Friday, September 7, 2007


I finished reading Misconceptions for the second time before our trip to Chicago. I had lots of thoughts, but no time to share them when I finished the book, so I'm back now editing this post today. (It was originally posted in tiny form on 8/10.)

This book has deep meaning for me, because I read in in my first weeks postpartum after the birth of my first baby. though I had been very prepared for birth and *thought* I was prepared for having a newborn, I felt like postpartum was a huge slap in the face and my adjustment was very difficult. The giving up, the laying down of self, the realization that my life was no longer about me anymore and never would be again, the anxieties and uncertainties, the glimpse of how irrevocably my life had changed. It was a rough time for me and I cried a lot (I also had to recover from an unexpected birth injury that left me feeling very fragile, weak, permanently wounded, and like an invalid). Anyway, at one of my postpartum checkups I saw a doctor that I had never seen before and she suggested I read Misconceptions. This was my first introduction to the world of "momoirs" and I was hooked for good. I voraciously devoured up any and all related books at the local library and wished I had known to read some of them *before* having the baby. So, reading this book again brought all that back for me--it is inextricably linked to my early memories of life with my first little baby and as a new mother. (and, as such, this will be an extremely long post!)

Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, & the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood, is Naomi Wolf's account of her first pregnancy and birth experience, her early months postpartum, and her subsequent research and study about pregnancy, birth, and mothering in our culture. This is primarily her personal narrative of her experiences, thoughts, feelings, and theories. The author feels fragile, weak, insubstantial, and invalid as a pregnant woman. In contrast, during my pregnancies, I felt strong, mighty, powerful, present, full, magic, substantial. I also felt potent and magic, as well as supported, cherished and honored. During my births, I felt triumphant and powerful (she felt abused, ignored, weak, defective, assaulted, and ruined with pain, anger, frustration, anger, shame, confusion, and neglect. She also ends up with two cesareans). I have to wonder how our emotional states during pregnancy and the types of caregivers and birth settings we each chose, contributed to our birth experiences? (A LOT, I'd wager!) This is a reason why I hope to design my birth classes around emotional preparation for birth (and motherhood) and not only the physiology of pregnancy and birth.

Interestingly, in postpartum, despite our dramatically our differing experiences of pregnancy and birth, our reactions become similar. In postpartum, i did feel week, wounded, dissolved, invalid, and fragile.

One favorite quote of many: "A woman is not a mother just because she has had a baby, a mother is not born when a baby is born; a mother is forged, made."

I like this concept--I do feel forged in the fires of motherhood! :-)

Another good one, when reflecting on an ordinary street scene and suddenly understanding the web of life and the universality of motherhood (even the squirrels!) : "We were all held, touched, interrelated, in an invisible net of incarnation. I would scarcely think of it ordinarily; yet for each creature I saw, someone, a mother, had given birth....Motherhood was the gate. It was something that had always been invisible to me before, or so unvalued as to be beneath noticing: the motheredness of the world."

"Babies...are sort of leaky little understudies for God. With each baby the human species gets the chance to break out of the self into the service of something so 'other' that the reasons for conditional love can give way to faith in unconditional love. ..with babies, we get the chance to take one manageable baby step on the long hard path of the saints...when I was pregnant I could suddenly see the good sense of worshiping God in the guise of a human baby...Like so many of the feelings of pregnancy and new motherhood, it was paradoxical: sometimes I felt the brightness and the darkness at the same time."

The author notes something that I was unaware of--apparently ACOG has recommended that routine continuous fetal monitoring be dropped from the standard of care for low-risk pregnant women and instead recommends intermittent FHT listening. (still, at least 85% of women giving birth in the US have continuous monitoring even though their own trade union [ACOG] does not recommend it? Weirdness!)

She also notes that no matter how it is perceived in society today, a cesarean is not a routine procedure, but is instead the equivalent of any other major organ surgery and suggested cesareans are more accurately termed "open uterine surgery" (most women don't know that their uterus is literally taken out of their body during repair).

Quoting a quote by Robbie Kahn, "the job market holds out an all-or-nothing prospect to new mothers: you can give your body and heart and lose much of your status, your money, your equality, and your income; or, you can keep your identity and your income--only if you abandon your baby all day long and try desperately to switch off the most powerful primal drive the human animal can feel."

Then, a classic quote (quoting another mother regarding taking care of little kids): "I sometimes feel I am getting pecked to death by ducks."

After some uncalled for digs at LLL, the author also makes a good point about the myth of "choice" regarding breastfeeding (specifically with regard to lack of supports for breastfeeding while working outside the home): " was unconscionable for our culture to insist that women 'choose' to leave their suckling babies abruptly at home in order simply to be available for paid work."

"We need to ask the question: what do mothers deserve if they are to mother well? We need to answer: Everything. Everything that is due them."

With regard to a Mother's Movement: "We also need this movement to kinds of civic spaces and social structures, bringing children closer to the work place and the world of adults, and bringing the engagement and world of adult economic activity closer to the hermetically-sealed world of mothers and small children. women should not have to choose between two such starkly exclusive worlds as 'work' and 'home with kids' as they now must, and children would benefit from the better, happier parenting this change would bring about."


Mimi said...

It's such a sad book, I thought. And made me angry.

Molly said...

I agree on both counts. The author is very angry. This book touched me deeply, because at the time, I'd never read anything like it.

Thanks for commenting!