs of 2022 list.
"A history-in-images of the most intimate experiences of womanhood, collecting objects relied upon over decades: from the BabyBjörn to at-home pregnancy tests to birth control methods."
—New York Times Book Review
"The provocative new book and exhibition series, “Designing Motherhood: Things That Make and Break Our Births,” makes the case that there is a whole world of objects pertaining to women, mothers and pregnant people that have been overlooked from the perspective of form and function, and unstudied in terms of how their designs came to be."
—New York Times Arts
“Prompting readers to consider how design shapes their own bodies, Designing Motherhood is not just a history but a call to action, an invitation to reflect on how objects, practices, and policies might be redesigned to better serve the diverse experiences of motherhood.”
—Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
"To the authors, the word mother is both noun and verb, inclusive of gender. With abortion, family leave, and funding for doula work in the news, the book is essential reading—satisfying, unnerving, and galvanizing all the same."
"Designing Motherhood is an encyclopedia of how innovators—often women in precarious circumstances, driven by necessity—have tackled public health challenges through social, mechanical, medical, and political interventions...The issues highlighted in Designing Motherhood aren’t mothers’ issues, or women’s issues, or even limited to topics of women’s work or labor rights. The project offers highly visual reminders that caregiving topics affect all of us: parents and non-parents, managers and reports."
"Through the lens of design, this book offers a more comprehensive and empowered approach to sexuality, procreation, and rearing than any mass-market guide, medical textbook, or doctor’s office."
—the Brooklyn Rail
"Through striking visuals and compelling stories, Designing Motherhood: Things That Make and Break Our Births illustrates the vital role design plays in the arc of human reproduction."
"A first-of-its-kind exploration of the arc of human reproduction through the lens of design."
“A rousing new book put out by the MIT Press looks at human reproduction — fertility, birth control, menstruation, pregnancy, birth, post-pregnancy, and menopause — through the lens of design.”
—The Boston Globe
“Designing Motherhood ostensibly opens in an era of frank conversations about femme bodies, pleasure, and the full spectrum of fertility...the book explores not only consumer technology, but also equitable access and the infrastructure of care.”
"Joy and trauma exist side by side in Designing Motherhood."
"Designing Motherhood strives to challenge the stigma surrounding objects associated with pregnancy and reproductive health."
"While there is so much cultural messaging around the relationship between parents and babies, there hasn’t been a critical look at the forces that contribute to our ideas about this human experience until Designing Motherhood.”
"Millar Fisher and Winick hope to let people find knowledge and joy in the overlooked history of design for mothers. Their book, which is accompanied by two exhibitions in the US, covers population policy posters all the way to pushchair design, from the bizarre to the genius to the aesthetically beautiful."
“While Designing Motherhood covers a shared human experience that is, in a plethora of forms, deeply familiar to all of us, it is still a powerful political statement by virtue of focusing on a topic that is still too-often repressed, unspoken, and taboo...[The book] very clearly shows us that while there are countless designs surrounding motherhood, there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially in terms of making conception, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum equitable for all...Designing Motherhood explores the intersection of design and motherhood with an unprecedented depth and nuance.”
—Design and Culture: The Journal of the Design Studies Forum
“I thought the exhibition and beautifully designed book from the Designing Motherhood organization were important, insightful and intelligently curated. It looks at around 100 design objects that have defined the experience of reproduction and the relationship between mother, child and wider society – from the breast pump to the C-section curtain. A long-overdue, taboo-busting project that kickstarts some much-needed conversations about the impact design and material culture continue to have on the lived reality of motherhood.”