Unsheltered: about mothers and daughters (and mothers who are daughters) and a mother-daughter-conversation every mother and daughter dreams about, about independent, pioneering researchers and class and/or gender inequality, about neoliberalism and capitalism and destruction of the world, about human effort and failure, about finding out how ‘doing the best one can’ is always permeated by social standards which time or the next generation may reveal as false, and about feeling and being socially and materially unsheltered. I love this book.
After my previous enthusiastic thoughts on Rachel Cusk’s classic ‘A life’s work’ (2001) I was alarmed when I heard that she had received many negative responses to her book. I had considered it This is what I found: her own reaction to the responses to her honesty. I was both thrilled to read more about the book’s and the writer’s context and amazed (how naive!) at the mother-bashing. Cusk’s liberating honesty clearly does not have a place in the frameworks that dominate our culture. What a shame. And what a pressure on mothers.
My paper ‘Liberating the Pregnant Body: disempowerment and disembodiment in maternity care’ on my new research project on a care ethical view of maternity was enthusiastically responded to by the audience of the Global Carework Summit in Toronto last week. One response came from a mother present together with her baby. She responded as a carework researcher and a mother. She had never realized, and was now stunned at, how little she had thought about the pregnant body with regard to carework, even during her own recent pregnancy. Like myself she was amazed at how it is largely lacking in philosophy, sociology, and political (care) ethics.
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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Matrescence is the term coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael in 1973 for the fundamental changes women go through when becoming mothers. She compares it to the other, common, and well described transition to adulthood: adolescence. In this Ted talk reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks reinvigorates this term for her own practice. She tells that postpartum women are calling her, saying that motherhood ‘isn’t supposed to feel like this’. They feel discomfort and wonder whether they have a disease. ‘Matrescence’ to her is helpful to describe the transition to motherhood, e.g. the normality of it. It is amazing how little we know about it in common life as well as in academia.
The same amazement is expressed in this Dutch TV-show by brain researcher Elseline Hoekzema, neuro endocrinologist Peter Bos and pedagogue Marian Bakermans, who researched both mothers’ and fathers’ reaction to becoming a parent. At delivery women do have a head start to fathers because of hormonal changes during pregnancy. Their brains show substantial differences that remain for two years, and never disappear completely. However, if fathers are (substantially) involved in babycare, they can easily catch up in becoming attentive, responsive parents. This is not what a few days of father’s leave can help accomplish, I think.
Interesting: women who are mothers are still quite ‘terra incognita’ for research, and what traditionally has been reduced to a gender or hormonal difference can now be refuted: it is an involvement in practices of care that makes the difference.
Reading this article by Amy Westervelt with much appreciation and acknowledgment. She is so right. Not only mothers, but also women without children, and society as a whole deserve that motherhood is better understood from a feminist perspective. And from philosophy and ethics as a whole, for that matter. This is what our research project aims for: understanding what motherhood is about and seeking to complement theories and practices with an elaborate ethical and existential body of knowledge on maternity.
There are many sources that we can draw upon, this in itself is a journey full of discoveries. Looking forward to continue building a network of researchers and maternity care professionals, as well as feminists, to work on this unfinished task.
Reading this book is a fun and enlightening experience of recognition as well as astonishment. Cusk is a masterfully reflective, funny, sharp, and affecting analyzer of the lived experience of becoming a mother. It is both in similarity and in contrasts that stories like these are clarifying one’s own experience, carving out space for new understandings, and helpful in finding words for the transition into motherhood. Cusk’s own experiences and choices, e.g. how she objects to ‘routine medical procedures’ and experiences the first days after caesarian section as unreal, offer a mirror for mothers and all parents. Here is an adequate illuminative quote:
Full-time paid childcare was what I, with the blithe unsentimentality of the childless, once believed to be the solution to the conundrum of work and motherhood. In those days fairness seemed to me to be everything. I did not understand what a challenge to the concept of sexual equality the experience of pregnancy and childbirth is. Birth is not merely that which divides women from men: it also divides women from themselves, so that a woman’s understanding of what it is to exist is profoundly changed. Another person has existed in her, and after their birth they live within the jurisdiction of her consciousness. When she is with them she is not herself; when she is without them she is not herself; and so it is as difficult to leave your children as it is to stay with them. To discover this is to feel that your life has become irretrievably mired in conflict, or caught in some mythic snare in which you will perpetually, vainly struggle.