Maternity demands ambivalent ethics

In preparing my lecture for next week’s conference ‘Concerning Maternity’ I will draw upon Sarah LaChance Adams’ book Mad Mothers, Bad Mothers, & What a ‘Good’ Mother Would Do. The book’s main point, that mothering (as well as parenting) is always full of conflicting values and ambivalent being, remains important and deserving of more attention. The way in which society, but also researchers and ethicists, often seem to have a clearcut idea on how mothers should behave, dividing them quickly into ‘bad’, mad’, or ‘good’, ignores how deeply conflicted mothers (and parents in general) might be on what a ‘good’ mother (parent) might do. LaChance Adams’ approach of bringing mothers’ voices that express their own experiences in a dialogue with care ethics and (phenomenological) philosophers, is fruitful in understanding the depth of the internal and external conflicts of mothers (and parents).

The point of departure is a wonderful presentation of the mothers’ own expressions of their experiences, for which LaChance Adams draws upon a vast amount of empirical research. This is an excellent overview of the key problem of ambivalence. It is not often the case that researchers in the field of maternity draw upon care ethics and phenomenology. LaChance Adams presents a broad range of care ethicists next to the works of Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Simone de Beauvoir. These sources are helpful for a multilayered analysis of maternal ambivalence. LaChance Adams is loyal to phenomenology by aiming for a deep understanding of this phenomenon, instead of seeing it as a problem that needs to be solved.

A less strong point is how Lachance Adams quite closely connects her own search for understanding maternal ambivalence to the philosophers’ views, by paying (too) little attention to their own key problem. Thereby she risks the incorrect suggestion that their philosophical undertaking was about maternal ambivalence as well. Nevertheless the book is an important and good read on a most relevant and undertheorized topic.

Upcoming conference on Maternity

The research network Concerning Maternity has organized a third international conference on the 7th of May, where we will analyze and explore the lived experience of both pregnant and maternal subjectivity, as well as that of midwifery, in order to consider the question: what are pregnant and maternal subjectivities and how can maternity care attune to them adequately?
With Stella Villarmea (Spain), Mavis Kirkham (Scotland), Jonna Bornemark (Sweden), Lisa Baraitser (UK), Beatrijs Smulders (NL), Bahareh Goodarzi (NL), Neske Beks (NL) and others. Chaired by Rodante van der Waal, PhD student, philosopher and midwifery student (NL).
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Postpartum despair epidemic

One of many examples of how women who recently gave birth are not receiving support, neither given recognition nor adequate care, left by themselves in this entire new and very vulnerable state, as other tasks, roles and positions have higher priority in the way that Western society is organized. This is mean in itself, as stated in this article, but it is also mean how an apparant and most expensive solution is quickly given entrance into the market: a new drug. This article speaks of the US, but postpartum depression is not only underrecognized there. Alternatives from which women around the globe would benefit include TLC, personal support, longer leave, flexibility and suitable accommodations for breast-feeding when a mother returns to work. Cheaper, more substantial. However, it takes a different kind of world, one that puts care central.

Mother and Artist Shira Richter

Recently I had the honor to meet Israeli mother and artist Shira Richter. We immediately connected as mothers of twins. In our research network ‘concerning maternity’ she showed many of her works which are artistic interpretions and expressions of the many aspects concerned in mothering: the bodily marks after pregnancy, the pacifying effect of pacifiers and baby bottle teats, the not so helpful comments and advice offered by others. Admire her work and read this interview and this interview.

She is also an activist in a country where becoming a mother means producing a soldier for its defense. She showed an image of a fetus making a military salute and wearing a military baret. It was from an advertisement from an Israeli maternity hospital (that appears in this YouTube video). A shocking social imaginary. In this militarized context, maternity means something else than in a peaceful context like my own, and it came as a shock to me to learn this.