Motherhood & Multiple Sclerosis: A Photo Essay

by: , October 5, 2020

An estimated 2.3 million people worldwide suffer from the neurological debilitating condition known as multiple sclerosis. It is thought that between two thirds and three quarters of these people are women. One of these women is my mother. This photo essay presents a series of ‘fly-on-the-wall’ images inspired by conversations between myself and my mother exploring how to manage daily life as a multiple sclerosis sufferer, while also balancing other identities: those of a mother and a woman. In these images, we both invite the viewer to reconsider their ideas of what it means to be a mother and a woman.

The common perception of chronic disabling conditions such as multiple sclerosis is that after the diagnosis the decline out of life begins with the loss of womanhood and personhood. Life after diagnosis can be pitied, discounted or made invisible–it is imagined that in the next room or behind the curtain lies only decrepitude and decline. This narrative is compounded by patriarchal ideas about what womanhood, especially motherhood, involves. What is the role of a mother who requires physical care, as opposed to providing it? Understanding the power and potency of disabled mothers poses the ultimate challenge for those who believe motherhood should be built purely on physical and emotional labour, never to be reciprocated.

Prior to the disability caused by multiple sclerosis, my mother always described her mothering as that of a lioness. A lioness, with fierce female beauty and terrible strength, is able to protect her cubs with a roar to scare away anyone who dares come near. I believe this remains true of my mother, who with diminished physical strength still can roar to send things that go bump in the night scuttling back to where they came from.

My mother is just one of many thousands of mothers with multiple sclerosis out in the world, each with their own mothering that remains uneroded by their illness. Whether that be their kindness, their humour, their frankness, or even their willingness to be vulnerable–these women can still be mothers and women through their illnesses.

This photo essay is an invitation from my mother and me to join her morning routine on a rainy September day. In the years since I was a small child, my mother has faced many challenges arising from her multiple sclerosis, and has made many gradual adaptations to her daily life. However, her morning routine has stayed consistent. These photographs show a disabled woman, my mother and my lioness, refusing to decline out of life or surrender her motherhood, womanhood, or personhood to infirmity.

With love, strength and solidarity,

Eva Sprecher & Kay Sprecher
London, UK

With special thanks to P., my mother’s carer featured in the photo essay below.

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Motherhood Motherhood

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Dots+Circles – a digital agency determined to make a difference, who’ve designed and built our MAI website. Their continuous support became a digital catalyst to our idealistic project.
Guy Martin – an award-winning and widely published British photographer who’s kindly agreed to share his images with our readers

Chandler Jernigan – a talented young American photographer whose portraits hugely enriched the visuals of MAI website
Matt Gillespie – a gifted professional British photographer who with no hesitation gave us permission to use some of his work
Julia Carbonell – an emerging Spanish photographer whose sharp outlook at contemporary women grasped our feminist attention
Ana Pedreira – a self-taught Portuguese photographer whose imagery from women protests beams with feminist aura
And other photographers whose images have been reproduced here: Cezanne Ali, Les Anderson, Mike Wilson, Annie Spratt, Cristian Newman, Peter Hershey