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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.

Talk Books: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn

March 2016 121Several months ago, I received an email from one of my former college students. His wife was newly pregnant and they had several specific questions. They asked for my help and recommendations with where to go for answers and without hesitation, I suggested a book: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn. I was confident that not only would they find the answers they sought in the book, but also reliable, practical, helpful answers to questions they haven’t even thought to ask yet.

Co-authored by a foremost authority in childbirth and doula education, Penny Simkin, Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn was one of the first books I bought as a new childbirth educator in 2005. Now, newly revised and updated, the book has a companion website packed with resources to help you have a healthy pregnancy, a rewarding birth, and a nurturing postpartum.

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about this book as a wonderful resource for childbirth educators are the line March 2016 119drawings illustrating a variety of positions and concepts. This new fifth edition has lots of black and white photos as well. The fact that the book is co-authored by a world-renowned doula, a nurse/lactation consultant, a nurse/childbirth educator, a social worker, and a physical therapist, means it is an interdisciplinary resource benefiting from the skills and professional experience of each co-author. Childbirth educators and doulas as well as pregnant couples will want to check out the companion website which has a plethora of pdf handouts available on numerous topics including comfort techniques, nutrition, and parental leave.

Evidence-based, comprehensive, and encouraging, Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn is an ideal companion for both childbirth professionals and expectant parents.


Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Newborn is published by Meadowbrook Press, an award-winning publisher specializing in pregnancy & childbirth, baby names, parenting & childcare, and children’s books & poetry: Meadowbrook Press. Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn

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

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: The Last Midwife

9781250074461A baby’s first cry was the sound of angels’ songs. No matter how long and difficult the labor, no matter how the mother moaned from the pain and the tearing, praying and cursing, Gracy knew joy at the sight of the baby’s body pushing into the world, felt exhilaration as she caught the tiny living creature and held the soft, wet flesh in her hands a moment longer than was necessary. And she passed that sense of wonder on to the mother, exclaiming over the fingers and toes as tiny as birds’ claws, the eyelashes thin as a thread, the button of a nose.

It was not the money or the gold dust or the barter items that sent Gracy over icy trails, that drew her out of sleep-warm quilts at midnight to face cold and howling blizzards. She went where she was called because she knew a woman needed her, because new life waited for her…

The Last Midwife is a historical mystery novel set in gold rush country, a Colorado mining town in the 19th century. Gracy Brookens is the last midwife in the community, aging and creaky, but taking long treks into deep country to continue to serve women, despite the presence of a new, modern doctor in town. Unfortunately, a baby is murdered and Gracy is accused of the crime. Mixed with birth stories, personal trauma and the witnessing of intense family suffering, the baby’s murder case comes to trial and Gracy must face the chance of imprisonment as well as rejection and betrayal from some of the women she has loyally served. The mystery of who really killed the baby runs through the book along with several other intertwined subplots that are like mini-mysteries of their own.

While the twist ending left me a little disappointed, The Last Midwife was a realistic, interesting, engaging, suspenseful, well-developed, and creative read that doulas, midwives, and childbirth educators will particularly enjoy.

Talk Books: Earthprayer, Birthprayer, Lifeprayer, Womanprayer

Looking for readings for women’s programs or mother blessings? My newest book might be just the collection you need!Earthprayer_Birthpr_Cover_for_KindleThis the wisdom
of woodspaces
this is the meditation
of Earthplaces…

Earthprayer, Birthprayer, Lifeprayer, Womanprayer is a 114 page book of earth-based poetry containing four thematic sections all cropSeptember 2015 025rooted in connection to the land and to the cycles of life. This poetry collection is one of the results of my committed, devotional year-long “woodspriestess” practice. I maintained this practice throughout 2013, eventually spending approximately 330 days during the year in the same place in the woods listening to what they had to tell me about life, myself, and the Earth.

In late December 2012, I decided to begin a year-long spiritual practice of checking in every day at rocks in the woods behind my house. I committed to spending at least a few minutes there every day, rain or sleet or shine, with children or without, and whether day or night throughout 2013. My idea was to really, really get to know the space deeply. To notice that which changed and evolved on a daily basis, to see what shared the space with me, to watch and listen and learn from and interact with the same patch of ground every day and discover what I could learn about it and about myself. I wanted to really come into a relationship with the land I live on, rather than remain caught up in my head and my ideas and also the sometimes-frantic feeling hum of everyday life as a parent and professor. cropSeptember 2015 021

I tend towards a Goddess-oriented, panentheistic, spiritual naturalism. When I enter the woods, I often experience what I have termed “theapoetics”–-spontaneous, spoken aloud poetry that brings me into direct connection with that source of life I call the Goddess. These theapoetical explorations form the heart of the book.

A digital version is also available in print-ready pdf. If you previously purchased the 60 page digital version, we are happy to offer you a 20% discount on the newly expanded version of the book. Please contact us for the discount code to use.

The book is also easily available with free Prime shipping from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

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Talk Books: Q & A with Jenny Kitzinger

cropAugust 2015 048“These hands are big enough to save the world, and small enough to rock a child to sleep.”

–Zelda Brown

Childbirth education pioneer and feminist icon, Sheila Kitzinger has five daughters. After reading and reviewing Sheila’s passionate, beautiful, inspiring memoir: A Passion for Birth, published shortly before her death this spring, I did a short interview with her daughter, Jenny Kitzinger…

  1. How has your own work been influenced by your mother?

I grew up knowing that the ‘personal was political’ – including issues such as birth, marriage and death – and believing that nothing was taboo or closed off for discussion.

My early work on AIDS, and then on child sexual abuse, as well as my most recent work on the treatment of patients in long-term coma, has all been fundamentally influenced by my mother’s approach to life and work.

  1. What was it like to grow up with a birth activism “celebrity”?

To me my mother was just normal – so I took for granted her passion, determination and impact on the world, and the privilege we had as children of meeting lots of interesting people from the world of women’s rights, politics, and the arts.

  1. I was struck by the focus on humanitarian work in Kitzinger’s memoir. Do you have any childhood memories of these experiences and their influence? Are you still involved in cause-oriented work as an adult?

We often had people staying who needed support – it was lovely to meet the different people who came into our home – and to see the practical support and nurture my mother offered them. Sheila was also clear that the personal was political and that alongside supporting individuals it was necessary to learn from them and work alongside them to tackle root causes of problems.

My sister Tess was centrally involved in support for refugees – a cause also close to my father’s heart (he came over to England as a refugee in 1939). I was involved in setting up one of the first incest survivors refuges. Polly was also active in disability rights, advocating for people with mental illness. Our oldest sister, Celia, is a leading campaigner for sexual equality and equal marriage.

Since my sister, Polly’s car crash in 2009, Celia and I have worked together to examine the treatment of people with catastrophic brain injuries, including rights at the end-of-life. Although we are both full professor, and publish academically, we are committed to making work accessible to families, health care practitioners and policy makers. That is why we designed an online support and information resource about the vegetative and minimally conscious state.

  1. How many times did you hear birth stories around the dinner table?

We are a loud and talkative family. We would often discuss childbirth issues around the dinner table – alongside topics such as sex. This was fine at home, but I think when we went out to eat in restaurants I am not sure next door tables always enjoyed either the content of our lively debates, or the volume of the conversation as we became engrossed in family debate and everyone spoke at once!

  1. What do you feel like is your mother’s most enduring legacy?

The transformation of assumptions about childbirth – alongside a broader contribution to respecting women’s experience and supporting their rights to have choice and control over their own healthcare decisions.

Sheila

A Passion for Birth, My Life: anthropology, family and feminism by Sheila Kitzinger

(Pinter & Martin)

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