Archive for the ‘pregnancy and birth’ Category

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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Jane Gilmore has written a piece at King’s Tribune, “The glorified baby bonus” in response to my article about Abbott’s more generous parental leave scheme in The Guardian.

Let’s start with a quick overview of my opinion on Abbott’s parental leave scheme because apparently my thinking can be quite “muddled”.

For the record, I don’t think the scheme is the highest priority for working parents right now. It’s progressive in that it equates parental leave with sick leave (and this is important when parental leave is too often described as a ‘holiday for mums’), but in doing so it is tilted towards higher income parents.. However, I do think more generous parental leave is better than paltry parental leave, and a scheme based on minimum wage is, let’s be honest, very modest, particularly in light of international comparisons. And if we’re going to be debating parental leave, then I’m predicting there will be plenty of accusations that it is all a complete waste of money and if that happens then let it be known that I disagree strongly.. and the economic data supports me.

Now, on to Gilmore’s article. For starters, I’ve spoken to Gilmore and we’re both of the mind that it is something to celebrate when this topic gets discussed and we’re both enthusiastic participants in that discussion. I enjoy Gilmore’s writing a great deal, and there’s plenty I agree with in her piece, too.

The way forward for so many problems in terms of equity, including inside the workplace and inside the home, is more flexible working conditions for both men and women. I am in full agreement with that statement. That to make a difference flexible working conditions need to be offered to more than white-collar professionals and that they need to be taken up by senior levels of management too, for them to be seen as truly acceptable. Complete agreement. That flexible working conditions should be championed by everyone, not just parents, because everyone has important shit to do in their lives. Complete agreement.

And to some degree, I also agree with Gilmore that juggling work and family responsibilities is seen as a women’s issue and that this both stigmatises the topic and also means that men get to remove themselves from a sense of responsibility for the solutions. It also makes it difficult for those men who are already attempting to take on a more equitable share of child rearing and paid work in their families to do so.

I’d go further than Gilmore’s piece and suggest that if we’re thinking feminist revolutions we could do more than thinking about legislating this stuff just for the public sector.. for instance, introducing something legislatively stronger than the right to request part-time work upon returning to work after a baby for everyone would be a game changer.

Now, here’s where my views differ significantly from Gilmore’s.

Unlike Gilmore, I believe parental leave is, in part, a women’s issue and I think parental leave is about a range of objectives including, but not limited to, “closing the gender pay gap”. Parental leave is about broader goals than just workplace participation and some of the measures include not just outcomes for women but also for children. Giving birth, establishing breastfeeding and forming an attachment with an infant require time and rest. They’re all standard aspects of reproduction (and they all have economic benefits), and it says something about how patriarchal our society is that such standard aspects of reproduction are not catered for when we organise the commercial marketplace.

I suspect a critical difference in Gilmore’s and my feminism is covered in this post, “Why we should be careful taking the ‘maternity’ out of ‘parental leave’”, quoting Julie Stephens:

This, however, taps into a productivist ethos entirely consistent with the demands of the neoliberal marketplace, with caregivers replaceable or interchangeable in much the same way as employees in workplaces. In addition, a feminism promoting gender neutrality (in the name of equality) denies the bodily experience of women after they have given birth. Though a boon to the productive workplace, the breast pump may not necessarily protect the emotional needs of women and babies. To deny that baby leave is a women’s issue, to decouple ‘maternity’ from ‘leave’, is also to conceal human vulnerability and dependence. It reproduces what Iris Young has called ‘the normalising but impossible ideal’ that we are autonomous, unencumbered self-sufficient individuals, somehow beyond human dependency.

However, parental leave as public policy is obviously also about keeping women attached to the workforce. This goes some of the way towards ensuring long-term security for women but by no means can a single policy turn back the entire tide of structural inequality for women, and I think it is unfair for Gilmore to use that as its measure. No individual policy will “keep women in the work place and support their earning capacity”, it is always going to require a combination of strategies. And I note that Gilmore’s path to equality is predicated on the assumption that women must be participating in paid work. There is no mention of institutional changes that could benefit women’s financial security when they specialise (by choice or otherwise) in unpaid care.

Gilmore believes for equality to be achieved that the responsibilities of child-rearing need to be shared and I agree with her. In her article, Gilmore refers to data indicating that unless countries legislate for some of the parental leave to be used by fathers then regardless of other benefits of maternity leave, women tend to get stuck on a ‘mummy track’. (There’s an implicit assumption here I’m uncomfortable with that financial earnings, rather than work life balance, is the key to fulfillment, but I’ll leave that aside for the moment). The ‘mummy track’ includes not just taking parental leave when babies are born, but also opting for career-limiting moves, like taking part-time, low-level jobs and being the parent to take ‘sick leave’ when children are home ill. This becomes a long-term problem because one parent’s career progresses while the other’s stalls, and eventually it can appear pointless for a household to do anything other than rally resources behind furthering the higher income parent’s career. Split up and the consequences can be disastrous for women.

For the record, I support the case for generous parental leave schemes to include legislated time-sharing between men and women (it normalises care work in the workplace), and I agree that such schemes accelerate progress towards more equitable divisions of child-rearing and income-earning responsibilities. But by no means does this imply that parental leave for mothers is “nothing more than a feminist cause celebre that makes a symbolic nod to the significant gender differences in wealth”.

Gilmore takes particular issue with the fact that I focused my article around parental leave as an issue for women rather than one for both women and men. I understand this criticism. I considered preemptively addressing it in the article but subsequently decided I couldn’t afford the ‘words’ given there was a tight limit and I already wanted to cover a number of angles on the topic of Abbott’s parental leave scheme.

Although there are plenty of instances where I have talked about  ‘work and family juggling’ as a topic involving both men and women, none the less, this concern comes up quite a bit here. I realise that some feminists (including many readers of this blog) feel strongly that the discussion should be gender-neutral and I have a lot of sympathy for that opinion; however, I remain of the view that while this juggling act dominates women’s lives I will often address the topic with women as the focus. And as I mentioned above, I have some concerns with seeing women and men as completely interchangeable parts in the experience of parenthood.

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Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme is progressive because it treats maternity leave with the same degree of legitimacy as sick leave for women in the workforce, and his scheme also provides more generous leave entitlements for parents and their newborns. (Hopefully the scheme also helps encourage women with great career potential to stay attached to the workforce long enough to rise to positions of seniority where they can remove institutional barriers that are holding back disadvantaged women). But for goodness sake, I know what Abbott meant when he said ‘women of that calibre’ and it was not a clumsy way of saying ‘I hear you sisters, ‘work life balance’ is crazy difficult and we must do what we can to assist you all’. Abbott’s comment was transparent snobbery. It should alarm us as feminists because the conservative side of politics has a long history of promoting motherhood to patriarchy-approved women – ie. white, married, middle-to-high income – while not only denying support for, but actively undermining, mothers outside that spectrum – eg. single, disabled, non-white, incarcerated, poor. I’m not suggesting that the parental leave scheme is harmful to poor mothers but it isn’t immediately helpful to them, and particularly not if it is sold with the overt message that some mothers are more equal than others.


Angelina Jolie wrote a perfectly sound (and engagingly heartfelt) article about her decision to have a double mastectomy.  Her article will be beneficial for women encountering the choice in similar circumstances, and also for destigmatising mastectomies generally. But it is not a particularly insightful piece. The screening Jolie promotes in her article is unaffordable to many in the US and the preventative surgery she ultimately decided upon has problems of its own that are not explored in the piece. Her article also emphasizes genetic risk at the expense of environmental factors which are far more significant in contributing to cancer rates. This is a concern because genetic factors are corporation-friendly but environmental factors are decidedly not. (For an excellent overview of this criticism of the breast cancer campaign I recommend Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay “Cancerland”). Jolie is not a writer or a medical specialist, she is an actor, so there is nothing offensive to me about her article being relatively narrow and personal in focus, but the response to it almost everywhere has been somewhat.. star-struck. Jolie didn’t write the bravest and most important story for women this year – can’t we just be satisfied with her writing a significant story?


Australia has a problem with anti-intellectualism but this bold article, “Why Australia hates thinkers” doesn’t prove it. Credit to Alecia Simmonds, the author of the piece for getting people talking and also for naming names when she makes her criticisms. Both of those achievements are important but Simmonds’ article reads like having dinner with a scoffing ex-pat. And I should know, I have dinner with such an ex-pat every year when they come back to Australia to visit. (Love you, Dad).

In her article, Simmonds cherry picks a handful of idiot commentators from Australia and then unfavourably compares us to the cultures of France and England. But having been to both those countries I know that these lovely places have their share of over-exposed buffoons, too. Australia’s anti-intellectualism could be demonstrated with less anecdotes and more identifiable measures. I find Simmonds’ swipe at Andrew Bolt for dropping out of a university degree depressing also. His views are repellent but so are those of Dr Steven Kates (ie. “the damaged women” vote), and Kates completed a couple of degrees and teaches in a university. Judgementalism about education levels is a perfect way to prove that anti-intellectualism is justifiable in Australia.

And while we’re madly dividing between us and them, those of us with higher degrees would do well to be careful of defensive statements like those in Simmonds’ article about how poorly paid and noble academic professions are compared to other jobs. I agree that such jobs are paid less than the general public understands but neither description plays too well to the 50 per cent of the Australian workforce who work in full-time jobs for less than $58,000 a year. Some wages truly are embarrassingly humble and so are the working conditions, which can include plenty of unpaid overtime but with none of the autonomy of academic jobs. And who is going to tell a childcare worker her job isn’t a noble one? We’d be better to say that there is a squeeze on workplace conditions that many occupations and industries, including academia have in common.

The article has some very tired old Australian stereotypes, too, that could benefit from re-examination; like, are children here still ashamed of being smart? A huge surge in private tutoring and an obsession with NAPLAN testing among parents suggests otherwise to me. And what of the idea that Twitter is no place for academic thinkers – my feed is teeming with them and links to their work.

But I absolutely agree with Simmonds’ belief that there is a problem with anti-intellectualism in Australia, I just don’t find her article terribly convincing of the fact. Anyway, if you haven’t had enough of this complaint then Jeff Sparrow makes some of these arguments and others in a great response, “Why Andrew Bolt is not an imbecile” at New Matilda.

And to finish up.. a less controversial view of mine? This article is well worth reading. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “How to make the U.S. a better place for carers” in The Atlantic:

Focusing on infant mortality is not typically on a white feminist agenda in the U.S.; the babies at risk are children of poverty, who are in turn more likely to be rural whites and ethnic minorities. But an infrastructure of care must provide care for everyone, just as roads and bridges provide transport for anyone who can drive or afford a bus ticket. Care is for the vulnerable, the sick, the disabled, and the dependent. All of us, rich or poor, qualify as vulnerable and dependent for at least some period after birth and before death.

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