Thursday, 31 March 2016

A community of feminist mothers with blogs

Feminism is about collective action, help and support. 

I am looking to create a community of feminist mothers with blogs. I am hoping that, in this way, feminist mothers will have a 'pool' from which to access help, share ideas,share blog posts and comment. Feminism is about collective action, help and support and it would be great to have some sort of interaction within the feminist mothering community.

 Please leave a comment if you are interested together with your blog title and twitter handle. 


Monday, 28 March 2016

Across the Reproductive Divide Doulas and Intimate Labour: Boundaries, Bodies, and Birth

Two women write about their experience of how and why they because Doulas:
"As we celebrate World Doula Week, we find ourselves reflecting on our own journey to become doulas and how this led us to the creation of an edited volume on doulas. "

After the birth of our first children in 2008, we separately found ourselves on the path to become doulas. The intense and transformative nature of birth captivated us and seemed an arena to nourish the interest we both already had in women’s issues. We found supporting women in their transition to motherhood widely appealing, especially as we negotiated our own transition as parents. Shortly after formal training, we found ourselves advertising our services as doulas and taking on clients, including going into women’s homes before their labour began, discussing their birth options with them, and then returning to provide physical and emotional comfort when they began to labour. Most women we worked with gave birth in the hospital, and as doulas we accompanied them in their transition from home to hospital.

Book available from Demeter Press.
We each had our own separate experiences as we began attending births in the role of doula, but found ourselves talking and reflecting on what it was like to be a doula from both personal and anthropological perspectives. We supported each other throughout these experiences as we also observed and discussed the dynamics between doulas within our community and talked about what was required to professionalize as a doula. And as academics we looked to social science scholarship for some critical distance and insight about the work we were doing as doulas. It was the opening we found in academic scholarship and our own richly textured experience as doulas that led us to begin research on doulas in our community and which eventually led to this book: Doulas and Intimate Labour: Boundaries, Bodies, and Birth.

Too often the cultural tone around the discussions on reproduction center on binaries - home or hospital, cesarean or vaginal, non- medicated or medicated. This book highlights the role of the doula to move away from binaries and to help regain a sense of fluidity around birth. Thinking about birth through the lens of the doula allows us to raise questions about the nature of birth and the social actors involved in the culturally critical moments of reproduction. This book looks at the embodied and intimate labour doulas bring to birth.

Today the cultural landscape is changing, and we hear much more about doulas in academic circles and in popular culture. Doulas now work to support women across a reproductive spectrum providing their services to women experiencing abortions, adoption, incarceration, stillbirth, miscarriages, and during the postpartum period. Doulas provide emotional, physical, informational advocacy and help in negotiating relationships (Gilliland 2011). Doulas have no clinical training and are non-medical professionals but a growing body of research suggests that the presence of a doula supports physiological birth and healthier outcomes for mothers and babies (Hodnett 2002, Hodnett et al 2011).

The very nature of doulas intimate labour provides a unique analytic to engage the often contentious debates around reproductive care. Doulas move in and out of private and public places and build relationships that traverse families and institutions. Our goal in crafting this volume is to highlight the ways in which doulas operate in liminal spaces and engage in intimate labour. Doulas also provide a unique way to think through the complexities surrounding reproduction because of the embodied intimate nature of the labour they provide and due to their ability to navigate between and across boundaries.

Doulas negotiate boundaries and often blur the divisions between communities and across public and private spheres in their practice of intimate labour. This book weaves together three main threads: doulas and mothers, doulas and their community, and finally, doulas and institutions. The lived experience of doulas illustrates the interlacing relationships between all three of these threads. The essays in our collection offer a unique perspective on doulas by bringing together voices that represent the full spectrum of doula work, including birth, postpartum, abortion, community based, adoption, prison and radical doulas. We privilege this broad representation of doula experiences to emphasize the importance of a multivocal framing of the doula experience.

Our volume also values the diversity of voices and includes personal reflections from doulas on their everyday experiences with intimate labour as well as academic analysis of this work. From junior and senior scholars in Anthropology, Black Studies, Psychology, Social Work, Sociology, and Women’s Studies, as well as practicing doulas, midwives and nurses, the essays in this collection serve to bridge the gap between lived and theoretical understandings of doula experiences.

This volume comes just as scholarly interest in doulas is beginning to swell - at a moment when the cultural impact of doulas is apparent from media and news agencies. As doulas move between worlds and learn to live in liminal spaces, they occupy space that allows them to generate new cultural narratives about birthing bodies. Critical analysis of doulas as they both encounter and redefine boundaries suggests new ways of approaching maternity care and reproduction reform. It also demonstrates larger social debates at stake in the discussions that surround maternal care


Angela N. CastaƱeda and Julie Johnson Searcy

Mothering in reaction to conflict-thoughts on the bombing in Pakistan by a very concerned mother

Dr Karem Roitman who is worried about the world that her sons are growing up in has written the blog post below. Lots of mothers share her concern.


I try to avoid reading the news, but as a lecturer in politics this is really not an option. Only twice, after the birth of each of my sons, have I completely opted out for months at a time. When my hiatus needed to end as my maternity leave evaporated, I once again browsed the BBC, Al-Jazeera, CNN… and there were no surprises. The world kept fighting where they had been fighting months before. The scars of colonialism were still unhealed and infected. Poverty ate into hope and peace. And, most importantly, fear sells, so newspapers highlight everything that scares us… the daily victories of knowledge, altruism, kindness do not make good click bait.

As I reflect on the content and theme of Mothers Under Fire: Mothering in Conflict Areas (2015) and read news, I see the headlines add up – suicide bombers, mass shooters (whose name or cause should never be spoken to keep from them the notoriety they most crave) kill and maim in Africa, Europe, America, and tonight in Pakistan... Social media profiles are forever changing background flags as we claim ‘to be’ Paris, and Beirut, Nairobi… But does it make any sense to be an abstract political construct: a nation-state? How will my vague, social change of identity from one flag to the next, claiming momentary membership with a socio-cultural entity that is inherently problematic and filled with inner conflict, alter my motivations, my outlook, and my actions? How will it help me overcome and fight fear?

Book available from Demeter Press

Mothering, I think, provides a stronger link to breach the gap between our daily lives and the atrocities that occur far and near us. To mother, to dedicate oneself to learning to love another person(s), means learning to see the person as they are, respecting their uniqueness and needs, and our uniqueness and needs, and overcoming tensions between the two while protecting them and nourishing them as our dependants. Such intentional mothering can open up our eyes to individuals outside our home as the children of other mothers. It softens our hearts and demolishes boundaries of race, class, and nation. Motherhood can heal. Giving mothers the space and support to love and nurture (and this in many instances requires colossal economic, social, and cultural shifts) can heal the sores that manifest in exhausting and numbing violence.  So I call for the mothers. I call us to see each other’s children as our own and to teach our children to see each other as the sons and daughters of strong, but often broken and constrained, sisters.

I leave you with a short poem, reflecting on a day I saw two little boys like mine, little children like so many killed tonight in Pakistan.

Of luck and genes

Please mind the gap…

A mother enters with her two boys.
Majestic eyelashes and a mischievous, dimpled smile look up at me from the stroller
The older boy leans into his mother
Dangling arms and legs that still need cuddles
She nestles his head on her shoulder and brushes his stubborn hair back with a gentle touch
He closes his eyes and melts into her warmth
I could be her sister
Dark, long hair, tanned skin, high cheekbones, full lips
Her children are like my two boys at home
But for a twist of genes they will face such different fate
My blondish boys will walk unquestioned.
Light skinned hands will be shaken without concern.
These cherubs will be eyed with suspicion.
The dimpled smiled unseen in the dark skin.
The thick dark curls assumed troubled, dirty, dangerous.
I imagine their mother’s fears at night:
Stroking chubby hands into sleep
Kissing little noses
And holding back tears as she prays for protection
Safety tonight and tomorrow
That her children will be spared
Not shot
Not assumed terrorists, bandits, thieves…
But seen. That others might still see the smiling eyes, the long eyelashes, the dimple, the dangling arms so ready for gentle embraces

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Mothering in fear during times of national and international insecurity

I was going to blog about something else, I cannot remember what now because it does not seem important anymore. Instead, I have been reading about mothering in fearful times after the terrorist attacks in Brussels today. They scare me, as did the attacks in Paris and Turkey. 

There is a video of today's attack on a Metro train in Brussels in which the screams of a frightened child can be heard. Hearing it makes me want to weep. I hope the child was not injured. Many mothers would have thought the same i can bet you upon watching the newsreel which I have posted below. Do not watch it if you think it will upset you too much

Whenever news of mass inflicted terrorist attacks come through, as a mother, my first thought is for my daughter's safety. This mothering instinct is not always a rational one because we do not live in Brussels, Paris or Turkey but terrorism transcends national boundaries. I am scared that my daughter will be somewhere someday where an attack, God forbid, takes place.

When the 9/11 catastrophes took place I remember watching a mother on the news who had to strap her child in the buggy and run as fast as she could to escape the plume of smoke and dust that was heading their way. 

Front CoverThe list of mother worries is long but in the 21st century another issue can be added to the list and it is this, mothering during times of fear in national and international insecurity. I am not alone in thinking this.

An academic called Ana Villalobos at the University of Brandeis, California, has written about (in the book featured) what it means to mother in fear ; "Despite terrorism causing physical harm to a minuscule percent of the population, it causes an emotional response and fear of harm in a far large percent of the population..." After the 9/11 attacks she undertook a study in the Netherlands of the effects of stress from it to pregnant women. It was found that maternal stress as a result of worrying about terrorism had resulted in a lower birth weight of babies as compared to those women who were not exposed to the stress. 

Ana Villalobos has pinpointed what she terms as 'strategic mothering'. When threats occur people gravitate towards having a greater connection with their children. Mothers quite commonly adopt strategies such as being protective and highly involved as an antidote to the world's ills. This form of mothering can be called 'intensive mothering' or' hover mothering' or the 'the helicopter mom'. I think I am, depending on how you look at it, either guilty of these tags or am doing the wise thing by adopting intimate mothering strategies. 

An alternative strategy is to expose your child to what is going on in the world. it means not shielding them from watching or reading about the terrors going on. This is called the 'inoculation' strategy where you openly talk about terrorism and what is happening globally. 

My thoughts go out to the mother of the child who was screaming in the video below, mothers who are mothering in war torn areas who are living the reality of what I fear and mothers stuck in the refugee camps of Europe who will be paying the price for any anti-refugee backlash. 


Monday, 21 March 2016

The story of a little lovely girl on Down Syndrome Day

I put out a call on Twitter today for a human story in celebration of Down Syndrome Day.  A mother, Bojana Petkovic, from Belgrade, Serbia, contacted me about her little girl called Tara who is gorgeous looking. It is the lived experiences that add value to special days like this.  This is what proud mama Bojana  who tweets at  @BoPet (Bojana Petkovic) has to say.
My daughter Tara, aged 3, is born with Down syndrome. During my pregnancy all tests were excellent with no sigh of any problems. After very hard delivery and line on her hand doctors decided to take a blood test. And it came positive to Down Syndrome.
No matter what they said she is my all because she is my symbol for imperfection perfection. Her smile and joy for every day, every simple think she learn and do is the light of a day and show me how little thinks make.
Tara enjoys company of other kids, and to play with them. She also like to play with her younger brother Filip (2yrs, 7mo). She does go to the regular kindergarten, where kids and teachers love her. And she love going, too. She was lucky in a sense she does not have any serious health issues.  Until she started going to the kindergarten in October of 2014, when she started developing a problem with her tonsils and started getting sick too often. She had tonsillectomy 2 months ago, and we hope those issues will now be behind her.
She loves watching cartoons, and loves listening to Zaz, Adele and Pink, hahaha, but she also is very active, spending 8-15 at the kindergarten, then working two hours doing one-on-one speech and physical therapy with the private therapists. We did not face much prejudice, maybe a scare 8 days after she was born, when we learned she had Down Syndrome, when doctor said she would not be able to go to school. But that was not a classic prejudice, and we are certainly working on making that statement wrong.
But Tara (and us, the parents, have great support of family and friends). We did encounter difficulties with the system, looking for minimal aid we are entitled to by the law in Serbia, but that has not as much to do with her having Down Syndrome, but just how things work here (and it is similar in the neighbouring countries, too). Life's rich with Tara.
Thank you Bojana for sharing this story with me.

Mothers fight against racism

The 'International day for the elimination of racial discrimination' which falls on 21 March is an annual celebration by the United Nations (UN) in the global fight against racism. It is a day that calls for racial harmony. This blog post is a reminder and a celebration of the role that mothers play in combating racism. 

This is done in a number of ways and primarily through the intersection of race and mother. Mothers employ a variety of strategies. A journal titled 'Mothering, Race, Ethnicity, Culture and Class' (see picture) published by the Journal for the Motherhood Initiative sets out the myriad of ways in which mothers practice and incorporate anti-racism measures in their mothering.  
Journal referred to in this article
The article in the journal that I most identify with is titled, 'The Experiences of Mothers of Children of Mixed Heritage: The Theme of the Body Physical' and is written by Dr Louise Gormley, a Canadian researcher who specializes in the issue of mothering and race. In writing the article she discovered that the physical body was a key consideration in the way mixed race children are viewed and the negative racial connotations that go with it. 

I have written about this before myself because I am an Asian woman of colour mothering a mixed race child whose skin colour is white. My motivation for being interested in my daughter's mixed race heritage is much like Dr Gormley's - the desire to help her thrive in the world and to learn more about the sorts of experiences that she will have in negotiating identities. 

Dr Gormley writes that, "When conducting a literature review on mothers of children of mixed heritage, I found that there is an undeniable emphasis on the physical body. To elaborate, there is no physical space less distanced than that of a child spending nine months in his/her mother's womb". 

When my daughter meets people for the first time she is assumed to be Caucasian but surprise is expressed when she or i explain that she is of mixed race heritage. I have been asked in the past, when she was younger, whether I was her nanny. Dr Gormley writes about a mother of colour who has been asked whether she is the family maid or nanny to her fair skinned son. It is quite disturbing that in an age where mixed race children are literally a common sight there is still a racial assumption that mothers and children should have the same body physical.

Another mother who is mixed race herself teaches her blond-haired, fair-skinned children on how they "have the ability and responsibility to move back and forth across the lines of race". My daughter knows that she can use her white privillege which is predicated on the colour of her skin to challenge racial assumptions while, at the same time, being able to understand the racism that people of colour face because she witnesses this happening to me, her brown skinned mum. 

One of the stereo typical attitudes towards children of mixed parentage is that of being perceived as being beautiful. This issue is given prominence in the article and validates the experiences that I have had where Chinese tourists, especially, would crowd around my daughter to take selfies with her. While Chinese tourists take photos with her, Asian people without exception will compliment her on how she looks like a Bollywood actress called Kareena Kapoor who is fair-skinned. While the comparison is enormously flattering I do recognise that there is a negative connotation involved because of the Asian Indian desire to look fairer. Quite controversially there are beauty products which carry the promise of lightening one's skin and a backlash has resulted in India in a campaign called '#unfair and lovely' on Twitter. 

The journal costing $5 is an insight into how constructions of motherhood and race play out and how the lived experiences of mothers with mixed race children involves negotiating the minefield of race. In a highly globalized world where human movement across countries and boundaries is the norm there is no reason for the ignorance and racism that  sees mixed race children as being objects of fascination as if they were a token rarity. 


Monday, 7 March 2016

Remembering refugee and displaced mothers without parity on International Women's Day

The campaign theme for this year's International Women's Day is 'Pledge for Parity'. The definition of 'parity' is 'the state or condition of being equal'. The state of refugee mothers at the moment can only be described as being tragic and heart wrenching. There is nothing in this pool of human and mother misery that has even a whiff of equality.

Image result for refugee mothersThe images of people being stuck on the borders of countries in Europe are shown to us via the news on TV and in the print media. We see children wearing flimsy clothing at the height of winter. Tents that our children normally sleep in when they go away on adventurous camping trips in the summer have become 'homes' for the displaced children. All it would take is a strong gust of wind or heavy rain to dismantle the thin nylon material that acts as 'home'.   I I feel for the mothers of the children who cry or who are simply too exhausted to even cry from their the treacherous journey of the sea crossings that they undertake in the middle of night to evade the authorities. These mothers are suffering themselves from displacement but are expected to carry on mothering their children under the harshest of conditions. The whole focus of the family is centered on survival in a way that we in the western world cannot contemplate.
Image result for refugee mothers
The concept of 'survival' though is an elastic one. A book titled: "Mothering, Violence, Militarism, War and Social Justice' documents the various experiences of mothers and the difficulties they face in being able to mother their children. Sadly, the book reminds us that what refugee mothers are currently facing in Turkey, Greece and Macedonia, among other places, is hardly new to the history of mothering. Conflict ridden mothering practices that emerge when mothers are dislocated veers between wanting to provide a safe existence for their children but being riddled with guilt over what they have to put their children through  to achieve it.

On International Women's Day let's remember that parity, while important, is not a concept that has universal uniform applicability. While women in the democratized western countries adhere to a version of parity that covers equal pay and seats in the boardroom there are mothers who are suffering from the effects of war and,.in trying to flee those places, are being stigmatized for doing so and are being told to 'go back to where you came from'. It is conflict mothering at its' worst because it comes from an external force that disregards and takes away a mother's natural instinct to provide and protect for her children.


Sunday, 6 March 2016

A thank you to my daughter on Mother's Day

Mother's Day, to me, is about remembering the day my daughter was born as being the happiest day of my life. I never thought I would ever have a child.  Motherhood seemed like it was way too much hard work and one that involved too many sacrifices. No matter how many mothers told me that the hardship was worthwhile I never believed them. Then a contraceptive accident happened, I fell pregnant and experienced the heights and depths of joy and love that I never thought possible when she arrived.

There was something magical about that moment when she was separated from my body and cried loudly at the sudden rude awakening. The tug at my heart, the overwhelming rush of love and the sense of awe at seeing the tiny human being who had resided within me for 36 weeks.

Having a daughter has turned me into a feminist mother. It is the means by which I parent her. It is the enabler by which I tell her and show her that being a girl is no barrier to taking her place in the world. I am grateful that the world is a more equal place now than it was but I know I have a responsibility to bridge any gaps in the best way I can so that she can maximise her abilities and fight against sex discrimination.
My daughter, Maelo Manning
I know what I am getting for Mother's Day. It's a rose scented shower gel from Body Shop. Children always get so excited about special days and can never wait to tell you what they have bought you. The best gift though is just being a mother.

Happy Mother's Day to you.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Does size matter in the American election?

The fact that a presidential election is taking place has become a mere sideshow to the squabbles between the Republican candidates. What started off last year as challenges to each other's election promises has, in the last 24 hours, descended down to the grand old macho level display of 'whose is bigger?' 

Donald Trump has hit back at Marco Rubio's comments about Trump having small hands. The supposed slur about having small hands was meant, apparently, to be an innuendo about other body parts being small and I am not talking about the size of belly buttons. Trump hit back by telling the world that he can guarantee that there is absolutely no problem in that department. 

What does the size of a dick have anything to do with foreign policy, health care etc, you get my drift. Americans who live by the Constitution, especially when it comes to defending the possession and use of guns must, surely, by now have realised that size does not figure in the constitution. 

The level of bragging suggests to me a reckless and arrogant attitude towards one of the highest offices in the world. The post of president carries an enormous amount of responsibility, to state the obvious, and boys who resort to playground or locker room tactics need to go play elsewhere and not take to the podiums to shout about how satisfactory their xxx is.