MAMIS UNITE Against Super Mom
Whatever the reason- genetics, social conditioning, culture or tradition- women together do it better. Some of the most powerful work in my young life has come out of collective and collaborative work with other women. In Mamis Unite- a social media-based women's collective for left-leaning mothers- I found another such circle of sisterhood and collaboration. As a new mother, I never imagined that consulting with other mothers would prove so fruitful and inspiring.
Bombarded by a media culture which promotes the mythological Super Mom who magically balances family and career, while maintaining the perfect weight and make-up regimen, I became quickly anxious at the thought of going back to work full-time with a 3 month old son in tow. Somehow 24 hours didn't seem to be sufficient for fulfilling my work obligations and not only caring for my son, but ENJOYING him and my new family life. The media structure which consistently depicts abnormally beautiful moms teetering on 4 inch heels, while juggling their blackberries and baby strollers, seemed light years away from my daily reality.
Intellectually, I knew that this was simply a myth. I, in fact, could juggle my blackberry and baby stroller; however, abstained because it was impractical and unsafe. Who the hell would want to do that? Intellectually, I know that this isn't even necessarily something to aspire to. Here I was still struggling to heal from an emergency Cesarean section, while breastfeeding and pumping, working 45 hour work weeks, and struggling to identify a quality childcare provider outside of my mother-in-law. In all of this, I was working harder than usual to maintain a balanced relationship with my husband, in lieu of our new family configuration, and still do things for myself. Dancing. Reading. Simple things.
As a manager in a community development setting focused on children and families, I was shocked to discover how little of my maternity leave would be paid for and how few resources were available to working mothers in the agency. Modest childcare at a local daycare center would cost more than 25% of my annual salary. After 3 months of maternity leave, I had incurred unwanted debt due to my choice to stay home with my son 6 weeks longer than the state typically suggested. Even the 6 weeks covered by the state, only provided about 14% of my usual income. My agency "paid" me based on a year's worth of accrued vacation. In other words, I worked without rest for almost an entire year just to be able to stay home with my baby. I was overjoyed at the birth of my son but tired, and sometimes overwhelmed.
I had a million questions- probably like any new mother- but also a huge bundle of external burdens weighing on my mind. Against my better judgment and values, I found myself confronting moments of self-doubt and fear about my ability to manage so much responsibility. Eventually, I found myself reflecting on the systemic and institutional challenges facing mothers and families.
Education. Healthcare. Parental Leave Policies. Housing. All of these major social policy issues are at the heart of how families live. Whether they simply survive, or thrive. Issues that to some are simply quality of life issues during what appears to be the worst recession in the United States since the Great Depression, are survival issues for the vast majority of people living in the United States. People live hand to mouth. Check to check. At least many of the people in my community- a diverse, sometimes educated, always hard working community of mostly immigrants and people of color- do. And it seems, most of the United States does as well.
What I have known all of my life has taken on new dimensions with a child. My baby boy is perfect but the world we lived in is not. Becoming a mother has made this fact even more apparent. Glaringly apparent.
Fortunately for me, some friends and fellow mothers launched an informal "mommy group" on a social media network. With close to 300 members, this online community has become one of my most cherished circles of support. With most women based in New York, MAMIS UNITE's network extends to places as far off as Bahia, Brasil. Together we have initiated doula circles and childbirth education classes, free clothing swaps, organizing initiatives and an information resource network whose value cannot be measured.
The women of our network have pulled together to optimize use of every resource at our disposal. Informal systems of trades and barters have been activated, initiating a new paradigm for surviving a rough economy. Information networks have been mobilized to help women tackle everything from public school admission and public health benefits, to nutrition and alternative income strategies for stay-at-home mothers. Women from all walks of life, of all races have created a new community based on cooperation, support, sharing, teaching, and learning.
I believe that this is what women from all around the world have done for thousands of years. Circles of sisterhood are nothing new. What is fresh and inspiring to me is that, somehow, we have managed to renew these bonds in a social context and political climate that seems to suggest everything but this sort of productive unification of people and interests.
Scholars, artists, journalists, teachers, lawyers, workers, community leaders. Work at home. Stay at home. Working. Straight, bisexual, lesbian. All mommies. All powerful. All together.
One of the most moving testaments to our sisterhood was a collective effort to support a displaced woman from Los Angeles who birthed a premature baby boy while on vacation in New York City. In addition to having her son placed in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit of a local hospital indefinitely, she was left with no job, home, or health insurance in a strange city. Upon learning of her predicament, one of the mother's posted the situation on our network, and within hours, networks and resources were mobilized to support her. Baby clothing and breastfeeding pumps located. Public health insurance protocols explained. And most importantly, love and support expressed by a virtual community of strangers committed to helping a fellow sister.
We meet each other on trains and in doctor’s offices. On the street or in play groups. At daycare centers or other places in our local neighborhoods. And there are daddies, too. They aren’t official members, but they stand with us and contribute where they can – or where we let them- respecting our space and power.
In all of our many exchanges on nutrition, health, parenting, relationships, and community building, nothing stands out more than our earnest commitment to honesty and acceptance. In this, we have found communion and sisterhood, expressed through the sharing resources, networks, and ideas. We have also harnessed the heart of our collective strength as women in a society that systemically excludes "real women" in their beauty, complexity, and power.
From a simple online community, I have realized that the fabled Super Mom is truly dead. She never existed. And we are the true Super Women, profoundly beautiful and flawed at once. Perfect in our imperfection. And we are not alone.