MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center

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On My Experience of Motherhood Studies

PatriciaHillCollinsYou may have seen some of my blog posts over the last several weeks that came from the response papers I wrote for the Introduction to Mother Studies course offered through the museum. With a capstone paper using research on current topics related to reproductive technology, the class culminated three weeks ago last Sunday afternoon. I promised myself that I would not begin watching the newest season of Orange is the New Black until the course finished, and I have since been relishing these moments of TV consumption.

Other than satisfying my Netflix addiction, I have been able to reflect back on the course since finishing it. I was a Sociology major in college but took a lot of classes in the Women’s Studies department. Adrienne Rich and Patricia Hill Collins contributed foundational texts to our study in Introduction to Mother Studies. The names and works of these scholars were familiar to me from undergrad. However, studying them in the context of Introduction to Mother Studies, I began to see them in a new light…as mothers. Because of the strength of their words and power of their knowledge, I had always identified them as feminist first, whatever else second. But in a movement where “the personal is political” has been a rallying cry, perhaps for them, they would see themselves as mother/sister/self first, feminist second.

In “Beyond Mothers and Fathers,” Barbara Katz Rothman, a pioneer to the movement, said: “Mothering is an activity, a project…[M]otherhood…is not just a physical or emotional relationship – it is also an intellectual activity.” Scholars and writers have known this and have been doing Mother Studies work for a long time. Whether we have seen it as such or not, the personal has always been political. When women gave birth in their homes attended by practiced midwives, and then again when slander campaigns saw the shift to in-hospital births, Mother Studies was in action. When white middle-class housewives’ alienation derived from raising children in suburban America gave way to the rise of second-wave feminism, Mother Studies was in action. When the eugenics movement created a legacy of racist and anti-poverty sterilization policies, Mother Studies was in action. When images of the super-mom were contrasted with social commentary on the decline of the American family, Mother Studies was in action. When feminists came to the defense of Mary Beth Whitehead, a surrogate who refused to give up her baby, questioning what makes a mother, Mother Studies was in action. We are not recreating the wheel. Our Introduction to Mother Studies is the first time that we are calling it such and the first time we are carving out a space for it as a legitimate discipline. We are making the personal political…and academic.

Find out more about classes in Mother Studies online here.

By: Jenny Nigro, MoM Online Intern

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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