Archive for the ‘motherhood sux’ Category

The good…

However, the interesting point here is the assumption that expressing (more and faster) is the answer. Buchholz’s comment is consistent with workplace norms under neo-liberalism that require mothers to minimise their breastfeeding relationship with their infants and to instead pump milk. As sociologist Kate Boyer recently observedin the US context, without longer maternity leave or proper provisions to breastfeed at work we are not so much accommodating mothering as squeezing it – quite literally – to fit into the ‘needs’ of industry. While centering the importance of ‘human milk’, expressing actually pushes mothering – the act of embodied nurture – to the periphery. This, she contends, is a new form of ‘neoliberal mothering’ that extracts both care work and labour from women without regard to the unique problems this creates.

The new norm is not to exclude women outright, but to exclude the particular embodied relationships women have with infants and young children (and, perhaps more fundamentally, that infants and young children have with their mothers). In the new model, liberalism has been surpassed by neo-liberalism: mothers are allowed in ‘the house’ (or out of the house as the case may be) but they and their babies are under pressure to minimise physical contact. As I have written recently, keeping up a ‘supply’ of milk and work is the new norm, which promotes ‘pumping’ over breastfeeding. These are, of course, not the same thing. The intimacy and bonding, the stroking and face-to-face contact, the intersubjective experience and embodied care are diminished in preference to disembodied ‘expressing’

From my friend, Dr Petra Bueskens’ “Keeping up supply: it isn’t only about milk” in On Line Opinion.

And the bad..

Despite the nice pictures with Kelly O’Dwyer, a former Costello adviser sporting the latest feminist political accessory, a baby, the five women who are ministers in cabinet, Michaelia Cash, Julie Bishop, Marise Payne, O’Dwyer and Sussan Ley, all supported Turnbull, although two were in Tony Abbott’s cabinet.

From Angela Shanahan’s “Politics divorced from the people” in The Australian.

And the good..

From the first stages of my pregnancy I was alarmed by feelings of dependency on my partner that I had never experienced before. As my pregnancy progressed, my sense of physical vulnerability increased and my capacity to maintain my equality through independence was repeatedly challenged. Finally, when my daughter was born, her utter vulnerability shook me to the core and I realised that I could no longer operate in the world as a wholly autonomous unit. I was encumbered by this incredibly dependent little person who needed me for her very survival. My understanding of myself and of what I needed from the world shifted completely, as did my understanding of the feminist project. I could no longer relate to the ambivalence of liberal feminism to the needs, indeed rights, of dependent women (and children).

This ambivalence of liberal feminism to the rights of dependent women is one of the reasons that it finds favour with some areas of right-wing politics. The individualism and market focus of the independence model of equality dovetails neatly with economic liberalism (or neoliberalism) and the belief that the market is the best arbiter and distributor of value. Single mothers, for example, are readily vilified as ‘welfare queens’ greedily bludging off the State.

Left-wing liberal feminists responds differently to the issue of single mothers and are more likely to support their right to government assistance. Nonetheless, this assistance is rarely framed in terms of payment for the unpaid work of caring for children. Instead, it is viewed as a safety net to assist women to survive until they can rejoin the path to equality through autonomy. This is because left-wing liberal feminism still envisages liberation through market participation and, thus, tends to focus more on the issues of affordable childcare and (occasionally) flexible work arrangements in order to support women to more easily become independent post-motherhood.

From Cristy Clark’s “Feminism and the terrifying dependency of children” in The Australian Sociological Association.

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One can become unable, in certain emotional states, to read fiction, and for me there is a similar ‘fiction-averse’ component to human experience, where things can seem so intensely real that you don’t want, or aren’t capable of, any distance from them at all. Having a baby seemed like one of those periods; getting divorced was another.

From Rachel Cusk in “Rachel Cusk on her quietly radical new novel, Outline” in Vogue by Megan O’Grady.

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I’ve always been someone who lives very much in my head. The startling, terrifying (and sometimes exhilarating) thing about becoming a mother was that that vanished almost immediately. I couldn’t think in any sustained way anymore; my mind flitted from thing to thing, and the novel I’d been writing for years no longer made much sense to me. My purpose became quite simply to keep her alive. My body was either on high alert or utterly exhausted.

From Jenny Offill in an interview with Megan O’Grady in Vogue with “Scenes from a marriage: Jenny Offill on modern motherhood”.

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“All your extended breastfeeding questions answered” in Essential Baby by me.

When my son began talking to my breasts (“breastfeedings” he called them, in case you were wondering), he was being so sincere and sad I did not know what to do. Should my breasts be answering him? It seems rude to remain indifferent to someone sharing the most tragic moment of their life with you. I mean, my breasts aren’t cold-hearted. And if my breasts answered him then should they have my voice, which may take you out of the moment? Or should they have a unique voice of their own – in which case, what does a breast’s voice sound like?

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Am told my piece for Meanjin has a broken link at the moment so I’m re-posting it here. From the end of last year when I wrote about reading and love affairs…

There’s a small child in the bed with us. I hold the sheet over me and reach down blindly to find clothes on the floor. Under the sheet I slip my underwear and t-shirt back on. So, this is dating now.

One evening I find myself sitting in bed reading Hairy Maclary dog stories to the small child. “Out of the gate and off for a walk, went Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy..”.

It’s not my small child, it’s the son of the man I am seeing. My children are with their father tonight and I’m missing them. The father of this small child is in the living room feeling down. I’m trying not to see that as a bit of an indulgence. And instead, I’m reading to his son and those smalls hands on my arm and a small head rested against my shoulder are bringing a rush of pain to me.

This maternal business, when I’m not with my children, is tearing at careful compartments. But decompartmentalising is this man’s specialty. Out of the gate and off for a walk.

I meet his mother, and then in a rush, his whole family. He wants to meet my children. At first, I believe he’s fearless. He might be wrong for me in several ways but at least he’s fearless.

Last year I read Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. This year I am re-reading it. I mostly re-read books this year because with everything happening in my life – the work, the grief, the rebuilding, the column writing, the conferences, the dating, the parenting, the budgeting, the anxiety and the calming – I can’t read anything new. I just can’t take anything else in. If I am going to consider anything in it has to be something I already know that I just want to understand better, and differently.

I read a lot to my children. They like re-reading books. The storybook I most enjoy re-reading to them is Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley. The rhythm in that book is something else. I marvel at it every time I read it. Every time.

I hardly read anything. Actually, I read constantly, all year, but hardly anything I think appropriate to highlight in a literary journal, like Meanjin. For instance, Twitter. For instance, Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness. I read that over and over again for part of the year, in a ‘dark night of the soul’ kind of way. I read papers and papers for work. I read a Coroner’s report with a fine-tooth comb. About the death of a child the same age as my daughter. Her mother kills her slowly, but quite thoroughly in the end.

She kills her slowly enough that people are wondering now how that happened. When you read the details, I mean really read them and re-read them, you see a lot of unraveling and the mother knows, she knows she’s unraveling. She asks her daughter to cover up the unraveling with her in more and more ludicrous ways. Most children killed by parents die before they develop the power of speech. But this daughter, who can speak and therefore reflect back what she sees in you, tries, reasons but also colludes. She is protecting her mother the way a mother is supposed to protect a child. Children do.

I distill the findings into something concise and lifeless for a report.

While driving home from the coast my own daughter starts reading aloud to her little brother and me from The Pinballs by Betsy Byars. It’s a young adult novel about children in foster care and I read it when I was about her age. Listening to her, I gasp. I forgot how sad this story is, I say. My daughter pauses thoughtfully and agrees before saying it is one of her favourite books.

When I arrive one night he is in a candlelit bath drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and wearing his dead father’s rosary beads around his neck. Even with tears in his eyes he can laugh. You look like something out of a film, I say. And I take some photographs.

Get in the bath, he tells me. And when I have pulled off my clothes and am stepping into the water he says to stop covering myself. We’re not young, don’t worry about it. He says it with such softness that for a moment I think I am falling in love. (You’re younger than me, too young, I think secretly). I hope you change me, he whispers in bed with a kiss. I can’t change you, I can only be with you while you change yourself, I reply. I guess, he says.

I read The Culture of the New Capitalism by Richard Sennett, the poem of Relational Self-Portrait by Dean Rader, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Long Division by Kiese Laymon, The End of Eve by Ariel Gore, The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and Aftermath by Rachel Cusk again (and again). It goes without saying I recommend every one of these. In a way, I am reading about uncertainty, but then everything is about uncertainty. Eventually I am reading new things.

But I am also still re-reading The Autobiography of Red. It’s a novel written in verse. Everything is a metaphor. It is terribly beautiful and you need to read it slowly and if you have forgotten how to read slowly, as I have, then you simply read it repeatedly. The more you read it the more you realise stories about love affairs are really stories about trials are really stories about dreams and monsters are really stories about self.

We were supposed to be bringing one another stillness, I point out. He promises me he’s very calm. Yes, I say, because you’re the eye of the fucking storm, you might be calm but no-one else around you ever is. He likes that and we both laugh. But he has a shadow self. It’s appearance is even more alarming to him than it is to me. The kindness, the openness, the intuitiveness and most of all, the fearlessness are gone.

His sense of self crumbles. He tries to argue with me about things I don’t recognise. It’s his past, not mine, and so I lack the bitterness towards it that he is seeking. I return home in a panic. Safe inside my own house I suddenly feel like I am reassembling. Enough, I decide.

Out of the gate.

And off for a walk.

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See The Babadook because it is really about the claustrophobia of single parenthood.

The Babadook

See Actress because it is really about the sexuality of mothers.


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Quotes/evidence from Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. My favourite novel in a long while.

But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.

The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.

What did you do today, you’d say when you got home from work, and I’d try my best to craft an anecdote for you out of nothing.

But my agent has a theory. She says every marriage is jerry-rigged. Even the ones that look reasonable from the outside are held together inside with chewing gum and wire and string.

Is she a good baby? People would ask me. Well, no, I’d say.
Also because I’m always saying he could quit his job if he wanted and we’ll go somewhere cheap and live on rice and beans with our kid. My husband doesn’t believe me about that last bit. And why should he? Once I spent $13 on a piece of cheese.
..get a job writing fortune cookies instead. I could try to write really American ones. Already, I’ve jotted down a few of them. Objects create happiness. The animals are pleased to be of use. Your cities will shine forever. Death will not touch you.
At night, they lie in bed holding hands. It is possible if she is stealthy enough that the wife can do this while secretly giving the husband the finger.

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