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Feminism and motherhood

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.


"hmm" thinks this day-old baby who has just been assigned a female gender. "By the time I'm grown up will feminism address the needs of working-class women who are also mothers? And their tiny babies?" (photo: Krystalline Kraus)

I was going to post this blog, hopefully the first in series on parenting, on the day of the international women's day march in Toronto. But after marching with my little one, I was completly exhausted and all thoughts of blog posting fled my mind. So apologies for the late posting, this blog was written thinking about international women's day and what revolutionary feminism should look like today.


I was always a bit leery of liberal feminism's position on childbearing and parenthood.  Becoming a parent myself has confirmed for me that these issues are given short shrift in liberal feminism, and some versions of radical feminism. This is going to exclude most working class women, and worse, cedes discourse about the family to conservative and reactionary forces.


For example, when I found out I was pregnant I went to the soon-to-be-closed Toronto Women's Bookstore to try and find some feminist books on pregnancy and birth- and found nothing. An entire section on abortion but pretty much nothing on pregnancy- some theoretical stuff but nothing at all practical.  When did feminists concerns with women's health come to settle entirely on abortion? Shouldn't birth, breastfeeding, pregnancy and infant care be of at least equal concern? Its not like patriarchal institutions haven't fucked those up entirely, almost erasing breastfeeding from western acceptability and making pregnancy, birth and childcare almost impossible to fit into to a 'normative' life cycle that fits very few women. It turns out the books I was looking for were available at another nearby bookstore: but shouldn't they have been available at the feminist one as well?


Along with the rest of the left I follow labour news (labour as in workers). But until I was pregnant myself I had no idea that midwives in Ontario had been without a contract since April 1, 2011. Did you know that? Why is this not on the radar? Where are the socialist feminist lectures and articles about access to midwifery or help with infant care like those that often come out about access to abortion? Where is the outrage, or even notification, about new practices and bureaucratic procedures that effectively make vaginal breech birth not an option in Ontario and mandate cesarian sections in that case. (is it 'informed consent' if there are almost no doctors who can do a procedure and you can't get one?)  What about the 40% of women who want midwifery care but can't get it because there aren't enough midwives?


It also seems that while my peers have managed to acquire basic knowledge about sex, either because of or in spite of the school sex ed curriculum, that people do not have even basic understanding of pregnancy or birth or infant care. A friend asked me if my two week old baby was walking yet. Another friend assumed that on my due date the midwives would show up to the house and start the process along that day (only 4% of babies are born on their due date and no one starts talking about forcing the process (induction) until at least a week overdue, usually two). Everyone asks me if the baby sleeps through the night. (the answer is no, babies who are weeks old have tiny, tiny stomachs and are basically incapable of sleeping through the night. A better version of the question is: "how much sleep are you getting?"). I'm happy to answer all these questions. But seriously, I shouldn't have to. People should just know this stuff.


I was offended, however, someone else referred to my unborn fetus as a 'parasite" as if that was somehow progressive, knowing full well that I was intending on having the child and was happy about the pregnancy- his assumption that my subjective experience was that of carrying a parasite was profoundly offensive and I was so taken aback I couldn't even respond.


I actually had to explain, repeatedly, to an ultrasound clinic of all places that I was referred by a midwife, not a doctor, and actually had to spell out the word m-i-d-w-i-f-e. They also told me to drink a ton of water so they could find the baby with the ultrasound- after I'd explained that I was 8 months pregnant already. Not too hard to find the baby at that point! I decided to go with another clinic.


People in general seem unaware that female fertility for a first child decreases after 30 and that medical procedures are often needed to have a first child in late 30s and 40s- an information asymmetry that disproportionately affects poor and working people who might not have insurance or money for such procedures. This is not an individual problem of these people but reflective of societal ignorance on these issues. I'm happy that my friends are asking questions because that means they are interested in learning more- its the general level of knowledge in society that's extremely lacking.


Of course not every woman has children, but for feminism to focus solely on issues that pertain to women who chose not leaves the majority of the female population underserved by feminist political projects. (And not everyone who births a child identifies as a woman either: men who are childbearers need support as well, and so do fathers)  The fact that pregnant women and infants are part of society means that everyone should have basic knowledge as they will need to interact with them, as a friend or employer or co-worker or family member.


Despite my general problems with society and liberal feminism, my personal experiences have been pretty ok. I was lucky to be able to get midwife care, and they helped me have a natural homebirth, avoiding any medical interventions. I already knew a lot about baby care from my family, having been a major caregiver of my brothers as infants, as well as numerous cousins. My baby is healthy and awesome, breastfeeding is going well, and other  new mothers have been incredibly supportive with books and clothes and general support. My friends are starting a child-care co-op in North York, and my activist comrades have been super supportive when I've brought the baby to meetings or events the couple times I've made it out to them.


I happen to be fortunate to have had life experiences and be in a personal situation that make this process a little easier. Now, lets see what we can do to make that knowledge and support a bit more widespread.  We have to create a feminism that includes mothers, without marginalizing those women who aren't mothers.  And its not a matter of spreading our existing feminist resources ever thinner: women are going to more inclined to be feminists and to get involved if it actually speaks to their lived experience instead of a theoretical 'equality' that only benefits the rich, white, and childless.

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Megan Kinch (Megan Kinch)
Toronto Ontario
Member since December 2009


is a writer and editor with the Toronto Media Co-op.

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