A Tale of Two Women
Woman #1: Married at age 20, she is the mother of two young children and pregnant with her third baby. She is a wife and stay-at-home mother. She breastfed her children through toddlerhood and beyond, often nursing one baby while pregnant with the next. She sews baby slings as a side job and enjoys cooking and gardening. Her husband works full-time while she is home with the children, so most of the household responsibilities (meal planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry) fall to her unless she specifically requests help. In her free time, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, and mothering.
Woman #2: A scholar and musician, she studied violin from age 5 and planned a career in music until an overuse injury made her change paths. She was accepted into Harvard, Princeton, and other undergraduate schools with full tuition scholarships and won presidential fellowships for both her master's and Ph.D. programs. During her graduate student years, she and her husband -- a fellow Ph.D. student -- renovated a historic Victorian house, doing almost all the work themselves. They also worked for nine summers in France directing study abroad programs. She does the family's finances and tax returns. She continues to conduct research, publish, and attend conferences.
Which of these women is a feminist? And which is a faithful Latter-day Saint?
You might be surprised to know that woman #1 is a feminist and is married to a man who considers himself a feminist. You might also be surprised to learn that woman #2 is a life-long, faithful member of the Church who is passionate about motherhood, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
You'd probably be most surprised to learn that woman #1 and woman #2 are the same person:
I've never fit any of the typecasts that come with being an LDS woman and mother, with being a feminist, or with pursing advanced education. In academic settings, my husband's colleagues shy away from my (increasingly visible) role as mother and seem relieved when we turn the conversation to my scholarship. At church, my multiple degrees and later entry into motherhood (at the old age of 28!) make me the odd woman out at times.
But I like these contradictions. I like living with one foot in both worlds. In fact, I don't see these two "women" as living separate or conflicting roles. And thanks to the efforts of my feminist foremothers, I have the freedom to choose my life's path -- or rather, paths.
I love that my academic interests and my commitment to mothering mesh together seamlessly. My main areas of graduate study were childbirth, maternity care, and breastfeeding. At the same time, I was actively involved in these fields outside of school as a doula, as a home birth midwife's assistant, and then as a childbearing and lactating woman.
Like the two "women" who comprise myself, my childbearing experiences could be seen as both ultra-traditional or ultra-radical. I gave birth to my first child at home unassisted, with no midwife or doctor present. My second child was born again at home, this time with a nurse-midwife in the background. I experienced the empowerment of stepping outside the medical system to have a baby -- no arbitrary rules or timelines, no one telling me what I could or could not do, the freedom and autonomy to follow my body's inner wisdom.
Kathryn Soper's comment resonated strongly with me: "It's a good time to stop worrying so much about who's a feminist and who's not, and instead focus on how women who care about gender issues can better cooperate by emphasizing similarities and respecting differences." I have found a remarkable degree of cooperation among those dedicated to supporting freedom of choice in childbearing -- freedom to birth at home (or any place of women's choosing), freedom from coercion or manipulation during prenatal care and childbirth, and freedom to breastfeed anytime, anywhere without harassment. Conservative Christian moms, lesbian moms, working moms and stay-at-home moms -- even Democratic and Republican legislators -- have united to protect the rights of pregnant & breastfeeding women.
Giving birth and nurturing my children at the breast are the most empowering, fulfilling, and radically transformative acts I have ever engaged in. It doesn't really matter whether these choices are feminist or traditional, conservative or radical. What matters is that I could choose.
For more responses to Kathryn Soper's As Sisters in Zion, click here.
Rixa Freeze has a Ph.D. in American Studies, with emphasis on childbirth and maternity care. She is married to a Canadian writer and professor. Rixa has two young children and is expecting her third in February. She blogs at Stand and Deliver.