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Sub-maternal Exhaustion during a Pandemic and more art by Sally Butcher

Sub-maternal Exhaustion during a Pandemic, 2020
30 x 30 cm (h x w)
GBP 125
Archival Photograph (egg
ink & hand gel) 30 x 30cm (framed)

This piece is symbolic of those potential mothers-to-be who had their assisted conception procedures halted during the early stages of the pandemic, when clinics were ordered to close. These fabricated images mimic days 1-5 of cell development as shown through a time lapse recording, an increasingly common add-on in these procedures. Such a technique uses a computer, rather than the human eye, to closely monitor the growth of the embryo by photographing every few minutes, aiming to give a more accurate prediction of survival, before it is returned to the mother’s uterus. But here, during this unprecedented time, the highly controlled laboratory environment has transferred to an artist’s studio: the incubator is now open to changes of light and temperature, the petri dishes contain (unfertilised) hen eggs and an inky sperm like substance, with the whole process recorded by a snapping mobile phone. And rather than a suitable nurturing uterine-type culture, the cells sit within a solution of hand gel, ubiquitous with the pandemic, which acts as a repellent, preventing any bond between the two components and, hence, the fertilisation process gets stopped before it can even start.

In the fertility treatment process, time is absolutely integral: many wait years to get to this point and every month can count, especially for those women who are past “natural” conceiving age (labelled as “geriatric”). With a “body clock ticking”, some women’s chances of becoming a mother were exhausted, and ultimately ended with the pandemic. For others, time stood still whilst they waited, and the embodiment of the prolonged stress (a recognisable factor affecting fertility) caused by not knowing when their procedure would be reinstated, then joining a long waiting list when it was, left many feeling depleted again, with potentially long-lasting detrimental effects on their chances of success on becoming a mother.

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