Beyond the Clinical: Maternal Health and Wellbeing

Our era is characterised by a ‘work-family clash’ and there is evidence that trends towards gender equity have stalled. In 2006, a multi-nation study by the European Commission identified the Transition to Parenthood (TtoP) as a ‘critical tipping point on the road to gender equity’ (Lewis and Smithson 2006:13). It is in the early years after the birth of an infant that gendered roles can become entrenched, while at the same time the vast majority of couples are attempting to achieve a gender equal or egalitarian family form (Garvan 2010). The Commission’s report, which drew from quantitative and qualitative findings from eight countries on work–family boundaries, concluded that ‘gender shapes parenthood and makes motherhood different from fatherhood both in everyday family life and in workplaces’ (Lewis and Smithson 2006:13).

Particularly in this context, becoming a mother is often a profound and life-changing experience of important social, cultural and personal consequence. Cultural traditions and beliefs about what it means to be a mother are in flux and mixed up with interpersonal dynamics between the woman-as-mother and her infant. The birth of an infant is most importantly a social and cultural event that has been highly medicalised. Current trends include surveillance of pregnancies and the puerperium, along with interventions in birth, and high rates of Perinatal Depression and anxiety.  Marital dissatisfaction is high and there are legendary issues related to identity for women-as-mothers across the industrialised world.

In the face of significant social change the associated health and welfare services are struggling to respond. There is much work taking place within the Humanities that is highly relevant to practitioners. Midwifery, Family Child Health Nurses, Social Workers, Psychologists and family practitioners are critical touchstones with women and their families. These practitioners are in a position to assist individuals or couples manage significant twenty-first century pressures. However, while there continues to be an emphasis on a biomedical model of health to the exclusion of this wider social and cultural context of change, an opportunity is lost. The issues associated with the ‘transition to parenthood’ such as changes to the sense of self, changes to relationships, changes to the life course, negotiating more housework, and finding a line between self and baby are topics that could be integrated within these related health programs when they are not present.

Sociologists agree that changes to gendered practice are the single most significant development in the later part of the twentieth century. Yet maternal and child health services, particularly in the early years after the birth, are enmeshed within a medical model that most often assumes a gendered breadwinner framework for care. While wage setting has moved to an independent worker model, health and social welfare policies are targeted to maintain families within a new ‘mixed economy of care’. These are issues canvassed by Michael Fine (2007) using a sociological lens. As long as aspirations towards gender equity are caught within this web of care and repacked as a work-family balance, the health and wellbeing of women and their families will suffer. The European Commission have identified the Transition to Parenthood as a critical life stage, but while our institutional framework fails to adequately respond, practitioners who are working with women and their families can assist their clientele navigate very real 21st century tensions.


Joan Garvan graduated from the Australian National University in December 2010 with a doctorate in Gender and Sociology. Her thesis was concerned with the experience of women in the early years after the birth of an infant and she has set out to work in the gap between the academic literature and practitioners such as Midwives, Maternal and Child Health Nurses, Social Workers and Psychologists who are working with women and their families. She has launched an internet site at:  and offers an online Professional Development Course: Beyond the clinical perspective: Perinatal depression and the mother’s life. The course focuses on research on Perinatal depression and the Transition to Parenthood, relevant materials from within Midwifery and Maternal and Child Health, Social Work and Psychology, along with contemporary literature from across the humanities on being a mother. Through online discussion participants engage with topics that arise from the course content while maintaining a continuing dialogue about program development and practical outcomes. Joan can be contacted at


Fine, Michael. (2007). A Caring Society? Care the Dilemmas of Human Service in the 21st Century, U.K.:Palgrave/Macmillan.

Garvan, Joan. (2010). Maternal ambivalence in contemporary Australia: Navigating equity and care, Doctoral thesis, Australian National University see:

Lewis Suzan, and Janet Smithson. (2006). Gender parenthood and the changing European workplace: Young adults negotiating the work-family boundary TRANSITIONS Final Report. U.K.: European Commission.

The Literary Imagination of Alice Munroe

By Tom Ue

Back in 2008, in an article for The Underground UTSC’s Official Student Paper, I responded to a review of Canadian writer Alice Munro’s Best: Selected Stories that was published in The Calgary Herald. In it, Naomi Lakritz criticized Munro’s stories for being “choked with trivial details,” although these stories lead readers nowhere. “Alice Munro’s world is unremittingly grey,” wrote Lakritz: “It may be one of the seven deadly sins of CanLit to utter a critical word about Munro, but the sin of a scanty plot is an even bigger one. This collection can’t rightfully be called stories. They’re unsatisfying sketches of characters who wander through depressive environments, observing the idiosyncrasies of those around them. Yet, those idiosyncrasies are there simply for the sake of being there; they do not lead to climaxes or denouements.”

Quill & Quire’s Derek Weiler dismissed Lakritz’s claims, “it does seem painfully apparent that Lakritz simply hasn’t read much literary fiction before.” Both Weiler’s response and Lakritz’s review provoked heated debate amongst readers of Quill & Quire’s online forum. One reader, “Charles,” claims: “You can agree or not with the opinion of Naomi Lakritz, but to her credit she’s laid out a certain amount of analysis of the book.”

Certainly, Lakritz’s use of the term “Aargghh” in response to samples of Munro’s dialogue does not, in the opinion of the present writer back in 2008 or today, require much “la[ying] out” or fall under the category of literary “analysis.” From Lakritz’s review, one would not have gathered that she was describing an over 500-paged collection that anthologizes some of the Canadian writer’s best works—including “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” the story from which Sarah Polley’s 2007 Academy Award-nominated film Away from Her was adapted, and “Runaway,” the title story from the 2004 collection. In fact, Lakritz’s review does not even refer to Margaret Atwood’s insightful introduction to the collection, an essay published in The Guardian. According to Atwood, “Munro’s stories abound in such questionable seekers and well-fingered ploys. But they abound also in such insights: within any story, within any human being, there may be a dangerous treasure, a priceless ruby. A heart’s desire.”

Munro’s career has been a long and prestigious one. Since her 1968 Governor General’s Award-winning début, Dance of the Happy Shades, she has redefined the short story form, using the genre to explore issues of maternity, love, and loss. Regarding Runaway, which won the Giller Prize over Miriam Toews’ outstanding novel A Complicated KindnessVanity Fair writes: “The great Alice Munro proves again why short-story writers bow down to her.” This sentiment was shared by Time magazine’s Mona Simpson, who declares that Munro deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It is a pleasure to return to this debate about literariness and the short story form, and to celebrate the Nobel Prize for Literature for Munro, one of the most generous writers of our time, and one who has contributed significantly to the short story form. In his essay “The Fantastic Imagination,” Victorian writer George MacDonald tells authors: “The best thing you can do for your fellow [i.e. reader], next to rousing his conscience, is — not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself.” Perhaps, we should, as MacDonald suggests, think more carefully and critically about what we read, and see what things stories like Munro’s awaken for us.

An early version of this entry was published as “Recent Review of Alice Munro’s Best: Selected Stories Sparks Online Feud.” The Underground UTSC’s Official Student Paper 28.05 (2008): 11. Print.

Tom Ue is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellow and Canadian Centennial Scholar in the Department of English Language and Literature at University College London, where he researches Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of Henry James, George Gissing, and Oscar Wilde. Ue has taught at University College London. He was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of English at Yale University, and the 2011 Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecturer, and he has held an Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship. He has contributed essays on Thomas Hardy, Gissing, Wilde, and with John James, Sherwood Anderson and James Cameron.

Although Ue specializes in nineteenth-century literature, he cares deeply about, and writes on, many aspects of intellectual history. His work has appeared in a number of journals including the Journal of Gender StudiesThe Gissing JournalNew Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative WritingShakespeare Bulletin, and Variants: The Journal of the European Society for Textual Scholarship, and he contributes to Film International and the TLS. He is editor of World Film Locations: Toronto (Intellect Books, 2014), which coincides with the city’s 180th anniversary, and he has published widely on Sherlock Holmes. He is concurrently at work on a shorter piece on photography and phonography and their impact on the forms of late-Victorian and Edwardian writing. This is an opportunity to do some preliminary work towards a monograph on legal theory and the British novel in the nineteenth century.

Mindy Stricke Launches ‘Landing Gear’ as Part of ‘Greetings from Motherland’

By Maria Collier Mendonça

“Welcome to Motherland! You may have recently washed up on its shores, or have been living here for a while and already acclimated, the blur of the early years of motherhood behind you. Or maybe you don’t live here, but you have a relationship to this place as a partner, child, or friend”. Mindy Stricke, ‘Greetings from Motherland’.

Originally from New York and settled in Toronto (Ontario, Canada), Mindy Stricke is a photographer and multi-disciplinary installation artist, whose work challenges boundaries between artists and non-artists; artists and audience; process and product. Her work has been exhibited throughout North America and also in international publications such as the New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, among others. I had the opportunity to listen to Mindy’s presentation “Welcome to Motherland: Artists Collaborating with Mothers to Create New Representations of Motherhood” at the MIRCI Mega Motherhood Conference on Academic Motherhood, Mothers & Work, Communicating Motherhood, in Toronto, on June 2013. I was so touched by her presentation that I asked to interview Mindy in person on the following month.

Her main project, “Greetings From Motherland”, is a series of collaborative art projects, first launched by Mindy in 2009. It has been funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and supported by the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council. Along this initiative, Mindy has worked with both artists and non-artists who are also mothers in Toronto, Canada and in Madison, Wisconsin. Her work process consists of a deep dive into mothering and motherhood. During workshops with groups of mothers, free childcare is provided while Mindy and her colleagues invite participants to express their maternal subjectivities in very creative and original ways. Women are stimulated to question, investigate, share and play using their mothering experiences as the raw material, which inspires them to create new representations of motherhood through a collaborative process.

Through the exploration of several languages beyond the verbal, participants experience photography, writing, storytelling, music, sewing and other codes to produce artistic pieces and express their maternal subjectivities. Soon after, these pieces are exhibited and the audience can interact with some of them. As Mindy explained during our interview, ‘Greetings from Motherland’ was created six months after her daughter was born. As she emerged from post-partum haze, she realized that she was not the only one who felt so disoriented. Mindy said:

“As a new mother and an artist, I felt troubled by the disconnection between some of the sentimental representations of motherhood and the reality, as well as the isolation and related pressure to be the mythical “perfect mother”, whatever that means.“Greetings from Motherland” is a collective artistic exploration to remedy that. Through this series of multi-disciplinary collaborative art projects, I bring women together to question, investigate, share, and play using our real lives as mothers as the raw material, and to hopefully create some honest representations of motherhood in the process.”

For Mindy, the most surprising of this collaborative working process is the creativity of the participant mothers.

In her words:

“All of them bring things to the project that I would never dream of. So my job is to create the overall idea, and then they bring their own individual experiences and visions to each project and they always surprise me! I will have a certain vision or idea and I will try the idea and then I think it will go in one direction, then, when I bring it to the group, will make incredible images and take them into interesting different directions. For example, capture that feeling of landing in this place that I call Motherland that feels very overwhelming when you first become a new mother. I had this idea to create images of miniature figures, juxtaposed with baby objects from our world. I was playing with them at home, but then, I brought the activity into the workshop and people came up with ideas that I never would have thought of. One woman took five figures and put them on a stroller wheel. I had been thinking about motherhood as an individual experience of this overwhelming feeling, but this woman did something completely different right? In my interpretation, that image shows the ways women are trapped against each other and going around the stroller wheel… It is just a beautiful image, it is really cool and it is funny. A lot of people brought humour [to the project]. [Now,] I want to figure out where are the laughs in our experiences with motherhood.”

From 28 September to 6 October 2013 at the Arcadia Gallery in Toronto, Mindy and a group of mothers from the Harbourfront Community Centre in Toronto will be presenting  ‘Landing Gear’, another chapter in the history of ‘Greetings from Motherland’. ‘Landing Gear’ is an interactive multimedia installation about early motherhood told through the clothes we wear.  Through a combination of documentary audio, photographs, text and collage centred around an antique wardrobe trunk, viewers will be invited to explore the contributing mothers’ stories and share their own. More information about the show is available at the Greetings From Motherland website: I especially recommend looking at the photo installation named You Are Not Where You Were, as well as the Motherland postcard rack.It is out of this multidirectional spectrum that ‘Greetings from Motherland’ shows itself to us. Participants embark on an artistic journey that has great impact on both those taking part, and those viewing the results.

In my opinion, one of the greatest achievements of the project is challenging mothers who are not artists to discover and reveal their self-identities and subjectivities through art. It opens a path to their self-expression by using other languages and codes, beyond the verbal and the traditional. It is not like a coin, which has only two plain sides. It explores a deeper subjectivity that challenges a monolithic way of viewing motherhood.


Maria Collier de Mendonça is a Ph.D. candidate at the Communications and Semiotics Graduate Program at PUC-SP (The Catholic University of São Paulo, Brazil). Her dissertation is entitled: ‘Motherhood in Advertising: a Qualitative and Semiotic Analysis in Brazil and Canada.’ From January to July 2013, Maria conducted part of her doctoral research in Canada, as a CAPES Foundation Grantee, under the supervision of Dr. Andrea O’Reilly at York University, in Toronto, ON.

Soapy, Gendered Glory: Performing ‘Papahood’ Through Routines and Spaces

By Emily Chapman

Pigeon, a Japanese family brand, advertises its baby soap with a father and his baby in the bath together, covered in soapy suds. The text reads: “Every time papa bathes you, you look more and more like him” (o-furo ni irete ageru tabi, dan dan papa no kao ni naru). The advert is not alone in singling out the father-child bond, but adverts featuring just papa remain rare. Of interest here is the use of bathtime as a space for the development of the father-child relationship exclusive of the rest of the family unit.

I asked Japanese friends whether the triumvirate of father, bath, and baby was familiar to them. With rapid assurance over coffee, one replied “it’s communication time” (komyūnikeishon-taimu), the implication of which is that there is no other time set aside for father-child bonding. It is perhaps too clean a jump to suggest that this is because of the rigid working schedules of urban male workers in Japan, yet, what if it is?

Tsipy Ivry’s 2010 monograph Embodying Culture compares the cultures of pregnancy in Japan and Israel. One of the strongest differences emerges in the expected and experienced roles of male partners during pregnancy. Ivry expertly unravels the knots of and around pregnancy’s institutions in Japan, in which the scope of male partners’ participation remains dually capped, first and foremost by “men’s enduring commitment to their workplace”. This obstacle is reinforced in turn by “the structure of prenatal care services” (Ivry 2010, 160). In Israel, prenatal courses surface as a place for father and foetus to coincide; however, as Ivry describes, in Japan “most of the “parents’ courses” feature only one lesson, out of five or more, in which husbands are actually invited to participate. The special class takes place during evening hours, to make it possible for husbands to attend, which again reinforces the primacy of their work over their partnership. The content of these lessons varies, but many of them include a practice session of baby bathing for the husbands. As participants explained, bathing is considered the “traditional” role of the father”. Ivry goes on to suggest that the “skinship” incarnate in bathtime is a sustained replacement for the “lack of opportunities to bond precisely because they are not as physically connected to their children as their spouses” (Ivry, 162).

Using the idea of gestation as a privileged bonding experience, bathtime may serve as a moment of exclusive gendered bonding and becoming which survives on the assumption that the mother will have had ample other time to bond with the child. Should her hours of bonding be reduced by virtue of her working hours, there is no allocated catch-up space – discursive or practical – since it has already been assigned to papa. It is his corporate-sanctioned runway for expressing and experiencing fatherhood through nightly ritual. From desktop to doormat, it is his “glory run”.

Sanctioned or otherwise, to what extent is Pigeon peddling a sud-fuelled imaginary rather than a viable reality? Drawing from the Nationwide Survey on Families and Children (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare 2009), the graph below plots the time at which working mothers and fathers return home.

Mothers’ return peaks between 6 and 7pm with the majority returning before 6pm, whereas fathers trickle through their front doors between 7.30 and 9pm. The graph bolsters Pigeon’s storyline, with the hours before bath and bed as the statistical preserve of mothers with the time for bathtime remaining staunchly at the frontline of fatherly performance. For those fathers who do not make it home in time to bathe in both Pigeon soap and their daily dose of glory, the changing Japanese father-scape does offers other opportunities – whether it is feeding your baby, changing a nappy, or being a pushchair papa out in the park at the weekend. The unspoken assumption, however, is that in papa’s statistically likely absence, mother will bathe baby, yet oddly enough she will encounter none of this tantalising glory.


Tsipy Ivry (2010) Embodying Culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel. New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press.

Tamago kurabu (June 2012), Tokyo: BenesseLifeSmile.

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2009) Nationwide survey on Families and Children. Available at:



With an undergraduate degree in Japanese studies, Emily Chapman finished her MA in Gender Studies at SOAS in 2012 and will start a PhD in the SOAS History department this September. In the meantime, she blogs at with a focus on the gendered construction of the family in postwar Japan. Her work is geared in particular to broadening ways of looking at families in Japanese history in order to better appreciate the spaces and places of coping which do not, and have not, conform[ed] so cleanly to “work” and “home”.

Art in the Freeze Frame: Some Reflections on Elective Oocyte Cryopreservation

By Sophie Zadeh

In October of last year, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a report on oocyte cryopreservation – egg freezing – in which it was determined that the proven success and safety of the technique permitted the lifting of its official ‘experimental’ label. In this report, however, it was also argued that too little is yet known about the medical, financial, ethical, psychological, and emotional effects of ‘elective’ oocyte preservation for the Society to recommend its use.

‘Elective’ oocyte cryopreservation – often dichotomised with egg freezing for medical reasons – has since become something of a hot topic within both professional and public discourse on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). Defined by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority as a possibility for women who may be “concerned about [their] fertility declining as [they] get older, and are not currently in a position to have a child” (2), up-to-date ‘elective’ egg freezing techniques are available in fertility clinics across the UK to women wanting, so it is said, to ‘delay childbearing’ (3). Experts have testified to the efficacy of the technology – not least as a father’s graduation present to his daughter (4) – and users have spoken of the relief of not having to find Mr Right – right now (5) – through the use of this technique. Most recently, distinguished academic Professor Marcia C. Inhorn encouraged students to freeze their eggs in a news piece which received what might be deemed a rather icy reception (6, 7).

An initial US study of the motivations of 20 women who had undergone the treatment found that most had done so in order to ensure that they had taken advantage of ‘all reproductive opportunities’ available to them. Half of the women who took part in the study felt pressured to freeze their eggs as a result of their ticking ‘biological clock’ (8). Indeed, it has been said that egg freezing gives women a chance to buy themselves more biological time, and, particularly if used by women under the age of 35, may be an effective means to ‘having it all’ (9). Seen in this way, ‘elective’ egg freezing technology has the potential to eradicate the cohort that Marny Ireland described in 1993 as ‘transitional childless women’ – who have delayed making a decision about whether or not to have a child until it is too late (10).

It is clear that rumination over ‘elective’ oocyte preservation must now move beyond the arguments made by those in favour of its use, and those against it. As a feminist, my thoughts about this technology are not based upon a (dis)agreement with the decisions of individual women, but with how ‘elective’ egg freezing might relate to the condition of women as a social group (11). ‘Elective’ egg freezing technology is both emblematic and symptomatic of the twenty-first century motherhood mandate. At the heart of this lies a dualistic conception of acceptable womanhood and motherhood, contemporarily characterised by having it all – the career, the heterosexual relationship, and the biological child. This is problematic.

Commentary upon the changing nature of acceptable motherhood is, of course, not new. We know that in the UK in 2011, more mothers were working than ever before. We also know that the age at which women have their first child is now substantially later than it was in previous decades (12). And most fundamentally, we know that contemporary cultural narratives serve to reinforce these trends. Popular discourse undeniably advises us not only that there is a ‘right time’ to be a mother, but also that good mothering can only be done in the ‘right’ socioeconomic and demographic context (13). As Woollett and Boyle inform us,

“Motherhood is constituted not as normal and natural for all women, but only for those who are married or in stable heterosexual relationships, who are not ‘too old’ or ‘too young’, and who are in the ‘right’ economic and social positions.” (14)

This notion of acceptable motherhood is tied to appropriate womanhood in a conditional matrix which ideologically imposes the woman-as-mother mantra. Quite separate from this dominant discourse, however, are the experiences of women themselves. Research on the narratives of mothers of different socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds has demonstrated that mothers ambivalently appropriate the concept of the ‘right time’, as it is biologically, relationally, and psychosocially defined (15). Some mothers find it difficult to reconcile what has been described as the ‘right time’ (chronological age) with the ‘right moment’ (biographical stage) (16). In fact, it is argued that in the pursuit of parenthood, women might rather be choosing what seems to be the ‘least wrong time’ – rather than the ‘right time’ – to have a child (17). It is also apparent that the ‘right time’ concept permeates the narratives of women who do not mother (18). Most fundamentally, it has been argued that the concept of time may serve as a useful tool with which to understand women’s childbearing choices in the contemporary context of assisted reproduction (19). This argument, it seems to me, is crucial to understanding the relationship between ‘elective’ oocyte cryopreservation and the modern motherhood mandate.

Indeed, unlike many other ARTs, ‘elective’ oocyte cryopreservation offers the possibility of motherhood in the future, as opposed to motherhood at present. It seems, therefore, that beyond Martin’s concept of ‘anticipated infertility’, ‘elective’ egg freezing technology gives rise to the new ontological category of the ‘future mother’ (20). More than this, it seems that ‘elective’ egg freezing rigorously reinforces a particular type of future motherhood which, in my view, is problematic for women everywhere. The paradox at the centre of this technology therefore lies in its ostensible acknowledgement of the acceptability of non-motherhood, and its implicit subscription to a social discourse which ultimately deems it – and (biological) motherhood prior to the meeting of milestones such as the high-flying career and long-term heterosexual relationship – unacceptable.

In practical terms, however, little is yet known about the efficacy of this technology for the ‘right time’ mother so imagined – with estimates of just twelve live births in the UK resulting from the technique to date (21). Indeed, it seems that despite the media attention regarding the opportunity to ‘elect’ to freeze one’s eggs, women are not yet scrambling to use this service. Like other ARTs, it will be the users – or non-users – who set the agenda on ‘elective’ oocyte cryopreservation. Whether this will be in line with, or against, the twenty-first century motherhood mandate as yet remains to be seen.


    1. ASRM Office of Public Affairs (2012). Fertility experts issue new report on egg freezing; ASRM lifts experimental label from technique. Retrieved from
    2. HFEA (2013). Freezing and storing eggs. Retrieved from
    3. Negi, L. (2013). With thriving careers and highly disposable incomes, more women are taking the gamble of egg freezing as they climb the professional ladder or wait for Mr. Right. Mail Online, 9 January. Retrieved from
    4. McAuliffe, N. (2012). Egg freezing – for the woman who can never win. The Guardian, 27 November. Retrieved from
    5. Bannerman, L. (2012). I froze my eggs at 38. It’s my back-up plan. T2, The Times, 26 November, 6-7.
    6. Inhorn, M.C. (2013). Women, consider freezing your eggs. CNN, 9 April. Retrieved from
    7. Morgan, L.M. and Taylor, J.S. (2013). Op-Ed: Egg freezing: WTF? The Feminist Wire, 14 April. Retrieved from
    8. Gold, E., Copperman, K., Witkin, G., Jones, C., Copperman, A.B. (2006). P-187: A motivational assessment of women undergoing elective egg freezing for fertility preservation. Fertility and Sterility, 86, S201-S201.
    9. Inhorn, M.C. (2013). Women, consider freezing your eggs. CNN, 9 April. Retrieved from
    10. Ireland, M. S. (1993). Reconceiving women: Separating motherhood from female identity. New York: Guildford Press.
    11. Sandelowski, M. (1990). Fault lines: Infertility and imperiled sisterhood. Feminist studies, 16 (1), 33-51.
    12. Office for National Statistics (2011).  Mothers in the Labour Market, 2011. Retrieved from
    13. Allen, K. and Osgood, J. (2009). Young women negotiating maternal subjectivities: the significance of social class. Studies in the maternal, 1 (2), 1-17.
    14. Woollett, A. and Boyle, M. (2000). Reproduction, women’s lives and subjectivities. Feminism and Psychology, 10 (3), 307-311.
    15. Perrier. M. (2013). No right time: The significance of reproductive timing for younger and older mothers’ moralities. The Sociological Review, 61, 69-87.
    16. Sevon, E. (2005). Timing motherhood: Experiencing and narrating the choice to become a mother. Feminism and Psychology, 15 (4), 461-482.
    17. Perrier. M. (2013). No right time: The significance of reproductive timing for younger and older mothers’ moralities. The Sociological Review, 61, 69-87.
    18. Earle, S. and Letherby, G. (2007). Conceiving time? Women who do or do not conceive. Sociology of Health and Illness, 29 (2), 233-250.
    19. Ibid.
    20. Martin, L.J. (2010). Anticipating Infertility: Egg freezing, genetic preservation, and risk. Gender and Society, 24 (4), 526-545.
    21. Magee, A. (2012). Fertility miracle or cruel myth? Daily Mail, 7 November. Retrieved from


Sophie Zadeh is an ESRC-funded PhD student at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Family Research. Her research, supervised by Professor Susan Golombok, focuses on the experiences of single women who have used a sperm donor to have a child. She is most interested in social psychological approaches to assisted reproductive technologies and in the meaning of motherhood in changing sociocultural contexts.

Congratulations to Tabitha Moses

By Rebecca Baillie

Congratulations to visual artist Tabitha Moses, who was recently awarded the Liverpool Art Prize for a selection of work made on the theme of infertility. This blog entry serves as an interesting following piece to the suggestions made by Laura Seymour in a previous post: that we must think through IVF as ‘a multi-disciplinary phenomenon’, rather than as a solely de-personalised and medical process. In art, as in poetry discussed by Seymour, work is currently being made to creatively re-claim the experience of IVF beyond a clinical setting, and thus to open up the subject not only to individual contemplation, but also to public discussion.

After two unsuccessful attempts at IVF, Moses made three works, ‘Be My Parent’, ‘The Wish’ and ‘‘In Vitro I & II’. The first, ‘Be My Parent’, is a series of hand-stitched portraits of prospective sons and daughters from an adoption agency, protected and incased by white circular frames. ‘The Wish’ is a Duratrans print of childhood photographs of both the artist and her husband, merged together, and then mounted onto a light box to create the couple’s imaginary child. Finally, ‘In Vitro I & II’ are two delicate and mystical works, created simply, by piercing minute holes into pieces of dark grey card; they are again mounted onto light boxes where the tiny holes transform into a glowing constellation.

Of the series of hand stitched portraits, ‘Be My Parent’, Moses writes: “This series considers adoption as an alternative to ‘natural’ parenthood. Hand stitched images of prospective sons and daughters are obscured and somehow beyond reach. The title is taken from a national organization, which finds families for children who need them. This was a moving work to make. Leafing through the monthly ‘Be My Parent’ magazine is a strange thing to find oneself doing. You find yourself wanting to take every child home, wondering how you would fit into each others lives, how they might thrive in a loving family. Making those embroideries was something of a devotional act. As if it was the least I could do if I wasn’t going to adopt the children. In selecting which children to embroider I chose the ones I would most like to adopt. It felt weird and unpleasant to, seemingly, have such control over another person’s life and future.”

Of ‘The Wish’, the artist writes: ‘The Wish’ is a visualisation of elusive progeny. Childhood photos of the artist and her husband have been merged to create their imaginary offspring – exactly 50% mum and 50% dad.’

Finally, of  ‘In Vitro I & II’, Moses says: “These pieces relate to our two failed IVF attempts. Before the embryos are transferred to my uterus we see them on a digital screen, magnified hundreds of times. They looked like celestial objects floating in space. Here they are shown as the four-cell and eight-cell beings they were. According to the time of year we had each cycle, ‘In Vitro I’ has the Autumn night sky represented and ‘In Vitro II’, the Winter. Each piece was made by pricking cardboard with syringes used to deliver the IVF drugs. Nebulous thoughts come to mind, about matter, energy and the connectedness of everything in the universe.”

The use of the natural system of seasonal change to somehow ‘order’ such a profoundly emotional experience, recalls another recent work by Moses, that of ‘Islands of Blood and Longing’ made in 2010. The work was made in the days and weeks following a miscarriage. The artist writes: “Making this map was a way of making something beautiful and meaningful from the product of a seemingly meaningless occurrence. The stains of lost blood became islands which, in turn, became a chart to help me find my way. The phases of the moon counted the days while the compass brought order and direction.” Unlike a scientist though, Moses also points to the systematic rationality of the universe as a way to reveal the random and invisible landscape of interior emotions.

Moses often works in the revealing space between, where the often-considered disparate realms of art and science, do marry well together. Already demonstrated in the use of an IVF needle to pierce the card in ‘In Vitro I & II’, and in the use of miscarried blood to paint a new world, Moses uses the ‘stuff’ of science to illustrate the complexity of human existence.  In an earlier work of 2004, Moses hand bound a selection of found dolls using fabric, thread, human hair and other bits and bobs. The dolls were ‘mummified’, and in this sense representative of both the ‘mother artist’, and of a potential or imaginary child. Once complete, but interestingly three years later, in 2007, Moses carried the dolls to a neighboring hospital and asked the medical staff if the dolls could be x-rayed. The resulting x-rays became artworks themselves, poignantly revealing the pins that the artist had used to secure the fabric, and in turn the unconscious (I say ‘unconscious’ here as this was before the time that Moses started to try and have children) pain felt through longing for a ‘real’ child to behold. The point that I intend to stress here is that all of the works made by Tabitha Moses feel like births, that they are all, in a way, her children, like ‘The Dolls’, guided through the world long after the date of their conception.

I am, in fact, lucky enough to care for one of these dolls (to say ‘own’ here would be bad parenting). I first held ‘my’ doll two days after I had given birth to my son as my mother had bought it for me as a gift. The feeling that I felt with Moses’s lovingly swaddled doll cupped between two hands, although different, was one equal in intensity to that experienced upon meeting my newborn son.

As part of her prize, Tabitha Moses has been awarded a solo show at The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (dates to be confirmed). See more work by the artist at:


Rebecca Baillie is an art historian who has always practiced as an artist alongside conducting research and writing. Recently awarded a PhD, her academic specialism lies in the study of melancholia, surrealism and its legacies, and the maternal body in visual culture. In her artwork she uses photography, drawing and sculpture – whichever medium best supports the current idea. She is the curator of MaMSIE’s online ‘visual library’, and has published a variety of writings in the journal, Studies in the Maternal. She is currently a dissertation supervisor at Kingston University, as well as freelance writer and curator.

The Mother of the Nation

By Marianna Leite

Since Thatcher’s death, Thatcherism has received its fair share of attention from many quarters ranging from political commentators to academics. Two recent podcasts, ‘Thatcher’s Legacy: Thinking Psychosocially, across the Decades’ and ‘Thatcherism, Blairism and a Bad Week for Austerity’ discuss the symbolic significance of Thatcherism and the importance of moving beyond the contentious individual that was Margaret Thatcher towards the analysis of political and economic forces that sustain its rhetoric. Most commentators argue that Thatcherism means the use of discourse (as mere rhetoric) for the promotion of cuts, privatisation and widespread contempt for the poor. It resonates perfectly with the current politics of the coalition government as, in a rhetorical sense, it means shifting the mainstream political discussion from the ethical dimensions of austerity measures to moralistic values of socially constructed roles.

In symbolic terms, Thatcherism has been used to discredit feminism as a political project and to challenge the intrinsic value of women in power. Posthumous representations of Margaret Thatcher have created her as the ultimate feminist icon. For example, The Telegraph in an article entitled ‘Margaret Thatcher: ultimate feminist icon – whether she liked it or not’ argued that although Thatcher did not self-identify as a feminist, this rejection should not preclude her from being represented as a role model by those who do. This type of assertion is not only dismissive of notions of women’s needs but also of the theoretical constructions of feminism. When naming Thatcher as the face of modern femininity, Barnett’s article clearly ignores the fact that feminism is a social justice project aimed at the equality of outcomes for all men and women. Thatcherism purposefully exposed Thatcher to criticism in order to protect the corporate determinism embodied in the shift of paradigm performed by policies under her government. This did not always occur in a visible and transparent manner (and this is perhaps one of the main problems of its rhetorical appropriation). That is, Margaret Thatcher could be demonised as a leader and, most importantly, as a woman in power. Simultaneously, attempts to criticise the interests that upheld her in power were forcefully blocked.

The deconstruction of the symbolic meanings of Thatcherism reveals the discriminatory nature of capitalism. Thatcherism, as any other capitalist project, makes use of a political rhetoric that uses cultural images that rely on fear as one of the many instruments used to support a particular discourse and practice that increase economic dependency and the poverty gap. The capitalist project under Thatcher and now the neoliberal project under Cameron represent the continuity of an exclusive way of policy making and implementation that is run by an elite that is alienated and disconnected from reality. This policy praxis results in a lack of commitment to people’s experiences and needs and in a discriminatory and delusional perception of the reasons and the purpose of programmatic targeting and retrenchment.

Thatcherism subjugates the feminine and feminist aspirations and choices. It fails to view power as gendered even though it is clear that the fact that Margaret Thatcher was a woman made it easier for her to get away with intrusive discriminatory capitalist policies. For instance, Lynne Segal’s podcast notes that Thatcher’s exercise of sovereign power was more forceful than those of preceding male prime ministers. Thatcherism therefore relates to femininity in terms of masculinity, i.e. feminist demands and challenges to unequal gender regimes are always seen in negative terms. And, it defines society as a conglomerate of individualistic values and interests, thereby missing the point on the ethical dimensions of the social contract and of society itself. Ethical values become intertwined with morals making it absolutely impossible to identify the instrumental use of femininity for masculine purposes.

Thatcher has often been depicted by Conservatives as the mother of the nation. Motherhood is used in this sense in authoritative terms as a form of representation of women’s predominant and conforming roles and their bounded devotion to a heterosexual male-dominated family. This re-emphasises the male/female relationship in terms of the nature/culture binary by oversimplifying a spectrum of gendered experiences, disregarding other social categories that impact over women’s and men’s lives and creating artificial groups that are incapable of translating highly transient definitions such as womanhood and motherhood.

The mythmaking of Margaret Thatcher since the rise of the coalition government (reaching its climax at her funeral) is a conservative political strategy. It depoliticises political and economic discourses sustaining and/or rejecting Thatcherism while instrumentalising the image of Thatcher. It instrumentalises the figure of Margaret Thatcher in a way that is offensive to those who suffered and/or were opposed to the policies implemented under her government as well as to the individual memory Margaret Thatcher herself. It fails to expose the political rhetoric sustaining Thatcherite policies which undermine any democratic attempts to openly deconstruct and challenge these same policies as well as the symbolic meanings associated with them. In the end, we must ask ourselves if women are always to be used as scapegoats for permissive, individualistic and discriminatory economic policies that only serve to advance profit-seeking behaviour and a pathological ideal of a heterosexual and male-dominated nuclear family.


Lynne Segal, Thatcher’s Legacy: Thinking Psychosocially, across the Decades, 29 April 2013, Podcast available at

Tom Clark, Thatcherism, Blairism and a Bad Week for Austerity, The Guardian, 18 May 2013, Podcast available at

Emma Barnett, The Telegraph, Margaret Thatcher: ultimate feminist icon – whether she liked it or not, 8 April 2013, available at


Marianna Leite is an AHRC SSHP Research Studentship award holder completing her PhD in Development Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, under the supervision of Dr. Jasmine Gideon and co-supervision of Dr. Penny Vera-Sanso. She uses a Foucauldian discourse analysis to explore the significant shifts in maternal mortality reduction policies over the past decades in Brazil. This research is the extension of the work she conducted as a visiting scholar at the International Gender Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. She is the editor of MaMSIE’s blog as well as in charge of referencing and style for Studies in the Maternal. She also co-organised the Gender and Development research group held at Birkbeck and IOE and is an active member of the Latin American Gender & Social Policy research group co-hosted by UCL and Birkbeck. Before joining MaMSIE, she worked in international development, at various instances, for INTERIGHTS, ActionAid and the Center for Reproductive Rights. Marianna can be contacted at

The Sins of the Mother

By Fran Bigman

In November 2011, I was surprised—probably naively—to see a familiar plot playing out in an episode of my mother’s favourite TV show, the acclaimed Parenthood. The show features four adult siblings and their children; one of the siblings, Adam, has a pre-teen son, Max, with Asperger’s syndrome.

In this episode, ‘Missing,’ Adam’s wife Kristina has made the agonising decision to return to work after having an unplanned third child. The moment she does, Max goes missing. Adam rushes home after getting a call from Max’s sister, who was forced into babysitting. He calls Kristina 26 times, but she’s in a meeting, and there are shots of her phone lying ignored on her desk while her disoriented son makes his way through San Francisco. The show has won plaudits for its depiction of Asperger’s, but here it emphasizes his mother’s negligence.

I had noticed this pattern before in midcentury films—woman ‘neglects’ her family, either by working or having an affair (or both), and her child suffers in a manner cruelly calibrated to the magnitude of her ‘sin’. In Brief Encounter (1945), Laura almost has an affair and returns home to find her son sick. In Mildred Pierce (also 1945), the title character is busy opening a restaurant after kicking out her cheating husband. After work one day, an investor in the restaurant invites her over, and the scene fades out with them kissing. Mildred returns home to find her younger daughter dying of pneumonia; since her husband couldn’t reach her, he brought the child to his mistress. The girl’s death intensifies Mildred’s commitment to her only remaining child, spoiled Veda. This subplot is handled similarly in the 1941 James M. Cain novel and 2011 television mini-series.

I had also traced this mother-punishment plot back as far as Aldous Huxley’s 1928 novel Point Counter Point, in which Elinor Quarles contemplates an affair with a British Fascist, Everard, to spite her withdrawn, intellectual husband. Huxley does not allow her to feel lust, stressing that when Everard kisses Elinor, ‘she felt herself turning cold and stony.’ On the day she decides to go through with the affair, she learns via telegram that her young son Phil is ill. As she rushes to his bedside, she thinks, ‘The choice had been made for her…at poor little Phil’s expense… She reproached herself for not having realized that he was working up for an illness.’ Huxley excruciatingly details little Phil’s end:

The child began to scream…like the scream of a rabbit in a trap. But a thousand times worse…She felt as though she too were trapped…by that obscure sense of guilt, that irrational belief (but haunting in spite of its irrationality)…that it was    all…her fault, a punishment, malevolently vicarious…

The details themselves come from a story of real mother-guilt; Huxley borrowed them from his friend, the writer Naomi Mitchison, whose son died in 1927 from meningitis. In a 1979 memoir, Mitchison wrote, ‘I still wince…thinking if I had taken more trouble at the beginning when he first got ear-ache.’

Parenthood demonstrates that this plot hasn’t gone away, just softened. In the 1920s, thinking about adultery was enough to get your child ‘killed off’. In the 1940s, it depended on whether the woman went through with it. In ‘Missing,’ the child is safely returned, as in another contemporary depiction, Lucy Caldwell’s novel The Meeting Point (2011). Ruth moves with her missionary husband, Euan, to Bahrain, where she begins an affair with a nineteen-year old. She has decided to run off with him when one day, in order to see him, she leaves her young daughter with Noor, a teenage neighbor, not realizing that Noor knows of the affair. Noor kidnaps her daughter, leaving an accusatory note. Although the child is recovered safely, the episode is used to moralistic ends; Ruth realises her husband and child ‘are all that matters.’

In ‘Missing,’ adultery is displaced onto working as a reason for the mother’s absence, but these two ‘sins’ continue to coexist in contemporary depictions of negligent mothers. Alice Munro’s new story, ‘To Reach Japan,’ both colludes in and challenges the mother-punishment plot, but the enduring image is that of the abandoned child. Greta, the married mother of said abandoned child (Katy) and an aspiring poet, meets a journalist at a literary party in Toronto and can’t stop thinking about him. On a train with Katy to Toronto, where they will stay while her husband Peter travels for work, Greta leaves her daughter alone and asleep to have sex with a younger man she has just met on the train. She returns to find the child missing and panics, fearing death and kidnappers, but soon finds Katy between the train cars.

One could imagine a child being pleased at the adventure, but Katy is a moral register; she says, ‘You smell a bad smell.’  Greta thinks that if someone else had found her, ‘she would have been spared the picture she had now, of Katy…helpless…Not crying, not complaining, as if she was just to sit there forever and there was to be no explanation…no hope.’ Greta chastises herself:

Even before the useless, exhausting, idiotic preoccupation with the man in Toronto, there was…the work of poetry…That struck her now as another traitorous business—to Katy, to Peter, to life. And now, because of the picture in her head of Katy alone…that was something else she, Katy’s mother, was going to have to give up…a sin.

In the end, Greta is met at the station by ‘the man in Toronto’ (the journalist from the party); when he kisses her, initially she feels shock, but then ‘an immense settling.’ This could be read as a challenge to the standard line: Greta will leave her dull husband who does not take literature seriously for an intellectually stimulating relationship with a journalist. She will be able to have a fulfilling love life with a man who is not the father of her child; she will be able to have a life outside the home as a poet, and yet this will be compatible with motherhood and the health and wellbeing of her child. Earlier in the story, in fact, Greta seems to directly criticize the sins-of-the-mother plot. Reflecting on the early 1960s, when the story is set, she says that, at this time, ‘having any serious idea, let alone ambition…could be seen as suspect, having something to do with your child’s getting pneumonia.’  Yet it seems impossible for the story to free itself from the trappings of the sinning-mother plot. The image of Katy alone and helpless stays with the reader, as well as Greta, and the story ends with an ambivalent image of the little girl: when the journalist kisses Greta, ‘she was trying to hang on to Katy but at this moment the child pulled away….She didn’t try to escape. She, Katy, just stood waiting for whatever had to come next.’


Fran Bigman is a PhD candidate at Peterhouse, Cambridge, in the Faculty of English, researching abortion in British literature from 1907 to the liberalisation of UK abortion law in 1967. She is currently working on abortion as a male turning point in male-authored narratives from Harley Granville-Barker’s 1907 play Waste – one of the earliest mentions of abortion in British literature – to the four different versions of Alfie radio play, stage play, novel, and Michael Caine film – produced between 1962 and 1966. Another chapter focuses on the 1930s writings of Naomi Mitchison, a birth-control-clinic volunteer and novelist who was ambivalent about both birth control and abortion.

IVF as Folklore: How Poetry Can Reclaim Maternal Selfhood

By Laura Seymour

Leaflets and other official sources of information about IVF refer to it largely in biological and medical terms: the surgery, the laboratory, the ‘procedure’. But the ways in which men and women introspect IVF do not tend to take this purified medical form, where the body, or the self, is seen as a totally surgical, medical entity. Though often encouraged by the media to view medical evidence as the most objective way to see themselves (as diseased, as at risk, as ‘due for a check up’, and as bearers of symptoms and other medical signs and meanings), healthcare and fertility treatments are also experienced as affective, political, economic, historical, ethical, psychological, and aesthetic. This blog post is partly a recommendation of an incredibly beautiful book, and partly an exploration of the way in which that book’s language-use exposes the intertwining of science with the social and personal that IVF involves.

Julia Copus’ new book, The World’s Two Smallest Humans (Faber and Faber, 2012), which is currently on the shortlist for the prestigious TS Eliot prize, shows how poetry can help to think through IVF as a multi-disciplinary phenomenon. In Copus’ poem sequence entitled ‘Ghost’, the speaker recounts her experience of IVF, emphasising the incongruous, sometimes claustrophobic, medicalised settings in which she finds herself having to interact with people (however friendly) she half-knows. Copus’ poems recapture this experience from the viewpoint of an emotional, rational, ethical, human subject. They often have a sense of healing, of using poetry to reclaim experiences which at the time were abruptly medical, not personal enough. The poems redefine the medical setting, blending and tangling the technologies and discourses of surgery with those of folklore and emotion.

In her poem ‘Phone’, for instance, the speaker is told that she has seven embryos available for implantation, and pointedly uses traditional folkloric imagery as a counterpoint to what is often seen as its polar opposite: the latest developments in science:

Seven’s a very good number,

the voice goes on, as if it were only referring

to the lucky number of folklore and romance –


seven brides for seven beaming brothers

instead of a fragile clutch of embryos,

their fine net veils lifting in the breeze

The way that Copus allows the folkloric image of ‘seven brides for seven brothers’ to seep beautifully into the image of the embryos in the laboratory is typical of her poems’ powerful blending of different conceptual categories. She creates a yearning, proleptic suggestion of the embryos already grown and ready to marry in their ‘fine net veils’. At the same time, she registers the incongruity that her embryos are outside of her womb before they have been born, amplifying this by suggesting that they are even outside in the open air, affected by a ‘breeze’. Copus mingles the practices and discourses of medicine with more commonplace imagery of fertility, too. In ‘At the Farmer’s Inn’, she describes IVF as a form of harvesting:

the seed, the eggs

they harvested at noon with the consummate needle,

drawing them off like tiny, luminous pearls

from the sea of her body

And yet these ‘pearls’ perhaps indicate a harvest more costly than that which occurs almost unthinkingly with the seasons, and one which is more difficult to attain. Imagery of the female body as the sea is not new, and yet it seems new when Copus evokes it, because of the ways in which her poems re-invent the landscape, that which is ‘outside’. For the speaker, in undergoing IVF, her reproductive processes are expanded far beyond the limits of her body, to laboratories ‘fifty miles from here’ (as she puts it earlier in ‘At the Farmer’s Inn’), and to other people’s hands. As with her vision of her embryos left in the great outdoors with its ‘breeze’, the speaker’s imagery of her body as a landscape (here, a sea, elsewhere, she is a constellation, or experiences ‘the quiet expanse of bed like a field behind her’) arguably reflects this expansion of her privacy into a wider realm.

Rather than being a jumble of human limbs, making babies for the speaker is a somewhat post-human process, where limbs jumble with limb-like, quasi-human medical instruments. ‘Inventory for a Treatment Room’, for example, describes this mix of technology and humanity thus:

A lamp on a long, extend-

able limb;

one purple treatment chair, whose empty

purple arms reach out

for her

The lamp has a limb (which cranes and extends, with a subtle formalism characteristic of Copus, across the enjambed line), and the chair reaches out to hug the speaker (perhaps the shortening of the lines, with a similar attention to form, suggests a drawing-close, a hug). Technologies interpose between humans, as well as kindly support and become a naturalised part of the speaker’s reproductive processes. This is somewhat of a preoccupation of these poems. ‘The Enormous Chair’ evokes the fantastic positions in which reproduction can be achieved with another mix of humans and implements. The eponymous chair seems a normal chair:

except that it’s purple,

except that it’s the size of a house,

except that instead of arm-rests

there are leg-rests…

she’s invited now to recline

legs akimbo

But Copus’ greatest re-envisioning of the medicalised self through incongruous metaphor is arguably that which gives the collection its title. In the poem ‘Egg’, the speaker compares her embryologist to:

one of the girls

serving on the bakery at Sainsbury’s –

except instead of iced buns she is carrying

the world’s two smallest humans, deftly clinging

to the edge of her pipette, the brink of being.



Laura Seymour is a third year Shakespeare Studies PhD student at Birkbeck College, University of London and currently holds the Louis Marder scholarship at Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Her poems appear in several magazines (most recently ‘Iota’), her first collection of poems is ‘Herb Robert’ (Flarestack, 2010), and her collection due in early 2013 is entitled ‘All the metals we tried’.