Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day Talk

"Arise then….women of this day!’

Arise, all women who have hearts!

Say firmly:

“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,

For caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn

All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience,

We, the women of one country,

Will be too tender to those of another country

To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with

Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

Blood does not wipe out dishonor,

Nor violence indicate possession."

Yes, the great Unitarian and feminist, Julia Ward Howe’s original Mother’s Day proclamation in 1870 was a call for women to come together and make peace. Horrified by the carnage and misery of the Civil War, she called for a better way. At the time, women were considered, by virtue of their nurturing capacities as mothers, to be more inclined to peacefulness. Sarah Palin was not yet born. Women were encouraged to use their kinder and gentler natures to speak for peace.

Today, 140 years later, Mother’s Day is a money maker for Hallmark, a day to honor individual mothers and sell more stuff. Other mother's children toil in sweatshops to produce trinkets for us to give our mothers.

I was asked to speak about my experience of motherhood. I have three kids, born in different cities, in 2 different decades, with 2 different fathers. The circumstances made a huge difference in my mothering.

Like a good Unitarian, I believe in 19th century Enlightenment ideals of the perfectability of the human race, and I took my job as a mother seriously. I intended to be the perfect mother, which I defined as kind and loving, nurturing and also intelligence stimulating, because I took to heart research which showed that it was environment and not genes, that determined intelligence.

I had my first child in the traditional post WWll way, in the hospital, isolated, while my husband paced in the waiting room in the way popularized in the situation comedies of the time. Those comedies never showed the mother to be, scared, in pain, alone even while in a room with 5 other laboring women, most screaming or moaning in pain. At the end, they tied me to a guerney, pulled out my baby and briefly showed her to me before taking her away until the next day. Not so funny.

The next day, I got my baby and a bottle to feed her with. I explained that I intended to breastfeed, and the nurse brusquely informed me that I had to bottle feed, or the doctors wouldn’t let me take her home. Stubbornly, I tried anyway, but she was asleep for the entire hour I had her.

Four hours later, when I went to get her again, the nurse told me that she had cried for four hours and I had better give her the bottle. Four hours! A sixth of her life! I was absolutely devastated and gave her the bottle, resolving to try again when I got home 3 days later.

After 3 of the longest, most boring, most depressing days of my life, seeing my newborn only 4 times a day, I took her home. She was now used to the bottle and didn’t want to switch. It took two days of her crying, me crying, my mother telling me that I was starving her, etc., before she accepted the switch.

No wonder the year she was born had the highest percentage of bottlefed babies ever. If I hadn’t been convinced by Adelle Davis that she would die if bottlefed, I might have given up.

There I was, stuck in suburban LA with a newborn. Long hours of walking and bouncing a crying baby, with no help from my husband unless I threatened bodily harm, truly was horrible.

Other women had discovered the same thing, and the third wave of feminism was in flower, with demands that men help with children and housework, as well as for equal pay for equal work and the Equal Rights Amendment .

How’d we do? More men now help with the childcare, at least. I remember 15 years after my husband refused to take the baby with him on a walk to the store, because people might see him with a baby!, seeing a big, tattooed macho Mexican guy walking around the swap meet with his infant. So that changed.

The Equal Rights Amendment? No.

Equal pay for equal work? Not so much. But the capitalist class seized on the women’s movement, twisting it for their own purposes. A living wage used to be a family wage, with one person able to support a family on a full-time job.

Corporate media now pushed the idea that women’s liberation meant never leaving the workforce, even to nurture an infant. With women now staying as wage workers with only brief timeouts for childbirth, American business could save on labor costs. Minimum wage no longer was a family wage, which now took 2 workers, one making 57% less than the other one. Such a deal!

The 70s fight to commodify motherhood by hiring out the actual caretaking parts to others was resisted by rightwingers and hippies, but economic forces and the selling by the corporate media of fulltime wage slavery as the “progressive” thing for a woman to do won out. Interestingly, the right wing, like the good corporate slaves that they are, have internalized the commodification so much that Republican mothers now boast about how little time they take off from work to produce their offspring and hand them over to child care workers. It's like machisma!

Ironically, bottle feeding had been sold as the progressive thing to do back in the 20s, with “modern” women bottle feeding and only the poor and backward still breastfeeding . As I mentioned, in the 70s it started to be widely recognized that breastmilk was superior to formula, and educated and progressive women resumed, while the poor and backward stuck with bottlefeeding.

But breastfeeding has also been commodified. It now involves fossil fuels, including an electric breastpump, plastic bottles, a freezer, and a paid child care worker, to what was formerly a loving and physical relationship between a mother and her child.

Mothering became much easier for me when I left my husband and moved into a child ghetto. In those days, discrimination against children was perfectly legal, and most apartments advertised “No children or pets”. So when I found a place which took kids, there were 5 other women with toddlers there, and I discovered that if I offered to watch their kids, they were more than happy to let me. So I would sit out and read a book, while our children played happily for hours.

I managed that way for years, until I met Rich and moved to San Francisco, where we moved into an apartment that allowed children and I offered to babysit the girl upstairs, giving my daughter a friend and me a break.

My second child was born at home, with Rich and my sister and my friend and my dog all with me. What a difference from the first time! I bonded with my second child within the first few hours, instead of months. Any here who have had good experiences with childbirth in a hospital can thank those of us who cut into hospital income by refusing to participate in that dehumanizing experience more than once.

Plus, although I still had to walk the baby to keep her from crying, I could walk the streets of San Francisco, instead of a suburban living room. It was much more interesting. And, Rich put in many hours of baby time. These things made me a much better mother the second time. Infrastructure matters!

I planned to have my third child at home, but I went into premature labor. Totally freaked, I went to the hospital to stop the labor, but instead had another horrendous hospital experience, complete with another baby started on bottle feeding in the hospital. I had learned from the previous experience, though, and switched to breast feeding in two long hours, instead of two days.

Although I still believe that newborn primates should be held constantly, and babies should have fulltime mothering and plenty of visual, auditory, proprioceptor and tactile stimulation, I now think that there should be a lot of social support for the parents. The nuclear family isn’t enough.

Every time I lived in a neighborhood with lots of kids, I was a happier mother, because my kids were happy to have playmates. Everytime I lived with no support, motherhood overwhelmed me.

But my problems pale beside of the problems of mothers in other countries.

There are 4 million Iraqis, 2 million Pakistanis, and 3 million Afghans who have been driven from their homes by US bombs, drones and ethnic cleansing. Homeless, cold, hungry, living in tents, or crowded apartments, forced into prostitution to support their families, how nurturing can these mothers be? Shouldn’t we people of this country be too tender to those of other countries, to allow our sons (and now daughters, also sold to us as “women’s liberation”) to be trained to injure theirs? Shouldn’t we spend Mother’s Day raising our voices in protest over the treatment of mothers and children in countries unfortunate enough to be targets of US imperialism?

What would Julia Ward Howe do?

Julia Ward Howe called for “a general congress of women without limit of nationality to be appointed to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions and the great and general interests of peace”.

It’s about time we took up the cause of the original Mother’s Day call for peace, and insist on using instruments such as the United Nations as the framework for working out differences, instead of rubberstamping American invasions and bombings. The walkout of Americans and their flunkies from the UN when Ahmadinejad spoke recently was undiplomatic, against UN principles and downright rude. Who raised these people? Their mamas should be ashamed.

Tell our politicians in the name of gentle womanhood that we want peace and we want it now.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great post. Too bad men want to rule the world and aggressiveness is more valued.

ryk said...