Today we have a guest post written by maternal health advocate Joan Garvan. Joan’s children are now all grown up, but she has been researching the experience of motherhood and advocating for better services for mothers since her children were little ones. In this article Joan share some of her insights from her time in this field, and books that changed her world in some way.
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I didn’t read much about ‘becoming a mother’ until the my two were toddlers. Before that I was taken up with baby bibles that were popular at the time. I discovered the motherhood genre when I heard an interview with Susan Maushart who wrote The Mask of Motherhood *and decided to look it up at the library. While browsing the shelves I came across a swag of books on ‘being a mother’ and from day one I was hooked. I found that I couldn’t read too much of Maushart at that stage, she wrote too close to the bone, but there were others that became life lines. I read Of Woman Born* by Adrienne Rich, The Mother Knot* by Jane Lazarre and The Myths of Motherhood* by Shari Thurer all wonderful in their own way. I also discovered the terrific, and still relevant, graphic depictions of life as a mum by Mary Leunig and relished time spent. You can see examples on Mary’s work and book titles on her homepage.
As it happened a friend told me about the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Development (MIRCI) based in Toronto. MIRCI established Demeter Press which publishes numerous titles on the experience of women as mothers. There is a sister group in Australia called AMIRCI and over the last fifteen years I’ve presented papers at all seven Australian conferences, one in Toronto and one in New York. I’ve completed a doctorate in Gender and Sociology on the subject of the experience of women as mothers. I have set up an website, ran online professional development courses and presented a number of webinars.
The research for my doctorate introduced me to a body of work on the Transition to Parenthood. Unfortunately, not much had been done in Australia on this important transition, but critical work comes from Europe, America and some in the UK. Over numerous projects the research demonstrated high levels of anxiety and depression during the transition, high levels of marital dissatisfaction, a spike in domestic violence and significant issues related to identity for women as new mothers.
I’ve become passionate about the topic and I argue, we are in a period of change and being a mother today is a far cry from what it was one or two generations past. The single most significant development in the second part of the twentieth century has been changes to gendered roles and though there have been huge strides in terms of gender equity we are yet to adequately deal with the issues that arise once a baby comes along.
The Maternal and Child Health Services are an important touchstone between our health and welfare services and young families and yet they continue to focus on the health and wellbeing of infants and children while generally only casting an eye on mums and dads. The birth of an infant is an event of high social and cultural significance that has been highly medicalized. These services need to be overhauled and resourced so they might adequately respond to twenty-first century concerns. This is a topic I will cover in a later blog but for now I will go back to a book written by a Canberra woman Meagan Phillipson, And then I peed my pants … My Misadventures in New Motherhood.*
Megan is a good writer. I was engaged from the start. She talks in the first person and graphically describes the birth and beyond, problems that she incurred with breastfeeding and the legendary issues that come from a lack of sleep. Megan’s book is important because it can provide for that ‘light bulb’ moment where one comes to know – that in this you are not alone. While I continue to advocate for improved maternal and child health services I live in the hope that the stories that our daughters tell, will be happier.
I’ve brought together quite a library of books related to the experience of women as mothers, and would be happy to share an introductory overview session at NO COST if you wanted to pull a couple of friends together. I am based in Canberra You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We as a society need to support families better.
Thanks to Joan for sharing her insights and knowledge of the research with us. Hopefully we can all find something new and inspiring to add to our reading lists! I am especially interested to delve into some of the feminists classics that are likely still as relevant today as when they were first written!
Take this topic further:
- To find out more about Joan and her research work, you can visit her website.
- If you are in Canberra and interested to hearing more about Joan’s work or her extensive knowledge of writing about motherhood, send her an email at email@example.com
- Add The Myths of Motherhood* and And then I peed my pants … My Misadventures in New Motherhood* to your reading list