MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center

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A Letter From Our Intern – Candace Lecco [LINK]

ABOUT: Candace is a full-time graduate student at the USF College of Public Health. She lives in Connecticut and studies 100% online– when she’s not watching her wonderful (goofy) 2-year-old son because he keeps her super busy. She loves to be in nature hiking and playing in the forest with him during their free time. She is currently wrapping up a poster project for M.O.M. online called “Birth Practices Through the Ages”. We aim to post those shortly here on the Museum of Motherhood website.

A LETTER FROM CANDACE: My academic background in pre-med biology and psychology ignited my fervor for humanistic truth, but hardly gratified my creative temperament, which I tended to with personal literature studies and philosophical musings. I found it difficult to communicate with others as I tried to defend science, because most people view the scientific method as a dusty, dry methodology where bias slips through the cracks, contaminating the entire theory. Few successfully connect the dots that were originally intended in liberal arts education- combining humanities with science to seek the truth and apply it to create a more humane world. Science is a philosophy. It is an art that takes the shape of reasoning. It is a process that only humans are gifted with. We can use the scientific method as a powerful tool but we can notice the cracks. We can see the light shining through them and we can think about what to do about it. We seal them when appropriate and other times it is more appropriate to let nature help reveal knowledge. To believe that science is inherently restrictive and dogmatic is to disempower your incredible capabilities as a human being. As a graduate student at the University of South Florida and a mom, I am proud to intern at the Museum of Motherhood, an organization dedicated to dissolving the systematic barriers of art and science and showcasing the beauty of the motherhood.

After receiving my Bachelor of Science degree from Central Connecticut State University, I desired to look beyond the atomic, molecular, and cellular levels of nature that I had been so focused on in that small campus in that small city, in that small state. I found microbiology so intriguing because it connected the unseen, powerful world of microbes to the superficial human perception of our environment. An elective course on Parasites & Human Disease introduced me to global health disparities and painted an image of health that extended beyond individual existence- public health. I knew that I found infectious disease interesting, I wanted to help people, and I wanted the impact to be big.

I see public health as a beautiful collaboration between humanities and science. That’s exactly what I began studying at the University of South Florida, where I am currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree in global health, specializing in infection prevention. New insights into the life-course perspective melded with my life experiences more recently to direct my focus to maternal health, which is the foundation of a healthy society. This shift has been informed by my internship at the Museum of Motherhood.

I experienced profound growth and change when I became a mother in 2016 and had a somewhat strange struggle with postpartum depression. It was strange because I had previous knowledge about the condition from the outside-looking-in, and I found that to be valid. But I was also on the inside-looking-out, constantly discerning how I should feel with compassion and anger about what is expected of me, while thwacking myself simultaneously in self-pity and awareness that society and biology have more control over my mental health than I can fix alone. I struggled with breastfeeding until I found help in a local support group. I experienced, firsthand, the benefits of society. These women inspired me, and I found comfort in knowing that when I could log onto Facebook and find help from others who were also up nursing at 3 a.m. I enjoy reading about motherhood in both literature and in psychology and philosophy texts; I ruminate over how I can effectively improve the situation in our society where critique is abundant but action is stonewalled or misguided.

I also found inspiration in global public health leaders, like Hans Rosling, who brilliantly communicated complex data. Rosling used objective data to show that “extreme poverty is the worst health problem in the world today”, and that it should be prioritized over noncommunicable diseases, despite their prominence in numbers. No matter how developed or underdeveloped a country is, the proportion of noncommunicable diseases is ellipsing communicable diseases, yet life expectancies are paradoxically worse; this is an example of science as art- looking at the objective data in the context of our dynamic globe. Disparities associated with maternal and child mortality remains an enormous challenge in nearly all countries, especially the United States, where life-expectancy at birth is the lowest and the maternal and infant mortality rate is the highest of almost all developed countries. Despite non communicable diseases traditionally signaling long-life and high economic status, life expectancies and health outcomes are worse because child mortality rates are increasing due to communicable diseases, malnutrition and lack of maternal services. Maternal health is the foundation of a healthy society.

 

 

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M.A.M.A. ~ Birth & SONOGRAM (Art); [LINK]

The Museum of Motherhood, the ProCreate Project, the Mom Egg Review, and the Mother Magazine are pleased to announce the launch of a bi-monthly international exchange of ideas and art. M.A.M.A. will celebrate the notion of being “pregnant with ideas” in new ways. This scholarly discourse intersects with the artistic to explore the wonder and the challenges of motherhood. Using words and art to connect new pathways between the creative, the academic, the para-academic, the digital, and the real, as well as the everyday: wherever you live, work, and play, the Art of Motherhood is made manifest. Download the Press Release here or read aboutupdated initiatives. #JoinMAMA  @ProcreateProj  @MOMmuseum @TheMomEgg @TheMotherMag

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Birth, 2016
by, Megan Wynne

My three year old daughter and I collaborated to reenact her birth, while standing in the foyer of my parent’s house. I grew up in that house, and I am also raising my daughter there. She is being born into the complex and conflicted legacy of motherhood that I inherited and which is embodied in that house. As I give birth to my daughter I pass it on to her, and through her it will continue, from generation to generation. In this ritualistic exercise we act out our intertwined and mirrored identities. We symbiotically define each other, and the line between us is blurred. The flipped image depicts a parallel inverse experience of the same act. My daughter grows up and out of me, as she gives birth to me as a mother. She grows from me and I become her roots, always attached to her, never erased from her identity.

SONOGRAM
by, Susan Vespoli

When my daughter was a toddler
she stroked my cheek like it was the silk
edge of a blanket and pressed
the nipple-ends of soft balloons
into the plastic mouths of dolls

and when she grew breasts
boys flocked around her
like birds to our backyard
come to pluck seeds
from the center of a sunflower
and then her hands gained skill
to text friends, flick cigarettes
from the back porch, play Bad Fish
on guitar strings, and flip her middle
finger into the air like a slim bomb

until it finally folded back up, resting
in the cupped palm of the woman
who smiles at me from an exam table
with her eyes as bright as a camera flash
at the blip, blip, blip of a lit star that will be Molly.

(Originally published in Mom Egg Review Vol. 14 “Change”).

Susan Vespoli lives in Phoenix where she teaches English at a downtown community college, rides her bike along the canals, and walks her 3-legged dog Jack. Her poetry and prose have been published online and in various print anthologies and journals.

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Mother Studies Summer Accelerated Class: A Student’s Reflections

As posted on the website, we are underway with the seven-week intensive course offered through the museum, “Introduction to Mother Studies.” The course explores key questions related to motherhood, feminism, and the family – issues that the museum seeks to bring awareness to as an institution of thought. We are happy to share a glimpse into week one of the course, which has delved into the rich foundational text, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich, as well as a quick introduction to Sociology and a couple of short films about birth.

In Of Woman Born, Rich gives an in-depth historical, social, and economic context to motherhood.

Patriarchy would seem to require, not only that women shall assume the major burden of pain and self-denial for the furtherance of the species, but that a majority of the species – women – shall remain essentially unquestioning and unenlightened. On this “underemployment” of female consciousness depend the morality and the emotional life of the human family. Like his predecessors of fifty and a hundred and more years ago, [theorist] Hampshire sees society as threatened when women begin to choose the terms of their lives. Patriarchy could not survive without motherhood and heterosexuality in their institutional forms; therefore, they have to be treated as axioms, as “nature” itself, not open to question except where, from time to time, and place to place, “alternative life-styles” for certain individuals are tolerated (Rich 1986).

Below is a response paper to the reading/viewing assignments from week.

“Repossession by women of our bodies will bring far more essential change to human society than the seizing of the means of production by workers” (Rich 1986). Though succinct, Rich has loaded this quote with key points of her thesis in Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Embedded in it is Rich’s plea for women to reclaim consciousness and agency over their bodies, with special respect given to the institution of motherhood. The reference to Marx is intentional, as theory has pointed at capitalism as the root cause of the domestication of motherhood. However, as has been the primary feminist complaint of the father of socialism, Marx has overwhelmingly failed to account for gender in his observations of the proletariat – and this applies in the family, too. Though perhaps the reason for women’s reign over the domestic sphere, the subversion of women’s bodies occurs much deeper than in economics and cannot seek absolution from economics, as Engels would suggest. In Of Woman Born Rich maps the subjugation of women by the patriarchy and shows how this has extended to motherhood and the family.

If we understand sociology to be “the scientific study of human society – its institutions and people’s social behavior”, then borrowing Rich’s wisdom we will most certainly see patriarchal influences at work within medical institutions. The more egregious manifestations of this, of course, are in birthing practices that treat labor as an ailment in Western cultures, which she explores in the chapter, Alienated Labor (again, a nod to Marx). However, the less insidious assertions of male dominance in the medical field (but perhaps the most devastating) are in medical language itself. Anthropologist Emily Martin has devoted several publications to analyzing the use of masculine language when framing processes within human sexual reproduction. In the short medical video, Fertilization,” we hear phrases describing the life-cycle of the sperm as “a perilous journey against incredible odds,” “strength,” and “swimming harder and faster” amid a backdrop of language that describes the female reproductive system as an “acidic environment” (Nucleus Medical Media 2013). Presumably, Rich would attribute this what she sees as men’s fear of women’s ability to bear new life and of “her apparent power to affect the male genitals.” So of course, in a routine video describing the fertilization of an egg, the women’s system would a hostile, acidic environment designed to hinder the powerful sperm facing incredible odds.

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

Rich says that with this intrinsic fear of women’s bodies came men’s decided action to shackle the divine worship of women’s power. Women’s bodies, once revered and worshipped as an aspect of the hunt – a matter of survival for Neolithic cultures – were later looked at as forces to be controlled. However, where Rich’s argument falls short for me is in its ability to situate the rise of patriarchal dominance across all the diverse cultures she mentions. In one instance, she talks about the devaluing of goddesses in ancient Greece and credits another theorist’s explanation for this:

He theorizes that this fear of maternal woman derived from the sexual politics of fifth-century Greece, where women were ill-educated, were sold into marriage, and had no role except as producers of children, the sexual interest of men was homoerotic, and for intellectual friendships a man sought out hetaeras…or other men. He assumes the mother to have been filled with resentment and envy of her sons, and in frustration, excessively controlling of her male children in their earliest years. Her feelings would have been experienced by her sons as a potentially destructive hostility which is later embodied in mythology and classical drama.

This is one theory of the social climate in ancient Greece that caused the transformation of goddesses’ role in mythology. But what, exactly, brought about the patriarchal awakening across other cultures, in the same time period?

It would seem that if repossessing our bodies would do more to boost women’s power than the overthrow of capitalism, we should know how to dismantle the very patriarchal notions that have caused it subdominance in the first place.

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Did Someone Say Doula?

ICYMI – In a recent article, The Times reported on the growing numbers of doulas that expecting NYC moms employ to support them during their labor processes. Those this may feel like old news to some, The Times goes on to discuss doulas’ push for a greater level of recognition.

Doulas, a name derived from an ancient Greek term meaning female servant, offer birthing support to expecting moms. Doulas may help prep parents for the realities of childbirth, attend births, and/or assist post-delivery. According to The Times, there are as many as 400 active doulas in NYC who attend approximately 5600 births a year, making up 5% of all births. Despite growing in number and popularity, doulas still make up only a small part of the maternal health system. Refusal to be included in health insurance coverage and pushback from the medical community have left some doulas feeling shut out. Now, several groups are advocating for health insurance companies to offer doula services (a model that exists currently in the state of Oregon’s Medicaid program), as well as rallying for an elevated sense of purpose and credibility within the medical field. The article interviewed various medical professionals, some who praised the role of the doula, and others who rebuffed their call for a higher level of acceptance. Doulas do not go through the same credentialing process as midwives or obstetricians, so some doctors are skeptical of the success that organizing doulas will have in pushing for insurance companies to cover their services. Still, doulas – and those who believe in the value of their services – will say that they serve an important role medically, in that they prioritize laboring mothers’ health choices/plans and, according to the article, “’put the ball back in the mom’s court.’”

Perhaps we will have to wait and see where these issues go, but no doubt the increased awareness of doulas’ experience will help the movement grow.

Read much more on this topic: Human Rights in Childbirth Conference Papers

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Birth Stories Featuring Kim; Raising Awareness about HELLP Syndrome

It’s #FriendFriday!!!  This week I’m sharing a birth story from my friend Kim Meeks. She and her husband, George, have had an incredible journey with her daughter. Mary Farris was born at 25 weeks gestation, 15 full weeks premature. Kim shares her story here:

It was a normal pregnancy for the first 6 months.  My husband and I were thrilled about expecting our first (and only) child. We found out at 22 weeks that we would be having a girl.  We were unaware, however, that she would be born 3 weeks later.

13550893811764On May 25, 2008, I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a rare and possibly fatal form of pre-eclampsia.  I was taken by ambulance from our local hospital to a St. Thomas Midtown. My husband was told that an emergency c-section was necessary to save not only my life, but to attempt to save the life of our unborn child.  Mary Farris was born at 25 weeks gestation, weighing only 1 lb. and  3oz.  She was born with a birth defect called choanal atresia.  She had no openings in the back part of her nose, and was unable to breathe on her own.  We were finally able to hold her at 54 days of age.  After 3 months on a ventilator, she pulled out the tube herself and began to breathe through her mouth.  After 148 days, Mary Farris was discharged from the NICU.  We hoped and prayed for the best life she could have, keeping in mind that having a “normal” child was highly unlikely.

She had to have a g-tube placed for nutrition related to her defect, as her mouth was her only airway.  Mary Farris was primarily tube fed until age 3 ½.  She required physical, occupational, speech and feeding therapy.  She attended a special education preschool where she could continue to receive some of these services during the school day.  She also had the benefit of 3 years of early intervention services.  In her first 5 years, she had 11 surgeries.

Last year, Mary Farris was transferred to a regular kindergarten class and is keeping up with her peers now in 1st grade.  She met all of her goals in physical therapy and was discharged, and they plan on meeting occupational therapy goals soon.  She is now 6 years old.  We felt after all of her days in the hospital, that she is partly their baby, too.  For this reason, we celebrate her birthday with the NICU staff every year.  Mary Farris says she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

Through all of the experiences with Mary Farris, I have become very active in the g-tube community helping other parents adapt to their new “norm”.   I also was inspired by our experience in the NICU to go back to school.  I will graduate from nursing school in December.  Our story will come full circle when I begin my job as a NICU nurse.