The Motherhood Illustrated Project – Drawings by Mariam El-Quessny

Motherhood… Too many things happening at the same time and too many concepts hard to grasp. Beyond the cute lullabies and soft teddy bears, there are endless sleepless nights and wiping poo off your favorite outfits. There are chaotic tantrums and  meltdowns. It’s bitter sweet and too complicated to explain. Overwhelming is an understatement. But when some emotions become too hard to explain, art comes in to help us visualize what one may fail to verbalize. 

Give an artist pain and a brush then wait for a masterpiece. As Alfred De Musset, the french writter said, ‘Nothing makes us as great as a great sadness’. Having to deal with Mother’s Day, after she lost her own mother, Mariam El Quessny, needed an outlet to console her grief and to make sense of this whole motherhood thing. She needed to connect with other moms to show her how diverse motherhood could be. The result was a wonderful series of watercolor and ink illustrations exploring the many different ways motherhood is experienced. The illustrations were based on photographs submitted by various women in response to a widely shared invitation. In addition to the joys and wonderment that are often associated with motherhood, the series also captured instances where motherhood is experienced as loneliness and loss.

In the invitation Mariam wrote: ‘ I’m asking for the real stuff of motherhood. The sweetness and the grind. The madness, the diapers, the joy, the tears, the bedtime drama, tantrums, grandmas, nieces, daughters, sons, dad moms, mom moms, horse moms, cat moms, half-eaten apples, broken toys, mummified food from car-seat crevices, funerals, hospitals, pregnancy, labor, miscarriages, stretch marks, scars, chocolate, bathroom invasions, potty talk, booger-sharing and the laundry.’

Here are some outstanding drawings of touching moments from the “Motherhood Illustrated Project” along with the description written by the mothers in the drawings:

Written previously by the Mom in the drawing below: “Today was supposed to be the due date of my little baby girl.. I really don’t know what to say but I felt like sharing that thought, it’s so hard keeping all this pain to yourself. It’s been four and half months since I Iost her and it’s been 2 years since I lost her older sister. I am a childless mother. A mother of two little girls up in heaven, living in the presence of God. I still can’t grasp the concept. But every once in awhile reality sinks in and then suddenly there’s that squeeze in my heart that knocks me on my knees and the only thing I can do is cry and pray for God to give me enough strength to pass this break down in peace. I am broken, my heart is broken, and my ego is broken. I’ve learned that I am not as strong as I thought I was. I’m not strong at all. I think it’s these situations that make you realize that we’re not meant to be that strong.. I’m a weak humble being..”
Full Name removed as per mom’s request.
“There is also the moment of me sitting at work in a suit hiding in the office bathroom twice a day to pump.For 3 months.
“First time I try to breastfeed outside the house. She is maybe 2 weeks old. It’s not very successful. I end up crying and feeling like I will never be able to go out again.”
“Motherhood is messy! This is Hadi who is 10 months old.
This was taken at the hospital when I had the most recent surgery. My kids wanted to say good night. This is also hadi trying to kiss me through the phone”
“My labour almost killed me. I actually slipped away for a few seconds. I was in the tub attempting a water birth, it had been almost 2 and a half days of hard labour, & it seems my body buckled under the pure exhaustion. I heard my heart stop, my ears whistle, & i slipped under the water. It felt good to be rid of the pain. It was so tempting to let go; stay in that place of quiet & light…but then i saw ahmed’s broken terrified face as he was trying to shake me back to life. I couldn’t leave him. I came back for him.
I wanted to photograph my placenta to remind myself that my body can & did do miracles. It is ugly & beautiful & raw & frightening & fascinating. Just like being a mum”
“The extreme lice disaster and the love between both”
“The first three months were the hardest. You’ve just let out this creature that you’re responsible for its every little need. You don’t have time to shower or eat, yet you don’t lose weight. You repeat those same two outfits because it works, and because you don’t have time or the brain to go shopping and half your wardrobe doesn’t fit. And it’s a good day if you remember to brush your teeth or wash your face.
But as long as baby is in great shape, that’s what matters.”
‘The first smile, made it feel worth all the sleepless nights.”


This last illustration is mine and I feel really happy to have been a little part of this great project.


Mariam el Quessny is an artist and interior designer who currently lives and works in Oakland, California. Spanning interior design, installation and illustration, her work takes everyday objects, living spaces and common identities, and explores the stories and forms lying just beneath their surface.  Check her website:

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