Sunday, March 23, 2014

On Naomi Wolf's book "Misconceptions" and all the things I feel.

Cover of "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, an...
Cover via Amazon
I'm trying to get my fingers typing again on this little blog, so you'll have to bear with me.  I've really enjoyed a book recently and feel inspired to write out some of the feelings it's uncovered and the thoughts it's generated.  I'm planning a few short posts that will hopefully give you an idea of what I'm thinking about at the moment.  //

A dear friend picked me up a thrift store copy of Naomi Wolf's "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood" and it has been a very refreshing read.  I feel so much permission in reading the story of her pregnancy and her analysis of the United States' maternity system in the late 1990's.  She shares her own unique journey as an influential feminist, pregnant for the first time in her 30's, in an egalitarian marriage as well as the stories of many of her friends and women she meets as she digs into these topics.  It's a bit of an expos√© on the way the American health care system treated/treats it's pregnant women and new babies, but more than that it's women being honest about their experiences, throwing off the sanitized versions of pregnancy and motherhood bliss that we often feel we must share louder than any of the challenges we face. 
"Becoming a mother requires a kind of supreme focus, a profound discipline, and even a kind of warrior spirit.  Yet our culture prefers to give women doggerel: it often suggests that motherhood is something effortless.  It calls motherhood "natural," as if the powerful attachment women have to their babies erases the agency they must show in carrying, birthing, and caring for children...  There is a powerful social imperative to maintaining our collective belief in the "natural bliss" of new motherhood.... Birth is viewed through a softened lens of pink haze: the new baby and radiant mommy in an effortless mutual embrace, proud papa nearby.  Because of the power of that image, many women feel permitted to ask few questions; we too often blame ourselves, or turn our anger inward, into depression, when our experience is at odds with the ideal." (page 4)

Wolf is so honest with her feelings throughout pregnancy and I found myself realizing that my feelings are okay  -- they are just feelings.   I'm not always super ecstatic that another human being has taken over my body and will take over my life for the next twenty years, but probably forever.  Excitement, ambivalence, vulnerability and fear are all completely normal feelings throughout pregnancy, ebbing and flowing like the powerful hormones that bring such change to our bodies.  Perspective is so important.  Gratitude is vital.  But it's okay to be honest with yourself and people you trust when the feelings you actually are feeling might not be what you hoped for or expected.

When I was pregnant with my daughter (a surprise pregnancy when my son was 8 months old) I was very scared and intensely feeling not-ready until about a week before she was born.  I think those feelings were actually present and demanding I face them because parenting two babies under 17 months was going to be very tough, and I needed to realize that.  Going into labour with my daughter after an extremely traumatic birth with my son was going to be tough, and I needed to be ready for that as well.  None of my fears were crazy or delusional or kept me from doing the things I needed to do, but it's amazing how shameful they feel when you try to restrain them deep inside.

I want to keep exploring my feelings of fear in these last eight - ten weeks of this pregnancy - I want to welcome them and learn from them as well as name them and let them go.

Wolf begins her chapter entitled "Mortality" with this Beriba Proverb:

A pregnant women is a dying person… An often-told tale depicts the ancestors in the act of digging the woman's grave throughout the pregnancy.  If she survives the days after the delivery, they begin to shovel the sand back; forty days after the delivery, the grave will finally be closed without her.

Any act of opening ourselves up vulnerably to the joy and pain of newness also runs closely alongside the possibility of uncertainty, loss and grief.  How do we keep our lives open to any kind of fertility when we've ached with disappointment before?

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