The image of mother and child is one that has been painted, drawn, sculpted, and photographed for centuries, each one depicting the beautiful and unique bond in its own way. Neuroscientist and mom-of-two Rebecca Saxe took the artistic tradition into her own hands in the most logical way, considering her profession: by curling up in a brain imaging MRI tube with her two-month-old son and taking what is believed to be the first mother-child MRI image. The result: a tender portrait of mother and child that leaves the viewer with a powerful impression of both the beauty of the parent-child connection and the fragility and awesomeness of a child’s growing mind.
Saxe, who says that she spends hours and hours looking at the human brain via MRIs every day, first came up with the idea of chilling with her child in the scanner with her firstborn son. The two spent several sessions inside the scanner with Saxe excitedly watching her son’s brain grow and change. With her second son, Percy, she decided to attempt to create a portrait, effectively combining the experience of motherhood with her professional life. The resulting image, with Saxe tenderly kissing her son’s head, shows the closeness of the parental-child bond and also highlights the differences in our brains as they grow. For example, the baby’s brain is much smoother, has very little white matter (which increases through time as the body and brain communicate), looks large in comparison to the rest of his head, and also appears extremely fragile as a result of having a thin, still-forming skill. The proximity of the mother’s lips to the baby’s brain certainly makes us realize that each of the million kisses we give our babies every day may be touching them more closely than we ever imagined.
The image came as the result of much discussion and technical arrangement, so don’t feel the pressure to recreate it next year for your holiday photo. Saxe herself cautioned that trying to keep a baby still during the process was a challenge. The image that she chose as her favorite was actually taken while her little one was sleeping, a time when all parents can agree is the best-and-only time to get work done with kids around.
Lead image © Rebecca Saxe and Atsushi Takahashi/Smithsonian