Mother Knows Best: Talking Back To The ‘Experts’ edit J. Nathanson and L.C. Tuley, Demeter Press, Toronto.

Maternal Thinking:  Philosophy, Politics, Practice  edit A. O’Reilly, Demeter Press, Toronto.

(Both books sold through the Motherhood Institute and Demeter Press (formerly the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM))

The Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) offers wonderful scholarly analysis and mother-wisdom narratives based on the editors’ own original work and the work of wise women before them and around them.  They look at the entrenched – and damaging – societal mother bashing that serves to enforce the perception of maternal inadequacy.  “In other words, “experts” serve to inform children that mothers aren’t smart or capable enough to know how to raise their children without being told”.   Andrea O’Reilly argues for empowered mothering that celebrates women’s agency – rejecting ‘sacrificial mothering’ for a mothering model that “recognizes that both mothers and children benefit when the mother lives her life and practices mothering from a position of agency, authority, authenticity, and autonomy” (italics are mine as I think this is such a true and powerful statement). 

How many times have I heard the obstetrical bias that ‘only stupid women have kids’ or that “women aren’t bright enough to assess their own risks and make their own decisions”?   It is an offensive myth and the Association for Research on Mothering blows it out of the water.  Quoting Sara Ruddick in Maternal Thinking (an essay in Joyce Trebilcot’s 1984 collection titled Mothering: Essays in Feminist Theory) “The work of mother’s demands that mothers think; out of this need for thoughtfulness, a distinctive discipline emerges”. 


Caesarean Birth: A Positive Approach to Preparation and Recovery.  Leigh East, Tiskimo, UK, 2011 ISBN: 978-0-9568480-0-0

This book from the U.K. is one of the first to clearly recognize the differences between a planned caesarean and an unplanned caesarean.  It delivers a more balanced, straight talking view of birth options that does not include the usual inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation about caesareans common in many birth related resources. Ms. East provides practical information to those wishing to plan a caesarean birth.  She also provides many compelling reasons to understand and prepare for a caesarean birth even for those planning a vaginal birth as an unplanned caesarean is a common end to many planned vaginal births.  She rightly believes that realistically preparing for a caesarean birth, even while planning a vaginal birth, allows women greater control of their birth experience should circumstances dictate the necessity of an unplanned caesarean.  Also included are tips on possible ways women may avoid a caesarean if that is her wish.   Caesarean Birth provides several good on-line resources (mostly from the U. K. and the U. S.) and a Chapter on the possible negative psychological consequences of attending birth and adjusting to parenthood for the birth partner, especially if the birth was traumatic.  


The 21st Century Motherhood Movement:  Mothers Speak Out On Why We Need To Change The World And How To Do It. Ed: Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, ON 2011 ISBN: 978-0-9866671-1-4

Dr. O’Reilly, Executive Director of the Motherhood Initiative for Research & Community Involvement (MIRCI), delves into the evolution of maternal activism and outlines the trajectory of various feminist theories and viewpoints concerning motherhood.  Eighty one different organizations advocating for mothers according to their own goals and agendas highlight both the diverse nature of women’s advocacy groups and the power of mother-centred activism as an instrument of change.  Birth Trauma Canada:  Advocating for the Rights of Childbearing Women is Chapter 5. 



Is Breast Best?Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood  Joan Wolf,  New York University Press, 2011

We loved this book.  It is intelligent and weIl referenced.  It is a thinking woman’s guide to the history and hyperbole surrounding breastfeeding that builds on the work of Pam Carter [Feminism, Breasts and Breastfeeding (1995)], Linda Blum [At the Breast:  Ideologies of Breastfeeding and Motherhood in the Contemporary United States (1999)] and Jules Law [ The Politics of Breastfeeding:  Assessing Risks, Dividing Labor (2000)].  The book talks about the risk culture surrounding motherhood and infant feeding.

It highlights how the fanaticism pendulum has swung to extremes with the social control of mothers as the ultimate prize for extremists.  With the rise of pediatrics as a medical specialty after WWI ‘good’ mothers bottle fed under the supervision of a doctor.  Only ‘low class’ women breast fed. The contemporary view is that ‘good’ mothers always breastfeed and it is irresponsible and dangerous not to breastfeed.  Neither view gave a damn about the mother.

Medical professionals and governments are responsible for unethical guilt and scare tactics that malign mothers who do not breastfeed.   They have insisted that not breastfeeding causes diabetes, obesity, ear infections, respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, poor responses to immunizations, stupidity, asthma, allergies, cancer and more visits to doctors when there is no credible evidence to support any of their assertions.  These are moral campaigns predicated on scientific and statistical illiteracy that don’t address the critical questions of how big the risk is or how it compares to other risks, nor do they address the short and long term risks potentially associated with breast milk such as carcinogens and other environmental chemicals or the hardships associated with breastfeeding for mothers.    

Methodolgical limitations, biases and  not addressing confounding factors (those other variables that could influence an outcome) are addressed as they pertain to breastfeeding literature.  The failure or inability of medical personnel and journalists to evaluate study data critically, dismal peer review standards in the media and in journals and the deliberate deception of biased researchers contribute to the poor quality of breastfeeding literature.   Ms. Wolf addresses the reasons that epidiomiological research is unlikely to improve – at least in the short term. 

Is Breast Best? asks and explores the answers to two pertinent questions.  Why have feminists paid little attention to breastfeeding as a social process?  Just as importantly, she asks why, when the scientific evidence is weak and inconsistent, do almost all ‘experts’ agree on breastfeedings’ superiority?  These questions need to be addressed in any critique of breastfeeding.  I will leave the last word on that to Ms. Wolf:


“Questioning breastfeeding science is an intergral part of any feminist engagement that seeks to demonstrate how choices are enabled and constrained by gender.  It is not a foundation for or peripheral to feminist critique.  It is feminist critique.”



The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued

Ann Crittenden (Owl Books,2002),

Ann Crittenden's life changed dramatically in 1982: Her son was born. However, she didn't realize exactly how much it had changed until a stranger walked up to her at a party in New York and said, "Didn't you used to be Ann Crittenden?"

"It was at this moment that I knew I had to write this book," recalls Crittenden. Crittenden enjoyed a tremendous career as a reporter for Fortune, Newsweek and then The New York Times. When her son was born, she either had to compromise her time with him by working 10 hours a day, or give up her position at The Times all together. And give it up she did.

"You can't have a family life with both parents working full time in a 24/7 economy," says Crittenden. She made the decision to put her son before her career because, essentially, there were no other options for mothers. And, according to Crittenden, they are still all too few.

A Call to Action
"The feminist movement has dropped the ball on this issue," says Crittenden. "There needs to be a call to action for mothers. The movement liberated women, but not mothers."

Crittenden says that full-time working mothers are viewed as neglecting their children, while mothers who stay at home are accused of lying around all day eating bon bons. For a society that touts the benefits of hands-on mothering, Crittenden says it has yet to put its money where its mouth is and value the work that all mothers are doing.

In her book, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued(Owl Books, 2002), Crittenden presents the results of years of research on economic inequality of motherhood and its value, or lack thereof, to the American society.

"When I became a mother, I couldn't believe how much of a challenge it was," says Crittenden. "It takes wisdom, patience, character, part-teacher, part-counselor, part-manager and all the other skills that make up a highly skilled labor force. Can you believe I actually had someone say to me, 'Of all the couples we know, you're the only woman who doesn't work?'"

These sentiments are at the heart of The Price of Motherhood -- and at the heart of many women today, according to Crittenden. Her exposure to economic disparity didn't begin when she became a mother; she had much experience with this issue as a young reporter.

How It All Started
Crittenden was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, and completed her undergraduate work at Southern Methodist University. From there, she headed to New York for graduate studies at Columbia University. As the 1960s came to a close, Crittenden left the world of academia and plunged into the world of journalism. "I had been in libraries and studying for so long, I was ready to get out there and do something," she says. She landed her first job at Fortune Magazine – and that was just the beginning. It was then that Crittenden got her first taste of bringing women's issues to the forefront.

She was hired as a researcher for Fortune because of her gender. Men were writers; women were researchers. According to Crittenden, the lines were clearly drawn and there was no room for women to advance. The female journalists of the time tired of this treatment and filed two class-action lawsuits: one against Time, Inc. (Fortune, Time Life and Sports Illustrated) and the other against Newsweek. Their demand was simple: Allow men and women alike to be considered for both the researchers and writers positions, as well as earn promotions. The women triumphed.

Crittenden wasted no time in taking advantage of the ruling. She showed up at Newsweek magazine just as it was hiring the first wave of women writers. Crittenden also flew through the window of opportunity with The New York Times as it was looking to hire female reporters in 1975. "I was treated like one of the boys at The Times," recalls Crittenden.

After giving up her position with The Times, Crittenden began to write as a freelancer from home. Due to her experience as an economics journalist, and her interest in child-rearing issues with her newfound role, Crittenden began to notice a pattern – and started putting facts together. After six years of research, hundreds of interviews and countless frequent flyer miles, The Price of Motherhood was born.

"... I realized how little my former world seemed to understand, or care, about the complex reality I was discovering," writes Crittenden in her book. "The dominant culture of which I had been a part considered childrearing unskilled labor, if it considered childrearing at all. And no one was stating the obvious: If human abilities are the ultimate fount of economic progress, as many economists now agree, and if those abilities are nurtured (or stunted) in the early years, then mothers and other caregivers of the young are the most important producers in the economy. They do have, literally, the most important job in the world."

Crittenden's message has many dimensions. She stresses that mothers are obviously disadvantaged in the work place due to an "all or nothing" attitude by employers, as well as the research she uncovered that indicates women make only 59 percent of men's earnings. Unfortunately, Crittenden found this inequality in other institutions as well, like marriage – and divorce.

"Moreover, in many courts of law, it is still considered unnatural for a wife and mother to claim a material reward for her labors on behalf of the family," Crittenden writes. "This makes wives the only workers in the economy expected to work for no remuneration, which is obviously why women as a group are still so much poorer than men."

Crittenden asserts that because caring for one's children is a loving and moral obligation, society in general views it as appalling to attach a price tag to motherhood. She argues that our courts apparently uphold this notion. "Family law doesn't consider raising a family equal to making money," she says. Arguments abound surrounding the economic lives of homemakers. A common statement is that if a wife has children and stays home with them, "it is her choice."

"But mothers' choices are not made in a vacuum," Crittenden counters in her book. "They are made in a world that women never made, according to the rules they didn't write. To take just one example, what many mothers really want is a good part-time job, yet there is no rich and vibrant part-time labor market in the United States; as one observer has commented, we have many more choices in breakfast cereals than we do in work arrangements." This is the very reason Crittenden walked the path of stay-at-home motherhood. There were simply no part-time jobs open to her in journalism.

With the research and revelations in her book, Crittenden hopes to raise the consciousness of all types of mothers. She made the decision to stay at home with her son, but different women are going to make different decisions. Her goal is to have the options for mothers opened to them so their career vs. motherhood choice doesn't have to be like hers – all or nothing.

"We don't need to focus on what we should do [full-time career vs. full-time mothering], but no matter what you do, the work is not getting recognized," says Crittenden. Research indicates that working mothers put in 80 to 100 hours a week between their careers and child rearing.

While Crittenden was freelancing and working on The Price of Motherhood, her teenage son quipped, "You have such a pathetic life, just sitting in front of the computer." But as Crittenden's book was published and began earning rave reviews, her son's tune changed as he saw the fruits of her labor. He then told her, "You worked so hard and it paid off. I'm so proud of you!"

A lesson of a lifetime from mother to son. Priceless.

The Price of Motherhood:  Why the Most important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued,  Ann Crittenden

I need to stress to you that you must read this book! If you are thinking of becoming a mom, a working mom, stay-at-home mom, one of those lucky part-time working moms, or even if you just have a mother, you need to read this.
This is a book that should have gotten more discussion in the public media -- it cuts to the heart of our culture, about how we pay a lot of lip service to how important motherhood is, but totally devalue it in terms of money, respect and status. If motherhood is important, then we should start treating it that way, and truly supporting it in a helpful way. This book is the first one to point out that our culture needs some changing, and makes some suggestions.