Negotiating Motherhood in Australia by Sonia Masciantonio 19 of 52 (unpublished Thesis)

As I sit at my desk trying to organise the reams of journal articles and piles of books I thought it was time to reflect on some of my favourites. I have been priviledged to read this Honours in Anthropology thesis by Sonia, who is taking a little time out to care for her gorgeous little baby boy, and just finished her PhD fieldwork.  I am not posting this to facebook as I would normally, as I’m not sure that it is really meant to be publically shared. Hence, I will also refrain from critiquing the article apart from saying that it has given me immense assistance in the formulation of my own Thesis.

Two impressions really struck me when reading this thesis. Firstly, Sonia had not had the experience of breastfeeding/motherhood when she produced this thesis and I am impressed with how well she has focussed (nailed!) in on the issues. Secondly, she very cleverly used a collection of qualititave research articles which represented the views of women in quotes. This gave her a rich source of Anthropological data to draw from.

This is very relevant to my dilemma in first formulating my thesis question. In Honours Anthropology we are unable due to time constraints to get the necessary ethics approval from the University of Adelaide in order to do research on ‘humans’; there is no way around this Anthropology is the study of human beings and their cultures. So as Honours students we rely on good existing ethnographic research to critcally analyse an issue from a different perspective.

I found this challenging for my own research, having a slight stubborn streak which if someone tells me I cant do something, I’ll look for ways that I can! I really didn’t want to regurgitate other peoples ethnographic work, I was seeking voices that hadn’t been heard or analysed in an Anthropological context before. Sonia’s use of these women’s interview data gave me ideas on different avenues of accessing primary sources.

This Thesis explores the tensions and contradictions between public health policy and the lived experience of the newly breastfeeding mother. I think it presents one of the core principles that is crucial for policy makers to engage with. Womens’ place in our society has changed dramatically over the last 2 generations, and policy makers need to keep up with these changes.  The idea that a woman is at once independent, trying to break through the ever present ‘glass ceiling’ in her career, to earn an equal wage to her male counterparts, whilst upholding the goal of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months at least is one that policy makers tend to ignore or at the very least do not accomodate. Wonder Woman had super powers, normally garden variety women need structures and support around them to give them a fighting chance of successful breastfeeding.

I was fortunate that I left my glass ceiling behind to go overseas and start our family. I studied at University whilst having my children – tricky enough but much easier to balance than work/children/life. I was a long term breastfeeder of my 3 children. Loved breastfeeding, I was lucky it worked well for me and my babies. My third baby spent his first 9 days in NICU and he didn’t and couldn’t breastfeed – I, an experience breastfeeding mother found little support during this stressful time. I found myself reflecting on the terrible struggle a first time mother would go through, wanting to do what she knows is best and feeling like a failure, that she couldn’t provide what ‘everyone knew’ is the best start for babies life. The truth is today, that most women do not breastfeed their babies for long, no matter what policy tells us is best. I think that today’s woman has too many competing demands to be able to always breastfeed, we don’t make it easy for women to achieve breastfeeding, society dishes out a lot of judgement on how babies should be raised, what we think of paid maternity leave, what we think of maternity leave full stop. This discourse of health and nutrition is not helping women achieve their goal, it just makes them feel guilty.

I will not rate this Thesis for obvious reasons. I did love the fact that I was able to engage with the topic which is so dear and a passion of mine.

Would I read another book by this author: Can’t wait for the PhD Thesis!

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