MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center


A Mothers’ Breastfeeding Struggles Are Not Her Fault – Blame Society

By Dee Merrit

Mothers are warriors.

If you look back on the history of birth in the U.S., 95% of infants were born at home with midwives. Promptly after birth, the child was placed on the mothers’ breast to nurse. Today, many women seem to doubt their ability to give birth naturally and breastfeed. Often society does little to support them.

Many women desire to breastfeed and though the rates have slowly been rising research shows there is still a decrease in breastfeeding rates from birth to one-year. A quick google search will show you why there is a decrease. What is not listed amidst the CDC research is how women have been taught to not trust their bodies.

In America, it is more common (and comfortable) to see women advertised in lingerie and skimpy clothing. At the same time, a woman nursing in public can publicly shamed or experience feelings of discomfort, or be judged critically. Nursing mothers are still evicted from public spaces, restaurants, and they encounter rude comments when strangers express they do not want their child(ren) exposed to breastfeeding. Although breastfeeding is what our bodies are designed to do, it can be awkward and has been referred to as something to be socially discreet about.

As a mother of three boys, I would rather have them grow up knowing breasts have a purpose. Women’s bodies are uniquely formed to feed babies and also to comfort them. Additionally, nursing a newborn helps with psychological development (and so many more other beneficial things).

In some communities, mothers have access to breastfeeding help through groups like La Leche, as well as breastfeeding cafes and mother support groups. Still, some mothers struggle. It could be that many mothers continue to get false information from health care professionals who are not educated about lactation, and though health care professionals mean well, they sometimes insinuate that mothers should not trust their bodies.

All breastfeeding mothers should have access to local references from lactation professionals and be free of cruelty and judgment. If an advisor is not available, then there are other ways to connect to professional consultants including email, phone, and video chat. Unfortunately, these options are not always promoted. Many health care professionals unintentionally perpetuate myths about breastfeeding. For example, I have heard of women being told that breastfeeding can hurt; NO! Breastfeeding should not hurt! If it does, then it is a signal that something may be wrong and the nursing mother should seek help from an IBCLC. There are so many myths that continue to be perpetuated. Here are a few listed online courtesy of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF [LINK].

Even with available resources, some mothers of young children struggle just getting out of the house. They’re tired, overwhelmed, and are dealing with a  mixed bag of emotions. If they have a messy house on top of that, they may not want to entertain visitors. Believe me, no one coming to support or assist a mother with nursing is spending their energy judging a messy home. (My own kitchen has been not been cleaned since I had my first son 8 years ago and yet, I continued to have more children)!

In this shared graph from Katie Hinde, an Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Senior Sustainability Scientist at Arizona State University, and a researcher of lactation, she shares on this brief clip on Ted Talks what little we know about breastmilk compared to other subjects.

She shares this powerful message, “Many mothers do not reach their breastfeeding goals, that is not their failure, it’s ours.”

Do nursing mothers have rights? Yes, they do. But in 2019 some mothers still struggle with being told they can not nurse in public. As recently as this summer, a woman in Texas was told she could not nurse her baby at the public pool. Even though this mother knew hew rights, this issue escalated quickly and police were called to the scene. A breastfeeding mother has rights for a reason. These rights should not only be known by mothers but by public servants as well. Government employees as well as other facilities that say they support breastfeeding mothers need to be required to read and understand breastfeeding rights for customers, as well as their employees. This can vary from state to state. Mothers nursing in public helps to expose the general public to an infant’s needs as well as the very natural act of maternal nursing.

Even though some people in the general public may be hurtful, many other breastfeeding advocates will support you. We are mothers, we have the right to feed our babies as we choose, and we will not be silenced for choosing to breastfeed whenever and wherever our child is hungry outside the home.


Deann’s Other Blogs at MOM: 

Why Don’t IBLCLCs And Dentists Agree
How Income and Insurance Can Affect Breastfeeding Support For New Moms
Breastfeeding Education Might Not Be What You Think It Is
Gender Disappointment

Recent Press: Cayuga News about Dee Merrit at MOM



pantagesCONGRATS TO ALL WHO ATTENDED! IT WAS A WONDERFUL WEEKEND…. If you are interested in connecting again soon, please consider joining us in St. Petersburg, Feb 10-11 for the Mothering From The Margins Conference with M.O.M. [LINK]

Martha Joy Rose attends MIRCI Gala Conference in Toronto on behalf of M.O.M. She will be discussing music, activism, and scholarship in the arena of mother studies. See full conference schedule here [LINK]

This is an international conference on “Mothers, Mothering, Motherhood in Today’s World: Experience, Identity, Agency, and Institution,” with an embedded conference focusing on “Mothers, Mothering, and Motherhood in Canada.” The event will celebrate Canada’s 150th year in 2017 by examining why mothers, arguably more so than women in general, remain disempowered despite forty years of feminism. The conference also celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI), its 50th conference, and the 10th anniversary of Demeter Press.

Motherhood is the unfinished business of feminism. Motherhood scholars argue that motherhood, as it is currently perceived and practiced in patriarchal societies, is disempowering, if not oppressive, for a multitude of reasons: the societal devaluation of motherwork, the endless tasks of privatized mothering, the incompatibility of waged work and care work, and the impossible standards of idealized motherhood. Many of the problems facing mothers—whether social, economic, political, cultural, or psychological—are specific to their role and identity as mothers. What is needed therefore is matricentric feminism: a feminism that is fashioned from and for women’s particular identity and their work as mothers. This conference positions mothers’ needs and concerns as the starting point for a new politic and theory of feminism to empower mothers in Canada and around the world and explores what mothers in the 21st century need to adequately care for their children while living full and purposeful lives. Over the last forty years, motherhood research has focused on the oppressive and empowering dimensions of mothering and the complex relationship between the two. Stemming from the above distinction, the conference will examine 21st century motherhood under four interconnected themes of inquiry: motherhood as experience, identity, agency, and institution.

The three-day conference features 7 plenary panels with leading scholars on motherhood from Canada and the United States and a keynote address by internationally acclaimed New Zealand writer Marilyn Waring. The conference considers what changes are needed in public-social policy, health, education, the workplace, the family, and the arts to effect full and lasting gender equality for mothers in the 21st century.
More on Facebook [LINK]



A Gaggle, A Chorus, or a Consternation of Mothers

Thoughts in blog-form by Rosalind Howell

There is a  picture book that’s currently very popular with my three young children, called The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett. In it a duck finds an egg to hatch having apparently failed to lay her own.This is observed closely by a group of various birds (including a parrot, goose and flamingo) who wind around each other, clutching their own ‘normal eggs’ and look on suspiciously as Duck’s out-sized and green-spotted egg appears not to want to hatch.

Eventually Duck’s egg cracks open and a huge baby crocodile emerges with a “snap!”  its already sharp teeth lunge at the watching gaggle of judgemental bird parents before contentedly wandering off behind Duck with a gentle call of ‘mama!’. With each reading all of us gleefully anticipate that ‘snap!’ as the gaggle of bad/bird mothers get their comeuppance.

Also this month I went to see Rachel Cusk‘s updated version of Euripides greek myth, Medea, which played at the Almeida theatre in London. It tells the story of a woman (a mother of two), whose rage, at the betrayal of her husband and the cruel and rejecting society she is abandoned to has terrible, fatal consequences. In this contemporary version Cusk reconfigures the traditional greek chorus as a gaggle of hostile and judging fellow mums. As in the traditional greek chorus these woman dress the same, speak as one and move in and out of each other. They carry identical doll babies and create a kind of multi headed single organism that judges, dismisses, mocks and fears Medea, refusing to identify with her or empathize with her pain.

At times it has been my experience of becoming a mother that anticipation at feeling part of a cozy tribe of motherhood coexisted with a fear of gang culture. The possibility of togetherness, connection and support is at times overshadowed by a fear of difference, intolerance and rejection.  In discussions with other mothers we all recognised the stereotypical image of the impenetrable gang of other mothers at the school gate. All of us identified at points with being ‘Duck’ or ‘Medea’, perceiving ourselves the object of hostility from the group. We were less inclined though to identify with being part of a group ourselves that disavowed difference and kept individual mothers and their different experiences firmly out.

Deborah LevyIn her memoir, Things I Don’t Want to Know, writer Deborah Levy paints a picture of mums at a school gate divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’. The difference being the ‘them’ give their children nicer things to eat, like sweets and chocolate. It portrays vividly the conflicted and confused experience of mothers who can feel envy, fear and suspicion towards other mothers as well as themselves, all at the same time. Ins Freud’s theory of the Narcissism of Minor Differences he postulates that those groups with the most in common often become the most fiercely apposed. Small differences became inflated so connection becomes impossible. According to this theory it is not the differences between us we can’t stand but the sameness, which this fear and dislike of difference only masks.

In Cusks’ Medea it is the chorus of mothers we are supposed to despise. Their identical clothes and mannerisms, their shared views uttered mindlessly, which delighted the audience, become synonymous with a kind of collective stupidity and fear mongering. When groups of mothers are perceived as gang-like by other individual mothers a very real sense of violent aggression can be felt. Yet I was struck by how surprisingly life-like were the doll babies that the chorus held. Something in the way they held, rocked, lay down, even briefly shook their babies was recognisably real. Yet identifying with them felt like the real taboo.The ease with which a negative image of a group of mothers such as the chorus in Medea can be received shows how culturally acceptable it is to hate mothers, even if you are one. In other words, there’s nothing worse than being just another mum.

The collective noun for a group of mothers is a consternation. The word suggests an experience of impending danger, and the meaning, a sudden feeling of anxiety when something unexpected and unpleasant happens. Whilst arguably there are likely to be many moments that the experience of being a mother or mothering makes a woman feel consternation herself, this word as the collective noun, tells us much about how mothers are perceived by individuals and society at large.

The psychotherapist Rozsika Parker has made much of the interaction between a mother’s internal processes and the pressures that exact on her from society. Ubiquitous but conflicting cultural ideals of motherhood contribute to women colluding with each other in a denial of maternal ambivalence. She defines maternal ambivalence as the coexistence of loving and aggressive feelings within the mother towards her child. Parker believes that manageable maternal ambivalence can lead to creative development in both mother and child. But because society finds maternal ambivalence so intolerable an idea, mothers are still under enormous pressure to live up to cultural ideals of motherhood which deny their difficult feelings towards their children and their role. In what Parker calls ‘looking for absolution’ from other mothers, as mothers we can then attribute all those difficult, unbearable feelings to some other individual or group.

It is inevitable then, that the differences and conflicts within us between our ideal mother self and the real life flesh and blood one must somehow be tolerated. Likewise must our differences as mothers. Women, with young children particularly, are compelled to negotiate a complex web of relationships often involving other mothers, that comes from the practical and emotional demands of raising children. As group analyst Farhad Dalal says, groups come together for practical reasons and to do with context, therefore difference, as well as similarity will always be present.

To adapt a phrase by Dalal, groups of mothers in our culture get a bad press, and so does imitation. Strong cultural pressure is exerted on mothers to be independent, unique individuals as well as, paradoxically,  to maintain the accepted cultural collective face of the perfect mother. Our society pits mother against mother in fear and competition. And a fear of difference can hide a something more tricky; our similarities, and our shared humanity. This becomes all the more obscured at a time of heightened widespread political fear of the other.

At the end of the Odd Egg, Duck walks off defiantly, followed by crocodile. They have ‘won’, they have each other. It seems to suggest they can leave behind the unwelcoming, imperfect group to a fantasy of mother-child symbiosis where difference and conflict need not be acknowledged or born. It is a triumph of individualism as well as a fantasy of mother/baby union. Yet as the story ends we can only imagine what might be the very real challenges of a crocodile actually living with a duck.

Dalal, F. Taking the group seriously. (1998) Jessica Kingsley.

Figlio, K .The Dread of Sameness: Social Hatred and Freud’s ‘Narcissism of Minor Differences’

Levy, D. Things I don’t want to know. (2014) Penguin.

Parker, R. Torn in Two: The Experience of Maternal Ambivalence, (2002) Virago

From Mumsnet to Medea – Discussion at Almeida Theatre (Oct 2015)



Annual Academic M.O.M. Conference 2015

Greetings Annual Academic M.O.M. Conference Participants –
See you on Thursday, April 30th at The Graduate Center in NYC room 9205 which is adjoined to room 9206, and May 1-2 Friday-Saturday at Manhattan College.
We hope you are as excited as we are about this year’s conference.
There are presenters attending from all over the globe, and we look forward to welcoming local students and community members to the presentations.
Thursday morning:
10a: Conference Introduction: Martha Joy Rose
4:45-5:45 Keynote: Barbara Katz Rothman: Women as Fathers
Presenters: If you have not yet paid at this point – please do! It will make the registration process go much smoother. Payment link is:MOMmuseum. We welcome donations too.
The event is free and open to the public for the purposes of more widely disseminating information about Mother Studies. So, feel free to invite friends, family, and your students.
At this point, programs have been ordered, breakfast has been planned (Friday only), and promotions are ongoing.
We are pleased to announce that an experimental digital humanities online radio project is underway and we have hopes of launching it with a full day of broadcasting during the conference on Friday April 30th. We are hoping people will be able to tune into and access a live broadcast of the conference if they are not able to attend.
We will also be tweeting @MOMmuseum @CUNYcast and FB-ing
Regarding the following items:
Book Sales * Power Points * Microphones * Room Set Up
Please go ONLINE and READ carefully everything that is posted.
You should find answers to most questions there!

FULL PROGRAM INFO: Including continental breakfast on Friday at MC and parking pass if you are driving.

We do NOT have an official book seller. If you wish to bring books to sell, then you will be responsible, although we will do our best to provide help at the registration desk. If you have flyers or CFPs you are welcome to bring those too.
You can bring books to sell all 3 days.
We will provide a table?
You do not need to mind your books the whole time- honor system usually works.
We do not take a cut of your sales.
Don’t bring too many- you’ll be miserable schlepping them around the city. Maybe a dozen?
You are also welcome to bring postcards, flyers and CFPs.
Presentations take place within a typical classroom, with power point capabilities, etc: Zip drive, online presos, and computer plug in should all work, but I encourage you to bring BACK UP just in case. (For example. Post your presentation online at a place where you can access it, just in case.)
New York City has two major airports: JFK and LaGuardia.
Public transportation is available from both via train, and cab.
The train from JFK is rather straightforward and costs about $7.50. I would encourage you not to be fearful about taking this option if budget is a concern. There are people at the airport who can direct you, and I’ve done this many times. Here is a link to the NYC Subway Map:
Mid-Town MANHATTAN – Thursday, April 30, the conference this year will take place at The Graduate Center; 365 5th Ave. (at 34th St)
BRONX (a Borough of Manhattan) Friday & Saturday, May 1-2, at Manhattan College, 4513 Manhattan College Parkway, Bronx, NY 10471
(These two institutions are about a 40 minute subway ride w/brief walk from each other) We are starting registration each day at 9:00 giving people more time for travel :-))

The Graduate Center is across the street from the Empire State Building, and very centrally located. There are many hotels in the area. I recommend staying in Manhattan, as the hotels are all easily linked by mass transit, which is not the case in the Bronx.
Manhattan is divided into the West and East sides, with subway trains that operate separately on either side of the city. It can be a 40 minute trek from the West to East side, either by bus, or foot, or crosstown subway. It might be easier to stay on the WEST SIDE IF POSSIBLE.
FYI, the subway that best serves Manhattan College is the #1 or #6 train on the West SideLink to more info. Even more info.
With Great Warmth – 
M. Joy Rose on behalf of the MOM Academic Committee



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