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Mother on Mother Violence

I had a very interesting conversation with a fellow student this past weekend about the causes of problems in maternal health around the world.  As we discussed this, I shared my concern that there was a general lack of respect for women in many parts of our world.  She stopped me there and challenged my thinking.

“It isn’t really a lack of respect for women, because women do this to themselves. It is deeper than just a lack of respect.”

I agreed.  We had discussed the issues of female family members in Chad hitting a laboring mother if she expressed pain because it meant she was weak.  We had discussed women in the DR Congo who were forced to stop breastfeeding before the baby was two months old because their mother-in-law would find her son a new wife if she did not return to the fields to work. We had discussed the latests birth documentary I had seen where even the traditional birth attendants did not partner with the women, but held themselves in authority telling the woman what she must do.

“You are right,” I told her, “Even women here are made to feel inferior if they breastfeed, if they don’t breastfeed; if they go back to work, if they do not go back to work.” “If they have an epidural.” She added.

Then I came home to find this article waiting for me: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,713890,00.html.

The article baffles me, probably because I do not understand the main philosophies of the feminist movement. But in reading her responses, it sounded as if she was annoyed that women would choose to stay home and have children.  As if by making that choice it was evidence to her that they did not really understand what they were choosing, because if they did understand they would have chosen what she did.  And she seemed to say she can tell that even though women made this choice, she can tell they are not happy in it.

And this brings us back to the issue at hand.  We all want to be right.  Or maybe we all need to feel that we are right and so we share wholeheartedly why other women are wrong so we can feel more right. Either way, in behaving this way is a form of mother on mother violence. So instead of having wonderful supportive communities of new mothers and motherly women without children, we create a prison for new mothers.  A prison that separates them not with bars, but with the fear of being rejected.

What if instead of judging women based on what we think is right or correct, we accept women as growing and learning human beings? What if we could accept women for the growth and maturation they have undergone, instead of expecting them to follow our personal path of growth and maturation? What if we could understand that no woman makes a choice believing she is harming herself or her child, and instead of belittling her or condemning her come along side her to share with her and learn from her. What if we agreed that each of us is, at least on occasion, wrong; and that although we are convinced at this moment we are correct, we may come to accept later that we might have been even the smallest bit mistaken in either belief or approach? What if we really trusted that mothers, when given support, will make the best decisions for themselves and their children?

What This Means to You

Take an honest look at yourself over the next few days.  When you hear stories of mothers who made different choices than you made, is your first reaction to prove why she is wrong?  Or is your first reaction to learn about why she made the choice she made and support her in achieving her goals for her family?

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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