Thursday, July 12, 2012

Nitty Gritty Motherhood

Wow.  You know there are a zillion things I want to post and a number of great contributing posts I want to share!!  It seems time keeps escaping me.  I have an brilliant follow up to the continued bikini/ modesty conversation as well as the farming/ we need dads discussion, but alas it has not made it to paper yet and keeps surfacing in my collision of thoughts when I am away from the computer. (Or when my computer has been eaten by little dinosaurs - oh! it has happened! At least that's what my 3 and 5 year olds tell me...)
I also want (need!) to share with you some exciting things happening in the new feminism world! (Okay, I need to get to work!  While I do, here's something for you...)

So, while those two posts (which are going to be phenomenal ;-) continue marinating in this newfeminism brain of mine, let me introduce you to another lovely new feminist!
April Jaure is a new feminist and has a blog of her own:
She is married to Chris, and is a stay-at-home mom to two girls, 5 and 3, and a third girl due in October.  She is profoundly grateful for the gift of her femininity and enjoys writing, connecting with others and building a harmonious home.
;-)  She shares with us her take on motherhood.  This is fascinating, truly.  I'm curious to hear your wonderful responses/ thoughts!  (And by the way, I LOVE all your responses!  We are not meant to all agree - how boring would that be!  We are meant to discuss, hash things out, share our take - so keep it going!  Difference of opinion? Bring it!  Love the piece but want to add your own thoughts? Awesome!  You are beautiful.  And your reflection on life and motherhood/ womanhood is authentic and real...and valid.  Please share with us!)

Nitty Gritty Womanhood

Life gives many lessons. Of all the lessons life has taught me, I don’t think anything has changed me more radically than motherhood. Its lessons come sometimes through cuddles and comfort, and sometimes they come through bitter suffering. Motherhood has changed how I think of myself, how I view my place in the world, and how I view other people. It changed how I interpreted all of reality. Like the popular commercial says, “Motherhood changes everything.”

My life prior to motherhood was lived primarily in my head. I thrived in the world of academia and loved nothing more than class discussions that involved trying to wrap my mind around Jacques Derrida’s Deconstructionism, or analyzing in-depth a great work of literature that was filled to the brim with symbolism and nuance. In those days, I was rarely actually in the present moment, I was always imagining something in the future or analyzing some abstract concept. Due to experiences I have written about elsewhere, I learned young that being in my body and being fully engaged in the present moment was not where I wanted to be.

So it was, that motherhood came as quite a shock to me. It was just so... physical. It was often messy and gritty. Without motherhood, I probably could have lived my whole life without being truly present for any of it. But as I reflect, it seems so much of a female’s life is just so physical. Take menstruation for example, that first initiation into womanhood. It’s holy and sacred, a reorienting of our bodies from girlhood to womanhood, a constant preparation for the possibility of nourishing new life within us. Menstruation is that time when we are called to change our focus from “doing” and “completing” to just being and reflecting. We are called to rest and to reevaluate our priorities and to ponder how our lives are going. So while this time is special and sacred, the shocking physical reality remains. I think my girlhood reaction to first learning about menstruation sums it up well: “We bleed?! From THERE!!??”

All of motherhood is no different. There’s that act that causes motherhood in the first place. It’s carnal and messy. Then there’s pregnancy. Like menstruation and sex, it occurs inside my body. I have the experience of housing, protecting, and growing my children until they can breathe for themselves. After that comes labor and birth. Once again, messy, gritty, carnal reality.

It occurred to me one day that I have the experience of every member of my immediate family having been inside my body. I’m not trying to be crass, but that is just the lived reality of many mothers. It also seems that it is to my body, more than the bodies of others, that they all come to when they need comfort. Babies and toddlers become scared or hurt and come to me to nurse. My five-year-old comes to me for cuddles when she’s sad. My husband too, if he has had a stressful day, he comes to me for some cuddling...or something more. Sometimes all this physical touch is comforting and easy to give, but if I am being honest, there are times that my children’s bodies cling to and hang onto my body when I’d rather just have some personal space.

It seems so much of the work of motherhood involves caring for the physical bodies of other people. We clothe those bodies, bathe them, and feed them; we wipe poop from their bums (and sometimes from their backs, their legs, and the furniture too). Not that men don’t do these things. They do (and if they don’t, they should), but it seems the world over, the primary caretakers of people’s bodies—whether those bodies are young, elderly, healthy, or ill—are women.

Some people like to create this sort of duality between a person’s spirit, and a person’s body, and act as though it is the mind, the intellect, or the spirit that truly matters while the body is of no great consequence. But the lived experience of womanhood is so physical that it seems to directly contradict such thinking. My own experiences have taught me that a) I am my body, and b) my body is good. 

I feel that setting up a duality between a person’s body and their mind can result in many harmful practices. If people’s worth depends on their intellect, then It becomes okay to abort children with Down's Syndrome. It becomes okay to euthanize the ill and elderly because if their body is broken, then we should just free their spirit from the body’s oppression. If suffering itself has no value and people are their minds, then the suffering and work of women from the dawn of humanity to the present time has been a meaningless waste of time. If even giving life is not worthwhile, and the suffering women go through to give that life, is meaningless, then women’s bodies are seen as a prison, a prison that modern science is gratefully able to medicate or surgically alter away. If the reason for our whole feminine cycle, recurring month after month—the giving of life—is not important, the attitude arises that if women must reproduce for their own satisfaction or sense of fulfillment (though having no intrinsic value in itself), then they should do it as few times as possible.

If the intellectual life is superior to the physical, then what women do by their very natures—give new physical life—is no longer a gift. What we do and indeed, our very bodies themselves, becomes a burden and a disease. The very personhood of women is denigrated. I feel, that a culture of death must always begin with the degradation of women because we are the bearers and the protectors of life.

But it is in such times as these, when many beliefs and practices harmful to the bodies and spirits of women, and therefore to all of humanity, are commonplace, and when the normal, healthy processes of womanhood are declared a disease requiring prevention (as with the recent HHS mandate); when people believe that what they do to their own or other’s bodies is of no real importance; when femininity itself is seen as nothing but an unfair burden to bear with the optimal choice being to medicate it away as we choose; it is then that the gifts of women are needed all the more. We are the bearers of life—spiritually, physically, and in all its nitty-gritty realness.

We proclaim that it is worth our time, our efforts, and our lives caring for the bodies of others. When we care for the sick and the vulnerable, whether in our wombs or in our homes, nursing homes, daycares, or elsewhere, our actions say, “This person matters. Even this life has value.” When we uphold the dignity of others in private or in the public sphere by the work that we do, we proclaim, “Giving and supporting life will never be a waste of my time and talents.” Even if a woman does not know it, even if a woman herself does not believe it, our very biology attests to the conviction that life is precious and that people—even unproductive, helpless, inconvenient, or disabled—are worth our sacrifices.

New feminists, let us support one another in the joys and challenges of our sacred calling as the protectors of life. May we stand together in witnessing by our words and our lives to the awesome and amazing privilege we have in being created female.  - April Jaure

Such an intriguing, physical and real take on motherhood.  Thank you SO MUCH for sharing with us, April!

Well, that’s my view of it and I welcome yours!  (Please comment below!  And please use initials or first name or even pseudonym instead of simply “anonymous” so we can have some way to distinguish each person in the discussion.  Thank You!)

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  1. Beautifully said, April! I understand and agree with it all! :)

  2. Awe-fully great sharing. I'm so pleased to know about it. Whatever you shared here about "Nitty Gritty Motherhood" seems to me pretty outstanding from all side. Thanks

  3. Wow, this one was really good! (as all of the posts here have been!). It really does a great job uncovering the dangerous nuances of the culture of death. This essay wonderfully challenges the culture... almost by using the culture's own words against it. What I mean is this: the culture is very open to accepting our "real life, lived experience"... we're often encouraged to do things just for the experience (because life is so boring that without these experiences it would be pointless, right?)... Well, April takes her own experience of "real life messiness" and recognizes that there is meaning to it and that, contrary to what we are told by the world around us, life's fulfillment doesn't come from a self-centered project of pleasing oneself -- no! it comes from being a mother who gives of her self for others! It's messy, yes, but I'll take the real life over the counterfeit one printed in a JC Penney catalog any day! Brilliant! Brava!

  4. Thank you, April. I identify with so much of what you say. Nitty gritty and physical, yet so deeply moving. And Thank you , Lord for making us this way. Thank you for designing us to care for the most sacred of all your creation: life.