I came across Samantha's project early in the year, and of course, intrigued, I emailed a submission. I love blogs, and projects, and drawing out stories from others...there is such value in what we have to share. It was natural to invite her to the 31 Days project. Samantha's insights and challenges about motherhood are timely and pertinent -- I hope they get us thinking.
My husband was the one who came up with the idea for The 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project. We were watching the snow on a cold, cold Cleveland day in December and talking about stereotypes of pregnancy, birth and parenthood that we see everyday. I wanted a platform for real people to share their stories. And my genius partner came up with this idea. I would collect stories from people who have lived experiences of pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period and I would feature the stories weekly, corresponding to each week of the year. We are now in our second trimester, entering week 18.
The goal of The 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project is to show the reality of the first 52 weeks of motherhood—from conception through the 4th trimester—from the points of view of people who have actually gone through the experience, instead of the idealized or scary images fed to us daily. So far there have been stories of surprise pregnancies, women who feel utterly awesome and others who feel the worst they've ever felt, reactions to the news of twins and a rainbow baby, and a family dog who knew Mom was pregnant before anyone else. I've loved seeing how different people’s experiences are, but how there are still some threads of similarity that weave throughout the stories. All the stories express at least a twinge of both hope and fear, and lots of expectations. There’s also the eternal negotiation of internal and external pulls and pushes. Being focused on and centered in your body, sensing the internal changes that are so subtle but so profound, while simultaneously working and playing and interacting with the “outside” world... has there ever been a pregnant person who hasn't experienced this?
But over the past months, I've been thinking a lot about motherhood and what it means for individuals and our collective culture, and now I’m trying to take a critical look at the subtle implications of a project like this. I did a little unpacking in a recent post because I wanted to clarify the language I've been using to talk about pregnancy. I wanted to be more purposeful and inclusive. Specifically, I wanted to clarify that I recognize that, so far, these have been stories from women who have wanted to be mothers and who have been able and willing to deal with having a new baby and who have been generally excited about the prospect. First off, this doesn't mean that I think that the concept of motherhood is strictly reserved for those who are born female. Secondly, I need to put it out there that I am a firm believer in the right for pregnant people to decide what to do with their own bodies, and I don’t want the stories I share to imply that every pregnant person needs to think of their growing fetus as a baby or a blessing. My thoughts about this are perhaps made a little clearer in this post.
That said, my understanding of “motherhood” has evolved throughout this project because I have been simultaneously reading the book Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, written by Adrienne Rich in 1976, and delving into the feminist research surrounding motherhood that has been published since. I’m struggling to understand the nuances of all I’m reading, but thus far something has become very clear to me: our experiences of being mothers and of mothering our children and families are inextricably linked to patriarchal culture. There is a constant struggle for us to be mothers and to mother in a way that is empowering to ourselves and our children within a culture that has pervasive and highly limiting ideas of what motherhood should look like. This is the context surrounding this project right now, and what I’m exploring mentally and emotionally as I read the myriad experiences of pregnancy and motherhood that have been shared with me.
As a postpartum doula and a mother myself, I get to see and experience the give and take between the cultural ideals of motherhood and the individual meaning of mothering on a daily basis. In my doula work I strive to create a space for mothers to feel safe and supported so that they can (re)discover their place of power and self-confidence and autonomy. I enter families’ homes with an open, nonjudgmental mind because I don’t want to contribute to the blaming, shaming, and competition that are so common within the cultural discourse of motherhood.
I hope to raise recognition of what postpartum doulas do—we’re not babysitters or night nurses or housekeepers or laundresses, although there are aspects of these jobs that overlap with the role of the postpartum doula. Essentially, our job is to support the mother while she learns how to mother. I believe that mothering isn’t instinctual, but rather learned. (Another way of saying this could be that mothering isn’t a passive endeavor, but actually an active, powerful role.) But it’s not learned by using the left-brain methods of analysis and strategizing and reading every parenting book out there. Instead, I think that learning how to mother (or, rather, how you mother) involves learning about yourself and your baby in an intuitive way. And the fastest way to do this is to spend time really focused on developing that relationship between you and your child and to stay alert to the creative powers that emerge during the transformative processes of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum change. Postpartum doulas provide the support and attention mothers need as they explore these changes.
I’m excited to see how The 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project grows and evolves. I’m continually collecting snapshots of what motherhood means to each person—whether it’s a written story, a photo, an artistic portrayal, or a mixture of all of these. If you’d like to join the project, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. I look forward to hearing from you and reading about your own unique experience of mothering and motherhood.
Samantha Walters, MPH, owns Nova Doula & Lactation Services and is a postpartum doula and breastfeeding counselor in Cleveland, Ohio. Her background is in women’s sexual and reproductive health, and she also works as a teen sexual health educator. After living far from her hometown for over 10 years, she is so happy to be back on the shores of Lake Erie and she considers herself blessed to be a part of a growing, thriving birth community. She lives with her husband, 22-month-old daughter, and their funny dog. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram for #52WeeksofMotherhood updates as well as evidence-based parenting and breastfeeding information, updated daily.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)