No need to ask, I’m still not all that engaged in my school work. At least I’m crying less this term.
I had to present a statement of my research project this week. (For those who forget or are tuning in mid-journey, I’m looking at something about childbirth on Pelee Island in Southern Ontario in the early twentieth century. Think isolated, no hospital, women all giving birth 30+ kilometres over water by boat or plane by 1950.)
This week, we were required to draft a one-page statement describing the research focus/question and discuss one relevant historiographical work on the topic. I had a really hard time with it. I keep changing my research question, trying to tune it into something that will be useful to me after this degree is over. I also need it to be something very interesting (to me) so that I can keep with it for the next half a year or so. And it must be feminist. Once I’ve begun it will be difficult to change and a very large number of words will need to be written about it. I’m finding it hard to do something history (maybe since my background is Women’s Studies?) that will translate outside the academy afterwards. Assuming I will be leaving the academy afterward. If I stay in, I don’t know what discipline I’ll land in. I need something with some transferability.
So, still playing with my general topic of childbirth on Pelee, I thought, instead of looking at the physiologic/medical process of childbirth and how that changed maybe I could look at the communities of mothers on the Island, and how that changed. Maybe something about women and community and the influence of a patriarchal medical model of childbirth on the larger community of Island women/Islanders.
The thing that ties me to this project is the anticipation I have of talking to the women about their lives. There are a handful of these mothers who are the age my grandmother would be if she was still alive. Women who have had incredible lives and their history is unrecorded. I presented a research statement on this idea but it was lousy. My heart is obviously not in it and it’s hard to be passionate when you aren’t really present. I fumbled for words to talk about it, the interest from others was poor, my own interest weak.
So now I’m thinking back to what it is that gets me excited about a project. I realized that it’s when I believe in the purpose of what I’m doing. When there’s learning involved or sharing, or building connections. When I believe that what I’m doing is important on a larger scale, when it goes beyond myself. When I believe that what I’m doing is going to make a difference.
I don’t believe that writing a 40-60 page paper is going to make a difference in anyone’s life. I think it’s important history that deserves recording, but to have it sit on a shelf in the university library? What’s the point of that? Is this merely an act in methods and discipline? /sigh/ For many, that answer is yes. It’s a stepping stone to a PhD program or to a job in government policy or else teacher’s college or ?? History is too often done in isolation, buried in the archives, with findings published intermittently in journals. Not always, but this is the way of the Ivory Tower.
I want to make a connection. I want what I want to do to matter. I have another idea now — and maybe it could work. It bridges History and Women’s Studies/Activism but what did they expect from me, really?
On a magic birthday your wish gets extra power points. My kid deserves it — he’s sick home from school for the third day in a row.
Just think: to be turning seven on the seventh day of the month in the seventh year of the century? It doesn’t get much cooler than this!
image (CC) by Mermaniac
Canada’s most famous midwife (according to me at least),Gloria Lemay, wrote this sample letter in 2001 for families to share after the birth of a new baby. I don’t think she’d mind at all if you edited it to fit your family’s circumstances. The main point of it is that you please ask for help when you need it. It’s all part of mythbusting the incredible super-mommy-can-do-it-all agenda that mothers get coming at us from all directions.
And no, I’m not pregnant, nor have I any plans to be. The rural Ontario childbirth historiography I’m working on is putting me in contact with more of this kind of information than I’ve been near in the past few years and I thought this was important enough to share.
-by Gloria Lemay
“Let me know if I can help you in any way when the baby is born.” … “Just let me know if you need a hand.” … “Anything I can do, just give me a call.”
Most pregnant women get these statements from friends and family but shy away from making requests when they are up to their ears in dirty laundry, unmade beds, dust bunnies and countertops crowded with dirty dishes. The myth of “I’m fine, I’m doing great, new motherhood is wonderful, I can cope and my husband is the Rock of Gibraltar” is pervasive in postpartum land.
If you’re too shy to ask for help and make straight requests of people, I suggest sending the following list out to your friends and family. These are the things I have found to be missing in every house with a new baby. It’s actually easy and fun for outsiders to remedy these problems for the new parents but there seems to be a lot of confusion about what’s wanted and needed..
1. Buy us toilet paper, milk and beautiful whole grain bread.
2. Buy us a new garbage can with a swing top lid and 6 pairs of black cotton underpants (women’s size____).
3. Make us a big supper salad with feta cheese, black calamata olives, toasted almonds, organic green crispy things and a nice homemade dressing on the side. Drop it off and leave right away. Or- buy us a frozen lasagna, garlic bread, a bag of salad, a big jug of juice, and maybe some cookies to have for dessert. Drop it off and leave right away.
4. Come over about 2 in the afternoon, hold the baby while I have a hot shower, put me to bed with the baby and then fold all the piles of laundry that have been dumped on the couch, beds or in the room corners. If there’s no laundry to fold yet, do some.
5. Come over at l0 a.m., make me eggs, toast and a 1/2 grapefruit. Clean my fridge and throw out everything you are in doubt about. Don’t ask me about anything, just use your best judgement.
6. Put a sign on my door saying “Dear Friends and Family, Mom and baby need extra rest right now. Please come back in 7 days but phone first. All donations of casserole dinners would be most welcome. Thank you for caring about this family.”
7. Come over in your work clothes and vacuum and dust my house and then leave quietly. It’s tiring for me to chat and have tea with visitors but it will renew my soul to get some rest knowing I will wake up to clean, organized space.
8. Take my older kids for a really fun-filled afternoon to a park, zoo or Science World and feed them healthy food.
9. Come over and give my husband a two hour break so he can go to a coffee shop, pub, hockey rink or some other r & r that will delight him. Fold more laundry.
10. Make me a giant pot of vegetable soup and clean the kitchen completely afterwards. Take a big garbage bag and empty every trash basket in the house and reline with fresh bags.
These are the kindnesses that new families remember and appreciate forever. It’s easy to spend money on gifts but the things that really make a difference are the services for the body and soul described above. Most of your friends and family members don’t know what they can do that won’t be an intrusion. They also can’t devote 40 hours to supporting you but they would be thrilled to devote 4 hours. If you let 10 people help you out for 4 hrs., you will have the 40 hours of rested, adult support you really need with a newborn in the house. There’s magic in the little prayer “I need help.”
Gloria Lemay, Vancouver, BC Canada 604 737 7063 August 2001
Needless to say, I had a bad experience after my third child was born, where I wish I’d asked for help instead of trying to entertain visitors. If I were doing it again I’d be a lot more assertive. I think.