Similarly, I entered motherhood the same year I completed an Honors B.A. in English and Women’s Studies. When I became a mother unexpectedly at the age of 23, in the final year of my degree, I reflected back on the courses I’d taken and realized I’d never had a single course in which motherhood was discussed in a thorough way—and this was in coursework leading to a degree in Women’s Studies. The few times motherhood was considered, the frame of reference was presented as either the “prison of domesticity” theme of late-nineteenth century literature or the “motherhood-as-patriarchal-trap” paradigm of early 1970s feminist thought. With the notable exception of a Canadian Women’s Writers course, none of my undergraduate courses included a maternal perspective on the women’s issues studied, nor did professors call attention to the absence of motherhood or position it as a worthy and deserving topic for feminist scholarly inquiry.
Two years later, I began my Ph.D. in English, giving birth to my second child four months later in December 1986, and my third child three years after that. At 28 years old, with three children born in five years, and the only mother in my Ph.D. program, I hungered for stories and theories by and about mothers and wondered, as did Di Brandt, “Where … were the mothers, symbolic or otherwise, whom I might have turned to in that moment of aloneness and desperation?” In 1991, I designed a third-year Women’s Studies course on motherhood to address and correct the silencing and marginalization of motherhood in academe; it was the first course on this topic in Canada. At that point, York University did not offer a single course on the subject of motherhood, despite hosting two large and successful Women’s Studies programs and a student population of 40,000.
I have taught this course now for over 20 years, and while it certainly has been important for the development of motherhood scholarship and my own survival as a mother scholar, I needed and longed for more. I still longed for a community to sustain and support the work I was doing, a place where I did not have to defend or justify my motherhood scholarship or my identity as a mother academic. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and so MIRCI and Demeter Press were born.
The amazing Professor Andrea O’Reilly interviewed in Literary Mama.