Ways of Healing: Reproductive Political Activism in the Postpartum Support Group

Reposted from the Pacific Postpartum Support Society Blog.


This week’s article is by Rebecca Scott Yoshizawa a researcher and academic specializing in reproductive politics. Rebecca believes in writing honestly about her experiences as a sociologist and mother, who struggles with those seemingly irreconcilable identities. This will be the first in a series of articles by Rebecca that will explore motherhood, postpartum depression, and reproductive politics.


I am a sociologist specializing in the politics of reproduction. I am also a teacher. I am also a wife, a sister, a daughter, and a friend. And I’m a mom to a 10-month-old baby.

But sometimes I feel like I’m a mom only. And I’m not okay with that. It’s very hard to admit that, because it is associated with deep feelings of shame, failure, and guilt.

I had only just earned my PhD months before he was born. I had spent a decade and a half to finally earn that PhD. After I had my son, I felt like Rebecca was gone. Dr. Yoshizawa, PhD, wasn’t required to change diapers, make bottles, snuggle, or hold a crying baby for hours. For the first several months, I felt reduced to a shell of myself.

Many told me it was only a phase and would pass. Now that my son is 10 months, I can say that they were right; it was a phase that passed. But it passed because I worked hard to grow, change, and heal in my new role as a mother.

After I had my son, it became clear to me that being a mother to a baby stimulated some parts of myself, but other parts that I hold dear were not expressed at all. I know that this is inevitable. A newborn baby has a specialized set of needs that must be met, which requires a huge lifestyle change for caregivers. In time, the baby grows and changes and can be more easily cared for. We get better at it as time goes by. I am sure many women strongly and confidently weather that storm without worry, but I really believed that I would be gone forever.

I started to work again part time as a teaching assistant when my son was only three weeks old. Part of the reason was economic; I have always been tenuously employed and must constantly seek teaching or research contracts to keep afloat. But another reason was that I was trying to create a life preserver associated with my “former self” to cling to during such a transcendently demanding time.

Then I designed and submitted a proposal to teach a class in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University on the politics of reproduction from a feminist perspective. I received a bachelor’s degree from the very same department, which was fundamental in shaping the person I am. But the biggest gift GSWS at SFU gave me was the opportunity to teach that course, because it facilitated a personal transformation.

Reproductive politics refers to ongoing struggles over who/what has the power to define, constrain, medicalize, technologize, spur, and/or prevent reproduction. In particular, there are many pressures of being a mom associated with socially constructed notions of good mothering. For example, good mothers are expected to selflessly and seamlessly give all of themselves to their children, while still giving their all to other spheres, including the keeping their home well and, increasingly, the workforce. One of the key course concepts is the notion that around reproduction swirls a number of contradictions and tensions that are not easily resolved by individual women. Instead, mothers live through and with dualities, or competing pressures. Competing pressures can tear you apart.

Teaching the course was therapeutic, but crisis provoking at the same time. I felt like a failed mom since I wasn’t able to embrace motherhood ‘naturally’ the way that I was supposed to. But I was also a failed sociologist, since as a sociologist, shouldn’t I more or less be able to cut through all the BS expectations society places on mothers and just be a strong, self-assured working mom?

I had enough of daily rock bottom moments. A quick Google search brought me to the Pacific Post Partum Support Society. Since I am talkative and know that I work through issues by talking about them with others, I decided to join one of their support groups.

I was nervous to attend at first, especially because I was ashamed that I needed to go in the first place, since it felt like publicly admitting all my failures. But my fears were quickly allayed. The women and facilitator were so real, so courageous, and so supportive. I found myself in a place where I could resolve problems intersecting sociology, politics, and personal experience with kind women who could somehow understand that two completely opposite feelings can be felt simultaneously. Group is a place where you can vocalize and explore the very contradictions and dualities of motherhood that I lectured about in my course on reproductive politics. It’s a place to feel comfortable saying, “my son is so darling and sweet AND it feels like he abuses me constantly”; “my daughter is the light of my life AND I feel like I’ve lost my zest for life”; “my son is the most important thing to me AND I just want to do anything else but play with him all day long”; “I want to go to work so badly AND I miss my daughter terribly when I’m there.” All of those things make sense in group. There are very few other sites where such contradictions are so patently and poignantly sensible. And when the sessions were over and I drove away, I felt renewed power to live through, embrace, or reject those contradictions.

The postpartum support group rejects the pressures society places on women to be perfect mothers, instead emphasizing realities and identifying avenues for healing. It therefore gives power back to mothers, who in turn empower each other. I therefore understand the postpartum support group not as a place to wallow in personal failure, but as a site of reproductive political activism. Group enabled me to understand myself as a good mom, PhD. That’s what my healing looked like.

GSWS 318: Man’s Best Friend: Feminisms Engaging with Nonhumans (SFU Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies course)

I am very excited to be given the opportunity to teach another course at SFU in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies department this upcoming Spring semester. The course, GSWS 318, is a special topic entitled Man’s Best Friend: Feminisms Engaging with Nonhumans. Here is the course statement:

Feminists are increasingly examining how the power structures that produce unjust oppressions for women and other marginalized Others extend to the nonhuman world. This course explores how feminists have theorized, advocated for, and fostered relations with nonhumans, including animals, organic and inorganic matter, machines, and cyborgs. Informed by feminist ethics, science studies, and philosophy, we ask: How do understandings of animals relate to conceptualizations of sex and gender? Are there feminist obligations to animals, plants, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protists? How does feminism inform and support animal and ecological advocacy? Can nonhumans teach us about ethics, care, and equality? Specific topics include evolutionary biology, environmentalism, cyborgs, artificial intelligence, animal research ethics, microbes, ‘gut feminism,’ and homo- and trans-sexuality in animals. Recognizing the timely and controversial nature of these topics as well as the role of GSWS in transforming students into critical advocates for change, assignments encourage engagement in public dialogues on human/nonhuman relationships.

Assignments include an opinion editorial, film review, and collaborative advocacy project. The prerequisites are 30 units, including 3 units in GSWS or WS or GDST.

Here is the syllabus. If you are a prospective student and have any questions, please email me at rebecca_yoshizawa@sfu.ca.

New Position: Postdoctoral Researcher, GeNA Lab, Communication, SFU

I am pleased to report that I’ll be serving as a postdoctoral researcher in the GeNA Lab in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University starting this month.

About the lab:

The GeNA Lab investigates the social and organizational impacts of information technologies and communication networks and the turn to big data in a number of sectors including genomics and health, social media, and NBA basketball. We aim to disseminate scholarly outputs and policy work to an interdisciplinary community and engage broader communities and partners who are innovating digital technologies.

I’ll be working in a collaborative manner on genetics, network, and society research. I’m excited to extend my expertise in science studies and biology to new topics in bioethics, surveillance, and health research!

#gsws320sfu Twitter feed: What’s going on in the politics of reproduction today?

I regularly tweet articles/news/blogs/etc. that are relevant to the course I am teaching on reproductive politics in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at SFU (my alma mater! #gsws4life). I had the idea to do this as one of the assignments is an op-ed about a contemporary issue in reproductive politics, and I wanted to direct the students to the twitter feed to help them come up with topics. I’m also delighted that my students are joining in on the twitter conversation!

The thesis of our course is that reproduction is not merely ‘natural’; ethical and political issues attend every facet of the instantiation of new human beings in this world. If the twitter feed is any indication of the significance of reproduction today, it relates profound and ongoing struggles over who gets to reproduce with whom, when, where, and how.

GSWS 320: A Womb of One’s Own?: Feminisms Engaging with Reproduction (SFU Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies course)

I am very excited to be given the opportunity to teach a course at SFU in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies department this summer. The course, GSWS 320, is a special topic building on my research on reproduction and reproductive politics. It is entitled A Womb of One’s Own?: Feminisms Engaging with Reproduction. Here is the course statement:

In this course, we develop tools to analyze narratives, issues, practices, and arguments regarding reproduction. We define reproduction not simply as a biological fact of life, but a ‘naturalcultural’ phenomenon where biology and culture collide in the continuance and dynamism of humans through generations. Students learn how to think critically about a wide range of issues in reproduction using tools provided by feminist theorists and researchers. Recognizing the topical and controversial nature of debates on reproduction as well as the role of GSWS in transforming students into critical advocates for social change, assignments encourage students to engage in public dialogues on reproduction. Topics include biomedicine, reproductive politics, reproductive technologies, and gendered, racialized, and sexed roles.

Assignments include an opinion editorial, film review, and collaborative multimedia project. The prerequisite is 15 credits.

Here is the syllabus. If you are a prospective student and have any questions, please email me at rebecca_yoshizawa@sfu.ca.

New Publication: Postpartum Women’s Perspectives on the Donation of Placentas for Scientific Research in Campinas, Brazil

The article resulting from the collaborative study I conducted in Brazil is now available online first. It is currently open access. It will be published in the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. 

Postpartum Women’s Perspectives on the Donation of Placentas for Scientific Research in Campinas, Brazil


Little is known about public perspectives of scientific and therapeutic uses of placentas. Gaps in knowledge potentiate ethical and clinical problems regarding collection and applications. As such, this study sought to assess the perspectives of placenta donation of a sample of women. Postpartum women’s perspectives on placental donation were assessed at the State University of Campinas in the Centro de Atençäo Integral a Saúde da Mulher (CAISM) maternity hospital using a cross-sectional survey (n = 384) and semi-structured interviews (n = 12). Surveys were analyzed quantitatively and interviews were analyzed qualitatively using grounded coding; results were compared. The average age of respondents was 27. Fifty-six percent had more than one child, 45% were Caucasian, 38% were mixed-race, 74% identified with a Christian faith, 52% had high school education or higher, 13% regarded the placenta as spiritually important, 72% felt that knowing what happens to the placenta after birth was somewhat or very important, 78% supported the use of the placenta in research and medicine, 59% reported that consent to collect the placenta was very or somewhat important, 78% preferred their doctor to invite donation, and only 7% preferred the researcher to invite donation. Interviews suggested women appreciate being part of research and that receiving information about studies was important to them. Informed by these results, we argue that women support scientific and therapeutic uses of placentas, want to be included in decision making, and desire information about the placenta. Placentas should not be viewed as “throwaway” organs that are poised for collection without the involvement and permission of women. Women want to be meaningfully included in research processes.

Authors: Rebecca Scott Yoshizawa, Maria José Duarte Osis, Simony Lira Nascimento, Silvana Ferreira Bento, Ana Carolina Godoy, Suelene Coelho, and José Guilherme Cecatti

I would like to thank the anonymous reviews and editors of the journal for their incredibly thoughtful comments. Their contribution raised the quality of this article immensely.

I’m very excited about the contribution this research makes regarding public perspectives of the use of human placentas in scientific research and medicine. They survey instrument that was developed for this study can be deployed in other locations toward the development of locally-appropriate protocols and practices regarding human placental donation, collection, and research. Please contact me if you are interested in collaborating on a survey of another population!