‘This child is a planned baby’: skilled migrant fathers and reproductive decision-making

Article first published online: 13 MAY 2014  De Souza, Ruth Noreen Argie. (2014). ‘This child is a planned baby’: skilled migrant fathers and reproductive decision-making. Journal of Advanced Nursing. doi: 10.1111/jan.12448

Risk management and life planning are a feature of contemporary parenting, which enable children to be shaped into responsible citizens, who are successful and do not unduly burden the state (Shirani et al. 2012). This neoliberal project of intensive parenting and parental responsibility (typically gendered as maternal) involves child centredness and detailed knowledge of child development (Hays 1998). Simultaneously, contemporary masculinities are increasingly being situated beyond the traditional Western binary of the active home-caring mother and passive breadwinning father. Following Connell (1995), the plural word masculinities refers to the many definitions and practices of masculinity (See e.g. Archer 2001, Cleaver 2002, Finn & Henwood 2009, Haggis & Schech 2009, Walsh 2011). Broader and more inclusive repertoires of fathering emerge from diverse family practices and formations including queer/homoparental families; cohabitation; new technologies; changing domestic labour arrangements; the changing organization of childcare and growing involvement of fathers; and social policy initiatives including parental leave and family-friendly employment practices (Draper 2003).

These rapid societal changes have ushered in new forms of participatory fathering and family involvement for men in the Western world. However, the pressure to integrate traditional breadwinner and authority figure roles with contemporary demands for involvement in all aspects of the perinatal period has not been matched by reduced work pressures or the provision of active societal support and preparation (Barclay & Lupton 1999). As a result, men often feel isolated, excluded, uninformed and unable to obtain resources and support in the perinatal period placing pressure on relationships, challenging feelings of competence and requiring negotiation of competing demands (Deave & Johnson 2008). Furthermore, men have gender- specific risk factors for perinatal distress including their more limited support networks; dependence on partners for support; additional exposure to financial and work stresses; a more idealized view of pregnancy, childbirth and parent- hood stemming from a lack of exposure to contemporary models of parenting; and lastly being less keen to seek help with emotional problems (Condon et al. 2004). All of these factors are compounded by practitioners and services oriented towards mothers and babies marginalizing fathers (Deave & Johnson 2008, Lohan et al. 2013).

Happy Mothers’ Day

I’ve written a lot about maternity, an interest  derived from my clinical nursing practice and an interest in the intellectual and political ways in which women’s bodies have been mobilised in nationalist state interests. My interest in ‘maternity’ (the initial life-changing journey of being pregnant, giving birth and nurturing and the corporeal processes of the transition to motherhood) is supplemented with an interest in ‘mothering’ (the work of meeting the needs of and being responsible for dependent children) and ‘motherhood’ (the context where mothering occurs). All of which are shaped by the historical, the cultural, the political, the social and the moral.

Mother’s day is one of mixed emotions for many. It brings sadness for those who have lost their mothers, mothers who were never there and for mothers who were present yet absent, who didn’t fulfil the sentimental fantasy. It’s also a day when particular idealised mothers are invoked while others are made invisible as Ali Smith points out in her collection of 40 portraits of mothers in the act of mothering, Momma Love:

I am sick to death of the blandness of the “family mystique.” We all know that every family has cracks in it, and that some of those are profound. Silence, secrecy, disillusionment, lies, in my experience, are the most poisonous ingredients in any family and can exist in traditionally picture perfect households too.

I can’t stomach the lack of diversity in pop culture. I can’t stomach one more TV show that has a single character “of color” on it being considered ethnically diverse. I can’t stomach another public discourse about whether or not members of the LGBT community are complete human beings who deserve the same human rights as straight white men. I can’t stomach these things and so, I chose not to participate in them. I went the other way. I portrayed the world I see, which includes challenges and love in a variety of situations.

The ironies of celebrating this day are also pointed out in Ann Lamott‘s powerful essay about how mothers are simultaneously exalted and vilified. Her critique of mother’s day extends to the ways in which women who mother are viewed as superior and more evolved for having ‘chosen’ a  more challenging path. More importantly she points out how the focus on individual mothers means that the sociality of mothering is forgotten:

But my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men. I have loved them my entire life, even after their passing.

So with these two beautiful pieces in mind, I thought I would acknowledge the gaps and silences in the pop culture version of mothering and acknowledge those who mother on the margins, without acknowledgement, without the support of the State or who mother while vilified by the State.

Happy Mother's day chilout

I dedicate this day to those who have birthed and brought into being projects and works that were a labour of love into the world in forms other than flesh. I acknowledge those who grieve for their mothers, for those whose mothering is painful, for those who can’t be mothers but contribute to their communities and families. I acknowledge fathers, extended family, grandparents and “other” mothers that mother. I pay tribute to those mothers who mother against the odds, who mother while in detention, under occupation, in war, in poverty, in prison, in marginalised spaces and places. I salute the mothers whose mothering knowledges have been marginalised by colonisation, by assimilation, by racism, by the medicalisation of the body. I bless the animal mothers we share this earth with, I give thanks to our Earth mother who nourishes and sustains us all. Let us all acknowledge those who create and bring to life, those who nurture and sustain life and those who plant seeds, care for and protect.

Mother's day

Dedication: This blog is dedicated to both my grandmothers who died in May 1965 and who I never met, but whose presences have been with me. For Joyce and Kadogo Ayagwe, always in my heart.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Rosemarie North for reminding me of the plural, to Alison Barrett for reminding me of Anne Lamott’s great piece and to Danny Butt for sharing the Momma Love link.