Rendering Motherhood with Melissa Goldstein and Natalia Rachlin of Mother Tongue
October 19, 2022 — Interviews
Mother Tongue’s third issue of their biannual print magazine is still warm to the touch; it is that hot off the press. Inside? A continued exploration of the complexities of motherhood, and the identities and roles it inevitably uproots in its wake. The magazine, founded by friends Melissa Goldstein and Natalia Rachlin, is told through a visual language that is less concerned with polished aesthetic, but rather resonance and connection. In the wide abyss of parenting tips and women’s interest magazines, Mother Tongue offers refreshment—a slower way of wading through cultural, political, and societal topics through the nuanced eyes of motherhood, womanhood, and yes, even girlhood.
Melissa and Natalia first imagined Mother Tongue in the early days of the pandemic, naturally stitched together through ongoing conversations between the two of them. The pair met ten years ago, as Natalia says, “like ships in the night” while working for a media platform in London. The women kept in touch, and later reconnected in the summer of 2020. Now they were both mothers with two children each and advanced careers; set to a backdrop of a global pandemic. Natalia recalls when the concept for Mother Tongue first began to take root. “We started having these personal conversations of the intricacies of figuring out what it means to be a mother in this world that was suddenly upside-down, and what that would look like going forward because it felt like everything was being reshuffled. [Those were] the early days of Mother Tongue…us saying, ‘if we want to engage in a more diverse and more nuanced, and more inclusive, and challenging conversation about motherhood; truly there’s others out there who would like to participate in that conversation as well.’”
From there, the magazine started to take shape. How do you invite others into that murky space, to pause and commune with the complexities of motherhood in a fast-paced world? “That was when we had this crazy idea to start a print publication because we wanted to create something that was tangible—something that you can sit down with, enjoy, spend time with, indulge in.” Natalia adds, “Not just have it be…more online content that’s thrown at you….but something that you’re actively choosing to engage with. Which, as a mother in particular, feels like a really special moment—to take that time out and do something that’s for you.”
In August of 2021, alongside the creative direction of Vanessa Saba, the Mother Tongue team launched their first print issue; no small feat for a team stretched between Los Angeles, Houston, and New York City.
How did it feel when this first labor of love was released, a project sparked by thoughtful phone calls between friends? “When you put anything out into the world, you don’t have control over it anymore. You don’t have control over what people think, or how people interpret something or what they read into. Whether something resonates or if something feels off…we spend a lot of time and energy thinking about it.”
Natalia pauses for a moment. “[When] we’re talking about a topic which is complex and is a fragile conversation in so many ways where we want people—whether they have children or not, whether they’re interested in having children or not—to be able to participate in this wider dialogue about being a woman in the world. Someone was recently telling us that she doesn’t have children, but that she was so happy to see that the magazine also resonated with her. That [for this] dialogue, [having children] is not a requirement to engage with these stories because it’s about something much bigger and broader. We've done our utmost to make sure that it’s respectful, thoughtful, and hopefully it strikes a chord with people—of course there is that hope, right? You want it to speak to people. You want it to touch people in some way or another, or humor them.”
Melissa agrees and adds, “I think the one thing we said when we started Mother Tongue is that we’re not here to say that we’re experts on motherhood. On the contrary, we’re interested in raising questions and having conversations. If there was something missing [in the media], it felt like everything was polarized, and part of that is fueled by social media, [where] everyone has to have this ‘take’. It has to be this side that you’re on, and everyone gets on that side or is against that side or whatever it is. We were interested in having conversations about womanhood, and motherhood within womanhood, and finding those gray areas where it is a little murky and there’s more questions than there are definitive answers. We were really thirsty for this—this womanhood motherhood conversation.”
With three print issues down and two years of the project under one’s belt, in which direction does Mother Tongue choose to grow? “The whole landscape is very different now, two years later…I think what was really interesting and is also our challenge is that this is a conversation that’s constantly evolving. How do we [share] this collective experience of mothers through the pandemic, how do we make that productive, and where does the conversation go next? It’s exciting in that sense because it is kind of like one way and then another, and then up and then down.”
Next on the list for Mother Tongue? In person events on both coasts. “[It] will be thrilling to meet people in person and have real conversations, not through a computer screen.” Both women are visibly excited by the thought.
Also, a limited edition t-shirt collaboration with I am a Voter, part of a campaign hoping to spur a larger turnout of mothers to the polls this November. “Of course moms are not a monolith—there are plenty of moms who disagree with each other about a lot of things—but we do fundamentally believe that there is so much that we have in common, and so much that we have at stake this November.” Melissa continues, “We’ve asked women that we admire to share why they are voting, why they believe it’s important to vote, and acknowledging that it’s not a perfect system, there are inequalities inherent in the voting system, and people do get tired of being told to vote when they feel like it’s not doing anything, or it’s not doing enough, but it’s still this really powerful tool of hope.”
“On a personal level, what I am looking forward to,” Natalia considers as her daughter, Luna, (who has made an appearance halfway through the call) fidgets in her lap, “is just the wonderful bliss of routine and the rare instances when that actually transpires as it’s supposed to. I think that is the eternal juggle of so many mothers everywhere, whether it’s here or somewhere else, is figuring out how to find a daily life where you have mental, intellectual, and emotional space for both your family, and your professional pursuits, and then hopefully a little bit left over for yourself. I think both Melissa and I are trying to get that more and more right as we make this project…and finding a way to do it that allows us to be many things at once.”
You can find Mother Tongue Issue 3 here.
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