There's nothing more surprising as a child to learn that your parents are humans. Not only that, but they had entire lives before your arrival.
Who were our mothers before they became mothers? we might never be able to know, but pictures offer a clue into their lives before us.
And that's exactly with the Instagram account mothers Before is all about. Curated by author Edan Lepucki, daughters submit picture of their mothers before they had children, as well as a small paragraph about what that picture means to them. Grab the tissues because we have all the feels.
The pictures range from snapshots saved from war to graduation photos, candid to sunny seaside pics- and we love them all.
“Here's a photo of my mom before she became my mom. I believe she's a newlywed in this photo taken by my dad. My mom has always been a little, sassy, and tough woman. She and my dad immigrated to the United States when I was five, and she learned English from watching soap operas and took on several different jobs, including running a Chinese restaurant for awhile. But back in the day, she was a young budding film actress in Taiwan. She loves to tell stories, and to this day, is still the life of the party.” Eva, about her mother, Eunice
Lepucki first started the series in April 2017, promoting her book Woman No. 17. In the novel, the central character embarks on a similar project ot catalogue pictures of women before they were mothers.
"[I thought] this would just be fun publicity for my book," she told Hello Giggles. "And I didn't really think it would be anything beyond, you know — I would just do it for a couple of months. I didn't think in the long term."
“This photo of my mom so perfectly encapsulates all of the things that make her, her. As a mom, she's Miss, keep your elbows off the table. As a person, she’s not afraid to let loose, take a swig on the slopes. In this picture, she had no idea she'd face breast cancer, a messy divorce, and the untimely passing of her dad. She didn't know she'd have a daughter who would also take a swig on the slopes... the same daughter who can’t help but put her elbows on the table. I love this woman more than anything in this world.” —Crystal, about her mother, Robin
Each photograph is special, it's a glimpse of a bygone era about a very real person.
"There’s a whole narrative in each photograph – the bygones past, the style of whatever the woman’s wearing, what they did in their lives before they were mothers, and what still remains.
"And then the caption often had another layer of the daughter looking at the mother and what that feels like."
“I found this photo many years ago and she is perhaps twenty years old, grinning at my dad. The first time I saw it, I was transfixed. She looks so free here, years before three kids, thirty-nine years of teaching, and infinite moments of joy blurred with heartbreak. And yet, that tilt of her head, easy smile, and the strength in her eyes is so familiar. Each step I walk, I feel that smile in my bones.” —Emma, about her mother, Twyla
Lepucki continues to say that the interaction of the daughters with their mother's photos adds another layer of intrigue.
"So there is a sense, in the Instagram, of daughters looking at their mothers for not exactly guidance, but I would say maybe for clues. Because I think it’s sometimes startling to see elements of yourself in past pictures of your own parents, and trying to say, I know where they ended up, and this is what they were like at my age.
"Often I’ll get picture submissions where they’re like, 'I’m the same age as this woman in the photograph, and I am suddenly realising how much I look like my mum — and also how she still has the same laugh.'
"And I think there’s a way that we can feel a connection that I think sometimes we take for granted or we kind of reject, depending on your age – that similarity between you and your mother."
“My mom was a teenager in the 60s when she became a mother -- this was her at 16, shortly before she got pregnant with my older sister and was forced to drop out of high school and get married. I love this photo not only because she's young and beautiful, but also because she still looks so innocent, unaware of how quickly she'll have to grow up in her very near future.” —Heather, about her mother, Lynn
According to Lepucki, photographs have a special quality of being able to connect people through time.
"Every picture has a kind of history of how it came to be. And it’s interesting, too, especially now that we take billions of photographs. But most of the photographs that I’m seeing, they’re from a prior time. They had to get them developed, so there’s a little bit more intention behind them."
“This is one of my favorite photos of my mom. It's her at her best: stylish, fierce, playful. All that red hair! I think her sister took this picture. She blew it up into an 8x10" and gave it to my mom a few years back. My mom didn't want to keep it. She was a very young mom, she was pregnant with my brother by seventeen and now when she looks at photos from that time, she says, "I was clueless." But I think she looks confident and brave, in that way only young people do. She's walking into a future of uncertainty and heartache with a lollipop in her mouth. I framed the photo and it's hung in every apartment I've lived since.” —Tanya, about her mother, Irma
But, at the end of the day, each photo captures a moment in time, the mother before children.
"I do think there’s a sense of getting something unguarded, caught on film, forever. But at the same time, our mothers – especially our mothers before we met them – they have to be myth. They’re only history. They’re only what is told to us and what we can glean from primary sources.
"So of course we’re still feeding into our imagined notions of our mother — but I think that’s kind of what’s fun about it. It’s like…there’s a glimmer of authenticity that’s also just beyond reach – which I think is how it always is with your mother. Because you can only know her as your mum."
Just look at some of our favourite ones here:
“My mother immigrated to America with my grandparents in 1960 as a Cuban refugee. One of her first memories in America was reading an ad for an apartment that said “no pets no Cubans”. After dealing with racism as a Hispanic immigrant, she dealt with sexism working in the Stock Market in the 70s and 80s. She’s gone through two divorces and plenty of heartache but she’s still the kindest, funniest, toughest, and most giving person I know. I don’t know what I’d do without her guidance. Here she is as a high school senior. Love you ma!” —Maricela, about her mother, Maria
“This is a photo of my mother during her hippie days. She grew up in a conservative family but was strong in her beliefs of getting an education, spreading love, and that music can cure anything (she even hitchhiked to Woodstock at age 16!) I love this picture because she’s such a strong person and I feel that you can see that strength and courage in her even at a young age.” —Allie, about her mother, Robin
“This is a photo of my mom (taken by my father) while she was in college studying biology. She was the only one of her group of girlfriends to not marry right after high school, and instead moved from a small town to Boston. She is fearless, ambitious, and outspoken but is also silly and laughs easily. I admire her immensely...and also have fun hanging out with her.” —Nikki, about her mother, Jeannine
“This was taken in her senior year (1989). The jacket she was wearing is actually part of a Navy uniform she picked up secondhand while in Amsterdam. She called it her Madonna outfit (her idol)! Shortly after this photo was taken, she went on to become a Jeweler and certified gemologist. After living the life in LA for a few years, she moved back to Ohio where she had my sister and me. My favorite thing about her was that every time “Drops of Jupiter” came on, she would look at me and say, “Have I ever told you I love this song?” Even when I was off at college, she would call or text me to let me know. We lost her in 2015 to cancer, but I still see signs of her presence every day. She was the best mom my sister and I could ever ask for!” —Gidget, about her mother, Jaime
Okay, we're gonna go call our mums now!