Elevate Difference

Mother Knows Best: Talking Back to the “Experts”

Given the sassy title and equally feisty cartoon woman on the cover of this book, I expected a bold, yet playful critique of so-called mothering “experts.” Much to my disappointment, what I encountered within was a collection of essays and research papers that were heavy in academic terminology and short on the fun. This is not a book for the lighthearted reader, but rather for those who seek a more scholarly perspective on issues such as the bodily experience of being pregnant, breastfeeding and its associated politics, and how a “good” mother is defined.

The women who contributed to this book share backgrounds in higher education. Many are professors and hold PhDs and other advanced degrees or positions of relative power and prestige. Taking this into account, it makes sense that their writing is at times overly cerebral in its deconstruction of motherhood. One would have to already be knowledgeable about the mainstream critiques in order to delve into this world of advanced analysis.

Some of the authors’ arguments were not new to me, such as that of breastfeeding. The mainstream media has a history of covering breastfeed-ins as well as studies about the benefits of breast milk. The buck usually stops here, and this is where the in-depth discussions come into use. The authors accurately deconstruct breastfeeding as it relates to the idealized image of a mother and the societal expectations that we are all inevitably caught up in. Breastfeed-ins are great and all, but to have the opportunity to engage in this type of activism also suggests a level of privilege. What about working mothers? What about otherwise marginalized women who have more at risk?

Then there is the whole question of how breastfeeding intersects with feminism. On one hand, women are held to impossible standards of motherhood in which the mother never blows up or grows frustrated and fosters a healthy sense of self in her children, quite possibly at the risk of losing her own self in the process. On the other hand, women have worked tirelessly to achieve even a semblance of equality in the workplace and are taught that they should aspire to anything and everything that they dream for themselves. Both of these paths involve a lot of input from outside sources, or the so-called “experts.” These experts tell women how they should feel, how they should birth their children, and how they should raise their children, yet tend to ignore or disregard the ultimate authorities on the subject—the mothers themselves.

At the core of this book, the authors propose that women can be experts of their own pregnancies and mothering experiences. There are many conflicting and compelling lines of reason behind many of the practices supported by experts, but ultimately the mother’s individual circumstances should be considered. Each woman must be her own mothering expert because, after all, she will be the one living it.

Written by: Shana Mattson, February 23rd 2011