The Journey Within: A M/other’s Retrospection on a Curriculum of Pregnancy and M/othering by Adrienne M. Annan

The Journey Within: A M/other’s Retrospection on a Curriculum of Pregnancy and M/othering by Adrienne M. Annan

As dawn breaks, I carefully slip out from under the covers trying not to disrupt the soft, steady breath coming from the warm body beside me. The furry beast positioned at the foot of my bed lifts his heavy head as he briefly considers leaving his warm, cozy nest. Not a chance. I am happy to steal but a few moments to myself this cold winter’s morning. I carefully negotiate the creaky wooden steps in my old Kentucky home and head purposely for the downstairs bathroom on our main floor instead of the one conveniently located next to our bedroom. The secret operation that is about to unfold was deliberately and personally planned the previous night. I flick on the bathroom light and reach for the medicine cabinet taking a long hard look in the mirror before revealing its contents. This could be the day that life, as you know it, changes forever, I say to the reflection starring back at me. I remove the necessary package from the cabinet and read the instructions again for the hundredth time. Feeling satisfied and prepared for the task at hand, I perform the tricky procedure with aplomb. After placing the experiment on the sink’s edge I head to the kitchen to pace while awaiting my fate. Five agonizing minutes later I return to the porcelain threshold to discover the coveted blue line: I am going to be a m/other.

“Despite claims of being less dehumanizing than other research modes” Munro (2007) suggests that,

narrative research is engaged in the utilitarian purpose to produce some new knowing, knowledge, or understanding. Our research relationship is between man and knowledge and is ultimately product oriented. To shift to research as a sacred act that honors our humanity would entail a shift in that relationship to focus on the encounter between two human beings. (p. 496)

It is with this statement in mind that I begin this narrative journey. In turn, I explore how my lived curriculum of pregnancy and m/otherhood has helped to shape my understanding of the various theoretical perspectives. In this paper I try to re-examine the underlying and interrelating themes related to the pregnant curriculum of motherhood in order to gain a greater sense of how the construction of the autobiographical narratives I tell others informs/confirms/subverts what I tell myself. Therefore the following journey with/in explores some of the emotional and physical demands that pregnancy placed upon me as well as the vulnerable, but revelatory third space that it created. Further, I hope to illustrate how my (em)bodily encounters of a m/othering curriculum have helped to foster my emotional and intellectual growth. Lastly, I look at how embracing the notion of “other” or “stranger” enables a greater sense of self and humanity to emerge while solidifying the potential for realizing global perspectives in education.

Little did I know when I set out on this pregnancy journey, or this autobiographical journey for that matter, that it would become such a transformative experience. I knew somewhat of the physical journey that my body would undergo–enlarge and then, hopefully, shrink back. Nonetheless, I had no idea of the voyage “within” that would occur. Yes, there would be a baby inside of me growing and moving in most miraculous ways, but I was ignorant to the fact that an emotional journey must also take place within the mother before a child is born. Here, Wang (2004) reminds us:

A journey for a woman is first of all a journey within, in search of lost voices and invisible traces. To some extent, this is a journey home for the return of what is repressed, excluded, and alienated. At the same time, a journey home is made possible only by a journey of leaving home at a symbolic level, not only in the sense of challenging the father, but also in the sense of seeking the necessary independence from mother so that a woman can transfigure the familiar and thus bring forth something new. (p. 129)

For me, this journey home manifested itself in an unexpected manner: a vault of memories seemed to surface randomly and without warning in the middle of my day forcing me to pause and contemplate the meaning of such re-emergences. Then, on most nights, I was pleasantly, and sometimes not so pleasantly, haunted by dreams of people and situations from long ago. Looking back, the emotional transition that was taking place with/in me was clearly a reflection of my inexorable physical transformation.

The transformation that a woman’s body undergoes during pregnancy can be simultaneously celebrated and hated. While there was definitely, for me, a sense of wonder and awe at the alarming rate in which my waistline expanded, there was also a sense of panic and fear at the alarming rate in which my thighs and buttocks also expanded. Patricia Foster (1994) writes, “for women… the act of celebration and enjoyment of the body in its multiplicitous shapes and conditions, for acceptance of imperfection has been a cultural taboo” (p. 9). And women she continues, “have been taught to worry about physical perfection and to consider such concerns a necessary stimulus to improvement” (p. 9). I found it extremely irritating that there was not even a faint resemblance between my naked pregnant body and that of Demi Moore’s boldly draped across the cover of Vanity Fair. Bombarded by these unrealistic social constructions of pregnant bodies I felt betrayed into believing that I would never look more radiant, or feel sexier than when pregnant. I thought that there must be something wrong with me. My rational self knew that a physical transformation was a necessary component of a healthy pregnancy. And, I tried to embrace this as wholeheartedly as one could. After awhile I often cringed at the weight my belly imposed upon my lower back and thighs. At the same time, I cradled that belly almost every waking moment dreaming about the child that lay within and imagining the sweet moment that our eyes would meet; the moment that I would become m/other.

While waiting for this momentous occasion to occur, I was caught up physically and emotionally in a state of transformation, of in-between-ness. What some might call an Aokian (1979) bridge perhaps. I was also suspended in this space in my physical locality. No longer living overseas, I was a new resident in the US; a place quite similar to Canada yet distinctly different. In addition to coming to terms with becoming a m/other, and giving birth to an/other, I was simultaneously grappling with my new identity as an outsider in the US. Therefore, I was attempting to open myself up to otherness, to strangeness, in various realms of my life. Wang (2004) asks us, “Isn’t this relationship between the self and the stranger one central theme of education?” (p.130). And she continues:

The willingness and capacity of the self for relating to the other- be this a person, a text, or a landscape- in such a way that the other’s alterity is acknowledged through a loving relationship necessary for initiating an educative process. In such an expansive process, one risks feeling uncomfortable even among the familiar, but it inaugurates the very possibility of education: learning from something different and other than the self. (pp. 130-131)

Being distanced from my homeland and my loved ones was no doubt an invaluable learning experience and a period of extreme growth for me. But this distance also caused a great deal of emotional stress at times. I painfully remember that the only two occasions in which I saw my mother during my pregnancy I cried openly and uncontrollably upon our separation. She was extremely worried about my fragile emotional state then and I know that it upset her deeply to see me so distraught. The reason for these emotional outbursts eluded me at that time, but I realize now that I was afraid. I was afraid of losing my mother and also of becoming a m/other. The personal and societal tensions and expectations were overwhelming. Like Wang (2004) I was “working through the pains of loss, fragmentation, and alienation”(p. 131). I was preparing myself for being responsible for an/other life; for opening myself up to the idea of greeting a stranger with arms wide open. In a sense I felt that I was caught up in a third space by pregnancy (Wang, 2004). I was not yet a m/other and yet I was not not a m/other either.

Remembering this difficult transition period points me to Springgay and Freedman’s (2009) assertion that:

…m/othering as a bodied curriculum open[s] up maternity to the in-between of corporeality, materiality, and difference. By its exposure to intimacy and vulnerability, m/othering, like a bodied curriculum premised on being-with, enables selves and others to experience a collision, a bursting into being, that shifts the perception of embodiment as universal towards an understanding of bodied subjectivity and knowledge as difference. (p. 27)

Before becoming pregnant and, subsequently, a m/other, I had never experienced the raw vulnerability that comes with carrying and caring for a child. Like many pregnant women, the nagging fear that I would suddenly lose the fragile life inside of me haunted me on a daily basis. I found myself oscillating between wanting to do everything possible (and beyond) to nurture that life and to maintain my (guiltless) freedom of woman just trying to be. In addition to my noticeably expanding physical shape, I constantly felt that my emotional state was also on exhibition. This exposure made me feel uncomfortable and extremely vulnerable. I felt that I was perpetually on the brink of something, but I didn’t know what that something was. On the one hand, I was suspended in this vulnerable third space waiting for something miraculous to emerge into my world all the while my body (physically, emotionally, spiritually) and the body inside of me continued to grow and come into being.

This intense feeling of vulnerability did not desist with the birth of my child. In fact, I think it may have strengthened for a period of time in those first few years of my child’s life. I felt that my heart was on my sleeve at all times or else caught up somewhere in my throat. Watching my daughter play at the park, or dance for her family audience, or perform any number of toddler tasks would reduce me tears, of pride and joy, on a daily basis. According to Springgay and Freedman (2009), “to understand mothering as performative is to conceive of it as an active practice- a notion that is already progressive… [in] doing so, we shift our attention from motherhood as biological, selfless, and existing prior to culture to a practice that is always incomplete, indeterminable, and vulnerable” (p. 27). It was also in these vulnerable moments as a young m/other that I was granted access to a euphoric state of ultimate being; of learning about, of living in and relating to the world on a whole new level.

It is four o’clock in the morning, not quite morning but also not quite night, and I am sitting in the nursery, in a traditional white rocking chair, nursing my newborn baby girl. I am neither fully awake nor asleep, but in a hazy state of somewhere in-between. I stroke her head, her cheek, and play with her irresistible little toes while she suckles and gulps at a steady pace. The rhythm of her suckling, and my rocking, lull us both into a love drunken state. And then it happens: the moment that I now live for. She looks up at me; our eyes meet and lock. She stops suckling to stare and drown in her mother’s gaze. I am surprised and delighted, despite the hour, to connect with her on such an intimate, transcendental level. Language is not necessary; our eyes speak for our souls. I smile down at her and she sighs deeply, closes her eyes, and calmly returns to nursing. I lean my head against the back of the rocking chair, my heart all a flutter, and I realize that I have fallen deeply and hopelessly in love with this beautiful little stranger.

The memory of this emotional/ bodily encounter still resonates deeply within me today because it is one of the first moments that I felt truly interconnected to and in relation with my daughter. Springgay and Freedman (2009) contend that,

A bodied curriculum approaches the notion of “experience” as socially and discursively produced and recognizes that interpretation and representation are always incomplete. In this way, it is not the performative gestures… that exists as meaningful; rather, it is the relationality- the touching encounters- that ‘take us somewhere we couldn’t otherwise get to’ (Behar, 1996 quoted in Miller, 2005, p. 54) that generate the site of meaning making and thus, curriculum in action. (p. 33)

Therefore it is the relational moments in m/othering and learning: the touching, connecting, being together, that afford us curricular opportunities to grow emotionally, intellectually and “burst into being”. And, according to Wang (2007), it is through the act of being open to the otherness of the other that grants us access to places that we could not normally reach (p. 132). Perhaps this place is an educational space where a birthing of a heightened sense of self and humanity can be achieved.

The birth of my daughter, therefore, was the bringing forth of a new life into the world, but also the birthing of a new sense of self. The role of m/other was not simply appropriated, rather I opened myself up to an/other, to a stranger, where Ng-A-Fook (2009) suggests, “learning is suspended between life and death, re-appropriating our curricular conversations, our representations, and reuniting them or re-differing themselves, their bodily entanglements, their places, and therefore, opening our capacities to conceive a perpetual birthing of otherness” (p.16). Therefore, m/othering is a giving of oneself to an/other through a process of dis-identification and re-identification in order to become finely attuned to the needs of the other. This fine attunement can be witnessed in the ability of mothers to anticipate the needs of their infants before they are even voiced. In order to achieve this one must lose the “habitual ways” of self-representation, in order to become truly open to the otherness of the other, to allow for authentic identification with an/other (Miller, 2005). This curriculum philosophy, closely aligned with Miller’s (2005) work, echoes the goals of realizing global perspectives in education that we studied in this course. Global educators, like many m/others today, are focused on teaching interconnectedness and seeing the world through the perspectives of others in order to learn that we all have common human needs and desires (Pinar, Reynolds, Slabbery, & Taubman, 1995, p. 800).

My pregnant journey toward embodying m/otherhood is, like Wang’s (2004), “the very process of my curriculum” (p. 130). Revisiting my lived experiences of pregnancy and motherhood through narrative inquiry has enabled me to accept and appreciate that life’s journey is a perpetual becoming that is always incomplete. There is no desire to make sense of my narrative inquiry, to package it up into a pretty little box. “When narrative is freed of this desire” Munro (2007) contends, “the possibilities for narrative can be rethought” (p. 489). Tonight, I am left with a new understanding of the journey that I undertook when I decided to become a m/other. The personal and societal expectations that I internalized at that time were destructive and sometimes paralyzing, but I conquered those impossible demands and am better for it. I am reminded of the bodily entanglements that pregnancy can place upon a woman physically and emotionally. Women need to listen to the voice of the m/other with/in guiding them to accept the strangeness and bask in the transformative process, regardless of what physical or emotional form it may take.

The transcendent moments that were re-visited for this narrative inquiry and that are a result of my pregnancy and m/othering experience “convey”, according to Wang (2004), “the ‘moreness’ and ‘beyondness’ of education listening to the call of the stranger” (p. 130). It is through the attempt to achieve this space of understanding and empathy for the “stranger”, for “other”, that higher learning can take place. A final product of education through m/othering, like any educative process, is not something that will ever be fully achieved, however. If I have learned anything from this narrative inquiry it is that our life experiences, even past ones, are always in a state of flux, of transformation. And as Springgay and Freedman (2009) state so poignantly, “our experiences of mothering seep out of the borders of our skin in rolls of unshed ‘baby weight,’ sleepless nights that even caffeine cannot abate, and the ever present stain of baby spit-up on our sleeves. Mothering… is fraught with the un- thought, the unknown, and always remains incomplete (p. 35).

References:

Aoki, T. (1979). Reflections of a Japanese Canadian Teacher Experiencing Ethnicity. In William F. Pinar & Rita Irwin (Eds.), Curriculum in a New Key, pp. 333-348. Mahway, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Foster, P. (1994). Minding the Body. USA: First Anchor Books.

Miller, Janet L. (2005). Sounds of Silence Breaking: Women, Autobiography, Curriculum. Peter Lang: New York.

Munro, P. (2007). The Future of Narrative. Journal of Qualitative Inquiry, 13 (4), pp. 487-498).

Ng-A-Fook, Nicholas. 2009. Navigating M/other-Son Plots as a Migrant Act: Autobiography, Currere, and Gender. In Stephanie Springgay and Deborah Freedman (Eds.), M/othering a bodied curriculum. New York: Peter Lang.

Pinar, W. F., Reynolds, W. M., Slattery, P., & Taubman, P. M. (1995). Understanding Curriculum. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.

Springgay, S. & Freedman, D. (2009). M/othering a Bodied Curriculum Sleeping with Cake and Other Touchable Encounters. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 25 (2), pp. 25-37.

Wang, H. (2004). The Call from the Stranger on a Journey Home: Curriculum in a third Space, (pp. 1-121). New York, New York: Peter Lang.