With each passing year, my understanding of what it means to be a mother deepens, gets challenged and teaches me more about myself and who I would like to be more than any other of life's circumstances. This week's goop is dedicated to all the beautiful mothers in the world, especially my own.
Our friend, the talented director Mary Wigmore Reynolds, has made a beautiful film about Ina May Gaskin, one the most important voices in midwifery today. Below, we interview Mary about her experience making this enlightening documentary and how it’s changed her perspective on childbirth. Watch a clip from the documentary and read the interview with Mary below.
A: My friend and co-director Sara Lamm gave me a dog-eared copy of Ina May’s book, Spiritual Midwifery when I was pregnant with my son. It’s the sort of book a wise friend passes on with knowing eyes. My husband and I were so excited about being parents – but I really didn’t know the first thing about giving birth and it felt scary. By the second page, I actually felt less afraid. By the end of the book, we were optimistic that childbirth could even be fun. Then we wanted to know more about the ecstatic birthing hippies of the Farm, the large American intentional community in the hills of Tennessee, where Ina May and the Farm Midwives have been delivering babies with outstanding outcomes since the carnival-esque days of their founding in 1970.
Q: What was it about her message and work that resonated with you and made you want to make the documentary?
A: Her first lesson is that our bodies are built to have children--I love the fact that her most radical lesson is so simple. She reminds us that it’s a natural physiological process and women have been doing it for quite some time! We don’t have to be afraid, especially when we have knowledgeable, compassionate people supporting us.
We wanted to make a film that celebrates birth and we wanted to show the midwife model of care, so people can actually see more or less first hand and be inspired by the work these great women do. Even in the most complicated births (and there are a couple in our film), they are calm, smart and supportive – truly heroic. The hope is that Birth Story can be useful to anyone caring for pregnant women - doctors, childbirth educators, doulas and families--perhaps it could inspire more collaboration with midwives among all of these important groups. Most of all I hope it is helpful to people like me – who might be anxious about giving birth and are eager to see positive stories about women’s bodies.
Q: How has working with Ina May changed the way you look at the act of giving birth?
An inspiring food pioneer, restaurateur, activist and mother, Alice opened her famous Chez Panisse in 1971, which popularized the organic, locally-grown food trend in restaurants and has been one of the world’s best restaurants ever since. In the meantime, Alice has also written a number of influential cookbooks, founded the Chez Panisse Foundation and The Edible Schoolyard Project and been a mother to her daughter, Fanny.
Photo: Gilles Mingasson
Q: We’ve heard a lot about you cooking with Fanny and instilling a love of food in her life. When did you start cooking together and how has that evolved?
A: It started in the garden. I tried to plant things that she would like to eat when she was little – peas, strawberries, green beans –and then she’d go out foraging on her own. She’d sniff the basil and feel empowered learning the names of the edible plants and being on her own. So that started her relationship with nature and the landscape, which I think is really important for kids to develop at a young age. Then, she understood that a pea was a pea and had the confidence to shell it on her own and from there we started cooking together.
Q: So that confidence she grew in the garden started to translate to the kitchen?
A: Yes. She started coming with me to the restaurant, standing on a box and helping out with little tasks. She’d help out with the bread making, pizza toppings – simple things she felt she could do. Then we started enjoying these tasks at home together.
She really loved pounding things in a mortar and a pestle. I normally use a Suribachi or something pretty inexpensive and while I was doing other things, she’d pound the garlic or the basil, smelling it all at the same time and doing these easy little jobs that kids like.
From very early on she enjoyed being a part of the meal – being together and setting the table together - it never felt like a job to her. She loved drawing up little menus, for example, (still does!). You know, she found it a bit of a creative outlet, she always has.
Alice Waters with her daughter Fanny (left), circa 1987.
Q: You say that helping you in the kitchen (at home or the restaurant) never felt like a job to Fanny – do you think it’s because you never treated your job as a chore?
My hilarious and dear friend Ross Matthews chronicles his life thus far in the very funny Man Up!
We asked Dr. Jessica Zucker about the best way to approach communicating the things you’ve never said and dealing with core issues with our mothers/daughters. Below is her guide to clearing the air.
When we air longstanding grievances, how do we communicate about things that have been bothering us for years but still haven't found the right way to express?
“There is no one ‘right’ way to communicate about longstanding challenges or brittle resentment bogging down relationships. A more productive way to envision engaging in discussions with our mothers/daughters about difficult issues might be about cultivating realistic goals and maintaining achievable outcomes. We do best in navigating our relationships when we don’t take things personally, when we have a good handle on our audience, and we are reflective about our role in the dynamic. Blaming and shaming get us nowhere.”
1) Take an active role in looking at your contribution to the relationship and ways you might improve the communication.
ACT: Mindfully reflect on who you are by jotting down an inventory of behaviors you might strive to improve.
2) Attempt not to take things personally even when it seems like there are no other ways to interpret interactions.
ACT: When your emotional buttons are pushed, don’t react but rather pause and attempt to see the exchange from a distance. Know that her expression of disapproval may not actually be about you.
The School of Life bibliotherapy service offers reading suggestions for all of life’s situations - “shelf help,” as they put it. We asked two of their bibliotherapists, Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, to provide us with some reading suggestions we could share with our mothers. Here are a few ideas – choose the one that most sounds like your mother and buy two copies for reading in tandem.
“If your mom is the sort to put on a smile and tough it out, give her Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns, a light novel set in 1930’s London. The harsh realities of motherhood are rendered in painfully funny detail: a hideous hospital birth, a husband who refuses to make any concessions to fatherhood (who, for instance, doesn’t see why the baby can’t be kept in a cupboard), and a working world in which a woman with a baby renders you more or less unemployable. Luckily, our heroine Sophia is one of life’s survivors - relentlessly optimistic and spirited, she bounces back from each new setback, somehow managing to support the entire family while keeping house and being there for everyone.”
“For high-flying moms, we suggest I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson, a hilarious dissection of the juggling skills required by the modern woman wanting to hold down a top job, make a go of staying married while keeping a lover on the side, and be a mother. By day, Kate is a fund manager in the City; by night she has been found ‘distressing’ store-bought mince pies for the school Christmas party to make them look homemade. It’s impossible not to sympathize with her wish to at least seem like a self-sacrificing domestic goddess even when she is keeping so many balls in the air. The most dextrous of juggling mothers will feel guilty at times; and by giving her this novel you’re saying you understand how hard it is.”