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.