Things that Make and Break Our Births
- Winner of the AIGA's 50 Books | 50 Covers award, 2021.
344 pp., 7 x 10 in, 125 color illus.
- Published: September 14, 2021
- Publisher: The MIT Press
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
“I believe it is a work of major significance to design studies but also to feminism, gender studies, and cultural history. It certainly doesn't take an expected view of what constitutes 'design.'”
Ellen Lupton, Senior Curator of Contemporary Design, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Betty Cooke and William O. Steinmetz Design Chair, Maryland Institute College of Art
“This area of public inquiry is rarely addressed in the fields of social work, public health and public policy, so to have this accessible yet rigorous body of knowledge published will be important for elevating these issues. We believe the text to be extremely well researched and nuanced in its handling of sensitive issues; for example, those related to the impact of racism and white supremacy on the history of women's health.”
Karen Pollack, Executive Vice President of Programs and Operations, and Bette Begleiter, former Deputy Executive Director, Maternity Care Coalition
“In addition to being the first book of its kind to collect this particular design history, it also serves as an important lesson on ways to extend disciplinary boundaries, furthering an expanding design discourse. The text is an education, not just at the nexus of design and motherhood but also on the very practice of approaching design's history—one that involves care, delicacy and the voice of the multiple.”
Maria McLintick, Curator, London Design Museum
“I cannot praise this volume too highly: it is a breakthrough book and an impressive cultural marker of understanding and enlightenment. It has no peer on its subjects, to my knowledge: future academic and popular writers will have to cite this work.”
Robert Hicks, Senior Consulting Scholar, William Maul Measey Chair for the History of Medicine; Director Emeritus, Mütter Museum/Historical Medical Library
"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
"A first-of-its-kind exploration of the arc of human reproduction through the lens of design."
"The book examines more than 80 maternity-related objects and what they say about the experience of motherhood in our culture. At a time when the messy details of caregiving are still largely invisible, these images resonate."
"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."
“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.”
"Designing Motherhood strives to challenge the stigma surrounding objects associated with pregnancy and reproductive health."
"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."
"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."
“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
“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."
"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."
“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.”