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Talk Books: Liberating Motherhood

liberatingmotherhood“Women’s liberation must be mothers’ liberation or it is nothing.”

–Germain Greer, in The Whole Woman, quoted in Liberating Motherhood

Since I have three homeschooled children (ages 6-13) and one toddler (2) who are all home full-time, as well as a home business, I often fell asleep with the book Liberating Motherhood in one hand and december-2016-001my nursing toddler asleep on the other arm. However, the mark of how much I liked a book can be told most reliably, not by my eventual typed review, but by the number of pages whose corners have been turned down. In case you can’t tell in the picture, that means that Liberating Motherhood is a winner. Complex. Witty. Wry. Assertive. Bold. A detailed manifesto of maternal feminism.

Liberating Motherhood is a fairly heavy read, made readable and engaging by Vanessa’s deft way with words, sharp wit, and clear explanations. It covers broad themes and weaves together issues of justice, ecofeminism, politics, and socialization in sections titled A Mother’s Body, A Mother’s Mind, a Mother’s Labour, and a Mother’s Heart. The core of the book is the argument that many mothers wish to actively mother their young children and yet are wholly unsupported in doing so. Patriarchy’s answer is subordination of women into a caregiving role that has no monetary or economic value or respect. Contemporary feminism’s answer is “full female employment” and outsourcing of childcare into a universal daycare system. Olorenshaw is assertive that the answer to the “problem of mothers,” is not more daycare, but rather more social and economic support, including a basic income. She is willing to tackle the classist assumptions that work outside of the home is inherently fulfilling for women, noting that the ability of women in the upper socieconomic status to “lean in” rests fully on the backs of lower paid, overworked women who are doing the work that no one else wants to do. However, she does not glamorize or romanticize the role of a stay-at-home mother either, exploring in-depth the economic and social vulnerability that women are placed in by depending on the income of a partner and exploring the potential for abuse and exploitation that results from this common social model.

I have consciously self-identified as a feminist since I was 13. After giving birth for the first time at september-2016-01124, I became immersed in the writing and world of “mother’s rights,” and at this time, became rebirthed as a maternal feminist. My spiritual path is that of a goddess-feminist and I have been also immersed for years on a goddess path that is firmly feminist in orientation. Since my feminism has been entwined for a long time with my mothering and with goddess-spirituality, I sometimes found that Vanessa was arguing against a type of feminism which I find mostly unrecognizable, or almost more of a caricature of feminism than that which I have found in my work in the world. In fact, one of my favorite quotes from a book of feminist thealogy is feminists make the best mothers. (Charlotte Caron, To Make and Make Again). I also write for the feminist blog, Feminism and Religion, and while there have been a few notable exceptions, the majority of writers there seem to embrace a maternally-inspired/influenced feminism, unlike some of the writers and leaders encountered by Olonrenshaw. I don’t find that as many contemporary feminist thinkers and writers ignore the issues of mothers and maternity as much as she asserts. I would also have liked to see some coverage of the life structures and experiences of women like me who find their solution combining mothering while working for themselves. I have long said that I am not looking for an “or,” but for the “and,” mothering while also working on other tasks!

Published by Womancraft Publishing, Liberating Motherhood takes on not only the patriarchy, but neoliberal capitalism and modern feminism as well in a complex brew of social critique, call to action, values-exploration, and manifesto. Unapologetically assertive and with a large dose of wry wit and candor, Olorenshaw explores the many ways in which an insidious social and cultural web is woven that simultaneously devalues and ignores women’s unpaid work, yet benefits greatly from its fulfillment.

“The problem is, for all the talk of women’s liberation, when it is predicated on liberation from motherhood, it is no liberation at all. When feminism is based on ideas of equality which ignore the actual reality of her life, her deep wish to care for her children, and deny the value of caring, a mother is in chains. We need to get going on liberating motherhood. We can say loud and clear that: ‘I don’t need liberating from motherhood: motherhood needs to be liberated from a system which devalues it, devalues us and devalues our children.”

–Vanessa Olorenshaw, Liberating Motherhood

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Talk Books: Lost on Hope Island

Patricia Harman is an experienced midwife, beginning as a community midwife in the 1960’s and goatmidwivesthen becoming a CNM and maintaining a busy practice with her obstetrician husband Tom. Her memories about midwifery practice are some of my all-time favorite midwifery memoirs. She has a delightful gift with sharing stories, wisdom, and creating what feels like a true relationship with the reader. Now, she has put her attention into a new project: fiction for middle-grade children. Her first child’s novel, Lost on Hope Island: The Amazing Tale of the Little Goat Midwives, tells the story of two siblings, Trillium and Jacob (ages 12 and 8) who are shipwrecked on a small island in the Pacific Ocean and separated from their parents.

Lost on Hope Island is set in the modern day, it is not a Swiss Family Robinson reboot. On the island, the children must learn how to survive with only each other, and the goats the inhabit the island for company. They make some surprising (and convenient!) discoveries left behind by previous homesteaders on the island that help them survive and they develop close relationships with their goat friends. After the traumatic death of one baby goat, they learn how to help the nanny goats on the island give birth to their kids when they encounter difficulties (specifying that their mother and grandmothers are midwives and they know that if a mother isn’t have any trouble, it is best to keep your hands off and leave her alone!). This tale is not a fantastical or “glitzy” children’s read, nor does it shy away from complicated and difficult topics, instead it opens the door to real questions about relationships and feelings and how to draw on one’s own strength when you think you can’t go on. It is unusual to find a middle grade children’s book about realistic people in unusual, but not fantasy, circumstances. The book is illustrated with charming little hand-drawn pictures of the goats and the island’s adventures.

I read Lost on Hope Island out loud to my kids at bedtime over the course of a few weeks. My kids are ages 2, 5, 10, and 13. The older boys groaned a bit about reading it and found the goat-birth scenes to be a bit “icky,” but after they settled into the rhythm and pacing of the story, they listened with rapt attention and we often mentioned the story at other points during the day. My five-year-old daughter loved the book and it taught my nearly two-year-old son how to both say “midwives” (in a truly adorable fashion…he would get the book and bring it to me saying, “mid-wiiiifes”) and also “bey-aa” like the goats in the story.

If you are looking for a family read aloud, this adventure story with a birth-worker twist, is the book for you!

Past reviews of Patricia’s other books:


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Crossposted at Brigid’s Grove.

Product Review: Robeez Soft Sole Boots

My almost 18 month old has a favorite pair of shoes and will rarely wear anything but them: a hand-me-down pair of Robeez soft leather shoes with cute little puppies on them. My daughter wore her favorite Robeez with dragons on them and my older son had a favorite pair with trains. These shoes are inextricably linked with toddlerhood to me–the small hand reaching up to join mine and then setting forth on uneven terrain with an extra bounce of confidence in the step, once securely hand in hand. So, when I had a chance to review some fabulous new Robeez soft leather boots, I jumped at the chance! Available in multiple sizes and colors, these little boots are quite simply: beautiful.

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Soft and flexible, they mold to my toddler’s feet, protecting them from his adventurous terrain and yet allowing them full range of motion so important for healthy foot development. For our family, Robeez shoes have been all-terrain, all-weather, sometimes-even-napped-in, childhood favorites. All of our kids have liked to go barefoot whenever possible and we find that Robeez are the next closest thing.

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The fur-lined interior of the boots gives them both extra comfort as well as extra protection against wear, meaning they will last for a long time. Plus, did I mention cute?!

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These boots have a non-slip suede outsole which helps prevent slipping. They also have an elasticized ankle band which does a great job keeps the boots on securely.
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The boots in my photos above are the Brown Classic Baby Boots. Giveaway now closed. I’m excited to have another pair of Robeez boots to give away as well! The giveaway pair are the Cozy Ankle style instead, which have a suede upper and faux-fur lining.

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Size 12-18 months, there are several ways to enter to win this pair of Brown Cozy Ankle Boots for your own precious little one.

  • Leave a comment letting me know why you’d like to win these boots!
  • Follow Talk Birth on Facebook and leave a comment on the picture I post there.
  • For a bonus entry, share this post on social media (and leave a comment letting me know you did so).

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Giveaway is open until March 28th. Good luck! These are certifiably adorable!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary pair of these boots for review purposes. All photos in this review were taken by me of the boots I received.

Top 9 Books of 2015

I’m a reader. Books are my first and longest lasting love. I read about 90 books in 2015 (and logged them in Goodreads). It took some deliberation, but I choose my nine favorites from the year and they are…

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(Why top nine? Because they fit into a nifty square grid, that’s why!)

There are three novels, two birthy memoirs, one Moon Time read, two priestess books, and a fascinating memoir of a boy who builds a windmill in Africa.

  • Under Her Wings, the Making of a Magdalene. I read this as part of my dissertation research on contemporary priestessing. Written by the late Nicole Christine, this memoir chronicles the development, evolution, and expression of Christine’s priestess path and her Priestess Process training program for other priestesses. While I initially gave it four stars, I changed my mind later when I realized how often I thought of or referenced this book after finishing it. It seeped into my dream life–I had the most vivid and meaningful dreams I’ve had all year while reading this book–and influenced multiple blog posts as well as a whole section in my dissertation. That deserves five stars!
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. This was a very random read for me. I saw it on the book club shelf at the library and picked it up on a whim. It fascinated me. I loved it. I was riveted by this memoir of a teenage boy in Africa who survives brutal famine conditions, self-teaches himself physics, and builds a windmill in his tiny village. I stayed up late and finished it in one fell swoop.
  • Voices of the Sacred Feminine. Compiled by the hostess of my all-time favorite podcast of the same name, this book weaves together many rich and diverse voices within feminist spirituality. Most of the book consists of unique essays written by past guests on Karen’s show and the end result is essentially a textbook of feminist spirituality. As I read it, I could easily imagine using this book as the foundation for a class on contemporary goddess spirituality.
  • Touching Bellies, Touching Lives. A totally engrossing memoir of a personal pilgrimage through the legacies and lessons of midwives from Southern Mexico.
  • A Passion for Birth. The amazing autobiography of Sheila Kitzinger, one of the most influential birth activists of the 21st century, I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in birth work, birth activism, feminist studies, women’s health, or anthropology.
  • Moon Time. A top favorite on the resource table at our Red Tent Circle, this second edition is an absolute treasure. A powerful, inspirational, and affirming resource for cycling women.
  • The High King’s Tomb. Third in a series of five epic fantasy novels, I thoroughly enjoyed all but the last book in this whole series on Kindle courtesy of the local library.
  • Divergent. The public library has been a keeper of my heart since I was a child. In the last two years, I discovered the profound joy of checking out audiobooks digitally from the local library. I get a chance to “read” books I probably wouldn’t allow myself time for AND, best of all, I get to read while doing something else at the same time. I know multitasking is somewhat out of favor, but it is like a dream come true for me to be able to “read” and grade papers or pack orders or cook dinner. <swoon> Divergent kept me company with its gritty, dystopian, intriguing young adult flavor through most of my pre-holiday grading adventures.
  • Daughter of Sand and Stone. A totally surprise treasure, I “accidentally” read this book after downloading it as my Kindle First choice for November. Historical fiction about Queen Zenobia and her ambitious, audacious challenge to the Roman Empire, I loved this book and found myself thinking of the characters for days after it ended. Very good.

In addition to all the reading, I also wrote two new books! October 2015 079

And, I revised and updated our popular Womanrunes book as well as created a 300+ page workbook to go with it!

Other worthwhile reads from 2015:

What were your favorite books from 2015? I’m taking “applications” for my 100 books of 2016… 😉

Talk Books: Touching Bellies, Touching Lives

touchingbelliesEvery so often I end up reading a book that is nothing like I was expecting and yet is totally amazing. Touching Bellies, Touching Lives is one of those books. Subtitled “Midwives of Southern Mexico Tell Their Stories,” I was expecting a collection of birth stories from Mexican midwives. While there are birth stories, and everyone knows that I love birth stories, this book is so much more than a birth story collection. It is a personal pilgrimage, a preservation of the legacy of midwives, an examination of cultural birth practices, and a sobering first-hand account of the declining culture of traditional midwifery in Mexico. Many people may have the misconception that in Mexico or other South American cultures, midwifery is commonplace and maybe even flourishing. In Touching Bellies, we come to understand that Western medical practices are encroaching at a steady pace and that many midwives are elderly, retiring, and not being replaced. A steady theme runs throughout of women going to midwives for “belly massage,” but going to “modern” facilities to have their babies (unfortunately, they’ve imported some U.S. 1950’s-style practices in terms of birth position, birthing alone with no husbands allowed, and being treated dismissively in labor. This is along with a cesarean rate over 40% and up to 70% much in some cities).

The author, Judy Gabriel, takes multiple trips to Mexico on her quest to document the lives and stories of Mexican midwives (most of whom are age 65 and many of whom do not live to see the end of the book). She photographs the midwives and, with some hurdles with language barriers, listens to their stories–asking about the first birth they attended as well as any births that were problematic for them. She returns to them bearing hearing aids, dresses, and photos of family members from the United States. She travels through rough terrain and to distant villages on her quest to listen and learn from these midwives. I was completely absorbed by Judy’s dedication to her mission and her personal insights and life lessons as she travels and learns.

The “belly massage” practice for which Touching Bellies gains its title was endlessly fascinating to me (and to Judy, the author) with midwives regularly helping position the baby, release tight muscles, and ease aches and pains through a gentle process of abdominal massage and fetal manipulation. This aspect of midwifery care was so pervasive that when Judy would ask in a village where the midwives are, many people would not understand and say that they don’t know what she is talking about. When she asks for the woman who massages the bellies of pregnant women, everyone knows where to tell her to go.

In this quote, a 75-year-old midwife tells the story of helping a woman who is in premature labor. The doctors have tried to stop her contractions without avail and now say she must have a cesarean and the baby will most likely die:

“…The mother-in-law said, ‘This woman knows more than you doctors. You may have gone to the university, but, excuse me, for you doctors it is always puro cuchillo, puro cuchillo [just knives, just knives]. Leave the midwife to work in peace, and you’ll see what can be done without knives.’

So I did my work. I rocked the girl in a rebozo and massaged her belly, moving the baby up. The contractions stopped.

The doctors asked, ‘How did you do that?’

I said, ‘You were standing right there watching. I did it in front of you. I’m not hiding anything. You saw me rock her; you saw me massage her.’

‘Is that all you had to do?” they asked.

I said, ‘Yes, that’s all I had to do. What else would I have to do?’

(The baby survived and was born at full-term six weeks later.)

The dedicated care for women, in touching their bellies, touches their lives. Almost all of the midwives in the book have access to nurturing touch and almost no other resources available and yet almost all of them report never losing a baby or a mother in childbirth.

I absolutely loved reading Touching Bellies, Touching Lives. It is an extremely interesting, thought-provoking, and thoroughly fascinating journey. The information about the gradual decline and near-extinction of midwifery in Mexico is sobering, but the book does end on a hopeful note.

You can read more about the book here as well as see some of the interesting documentary-style photographs of the midwives from the book (one of the points of Judy’s travels was to photograph the midwives and share pictures of their families in the U.S. with them and vice versa). The book itself is available via Amazon.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Talk Books: A Passion for Birth

Sheila

“We are only now beginning to discover the long term destructive effects on human beings and families of treated women as if they were containers to be opened and relieved of their contents.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Sheila Kitzinger’s new autobiography, A Passion for Birth, is an absolute treasure. One of the most long-term and pivotal influences in the world of birth activism, I have quoted her work more times than I can count. In fact, I judge the quality of a book by the number of pages I dog-ear to return to. I turned down the corners of so many pages in A Passion for Birth, that it will take me a year’s worth of blog posts to share all the provocative quotes that caught my attention! While Sheila always included a personal flavor in her other books, this book is truly about her, her life, her passions, her family, her activism, her work. Interwoven throughout is the social justice oriented thread of her absolutely devoted dedication to women, feminism, and childbirth activism. Her book is very real, relatable, and readable as well as often charming. She doesn’t hold back from treading into controversial waters, however, and she is straightforward and unapologetic even when writing about topics that can be divisive in the birth world.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the full-color series of photos in the center insert to the book, they range from Kitzinger’s childhood, a homebirth picture of the birth of one of her daughters, and ending with a poignant photo of Sheila’s casket, decorated by her family, resting easily on some chairs in the dining room of home she so loved.

An internationally recognized author and expert, Kitzinger was an anthropologist and one of the first professional people to acknowledge that women’s birth wisdom, stories, and experiences are worthy of study and attention. Spanning an impressive career of more than fifty years, Kitzinger’s anthropological and activist work was undertaken at a global level and her clear and unwavering commitment to social justice work and activism is a thread running strongly throughout her entire autobiography. The book takes us from Sheila writing and studying while sitting in a playpen in her yard (an effort to have a work area undisturbed by her five children!) to traveling with her family to Jamaica to study the birth customs and stories of the women there. Her identity as an anthropologist is clearly reflected in the cross-cultural birth experiences she surveys and describes and the autobiography includes lots of travel! It also includes homey touches like favorite recipes and descriptions of family traditions as well as stories of her own four homebirths, including that of twin daughters. I found myself wanting more content about her life with children, her life as a mother, which, while acknowledged and integrated through the text, was curiously absent from much of the narrative’s exploration. I was also curious to know more about the accident and serious brain injury experienced by her daughter Polly, which was mentioned somewhat incidentally (though it clearly had a significant impact on the family), as was the passing mention in a photo caption referencing her husband Uwe’s eye removal surgery.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in birth work, birth activism, feminist studies, women’s health, or anthropology, A Passion for Birth was compelling, inspirational, funny, straightforward, assertive, honest, candid, wry and dedicated.

“The way we give birth is an expression of culture. It can be spontaneous and instinctual, but it is still patterned by the society in which we live.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Stay tuned for an ongoing series of themed posts based on additional content and thought-provoking quotes!

In a pioneering career spanning more than 50 years she campaigned for and oversaw a radical change in maternity care, placing women’s rights and choices at the very heart of childbirth. Her passion, research and knowledge of childbirth have had enormous impact on millions of women worldwide.

A Passion for Birth | Sheila Kitzinger | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Publishing and purchasing details: 

Author: Sheila KitzingerSheila
Published: 7 May 2015
Binding: hardback
Format: 240 x 160 mm
Pages: 384
Illustrations: colour and b/w photographs
Pinter & Martin edition available: worldwide
Translation rights: Pinter & Martin

Also available from: Amazon.co.uk | Wordery | The Hive | Waterstones | Foyles | Mail Bookshop | Amazon.com

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

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Talk Books: Maternity Leave

“Making babies is magical, mysterious, terrifying, gratifying, and all-encompassing.”

–Annie Schwartz-Jensen in Maternity Leave

I was in the mood for a good novel and as the mother of a six month old, Maternity Leave, by Julie Halpren maternityleaveshowed up in my mailbox at exactly the right time! This novel made me laugh out loud many times (covering my face with a blanket to avoid waking my own slumbering baby and husband). It is irreverent, clever, snarky, relatable, fast-paced, and extremely funny. Note: if you object to liberal profanity or require rosy depictions of motherhood only, Maternity Leave will not be the book for you!

“Sometimes I swear I can hear the grinding breaths of the pump even when I’m not pumping. I better get used to it. Me and Old Pumper are going to be spending a lot of time together in the coming months in a storage closet. I wish that were as sexy as it sounds.”

Maternity Leave is written in journal-style and follows new mother Annie through the six months of her maternity leave, from her CNM-attended natural birth (complete with wishing she was “shouting womanly affirmations” rather than “random strings of profanities”) to her search for good child care. In more understated tones, the novel also chronicles the growth of her attachment to her baby, Sam, from her initial fumbling, self-consciousness, anxiety, boredom, and fear that he doesn’t like her to a more easy comfort, smelling his fuzzy head as they walk the neighborhood together with him riding in a Moby Wrap.

“I think I must inhale Sam’s head at least sixty times per day. Why does it smell so good? Is it an evolutionary tactic so that a mom, no matter how harried and confused and depressed she is, finds some inking of comfort from snorting her baby’s skull?

Is it possible to form an addiction? Do they have support groups for baby head huffing?”

While I didn’t identify with her occasional bursts of anger at the baby, particularly because I’m presently desperately savoring the all-too-fleeting-babyhood of my fourth baby, her story brought back with vivid clarity the difficult adjustment I had as a first-time mother with a high-need baby boy. The mind games she plays with herself, the self-doubt, the self-criticism, and the misplaced maternal guilt felt extremely familiar. I would have taken a lot of comfort in reading this novel 11 years ago! I also got a kick out of her wryly realistic Facebook experiences, something that was not part of the maternal landscape when I was a first time mother, but is very familiar today.

We’re prepping the obligatory Facebook birth announcement, and I’d like a picture that doesn’t say, ‘I just shat on a table, and all I got was this slime-covered baby.’

I veto several shots before Zach suggests, ‘This one is nice.’

‘I have a gimpy eye and twelve chins,’ I note.

‘But Sam looks cute.’

‘This is not about Sam, Zach. Sam is going to look cute no matter what because he is a baby. And even if he doesn’t look cute, people will ‘like’ the picture anyway while reassuring themselves that their babies were way cuter. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that dozens of ex-classmates and three or more ex-boyfriends will be seeing this, and I don’t want to look like a hideous, gelatinous troll.’

Maternity Leave can be pre-ordered on Amazon for its September release.

May 2015 146Also see my past post: Non-Advice Books for Mothers for other non-prescriptive reads for new moms.

Disclosure: I received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes.