Intellectual preparations

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When embarking on any new adventure, I read. I read everything I can get my hands on, borrowing and buying in mad amounts. Our bags when leaving the US are almost always at least 1/3 book weight. This summer while we were stateside I had the pleasure of being able to read without having to worry about our weight limit so I indulged a bit. Now that is my kind of freedom.

As a midwife with a degree in women’s studies, I’ve read quite thoroughly the majority of the books that women find themselves swapping during pregnancy: What to Expect When You Are Expecting (not one I would recommend); all of the natural birth and parenting books; and lots of feminist theory about the politic of body, power, and pregnancy. I’ve looked elsewhere to find the kind of books I wanted to spend my time with during the pregnancy. What I want in books are some creative ideas about how to humbly dance this transition, mindful of the discomfort and stretching required, a presentation of an awareness of the political aspects of motherhood that is becoming my own, and some practical ideas to support our commitment to raising an engaged child. Here are some of the keepers I came across:

1. Breeders, by Ariel Gore. This one, compiled by the founder and Editor of the zine, Hip Mama, is a collection of essays from wonderfully courageous non-trad moms addressing such issues as open relationships, gender role-modeling in kids and parents, the broader politics of parenting, and the like. The contributors are often queer, poor, uneducated (that is to say lacking college degrees), disabled, and parents of special needs kids. If one doesn’t look outside of the mainstream mothering and pregnancy books one might believe all expectant women in the US are white, educated, middle-class, heterosexual, with really good health care. A delicious read for those of us interested in learning from those of us brazenly redefining what it means to be a mom and challenging the status quo all along the way.

2. Momma Zen: walking the crooked path of motherhood, by Karen Maezen Miller. This simple book narrates the journey of a monk who happens to become a mother. The themes of the book are Buddhist ones: acceptance, surrender, humor, and impermanence. I found this book wonderfully calming and inspirational when the media and too many loved ones (as well as strangers of the street) have negative stories to share about pregnancy, birth, newborns, and parenting. I want to hold these meditations in my heart and mind when presented with our unique challenges as Adam and I walk this path. This book presented some very concrete examples of how to do so. Reminding me that when you loose site of my breathe (and I do, like many times every day!), I can always come back to it and begin again right here. You can learn more about this book at http://www.mommazen.com/

3. Breastwork, by Alison Bartlett.This book is pure academia. It reads like someone’s PhD thesis, presenting a myriad of complexities relating breastfeeding: the consumerism of breastfeeding, pressure to return to the work place, the lack of agency for women to nurse on our terms, the pain of the physiology of nursing infused with the pleasure of feeding our children, the sexualization of lactating breasts, and the politics of who nurses and who doesn’t. It was a perfect presentation of, again, all of the women in the world who nurse from the Madonna and child to slave women used as wet-nurses to Parliamentary members in Australia being asked to leave the House during session rather than feeding thier child while working. Not always the peaceful, angelic scene its depicted as and definately a political statement!

There are a few magazines I find helpful, and inspirational: Mothering and Hip Mama. Both from Oregon, and full of alternative mothering, parenting, and consumer-focused options. These two rags can be found on grocery shelves at Whole Foods or any other hippie-dippy shop catering to parents looking for other ways of doing things. I highly recommend them both.

Movies: again, as a midwife and midwife educator, I am a lush for birth movies. Two I watched several times this summer were “The Business of Being Born” and “Orgasmic Birth”. Both present the viewer with the dangers of too much intervention in the US medical system, the physiological benefits for mom and baby of a natural delivery, and the social implications of a system like ours currently undergoing a shift to the normalization of surgery in birth. My only criticism is that the women showcased are often urban, privlidged, and uber-educated; not really represntative of the diveristy of women who go in for home and birth center birth. Great birth scenes, informative interviews with WHO representatives, and the last one even has an orgasm! Enjoy.

I’ve now started gathering the reading I will steep myself in during my maternity leave. Passing long hours nursing, or for when I am unable to nap when the wee one does, and to keep my head a bit level and not too full of milk! More to come on these gems soon.

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