And the Changing Face
of Motherhood

May Friedman
(University of Toronto Press)

    I vividly remember feeling monitored when I was visibly pregnant. Feeling as though I'd get in trouble when I brought wine for cooking or beer for a party, or smelled or tried a sip of my partner's drink when we were out. And multiple baristas actually did try to correct me when I ordered various sorts of tea ("oh, that has caffeine; we have xyz herbal teas") ... let alone expresso. They gave up in the face of the Look of Death, as my mother calls it, but they still simultaneously pissed me off and made me feel small. (Even though the whole problem was that I was so big.) I've never as an adult felt so watched. so much under societal observance and --- potentially --- discipline.
--- Molly Westerman in
Feminist Childbirth Studies
As quoted in Mommyblogs

The author May Friedman says Mommyblogs --- also known as "mamaspheres" --- began to be cranked up and out fifteen years ago. The writers can be anonymous; they admit to sins that are not permitted to be seen (nor written about) in the romantic idolizations from before: the sin of being, for instance, "a bad mother."

Friedman began her blog readings online when she was pregnant, and found women in revolt against being thought of as in bliss at "the selfless natural state" ... when they were encountering nothing but "raw hard work."

When she started blogging ("like a beagle") she found that she was experiencing "a queering of motherhood," queer being used in the sense as propounded by Teresa de Laurentis in 1990, "the idea that identities are not fixed and do not determine who we are." What Friedman found herself involved in was unpacking "the category of mother."

Writers in the mamasphere floated innumerable odd concepts. For instance, that motherhood may not be "the perfect union of mother and infant to the benefit of both." Instead,

    most mothers recognize that the utter dependency of one of the actors in this dyad ... renders the duality of mother and child as parasitic rather than symbiotic.

Furthermore, because we are all taught to see the mother-child relationship as being "natural,"

    no further support from outside the mother-child dyad is proffered for the mother who might herself require caregiving.

§   §   §

The author quotes some blogs that boggle (or bloggle) the mind. A mother negotiating with the school system for an Individual Education Plan (IEP) tells us that she has to dress the part "to negotiate" for her son who is neurologically and physically disabled. "I wore a suit to these IEPs not because I had to, but because I wanted to send a message that I expected the best for Dear Son and that I would take nothing else."

A mother with an autistic child goes through genetic testing with her next pregnancy and reveals: "I am very pro choice --- but based on the papers I signed which allow them to keep my chromosomes and DNA on file at Columbia..."

    I felt the way the wind was blowing. Genetic Selection will become a reality. I just participated in the process. I did it for selfish reasons --- because I wanted to hear that my baby girl was ok.

Friedman's astute comments on this particular blog: "In the act of writing she challenges those who read it to similarly grapple with the ambivalent and contested spaces of motherhood, and in this grappling hybrid mothering emerges. This hybridity is especially obvious around tropes of the good mother."

And then there is this view of one mother concerning "all the poison cast towards Nadya Suleman" (who bore octuplets in 2009): "Got pregnant the old-fashioned way? She's a slut. Used a sperm donor and hired a nanny? She's a selfish old maid. Needs some public assistance? She's a leech on the taxpayer. Self-supporting? She's a workaholic."

    Can't anyone else see that the judgement hurled at Suleman is just a stone's throw from the judgement hurled at any single mother, regardless of how she came by her children.

§   §   §

I had never heard of "mamaspheres" before coming across this book. Might be because I am a workaholic, just didn't have the time to seek such things out. But Mommyblogs is a dream of good scholarship and wisdom. There is a neat encapsulation of the history of blogs and the radical change in what the author calls "the matricentric space." Her vision of blogs (and the internet) is rich.

She speaks of a "precariousness born of sheer abundance" in blogs out there. She discusses the fragility of it all: that one day a blogger may decide that she is going to drop the whole thing, and, unlike a book (which we own, keep on the shelf, can peruse anytime we want), her valued opinions --- and her equally valuable correspondence with readers --- will just disappear.

To create Mommyblogs, Friedman went through thousands of them, including the four most popular, Dooce, Finslippy, Fussy, and Her Bad Mother. Of the almost 200 places Friedman lists in the blogsphere, the names I liked the most were

  • Gorillabuns
  • Lesbian Dad
  • A Frog in My Soup
  • Baby Making Machine
  • Attack of the Redneck Mommy
  • Adorable Device of Destruction
  • Cold Noodles for Breakfast
  • Mrs. Fussypants
  • Naked on Roller Skates

Jill Walker wrote that "the best way to understand blogging is to immerse yourself in it." Some readers of Mommyblogs may be put off by references to the likes of Mikhail Bakhtin ("cyborg storytelling" as "polyphony") or Michel Foucault (discourses on power) ... along with other elements of "postmodernism" which many of us are still grappling to understand.

Forget it. There are too many gems here that are worth your while. The new and, for me, very original concepts are sprinkled around like jewels, and they make reading the book worth your time and trouble. For instance, there is the idea that with birth one's "prior self" may become "irrelevant;" or the thought that a blog offers a different way of seeing "relational space;" or a simple idea, formulated in one blog that begins, "I have always been blatantly honest with you, blog people, even when my position is childish or selfish or silly. And so I am honest now:"

    Staying home with my kids is boring.

--- Lolita Lark
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