Ayün is a collective of young female photographers who mainly report from Latin America. Her most recent project deals with the topic of motherhood on the continent – in very different facets.

The eight photographers travelled to Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile and Mexico. They have accompanied women suffering from postnatal depression, who are separated from their children in prison or who have experienced violence or racism in the delivery room. But they also show the beautiful sides of motherhood: the happiness of the "golden hour" after birth, single motherhood and the freedom that comes with it, or simply the love for a daughter or son.

"On the one hand, it's a very personal project, because most of us are mothers ourselves," says photographer Sarah Pabst, "but at the same time, we know that we are all privileged. We therefore focus on the historical and social aspects of motherhood in Latin America and show the structural disadvantage of black and indigenous women.«

Unnecessary cesarean sections in Brazil

In Brazil, experiences of violence in obstetrics are not uncommon, and black women in particular suffer from discrimination. The country has one of the highest cesarean section rates in the world, many of which are not medically necessary.

"They stole my son's birth," make-up artist Fernanda Leal told photographer Pabst. Her first child was born by caesarean section, although she had never wanted to. With her son, she wanted to do things differently, aiming for a home birth with a midwife. But when her blood pressure rose, she was transferred back to a hospital. There, the doctor called her "Mommy" and also tried to convince her to have a caesarean section. She got up, ran to the bathroom, didn't know what to do. Just moments later, she gave birth to her son, naturally. She wanted to touch him. But the doctor claimed that he was not breathing. After the umbilical cord was cut, her son breathed normally. But they still haven't given it to her. "They also took away my golden hour," says the now 39-year-old. The first few minutes after childbirth are considered crucial for the bond between mother and child and can even play an important role in its development.

"But there is also a counter-trend in Brazil: women, some of whom have had bad experiences, become activists, doulas and midwives, helping other women to give birth in a more self-determined way," says photographer Pabst.

An indigenous midwifery school

Many indigenous women in Ecuador do not have access to medical obstetric care. They die during pregnancy and childbirth much more often than other women in the country. Photographer Johis Alarcón has documented a school for midwives in the Amazon. The midwives care for pregnant and birthing women from the Kichwa people, also with the help of old, indigenous methods.

Abortions strictly prohibited

In many Latin American countries, abortion is prohibited by law, with only a few exceptions. Women who terminate pregnancies are also socially ostracized – often even if they are victims of abuse. They must fear the wrath of their loved ones, partners and neighbors.

Venezuela is one such country, where the number of teenage pregnancies is also very high. The photographer Andrea Hernández Briceño accompanied an underground feminist movement that wants to break down prejudices and help women and girls to have abortions.

The helpers adhere to the recommendations of the WHO and give the abortion pills with the active ingredient mifepristone, which is considered safe for health in early abortions. But they also draw on ancient, pre-Hispanic knowledge, using herbs and medicinal plants to support the women during the process.

Volunteer Solo Mothers

It is a global trend that has now also reached Latin America, which is deeply influenced by macho culture: more and more women are single mothers because they want to. Chile is one of the countries on the continent where the most women choose solo motherhood in the first place.

In the past, fatherless children were called "guachos," an insulting term for orphans. Even schools rejected them. Photographer Tamara Merino has accompanied solo mothers, including 68-year-old Monica. She was interested in motherhood through adoption or reproductive medicine. In 1981, she decided to have her daughter Tania, whom she eventually had with a good friend. At the time, she encountered many prejudices, but she was not deterred. To this day, Monica and Tania have a very close relationship with each other.

Merino also met 41-year-old Margarita and her three-year-old son, Emilio. After a long relationship in which she did not get pregnant, Margarita was single. Due to her desire to have children, she underwent in vitro fertilization with sperm donation.

Separated from one's own children

Ana Maria Arévalo Gosen has worked in prisons in Venezuela in the past, where women are held in the worst conditions: "Without food, water or mattresses," she says. For survival, they are dependent on relatives.

In these detention centers, the photographer met many mothers who were separated from their children. "For me, that's the hardest aspect of life behind bars," she says. Many of the women would isolate themselves, not even allow visits: on the one hand, because the pain of repeated separation would be too great, on the other hand, because they were ashamed of the conditions in which they vegetated and did not want their children to see them that way.

Arévalo Gosen also met a young pregnant woman, 21 years old and mother of a toddler. She was arrested while trying to steal money to buy food. "How are you?" she asked the young woman. "I'm hungry," was the reply.

Postnatal Depression and Indigenous Knowledge in Mexico

Postnatal depression is widespread – and a taboo subject in many places, especially in Latin America. In Mexico, photographer Mariceu Erthal García met women from very different social classes who suffered from postpartum depression.

Photographer Karla Gachet says she herself experienced discrimination in the American health care system and underwent an unnecessary cesarean section. In Los Angeles, she met the traditional doula Jenny, who works with women from the Latino community. This experienced obstetrician accompanied Gachet through her second birth, which took place naturally. "She showed me that there are other ways to give birth to a child, with love, trusting in my body. She defended my rights against a racist and patriarchal system."

Photographer Gachet followed the doula back to Oaxaca, where she had learned traditional practices from indigenous women. "They have the ability to remind women of their very own strength and give it back to them," says Gachet.

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