Monday, December 26, 2005


First, for budding manufacturer-enterpreneurs out there: what I need is someone to design one of those semi circular
nursing pillows, but with a raised extension out in front for the computer. The writing mother's nursing pillow, anyone?

When I write or talk about motherhood, I feel like there's often a choice about holding back. Do I want to be the cheerleader? Do I want to tell it all? (or better, do I want to tell it all to close friends, say, or want to broadcast it all over the internet?). These decisions about honesty are complicated for me. I am a very private person, even as I'm dedicated to writing about motherhood and parenting in a warts-and-all kind of way. I'm even more committed to protecting the privacy of my husband and daughters (and how fun it is now to write about my daughters in the plural!). They didn't choose to have an author for a wife or mother. All this can make it hard to figure out the boundaries, to learn how to write about family life in ways that don't undermine my own family.

There's something else, too, which is not about my own family, but about that vague sense of what's appropriate. We mothers and fathers can be very concerned with being appropriate, with staying inside the bounds of convention. I think a good part of motherhood is about conformity--it's about getting along at the playground, about not standing out. And that makes it hard, say, to be political about motherhood, to take a stand that you know might distinguish you from the other moms around. I hear this from mothers who have become politically active; they feel that separation, and it's hard. It's hard for me, I admit that. There's a cameraderie in all the easy chit-chat that is much needed and can too easily disappear. But if we are going to take control of our situations as mothers, if we are going to assert leadership over social issues and workplace-and-parenting issues, we must face this fear head on. We must use all our charisma to guard against those feelings of staying within middle-class conventionality.

I have two topics that I want to approach, and I'll take on the one here. The first is that after the birth-from-hell was over, and after I'd stopped shaking (see the other blog... click on the sidebar....for the birth story), and after I'd held the baby and she latched on, and after Rob had held her for a long time, and after an hour or so when the nursery nurse had taken her to be bathed and checked, the midwife pulled out a plastic bag of something dark. She opened it and it plopped out onto another piece of plastic on the hospital table.

Yes, I want to say the word placenta in public. I'm helped in this by a recent email from a friend who's had numerous types of cancers, and recovered from them all. She sends out updates about her situation. The latest monitors the follow up after the last cancer. She goes into great gynecological detail. Near the beginning of her email she warns us that she will use explicit detail, and that it's important to do so, so that everyone understands what women's bodies really do. And believe me, this friend is no women's-health-care radical. Just a woman and a mom who's been through some awful times. I was touched by her insistence that we read about her innards. After all, she's the one living with it day by day, and we're the ones always saying, how can we help?

Now, you should know I'm not the type to say the word Placenta in public nor be automatically bowled over by a look at my placenta. Several years back I learned about a friend who'd had a ritual to bury her placenta in the backyard. She'd invited everyone over to take part. My response was a mixture of respect--how lovely and in touch she must be to do that--and a shudder--ick, there's no way I'd be there. Once while teaching a course years back on women and religion, one of my students brought in some natural menstrual sponges. Again, not my type of think to pass around the room. I didn't want to stop her. In fact, I half-admired her pluck to make the usually invisible more visible. And there was some connection between the pass-around and her report for the day. I kept my cool, but it did make me uncomfortable. I guess I'm just not a placenta type of woman.

I must say, though, I was amazed as the midwife put the placenta on the table, and showed me how and where the umbilical cord had been attached, and then pulled the remains of my amniotic sacs over the whole thing. It blew my mind. The darkness of it. The midwife kept saying, "doesn't it look like a tree of life?" In that moment of seeing how my body produced this, this thing, this thing that could sustain my baby for nine months, this incredibly complex system for taking my body's nutrients and sending them deep inside to the developing child, I understood some of what it means to use a midwife. Even if she made some mistakes, even if the birth was more painful than it should or could have been, I understood what it meant to take a woman's body seriously, to not flinch from it, to not just sweep the placenta away into the waiting medical waste bag (as I'm sure happened the first time around; you can bet that my Atlanta obstetrician wasn't going to spend his time demonstrating my placenta to me).

I still wouldn't call myself a placenta type of gal. But seeing it was incredibly powerful in a most surprising and unsuspecting sort of way.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Baby's Here!

It's back to one-hand typing for me, because little Amelia Jane arrived on Friday evening, all 8 pounds, 15 ounces of her sweet little self!

More in the days ahead, and I am back to daily blogging at Hylands, for those who want the birth story, and my forthcoming comparisons on which was better, my relatively sanitized, epiduralized Atlanta birth, or my grittier, mostly un-pain-medicated Philadelphia one (and thanks to many friends who do natural birth for coming clean about how damn painful it really is....).

But above all, it's about love right here in our home. Tons and tons of babylove and familylove.

Here's the announcement we sent out:

Friends, help us welcome Amelia Jane Baird into our family, born Friday evening December 16th, a little after evening's seven, a tad under nine pounds, and twenty-one inches at full stretch.

Labor was horrific (and mercifully short, I'm supposed to say). It's a miracle to have survived with body and psyche intact, I tell you. Everyone in a few mile radius of Chestnut Hill Hospital no doubt heard me scream curse words of pain that drunken sailors would be embarrassed to call their own.

We left the hospital Saturday evening, persuaded by several nurses to skip any and all holiday parties and head straight home. Ever since, little Amelia has been sleeping, nursing, and today, opened her eyes and looked around. When not having her diaper changed she is peaceful, serene, lovely.

. . .

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

MotherTalk, Meet the Mojo Mom Party Kit

Today is my due date. Apparently the little one doesn't like getting out of a warm bed any more than her mom does. He dad and big sis are already calling her the slugnut, the affectionate name they use for me when it's 10 am on Saturday and I'm still curled up in bed. (I must say that my nine-week stint as a soccer mom this fall did in fact get me up earlier, for better or for worse).

I'll leave word of any baby news here at the Playground.

Since it's hard to focus on much of anything at the moment other than my alternating desire to have this baby out and my total fear of labor's pain, thanks to Amy Tiemann for writing this morning and helping me with my day's blogging.

I met Amy, aka Mojo Mom, last March when I visited Durham, North Carolina for my first book talk. It seems a lifetime away. The book was just out, I didn't yet know I was pregnant, and the gorgeous colors of a Piedmont Spring were bursting everywhere I looked. I was in Durham, a place filled with old friends, a place I'd spent six years as a graduate student, and am still so very fond of. Amy's the author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Yourself While Raising a Family. She's very visionary, and she's developing what she calls the Mojo Mom Party Kit, a tool for moms to use to set up ongoing Mom's Nights Out where we can get below the surface and really talk about issues. When she read about MotherTalk, it seemed like there was a connection, that what we're trying to do is to get the conversations happening, to forge the friendships that strengthen us in daily life, and that will help us as we make the world a better place for ourselves, for all caregivers, for our kids, hell, for all of us.

Here are her words, and her website is at

Miriam, I am thrilled to hear about the success of your MotherTalk salons and I wanted to let you know that I have created a resource that can help other women get their own gatherings off the ground. In my experience, Moms' Night Out gatherings have been a vital part of my support system, yet I felt frustrated by the fact that our usual chardonnay-and-appetizers gatherings didn't always provide an opportunity to really get to know one another. With my own friends, I yearned to dig beneath the surface and learn what their "hidden talents" were. Could we form a new kind of group to explore our interests, even our wild goals that we didn't have time to fully pursue right now? The idea for the Mojo Mom Party Kit was hatched.

I invite your readers who are interested in hosting a MotherTalk salon to use the Mojo Mom Party Kit for ideas, activities, and resources to jump-start their conversations. The introductory Mojo Mom Party Kit is available as a free download from my website The kit can be used for a one-time party (for newly formed group or an existing Moms' group or book club) or my ideas can be expanded to form an ongoing Mojo Circle. I have plans for 12 sessions in all. We both know that mothers are yearning to connect in a meaningful way. There's nothing like joining forces with a good idea!

Monday, December 12, 2005

MT on Blogging Baby

Here's our MotherTalk mention at Blogging Baby. Our Philly Inquirer coverage was noted--and so too was the fact that we use the word "salon" without sounding pretentious. Go MotherTalk team! Whew! As most people who've met us will attest, we try to keep it real, down to earth, and unpretentious. We know "salon" can conjure images of 19th century Victorian ladies, and those in our own age who emulate them. We're not that, just a bunch of scrappy mother authors trying to get through the day and get other moms (and dads) together and talking.

Thanks, Blogging Baby, for seeing us as we are.

Friday, December 09, 2005

MotherTalk in South Carolina

Here's a repost from our MotherTalk blog, about the first MotherTalk in South Carolina. Look for more in Washington DC, and in Philadelphia starting in January at the new Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia's Mt. Airy section, at the newly famous corner of Carpenter and Greene. We're all thrilled to be supporting this new independent bookstore. Personally, I'm weaning myself off Amazon and other online bookstores, and training myself instead to send book orders to the Marble and support this bookstore, run by a local mom with a young child, instead.

Personal update: roofers gone (happily, in time for our first major snow); no peeps yet from a baby wanting to get out in the world; and a wonderful snow day, with the kids across the street sledding down the neighbor's driveway. We hear the laughs in our living room. At some point they'll traipse into someone's house for a combo of lunch, hot cocoa, and snow taffee. Life's good.


Mother Talk South Carolina

Tomorrow, December 10, will see our first Mother Talk in South Carolina. From the Charleston Post & Courier:

Writers plan literary salon
Summerville resident Hope McIntosh will hold the area's first "Mother Talk" event, an old-fashioned literary salon with food, good company and conversation, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

This event will feature "Literary Mama's" Amy Hudock and Andi Buchanan about Andi's new anthology, "It's a Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons."

"Mother Talk" events with a wide range of visiting authors have been held in New York, Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, Berkeley, and other major cities. This will be the first held in the South.

Both Amy Hudock and Hope McIntosh teach English at Pinewood Preparatory School in Summerville.

"It's a Boy" features 30 essays on the mysteries of boys by writers such as Jodi Picoult, Jaquelyn Mitchard, Caroline Leavitt, and Catherine Newman.

Visiting writer Andrea J. Buchanan, the managing editor of the online magazine "Literary Mama," is a writer living in Philadelphia.

Monday, December 05, 2005

It's all on Literary Mama

For anyone who hasn't seen the whole dust up, it's all up now at Literary Mama's blog, and there are some very thoughtful responses to the whole thing. I've seen it cited elsewhere on the blogosphere, and apparently I'm not the only one who was attacked by the author in question. Thanks to everyone who's been so supportive. When I first found out about all this, it felt like the first time I'd ever been attacked so harshly. After about a day had passed, I realized that back when I was an academic, such attacks were much more frequent, and were always thought of as part of the normal course of events, as "what one does" when you don't like someone's writing or a paper they'e just presented. You attack them head on, and then informally leak all sorts of personal meanness to the grapevine. What a lovely world it is. I guess I had just repressed all that. No wonder I left fulltime academe when I had the chance...

And my last point before moving on: there's such irony in being attacked as a weird internet feminist who writes about her roofers, when my blog is one of the least personal mom-blog around? I write about so little that's really persona--I protect my daughter's privacy voraciously--and to her dismay--and you never read here about arguments with my husband, or even who he is. I struggle deeply with finding a writing voice that can be personal and political, warm and angry and analytic all at the same time. There you have it. My last musing.

But more to the point of motherhood and work now:

When do we find more positive and hopeful ways of having a conversation about motherhood and family life?

On my radar: we've found a possible sponsor for MotherTalks around the country, and as details come out, I'll let everyone know. And we'll work on preparing some "how to create MotherTalk" materials, so that anyone who wakes up one morning and says, hey, I'd love to invite a bunch of moms over some evening to talk about real issues, how do I do that? might have a clear set of easy-to-follow instructions. So readers and friends, start thinking about this-you'll be among the first we ask!

And the personal update: roofers are still here, amazingly. snow is on the way. i'm nine days away from the official due date (is it too late to have one of those cutesy online due date counters? I guess so). and while last time I had four months off before delivery, this time it seems like I'm working up to the time the baby arrives. life's like that.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

My Response...

As promised, the response that will be published at Literary Mama later today. I posted it briefly last night, then took it down (think very late night barefoot traipsing to upstairs office). Yes, I was attacked personally, and I wanted to make sure I was taking the high road back. With a tad of morning editing, you're seeing it here first:

Wow. How does an author/blogger/mom even respond to a personal attack like that? The post is clear evidence that writing about the Mommy Wars and about the judgment that's dished out to all mothers doesn't exempt one from taking it on the chin. Ouch.

Yes, once upon a time, I had a low-paying, high-prestige full-time job. Unfortunately, it didn't come with onsite childcare, paid maternity leave, or other supports for working parents. Not wanting to totally ditch my career, I took an unpaid leave of absence. I found part time work elsewhere. Then I quit the first job. My story of career sacrifice is shared by moms throughout America. 25% of us are out of the paid workplace, 37% work part time. Some feminists can only see us as disappointments. I disagree. Instead of judging us, why don’t you look at where the problem is: The problem is not that smart women make bad marriage decisions. At core it's about how the workplace hasn't changed to support family life. Not nearly enough.

If that makes me a bad feminist, well, that's okay. Call me names. I've got better things to think about, like getting moms and dads across our nation, and in every neighborhood and economic class, to start thinking about how the frustrations our families face are structural, how they're not about our own individual failures but about a lack of paid family leave, fair wages for women and mothers, realistic work hours, reliable and affordable childcare, or chances to get back into the workplace after some time out. And that's just a start.
I'd like more of us to feel comfortable speaking out, and imagining what real change for mothers, fathers and families might look like. I'd like us to call our politicians, write to our newspapers, pressure our corporations, in short, use any of the usual tactics available to us as citizens in a democracy. I'd call that keeping our eyes on the prize. We need real social change for family life, and we need it now.

In my book The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a
Good Mother, (Seal Press, 2005) I tried to write about all of us. About white women and black women. About a few affluent moms, and a few welfare and former-welfare moms. About ordinary middle-class school teachers. About daycare workers. About women who are honestly trying to make a go of it in a society that doesn't help. About women and families who are kept absent from our national media, which much prefers to focus on the affluent, as if only the rich matter. I stand by my comments, especially as they're echoed throughout the blogosphere. We're all having a time of it out here; there are few good family choices for mothers or for fathers. Our national media insists that only the upper economic sliver of families matters. That's a travesty.

Well, it’s late, and I am a tired and very pregnant woman itching to get to bed. But I can't end without defending the mom-and-dad Internet, where we real moms have morning sickness, sick kids, and other frustrations. Real dads sometimes quit their jobs and stay home to care for kids. We do boring things like fold laundry and cook dinner, day in and day out, as do our partners and spouses. We work, earn a living, feed our spirits, and find ways to get our kids to sleep through the night. Sometimes we have homes that need new roofs, and yes, we write about all of it.

On our blogs we write about the work that fills our days. It may read like boring trivia, but it's the stuff of everyday life, and it matters. We have joys and regrets, happiness and anger. These lives don't come with fancy names or titles, but they're honest and they're real. We've created an interesting and connected world. We've ended the awful isolation that can affect so many moms and dads. We're here, we're real, and we come from all walks of life. I'm sorry to here us described by Hirshman as "weird."

To end, I'll assume that most readers of Linda Hirshman's post will realize the odd way my words were out of context, and leave it at that. Since I was never asked permission to tape record our telephone interview, readers should know that they are not reading my transcribed words but an oddly remembered version of a conversation.

Executive Working Dads....

Here's Salon on the latest, how high-paid corporate dads might be gettiing a break. This is good, but we are, as the author mentions, so tied to the trickle-down theory of workplace and family change: