CHICAGO (September 11, 2023) – Earlier this year, WBEZ Chicago published a three-day series called The First 12 Weeks. Through intimate portraits, audio diaries and immersive reporting, the series asked what it means to support new mothers during the earliest days of parenthood.
Now, The First 12 Weeks is on display at Navy Pier as a photo exhibit featuring 12 photos taken from the series. The exhibit will open for the next year, and is located near the Chicago Shakespeare Theater staircase about halfway down Navy Pier (near Door 5).
The First 12 Weeks series was told through the lens of three families in the Chicago area, covering themes including isolation as a new immigrant; LGBTQ+ parenthood; and bringing home a baby in a multigenerational, multicultural household. Each story also covered themes familiar to any new parent, from exhaustion and late-night feedings to returning to work to a baby’s refusal to eat.
“When a baby comes home, so much unfolds behind closed doors in these crucial early weeks, yet we still, as a culture, struggle to know what new mothers need,” said Cassie Walker Burke, WBEZ’s external editor who oversaw the project. “We felt like what the mothers were saying needed to be shared broadly. So we decided to turn our reporting series into a photo-driven exhibition on Navy Pier, one of Chicago’s most popular destinations.”
As visitors pass through The First 12 Weeks photo exhibit at Navy Pier, they can hold their phone over QR codes to read about each family’s experience with new parenthood and to see additional photos. Audio players in each story further allow visitors to hear from the mothers in their own words. The exhibit also encourages viewers to submit their own experiences and ideas for future reporting.
“Each of the mothers had a unique story to tell, but we were also able to see the universalities of the first 12 weeks of motherhood. My goal was to let each mothers experience shine through in the images,” said Manuel Martinez, the visual journalist at WBEZ who photographed all of the mothers for this project. “I wanted the public to feel their personal struggles and success, how different factors – such as extended family, religion and societal expectations – all played a role in the early days of their motherhood. The images should feel unique to each mother, but also give a sense of continuity as a whole narrative.”
WBEZ’s office and studios are located on Navy Pier, and this exhibit marks the first time WBEZ is hosting a photo exhibit featuring its visual journalism. In addition, the Chicago Sun-Times (also part of the Chicago Public Media family with WBEZ), just debuted its Murals and Mosaics photo exhibit at Navy Pier, with 50 photos showcasing murals across the city and suburbs based on the four-year-old Murals and Mosaics series by Bob Herguth of the Sun-Times. QR codes link to the stories with more background on each mural. The exhibit is located near Door 8 an Navy Pier, and will be on display for the next year.
About The First 12 Weeks
The First 12 Weeks was reported by Elly Fishman, a freelance writer and the author of “Refugee High: Coming of Age in America.” Photography by Manuel Martinez, a visual journalist at WBEZ. Additional visual support was provided by WBEZ Archivist Justine Tobiasz, Visual Producer Andjela Padejski and Digital Producer Mendy Kong. The project was edited by External Editor Cassie Walker Burke and fact-checked by Molly Morrow, a WBEZ contributor. Audio files, which were provided by the mothers, were engineered by J. Kyle White-Sullivan.
About WBEZ Chicago
WBEZ is home to local and national news programming as well as a growing portfolio of popular podcasts. WBEZ serves the community with fact-based, objective news and information, and its award-winning journalists ask tough questions, dig deep for answers and expose truths that spark change and foster understanding. WBEZ is supported by nearly 86,000 members, hundreds of corporate sponsors and major donors. In 2022, WBEZ received more than 20 awards for its journalism, including two prestigious National Edward R. Murrow Awards.