Vulnerable storytelling is at the heart of a new project on motherhood
When Homer-based artist Brianna Allen became pregnant with her second child, she started to notice something: a lack of stories, told by mothers, that honestly addressed motherhood. So, she decided to do something about it and created the MOMologues Collective.
The project collects and documents vulnerable, first-person accounts told by mothers, submitted anonymously. The stories are sometimes extremely personal, sometimes funny, gross or heartbreaking.
“When you're pregnant, you all of a sudden are hearing strangers' birth stories in the grocery store,” Allen said. “People just feel like they want to tell you things that normally they wouldn't tell you.”
She said many of the stories were provocative or vulnerable.
“Women were kind of all of a sudden sharing with me these stories almost in a whisper,” she said.
That sparked something for Allen. She wanted to amplify those whispered stories after she realized that there wasn't really a platform for mothers to express them in an open and authentic way.
So Allen sent out a call soliciting friends and family through social media for stories. The only stipulation was that the narratives would be shared under what Allen calls a “protective veil of anonymity.”
“I had to be very clear that by submitting your story, you want me to share it in a safe public way,” Allen said.
She described the response as “overwhelming and transformative.” She began receiving stories from friends who she hadn't spoken to for decades. Allen also began receiving stories from strangers. She said that although she hadn’t met some of the contributors, she instantly felt a deep connection with them.
Initially, she wasn't sure of the best format to share the stories. Allen envisioned presenting the MOMologues in several mediums.
After archiving the stories on a website devoted to the project, she began compiling them into an anthology which was released earlier this month. Allen said she also wanted to include live performance and activism in the project — especially following this summer’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which ended federal protections on abortion.
“Maybe 40% of the stories included in this book are our stories about the choice to become a mother or not,” she said.
According to Allen, the inclusion of stories about fertility and infertility are important and present a more comprehensive picture of the mothering experience. She’s critical of how popular culture presents stories about motherhood that are at times one-sided.
“I haven't found words in the English language yet that allow us to talk about motherhood without directly centering the child. And I feel like that's problematic,” she said.
So far, Allen has collected more than 120 stories from 80 moms, but she hopes for more. The first live performance of the MOMologues was on Saturday, Dec. 17. The sold-out show was a collaboration with Homer’s Bunnell Street Arts Center and Pier One Theatre.
Additionally, Allen received a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts to help document more stories moving forward. She hopes to publish more anthologies in the future, and is already planning performances in the new year, including a performance in May to coincide with Mother's Day.
Even though it’s been a lot of work, Allen said it's worth it.
“There's a lot of collective power and a lot of collective strength through really vulnerable storytelling,” she said.
Copies of the book are available at the Homer Book Store and Bunnell Street Arts Center. Allen asks self-identifying mothers who would like to share their stories to submit them on her website atmomologuecollective.com. Allen’s work is also on display at the Bunnell along with six other Alaskan artists through the end of the month.