Mum’s Not The Word


As the country, nay the world, descends into maternity mania once again at the arrival of yet another blue-blooded baby, our newspapers and newsfeeds awash with the details as if the arrival of a child was something unusual in a world already buckling under the strain of 7 billion humans, spare a thought for a moment for the women for whom this public display of pronatalism causes deep dread rather than excitement: those childless-not-by-choice.

It’s the question that every involuntarily childless woman dreads, and it almost always comes from another woman: “So, how many children do you have?” Rarely does the interrogator even notice the subtle shift in the demeanour of the object of her questions: the sudden peak in heart rate, the deep breath as she reaches down into the depths of her soul and steels herself to deliver the most emotionally-charged of revelations in as casual a manner as she can muster: “Oh, none, actually.”

The childless woman silently pleads with the other female to read the warning message in her eyes to leave it there, change the subject. This rarely happens. “Oh, you didn’t want any? I can’t say I blame you (grabbing one of her wayward offspring by the arm and gently strapping them into the buggy), it’s such hard work. You can borrow one of mine if you like.” And off she goes, buffered by her burgeoning brood, completely oblivious to the small fragment of the other woman’s heart that she has inadvertently chipped away and crushed to bits under the retreating buggy’s wheels.

Being an infertile woman myself, scarred by my failed quest to become a mother, I had felt like an inconvenience to society; an insignificant other. So when I came across Denise Felkin’s photographic project entitled Mum’s Not The Word, a collection of 50 images representing the 20% of women in the UK who are childless or childfree, I was eager to take part – despite the fact that to do so would require me to pose naked in the foetal position, exposing my body as well as my soul. I was undeterred by this requirement; finally, my voice would be heard. As founder of The Non-Mum Network, I enlisted other women from my group to take part. They were willing to do so for similar reasons to my own: whether reluctantly childless, or childfree by choice, they felt their stories deserved to be told; that their existence as a woman without children is every bit as valid as that of someone who has reproduced.

samantha walsh with denise felkin
Denise Felkin and I

And so it was that one sunny summer’s day in 2017 I travelled to Brighton, my duvet in tow, and disrobed for Denise. A childfree woman herself, she immediately made me feel at ease, and before I knew it she’d snapped away and the shoot was complete. As I nervously awaited the resulting photographs to appear on her screen and wrote the short script that would accompany my image, a sense of calm, empowerment and pride came over me: I had spoken up for childless women everywhere. And it felt good.

And I was not alone. The group of women willing to share their stories and pose naked for the book grew – their reasons for not being mothers as diverse as their skin tones, nationalities and backgrounds. Amongst the women who volunteered to be laid bare, challenging the viewer to appreciate how it might feel to experience life in her skin, is Ellen Rose, the cover girl for the book. “I never had a good relationship with my own mother,” she says simply.

Other participants such as Kat Adam, cite ambivalence towards parenthood. Mel Kalay says that “my life is fulfilled in many ways without children.” Some of the women have been influenced by environmental factors. Tamara says: “There are too many people on the planet already, and I fear for future generations in the light of our rapidly-changing climate.”

Some have thrown everything science has to offer at their motherhood mission, only to be left with nothing to show for their efforts but a greatly diminished bank balance and tainted personal relationships. Some have lost children.

The quotes are by turn shocking, inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking, but always brutally honest, as we invite you to see the world through our eyes as non-mothers. Rather than be dismissed as selfish spinsters or crazy cat ladies, our stories, printed alongside our unfiltered photographs, reveal our pasts, which, like our bodies, may not be perfect, but they are one hundred per cent ours. And we’re not ashamed to claim them.

mum's not the word image

Mum’s Not The Word, published 31st May 2019, is a groundbreaking photobook about women without children. The nude images of real women in the foetal position challenge the negative attitudes within society towards women who are not mothers, and the text shares their stories of birth and death, choice, freedom, pain…and regret. Mum’s Not The Word debates the social stigmatisation of women, who, by choice, circumstance or otherwise, go against the instinct for childbirth and maternal productivity.

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