Reflections on My Mother at Christmastime

128px-The_Christmas_carolI suppose that people establish holiday traditions based on the customs they have grown up with in their families that soon become intermingled with their partner’s when they start a family together. I can’t say for certain whether it was my mother or father’s side that started this tradition, but in my family growing up, gift-giving holidays were a big deal. Living in a house with two sisters, ours was not a family where toys were handed out all year. There were no occasional rewards for good behavior or “just-because” gifts given during the year. The truth was, other than the worn-in toys and hand-me-downs that sustained us through the year, new toys only ever made their way into our lives on two occasions: birthdays and Christmas. But unlike other kids who got toys randomly during the year or who saved up their allowances to get a prize, we got a half year’s worth of toys at both Christmas and our birthdays.

This made Christmas extra-special for us. Inevitably, we would write our lists to Santa (informed, most likely, by commercials that had played in the last half hour of TV), and not only would we get everything on our lists, we would also get a very welcome handful of toys and games that we hadn’t thought to include. I took to writing my letters to Santa, listing all the new toys I wanted and adding a line item for “any extra surprises that I may like.” On Christmas morning, the tree would be littered with so many presents that you couldn’t even see the floor. This was our tradition, and I loved everything about it – from reminding Santa of the annual surprises, to racing from our bedrooms at the crack of dawn to open our stacks of presents on Christmas morning.

The year after my dad left the house during my parents’ divorce when I was fourteen years old, we were sure that this could not continue. We felt the impact of the loss of my father’s income in the house for certain. My mom, now a single mother with two daughters in high school and one in college, surely could not be expected to carry out the tradition of bombarding us with gifts for the yuletide holiday. We made our lists shorter, no longer the scrolls of games/toys that we would play with for a few days and forget a week after Christmas. It was the dawning age of personal technology and everyone was going mobile. My sisters and I had wanted cell phones that year, but figured it was a pipe dream. The only ones on the block still using a VHS player, we didn’t dare get our hopes up for a DVD player. Not this year, we figured. We didn’t want to put any pressure on her.

On Christmas Eve, we went to bed, grateful to be with each other at the holidays. We could get used to Christmases with just Mom; it felt more peaceful, anyway. To us, that was worth more than the mounds of presents with our names on them, so we snuggled in, satisfied. On Christmas morning, we woke up early and headed down to the tree with lowered expectations. We peered into the room and assessed the scene. The tree seemed to twinkle in the same way it had the years before. We glanced down at its base. The sparkle of the green, red, gold, and silver wrapping paper caught our eyes in the same way it had the years before. We saw the towers of gifts, piled up with little tags made out to my sisters’ and my names, stacked up in the same way it had the years before! We looked at one another, smiled, and took our places in front of the mounds. As we tore into our piles, alternating turns unwrapping, we glimpsed a similar looking package in all of our stacks. We decided to open them at the same time. We held our breath as we pulled back the Scotch tape and colorful wrapping paper. As the package began to become more visible, we knew she’d done it: she had somehow managed to get us each cell phones. We had a million questions, but somehow knew that it was all part of Mom’s magic.

After each of us had unwrapped the presents from our mounds of gifts, my mom pulled out a large box, which she happily announced was a “family present.” This was something new. Because all throughout the year, having two sisters meant that we shared everything, we usually got our own individual presents at Christmas. Who would open this “family present?” We decided to do it all together, Mom included. We tore back the wrapping paper to reveal a brand new DVD player. “But…what? How? How did you manage this? “ we asked her. “I got it on Black Friday. I got a great deal. Seriously, guys, don’t worry about it. It’s about time we get with the century and start watching DVDs.” Black Friday. With the exception of when my sister worked retail and had to go in early on the Friday after Thanksgiving, none of us had ever partaken in any Black Friday shopping. This year was different, and of course it would be. This was the first year that it was just Mom and us. Perhaps Black Friday shopping would be a new tradition for us, and we could get down with that.

As I think back on impressions of my mother at Christmas, I realize that even twelve years later, not much has changed. She still spoils me. Even though the type of presents I ask for are a little different (hello, utilitarian gifts…food processors, bed sheets, and clothes), I still look forward to the gifts from my mom most. And she always manages to throw in some surprises that I might like.

Written by: Jenny Nigro, MoM intern
Photo source: Public domain photo, Wikimedia Commons

“The Business of Being Born”, British-Style

A_seated_Greek_woman_on_an_obstetrical_stool_being_held_in_p_Wellcome_V0014911Recently, the New York Times reported on a study unveiled in Great Britain, which revealed an interesting find in the field of childbirth. According to the study conducted by Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, it is safer for women with no complications during their pregnancies to give birth under the supervision of midwives, rather than ob-gyns. (Women with no pregnancy complications are defined as those who have not had high-risk pregnancies in the past, are expected to carry the fetus to full-term, and for whom the baby is presenting head-first). The study found that obstetricians are more likely to use unnecessary medical interventions among low-risk pregnancies — including spinal anesthesia, cesarean section, forceps delivery, and episiotomies — which pose greater threats of infection and surgical accidents.
Of course, this is not new news within the natural pregnancy movement. Ricki Lake’s famous documentary, The Business of Being Born, made this argument years ago. Restricted by looming warnings of malpractice, obstetricians – surgeons by training – are more likely to impose medical interventions on delivering moms. This means ordering C-sections and performing episiotomies in cases where these may not always be needed. Midwives, however, rely on mother’s advocacy and self-awareness to guide decisions in the delivery room. They will defer to doctors when a complication surfaces that could pose a risk to Mom or Baby.

The Times notes that in the US, only 9% of the 3.9 million births that occurred last year were attended by midwives. This has not always been the case, however. At the turn of the century, midwives attended approximately half of all births. However, notable shifts in medical knowledge, which stigmatized childbirth as a pathology to mother and child, and positioned midwives as lacking in education/training and a resource for the lower classes, contributed to the decline of midwives and home births (read more here). Eventually, years later, the rise of the nurse-midwife helped to ease the public’s mind about the training and licensing for midwives. The nurse-midwives brought great changes to the birthing field, including the inclusion of fathers in the delivery room, a push for breastfeeding, and the allowance of babies and mothers to remain in the same room post-birth. Fast forward fifty years to now, when 75% of certified nurse midwives work in physician practices or hospitals, and either interact with or are under the supervision of doctors. Strict standard and licensing requirements for midwives have long assured expecting parents of their capabilities in the delivery room, and now it seems, they may even be a safer option? Perhaps the implications of the British study will have a ripple effect on the American healthcare system to push for greater autonomy among midwives.

By Jenny Nigro, online intern

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Help Us Find Our Next Stage Location

Dear MOM Friends –

I hope this note finds you all well.

MJR_Side
Joy Rose

As you know– The Museum of Motherhood has occupied a great deal of my time and attention for the last 10 years; first as an idea, then in founding the non-profit Motherhood Foundation Inc., and finally in practice, through traveling exhibits and our location in NYC 2011-2014.

In 2011, Working Mother Magazine published an interview in which I stated, “there are marble museums, mustard museums, and car museums, why isn’t there a Museum of Motherhood?” Last summer my family and I actually stumbled upon the Mustard Museum near Lubec, Maine! Recently Galit sent a link to a new Hip Hop Museum opening in Harlem which is exciting, but unfortunately isn’t our Museum of Motherhood. Finally, my kids continue to enjoy spending vacation time in St. Petersburg, Fla. (which has no less than 5 major museums).

During the spring and summer of 2015 I will be expanding the search for a next-level space both North and South. I will specifically be looking for affiliations with universities. I have found examples of privately owned spaces gaining recognition from the colleges they work with, and eventually being legitimized through that relationship. I will also be asking God for guidance.

I am specifically interested in St. Petersburg/Tampa, Florida, and Brunswick/Orono, Maine, because of the personal relationships I have there. I would also consider the Bronx/Manhattan, although barring a miracle it would be difficult for me to personally sustain something in the NY Metro area. If I consider a move, it may be possible for me to continue to push the project with my personal assets and resources.

Please send thoughts and inspiration. It will be a busy spring with the Barnes and Noble book fair/fundraiser, and the annual academic MOM Conference. If anyone would like to help organize the book fair, please do let me know. We have a full five days to host readings, encourage people around the country to use our special code to make Mother’s Day book purchases (of which we’ll receive a portion of the sales), and raise awareness of M.O.M.

I am aiming to complete my thesis this spring. If you’re interested in seeing what I’m working on, it’s posted here. I will continue to prayerfully embrace the next phase of this journey, and in the meantime, on behalf of the museum, I send light, love, and peace to each of you beautiful and generous people this holiday season.

With Great Affection and Warmest Wishes for a Healthy, Happy, and Wealthy New Year,

M. Joy Rose

Write me directly at: MOMmuseum.@gmail.com

Four Mothers’ Grief

Recently, the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown sat down with Anderson Cooper on Anderson Cooper 360.

art courtesy chicago art dept. creative commons
art courtesy chicago art dept. creative commons

Three poignant clips, found here on Vibe, show the mothers sitting together for the first time since the deaths of their sons at the hands of three white policemen (and one white neighborhood watchperson).   As reported here by CNN, the mothers asserted that had their sons been white, they would still be alive today. When Anderson Cooper cites poll results suggesting that most Americans are not of the mindset that the killings have been racially charged, the women argue that white people do not have to think about this issue in their lives. Marx raised a similar point in relation to labor division. The “have-nots” will always be more conscious of the “haves’” access to wealth, but this is not as apparent to the “haves”. In essence, privilege is more visible to those who do not benefit from it.

The mothers’ tones unwavering despite their grief, their messages were not those of anger. They challenged the perception reflected in the polls, saying that the protests, rallies, and marches that have sprung up in cities across the US have been comprised of people of all races, showing that this is not just the African American community’s issue; it is a human rights issue.

By Jenny Nigro – M.O.M. online intern

The Global Motherhood Report Card

Each year, the NGO Save the Children publishes their annual “State of the World’s Mothers Report.” This report ranks countries on their support for motherhood, in essence, offering a sort of “where the best places to be a mother are” list. The rankings are derived from a composite score, evaluating countries in the five categories of: maternal health, children’s well-being, educational status, economic status, and political status. You may access the full report here.

Sadly, the most inhospitable regions for mothers and children are countries plagued by armed conflict and deep poverty. In the Democratic Republic of Congo where six million lives have been claimed to the ongoing civil war, the findings from the report note that it is safer to be in combat than to be a mother or child. It is not only the senseless acts of violence that have contributed to this shocking death toll, but also the incidence of malnutrition and disease. Political displacement in conflict regions, risk of physical/sexual violence, poverty, and natural disaster all limit women’s access to maternal care.

A worthy topic to distribute to the public, this year’s report caught the eye of ABC and Jezebel. Both news sources commented on the United States’ notable drop in the rankings, from number 6 in the world in 2006 to number 31 in 2014. As the world’s wealthiest country, how is it that we have come to fall short of making the top thirty? The report explains that while we are doing well in terms of economic and educational status (of which we are ranked 8th and 14th in the world, respectively), we are lagging in other aspects. When it comes to maternal health, the US ranks 46th in the world. This figure reflects the reality that American women face a 1 in 2400 risk of maternal death, and American children under 5 face a mortality rate of 7.1 per every 1000 live births, which is roughly the same in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Qatar, and Uruguay. For children’s well-being we occupy 40th place. Most disappointingly, when it comes to political status, we are at a dismal 96th place.

In light of recent changes to our healthcare system, we would expect our maternal health status to read differently. The Save the Children report points to devastating natural disasters that have hindered victims’ receipt of comprehensive healthcare. Still recent in our nation’s collective history, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy had disproportionately aversive effects on access to care among pregnant/parent women and children. Though not mentioned in the article, another threat to women’s maternal health could possibly be the rise in the number of cases of severe pre-eclampsia, which pose risks to the health of mothers and fetuses.

Though the contributing factors are debatable, the numbers show that there is work to be done globally to improve women and children’s health worldwide. The Millenium Development Goals put out by the UN established markers that countries should strive to meet in these areas, but maintenance and support from governing bodies are needed to ensure that mothers have the ability to provide basic care for their children – around the world.

THANK YOU for You Submissions! MOM Conference 2015

MamaExpoHeader9th Annual MOM Conference
– Museum of Motherhood Call for Papers –
“New Maternalisms”: Tales of Motherwork (Dislodging the Unthinkable)

– CFP Deadline Extended to January 15th –

April 30th, May 1st-2nd, NYC 2015

The purpose of this conference focuses on “new maternalisms” and explores “motherwork” and the invisible labor of caregiving in our everyday lived experiences. How do mothers, fathers, and caretakers experience “motherwork” what does it mean? How does “motherwork” impact the communities in which we live and work?

Here are examples of possible topics, but are not limited to:

What caregiving practices are pursued in “motherwork”? How have these practices been shaped by factors such as nation, religion, gender, and other axes of difference? How do caregivers frame/understand their “motherwork”? What alliances do caregivers build locally, regionally, and internationally, and why? To what extent does caregiving intersect with other forms of activism/resistance?

How have wo/men’s identities as caregivers been disrupted or shaped by binaries, such as east/west, north/south? Whose agency is privileged or obscured within “motherwork”? How do global discourses shape local “motherwork,” and, how, in turn, do local issues and frames shape global discourses around “motherwork”? This Call For Papers signals the important sociological and anthropological shifts taking place in the field of motherhood as it relates to wo/men – mothers, father, and caretakers.

We welcome submissions from scholars, students, activists, artists, community agencies, service providers, journalists, mothers and others who work or research in this area. Cross-cultural, historical, and comparative work is encouraged. We also encourage a variety of types of submissions including individual academic papers from all disciplines, proposals for panels, creative submissions, performances, storytelling, visual arts, film, music, audio, and other alternative formats.

Submissions must include a title and a maximum 50-100 word abstract for individual papers, panels, and other submission types (e.g. performance, media, music). Panel submissions must include short abstracts (50-100 word) for each individual paper that will be included in the panel.

http://mommuseum.org/conference-submissions/

All submissions will be peer reviewed with responses by Feb. 2nd. The conference will be held in NYC at the CUNY Graduate Center and Manhattan College. [LINK] to Submit.