Roundtable: On Motherhood

Happy Tuesday from the F-Wave!

This will be the first post in a weekly project here on the blog where each of the F-wavers will reflect on a topic, event, what-have-you of the editor’s choosing.  This week, Mary selected the topic of Motherhood: how and in what ways it is involved in our lives and thoughts:

Mary:

I haven’t thought of motherhood in my life as a potential-mother (creepy phrasing) but as the recipient of motherhood — as a daughter.  My conception of motherhood (as well as family, home and love) is really fluid, not at all rigid.  As much as my own mother smothered me with affection, my experience with motherhood was often influenced by other women in my life, random friends, older female co-workers or relatives.  I often borrowed other people’s mothers and to an extent my relationship with my younger sister was that of a mother.

For a long time I was turned off to the idea of giving birth to children and to this day I’m pretty indifferent to the idea.  But I do feel like I can still be, and have still been a mother and have experienced motherhood as a beautiful thing in my life.  Though I am sure she would have preferred otherwise, being a mother to my sister has been so emotionally exhausting and rewarding I would not give it up for anything.  I do not like the idea that giving birth to a baby biologically is the only conceivable way to legitimize ‘womanhood’, like some rite of passage.  If I never give birth to children in this world, I know that I am capable of and have experienced motherhood in so many other relationships— I believe in a progressive definition of Motherhood!

Becky:

Motherhood is an interesting topic to tackle for our first roundtable. The first thing that needs to be pointed out is way too obvious: having a womb does not automatically equal a desire for babies Babies BABIES!!!  I’ve been told by many since I was a young girl, whether babysitting my siblings, cousins or friends of the family, that I would be a great mother. And I will be someday. I love children and I hope to share them with someone special to me (Kind, strong, progressive mini-revolutionaries, yep). But I know that many women feel differently, and I respect and accept their choice.
At the conference, one of the speakers went into pretty specific detail with an analogy of the birth of her daughter and the crowning of the women’s movement. My reaction to this was mixed. There was the ‘Ew, really?’ factor from one still uninitiated into all the gore/beauty of motherhood. There was the ‘Yes, definitely!’ from the part that identifies strongly with my organic, ‘women’s wisdom’, feminine side. And there was the ‘But what about the others?’ from the voice of balance that reminds me of everyone who does not share my experience.
The Mother/Daughter dynamic is an important connection between women, but it is not the only type of connection, and nor is it fair to focus exclusively on one that not all can share. What about non-hetero families who have trouble adopting, what about women who are struggling with infertility, what about women who have no interest in children or babies at all, what about trans-women, what about women who choose to abort? What about anyone who has not yet or may never experience birth?

I think the beauty of being a woman is that we bring such a variety of experience to the table. It’s comparable to the six friends and I who met at the conference and started this blog: we were very different people, from many different backgrounds, with ideas, interests and values that were unique to us, shared by some or shared by all. The point wasn’t to find a universal experience that we all could relate to, it was to come together regardless and relate to each other on an individual level. The women’s movement doesn’t need a universal driving factor, it just needs to build a community that encourages relations among its members.
However, I will also say that in response to the part of me that said ‘ew’, we need to have more open dialogue between older and younger generations of women. Screw taboos, let’s talk about sex, birth and motherhood. Tell us about the joyful moments, tell us about bliss. Tell us about the troubles, trials and tribulations. Don’t sugar coat it, we’re strong. Let us hear your stories.

Judith:

I’ve been thinking about motherhood in two different ways lately.  The first isn’t new to me in any way, shape, or form.  When motherhood, parenting, pregnancy, and other such topics come up, I’m usually an outsider to the discussion.  I notice that in feminist circles as well as in the mainstream culture, there is a sort of cult of the essentialized woman in that we recognize women’s differences, but still focus on a core that doesn’t apply to everyone.  We talk a lot about women’s bodies in relation to men, but also in relation to menstruation, the thing that “every woman” has in common.  I don’t menstruate.  My body can’t reproduce.  I’m not a part of the monthly bonding ritual, nor do I have a sense of the power of my body linked somehow to its baby-making ability.  I’m all for the idea of cunt power, as Dan Savage says, the idea of pussies being powerful because they can “spit out babies.”  But my pussy can’t, and it doesn’t bleed, and in a way this removes me not only from the whole mothers and families thing that I consciously isolate myself from as a childfree-by-choice individual, but also from the community of women united by their reproductive power.  Even when it comes to working for abortion rights, I sometimes wonder how relevant my opinion is as a woman who’s never going to have to make that choice.

The other way in which I’ve been thinking about motherhood is also tangentially related to abortion, in that one of the things you encounter a lot when working for pro-choice causes is this dedication to pregnancy and carrying the baby to term on the pro-life side.  Beyond the fact that it’s evident these people don’t give a shit about babies once they’re actually born, I also find it appalling in the culture at large just how ridiculously awful the experience of giving birth in America can be.  I think that sometimes when you’re thinking of giving birth as one of several choices, it seems like it’s the easiest one, that if you want to have a child and choose to do so, well, piece of cake!  Not so much.  The kind of crap that hospitals practice, from forced C-sections to giving women drugs they don’t want to nixing home births and not allowing the woman to have whomever she wants in the delivery room, is sickening.  I think that the feminist movement is starting to, and should continue to, really focus on all sides of the “choice” issue.  All women who become pregnant should have a choice between a safe, legal, and affordable abortion and a birth that allows the woman the maximum number of options for her own health and well-being as well as the baby’s.

Val:

For years I counted myself among the childless-by-choice ranks.  Granted, I was in college and motherhood wasn’t exactly a relevant issue at that time in my life, but I could simply never picture myself with a family.  Girlfriends would coo over babies and wistfully talk about the desire to be pregnant, and I stood outside of their reverie, separated by a wall of apathy.  Truth be told, children annoyed me.  Screaming toddlers in line at target, drooling, sticky babies, obnoxious eight year-olds.  The idea of relinquishing my life in order to create and serve this other person who would drain everything from me . . . clearly, this was not something I romanticized.

But all of that changed when Abigail came into the world.  In June of 2007, my big sister gave birth to her (and her husband’s) first child.  I walked into the hospital room, saw that little baby lying in her crib, and my heart exploded.  Abby and I have been like peas and carrots ever since (which is why my sister’s recent move to Seattle is killing me), and even her mother admits that she may have birthed my daughter.
This is not to say that falling in love with Abby made me fall in love with children in general.  Give me a little more credit than that.  What changed me was the realization that I love this little person more than anything in this world, by the simple of merit of being born .  And she isn’t even mine.  If I can have this explosive devotion to my niece, I cannot fathom how it must feel to have a child of my own.  That is the experience I want.  This is not a biology as destiny rationale (though my mother always told me  – probably to counteract Catholic misogyny – that women are closer to god because they can create life).  This is about me wanting to experience a unique kind of love.

I do think that this kind of parental love can be found without experiencing pregnancy or birth.  And perhaps that is the true common denominator here.  When I first read Judith’s thoughts on the issue, I was truly thrown, because I had never really considered young women who face the barrier of infertility.  But when I think about wanting to be a mother, it is about wanting that bond, that complete intoxication with and protection of another human being.  And while I do want the experience of pregnancy and birth (a nd believe you me, I’ll be a home-birthing-midwive-tub-using hippy), it isn’t truly necessary to achieve that kind of bond.  Yes, there is always adoption in the common sense, but there is also the adoption that happens when an older person attaches to a younger person.  In this way, motherhood and parenthood are universally available, regardless of gender, sexuality, or fertility.

Lisa:

Oh, motherhood.  I come from a big family (9 kids!) and I know I want a pretty big family (3-5 kids, probably). When I think about what motherhood means to me as a feminist, I get kind of selfish. My issues are going to totally be around working children with a career.

I love working hard and challenging my brain. Though I’m still in university, I’ve got my career choices narrowed down to law, consulting, or research.  Following any of these paths makes me feel like I need to get settled and establish a name for myself in my profession before taking time off for maternity leave. Like research? You can’t just take 6 months off of your research! I’ve been going to some job fairs recently, and one question I like to ask is about maternity leave. Then paternity leave. I think the number of males that take paternity leave is a good benchmark for the way that a company treats parents.

I’m only 22, but I’m nervous of running out of time to start having kids, and not being able to find the time once all other systems are go. When I think about it too much, I start freaking out about even finding the person that I would like to parent with, and then I want to punch myself. But that’s legit how I’m feeling.

I’ve never really thought about what my birth choices will be like, but I’d like to recommend you read this post from dooce. I’ve read it dozens of times, and it always makes me tear up. I recognize that not all women can or will or want to give birth, but there is something about this post that really puts a lot of woman-power in my heart.

Dayanna:

When I think of motherhood, I think of love, life and strength.  My mother raised me and still is the main supportive figure in my life.  When my “sperm donor” as I called the man who is biologically my father,  left
my mother & I, we were left with no place to live or food to eat, I was still in my mothers stomach.  He did not care, or looked back.
Fatherhood, didnt mean anything to me growing up.  I always thought, how could I miss something I have never had.  All I knew was, what a mother is, Everything. She took care of me, fed me, educated me, healed me
consoled me, and believed in me, supporting me every step of the way.  Who needs anything else when you have a loving caring mother.  My mother made less than $20,000 a year but I never felt like I lacked anything.
When I think of motherhood I think of the role of father hood and what I want that to be.  I am not going to deny it though, I recently realized that not having a father figure in my life has affected my perception of  what men are.  I grew up surrounded by single mothers that with little money
provided for their children.  My aunts were single mothers, and my uncles were seperated from their wives.  It was even rare to see a ‘complete family’ in my community.  Honeslty, nothing could surprise me of men and I expect the worst from them before I expect the best.
But I do believe that there are some good men out there, rare to find but I want to have the hope that they exist.
I want that good man to exist for ME so that I can have a good husband and father for my children.  Despite, the lack of posititve male figures, and no father in my life one of my dreams is to have a baby and a loving father for my child.
I am at that point where I think that my ‘clock is ticking.’  I have two Masters, a full time job, and I feel the next achievement to make me feel complete within the next three years is, to have my own family-
A home, loving and supporting husband, and a baby-in that order.  For the past year or so, when I see a baby, I stare and smile, and my heart fills with a desire to have one of my own.
Having my own baby and my husband beside me to care for it is something I yearn.  Do not get me wrong, I have no doubt that I could raise a child on my own and I admire those women who do.
I am strong, perseverant and healthy and I know that I can care for myself and my baby, but now when I think of motherhood for myself, I think of being a great mother like my mom is to me,
but I want that beside my children’s father. : )
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2 Responses to Roundtable: On Motherhood

  1. Tricia says:

    I love this post! I think this is the perfect topic for a “Roundtable” style post because it is one of those topics that really can’t be described through only one perspective.

    It’s really interesting to read all of the different perspectives that each of you have about “motherhood” and the different angles that you approached the topic from.

    Lisa: I think it’s awesome that you ask about mat/pat leave (I’d be too intimidated to ask – even though it is a really important question!). What reactions do you usually get? I can imagine that you might get a really broad range of responses which would definitely tell you a lot about a company.
    (Also, I think it’s awesome that more men are choosing to take paternity leave and I love that you include that in your questioning! On my last work term, two of the male engineers in my department were on pat leave – I thought that was awesome!)

  2. Mom says:

    As a second time mother at 40, I must respond on Mary’s comment as I her mom. I was told as a young girl we are brought up to be adults not parents. we we’re to cater to the men in our lives as we are second on the totem pole as a servant. She was my first born and I wanted someone to love, unknowingly it also became her job to be a big sister and a fighter for life skills at a young age because i used drugs and alcohol to kill my pain, I also became addicted. I cleaned up when she was 6 and since I can remember she has been not so much opinionated as just honest. I was hard on her and her sister, I may have been overbearing protecting them not become who I did at their age and not allowing them to own their own personality so to speak. When I left to be incarcerated for my own stupidity and decision making, they had to struggle to make life choices and create their opinions with the morals, vales and hopefully character that I tried to instill in them, they were two teenagers who so far have won the battle, and moved on, now 7 years later they have become strong women in their own right. I left the state to find love and became a mother of now a 4 year old son, 18 years difference in age and very difficult to explain to daughters I left behind. What a mutt I had become, to search for love, and now I sit alone loving my son as much as my daughters, and since then learning from her (Mary’s) talks with me, I do not need a man to love me, I need to love me. My son does not have family ties here, and I am still sad that my decision became a war with my younger daughter who is successful with her ability to move on. I want to move on too, to have communication with my children with respect, my family, and continue to be a strong woman, I have a ways to go as a mother, I am proud to all of you who can see through clear eyes and not without the strength of bulls to hold your heads high. I am not a feminist although I believe in what you stand for because that my Friends is what I taught my children to do as my mother taught me. So maybe I am in my own right? I hope other mothers can share their experience as this has been a hard road, to learn again and to become a woman, a Real woman!

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