Archive for the ‘pregnancy and birth’ Category

For real..

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My latest article is here:

So, when I found out about mothers’ groups I came to them with some desperation. There I discovered other women like me — sleep-deprived and confused by our new lives – we were as fragile as our babies. During such times in life you either make the best of friends or the most peculiar and transient of acquaintances. You are open and lost offering something between possibility and flight to those you encounter.

We had big new identities, these women and I, we were mothers now. But we didn’t yet inhabit those identities. We simply sloshed around in them like liquid insufficient to fill a bucket. Our lack of structure and integrity made us terribly vulnerable. If someone was blunt or even mildly critical about our parenting we were devastated. We were so recently arrived and incompetent that we became disorientated by anyone with a strong position or a new theory. It wasn’t just the blind leading the blind, it was the blind and opinionated leading the blind.

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I’ve written a lot about maternal desire here and how poorly understood that motivation is.. but I’ve not considered paternal desire much before.

All through this research, Edin says, she’d never been interested in studying men. “It’s fun to write about people with a strong heroic element to the story,” she says. “Women have that. Men don’t have that. [They're] more complicated; they’re dogged with bad choices.” In addition, she admits, “I felt hostile after writing about the women. I really had their point of view in my head.”

It was Nelson who, after years of working on a book about religious experience in a black church, convinced her otherwise. Together, they spent several years canvassing Camden in search of dads to interview. They stopped men on the street and asked if they’d talk—sometimes right there on the spot. They put up flyers and worked with nonprofit groups and eventually knit together a sample of equal parts black and white men they interviewed at length over the better part of a decade.

Again, what they discovered surprised them. Rather than viewing unplanned fatherhood as a burden, the men almost uniformly saw it as a blessing. “It’s so antithetical to a middle-class perspective,” Edin says. “But it finally dawned on us that these guys thought that by bringing children in the world they were doing something good in the world.” Everything else around them—the violence, the poverty, their economic prospects—was so negative, she explains, a baby was “one little dot of color” on a black-and-white canvas.

Only a small percentage of the men, black or white, said the pregnancy was the result of an accident, and even fewer challenged the paternity. When the babies were born, most of the men reported a desire to be a big part of their lives. Among black men, 9 in 10 reported being deeply involved with their children under the age of two, meaning they had routine, in-person contact with their kids several times a month. But that involvement faded with time. Only a third of black fathers and a quarter of white fathers were still intensively involved with kids older than 10. Among the reasons, Edin identifies unstable relationships with the mothers—the average couple had been together only about six months before conceiving a child. The men also frequently struggled with substance abuse and stints in prison.

From “What if everything you know about poverty was wrong” by Stephanie Mencimer in Mother Jones.


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It’s nearly impossible to think of any other situation in which we, as viewers, including parents and pastors and progressives and feminists, are asked to watch young women and their children go through hell, and tell ourselves the proper response is inaction or even mockery. It’s hard to imagine any other situation in which we as a culture root for real young women and their real children to fail, all in the name of metaphorically saving a much larger group of young women who will never become pregnant.

Absolutely this! As I’ve said before, if you want to see patriarchal attitudes towards motherhood then look at how teenage mothers get treated and a lot of feminist sites have really dropped the ball on this one, too. Great article from Amy Benfer in Dame Magazine with “Why does everyone – from pastors to progressives – doom teen mothers to failure”.

Thanks to Kate Harding for the link.

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God, I love Cusk’s writing.

Here, as elsewhere, the appearance of honesty, the willingness to “own up” to certain unorthodoxies, merely conceals a deeper strain of social competitiveness. The “good” mother, with her fixed smile, her rigidity, her goody-goody outlook, her obsession with unnecessary hygiene, is in fact a fool. It is the “bad” mother, unafraid of a joke and a glass of wine, richly self-expressive, scornful of suburban values, who is in reality good.

A review of Confessions of a Bad Mother by Stephanie Calman in New Statesman.

Enright is a patient writer. Her real triumph, as she plots her slow transformation into the mother of two children, is to capture the delicate sense of parenthood as something that, for all its frequent impositions, stems so profoundly from the self that it is almost an act of reading, of self-interpretation.

A review of Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood by Anne Enright in New Statesman. 


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Holy hell, this is wonderful, wonderful writing but Ariel Levy’s story of the premature birth of her baby and its subsequent death is obviously also really.. incredibly heartbreaking.

But the truth is, the ten or twenty minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is no adventure I would trade them for; there is no place I would rather have seen. Sometimes, when I think about it, I still feel a dark hurt from some primal part of myself, and if I’m alone in my apartment when this happens I will hear myself making sounds that I never made before I went to Mongolia. I realize that I have turned back into a wounded witch, wailing in the forest, undone.

Most of the time it seems sort of O.K., though, natural. Nature. Mother Nature. She is free to do whatever she chooses.

Miscarriage, still birth, babies dying.. such important parts to include in the story of motherhood, which is why I have included the story of my own miscarriage on this blog.

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You simply must read “The Prison System Welcomes My Newborn Niece to This World” by Maya Schenwar in Truthout.

Here’s how it went: At 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, my sister was called out of bed in the state prison where she’s incarcerated with the news that she’d be heading to the hospital. Her water hadn’t broken, and she hadn’t started contractions. But this was the time slot in which she was scheduled to give birth. The labor would be induced.

During and after the birth, my sister was allowed no family or friends at her bedside, or even in the hospital. She endured labor alone, except for medical personnel and two prison guards, who rotated shifts, watching her at all times.

After 26 hours, my niece finally pushed her way out – 7 pounds, 5 ounces, and crying like crazy. (Wouldn’t you?)

Following the birth, a guard immediately shackled my sister’s ankles to the bedpost. “It made it hard to pick up the baby from the basket next to the bed,” she told us afterward. “I was afraid I was going to drop her.”

Our state has anti-shackling laws in place, preventing women from being chained to their hospital beds during labor. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be chained afterward.

The ritual my sister underwent Tuesday and Wednesday wasn’t an unusual occurrence. In prison, 4 percent to 7 percent of women are pregnant on arrival.

Something very important will happen in the global motherhood movement when we realise that prisons are as much a motherhood issue as ‘push presents’ are. (I’m quoted in the article on ‘push presents’, because yes, I have so many opinions).

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the motherhood archives (trailer) from komsomol films on Vimeo.

What was the reason you started this project? What’s your background and how did it lead you to work on this archive? 

I got pregnant. I’m a filmmaker; I’ve worked a lot with propaganda and archives—my background is in communist, post­communist stuff, and my previous work is a trilogy of films in China, Romania, and Russia that thinks through that set of historical questions and engagements, a lot of it through propaganda material. I’m very attuned to propaganda. So when I was pregnant it became immediately, abundantly obvious to me that almost everything I was reading or seeing or being exposed to was telling me how to give birth or how to be pregnant or how to mother or look after my child. It was clear to me immediately that all of this is an intense space of propaganda.

I have a very archival and historical turn of mind. I wanted to know, What’s the history of these conversations? Where is this coming from? Why is it such an intense space of ideology? So I started buying films on eBay. There’s a lot of weird stuff kicking around on eBay. A lot of libraries now sell off their 16mm educational collections. After a year or so of doing that, I started going into the archives, and it started feeling like it could be a real project rather than a strange hobby. But it came out of an attempt to think through that experience of being pregnant and encountering spaces of maternal training.

From an interview with the film-maker, Irene Lusztig in The New Inquiry.

Lusztig has some unusual views on the birth centres and their approach to pain, but this discussion is fascinating and the film looks incredibly thought-provoking.

(Thanks to JE for the link).

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I see that as long as any kind of social transfer is involved rich women are as capable of “getting themselves pregnant” as teenage girls are claimed to be. Because conception is something that women and girls do to themselves, presumably by deliberately and irresponsibly walking through a cloud of anonymous, minding-its-own-business sperm somewhere. Apparently, these same women then gestate, sitting back and waiting for the spoils to come their way. How unfortunate that men can not avail themselves of the incredible opportunities presented by motherhood, like lower earnings capacity, increased job insecurity, drive-by judgementalism and diminished status.

Note that in the election debate “the pretty little lady lawyer on the northshore is having a kid” (a sentiment I have seen expressed multiple times elsewhere during the campaign), and that the rich women in the meme, above, are “breeding”..  telling expressions.. because exactly where are the fathers in this condemnation? And why are children not part of our community, why are they not somebody whose interests we deem worthy of consideration in an election?

I’m not a huge fan of Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme, (although I appreciate the progressiveness of treating maternity leave like other forms of workplace leave, I don’t believe the scheme is there to address a genuine policy problem and its funding is likely coming at the expense of funding opportunities for other big policy problems).. but I could do without the sexist claptrap in the discussion.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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This article, “Thinking about pregnancy like an economist” in The Atlantic is written by Emily Oster but her observations would be shared by anyone who analyses data in their occupation. When Oster becomes pregnant she quickly notices that public health policy is rather heavy-handed and that many of its strictly enforced rules are based on fairly weak data.

Ultimately, microeconomics is the science of making decisions–a way to structure your thinking so you make good choices. Making good decisions–in business, and in life–requires two things: the right data, and the right way to weigh the pluses and minuses of a decision personally. The key is that even with the same data, this second part–this weighing of the pluses and minuses–may result in different decisions for different people. Individuals may value the same thing differently. Making this decision correctly requires thinking hard about the alternative, and that’s not going to be the same for everyone. This isn’t just one way to make decisions. It is the correct way. So, naturally, when I did get pregnant I thought this was how pregnancy decision making would work, too. Take something like amniocentesis. I thought my doctor would start by outlining a framework for making this decision–pluses and minuses. She’d tell me the plus of this test is you can get a lot of information about the baby; the minus is that there is a risk of miscarriage. She’d give me the data I needed. She’d tell me how much extra information I’d get, and she’d tell me the exact risk of miscarriage. She’d then sit back, Jesse and I would discuss it, and we’d come to a decision that worked for us. This is not what it was like at all.

In reality, pregnancy medical care seemed to be one long list of rules. In fact, being pregnant was a lot like being a child again. There was always someone telling you what to do. It started right away. “You can have only two cups of coffee a day.” I wondered why–what were the minuses? What did the numbers say about how risky this was? This wasn’t discussed anywhere. Then we got to prenatal testing. “The guidelines say you should have an amniocentesis only if you are over thirty-five.” Why is that? Well, those are the rules. Surely that differs for different people? Nope, apparently not (at least according to my doctor). Pregnancy seemed to be treated as a one-size-fits-all affair. The way I was used to making decisions–thinking about my personal preferences, combined with the data–was barely used at all.

But there is something Oster has neglected to notice in her piece. For many women, being pregnant was the first time we ran into a level of paternalism we have until then largely avoided in adulthood. There’s a big, fat gender dimension here and it deserves highlighting. Women’s lives are policed and health policy is just one of the ways in which this is done.

(This link came via Tedra).

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