Which pieces of "motherhood art" make you reimagine mothering?

I recently read Chloe Cooper Jones’ indescribably stunning book, Easy Beauty. It’s about being seen, about being rendered invisible. It’s about ability and disability. It’s about inheritance. It’s about how we embody and search for beauty, and how those experiences define us. It’s a book I’ll be thinking about for a long time, and if I’m doing a bad job of summing up why reading it was such a moving experience, that’s because this is a book that refuses to be neatly contained. I loved it.

In Easy Beauty, Jones writes this about her experience of pregnancy as a disabled person told she would never be able to bear children:

My pregnant body drew a lot of stares. The side-to-side sway of my walk doubled. I was in constant pain and my mobility was significantly decreased. My hips locked up and it was hard to stand or walk. My small torso meant that my child rested more heavily on my lungs, making it difficult for me to breathe. Sometimes people watched me walk with anticipatory horror, certain I’d split apart in a stiff wind. Sometimes people saw me coming and felt sorry for me. Or nervous. And some people showed true shock. Everyone was curious. How had this happened? Is it permitted? What would I birth?

I kept reading the messages on the mommy support group. There was a discussion thread about co-sleeping, which suggested that to reject co-sleeping ensured a child’s sociopathy and to choose co-sleeping meant certain death. I learned a lot about crib brands, mattresses, swaddle cloths, all of which killed children. Formula killed children but breastfeed too long and you’d raise a child incapable of adult love. These women stayed vigilant. They read up on subjects. They were their child’s sword and shield. The world named them mother, protector, and these women drew strength and purpose from this designation. They were encompassed by a category that amplified them. They were their child’s safest place. But I was my child’s danger. I saw this in the eyes of others, the disgust there sometimes; I saw in the way people watched me, in the fear that followed me—I was to be named not quite mother but something else.

What’s striking to me about this passage is how Jones illuminates several familiar tenets of motherhood (external surveillance of maternal bodies, assumed maternal authority, the corporeal changes of pregnancy, searching for assurance in the netherworld of internet expertise), but forces the reader to view them (maybe) from a new perspective. Yes, most mothers experience intrusive stares from strangers, but some mothers read more explicit messages in those stares than other mothers might. Yes, many mothers experience discomfort during pregnancy, but some mothers’ experiences of pregnancy mean constant pain. Yes, many cultures presume a mother to be a “natural” authority on the safety and wellbeing of her own child, but only if that mother has the right skin color, the right body, and lives in the right zip code.

I’ve consumed a lot of “motherhood” media, but I’m continuously reminded that no one maternal narrative will ever be universal, and I’m continuously grateful to read/watch/listen to experiences of mothering that help me relearn, unlearn, and reimagine what mothering can mean. Easy Beauty was one of those books for me.

What about you? What’s the most recent piece of art you came across that illuminated mothering for you? I’d love to know.

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