Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mother's Wreath: Thoughts about the liberties of women

I am not a trained professional, but worked for nearly a decade as a lay counselor and facilitator for women in the area of unplanned pregnancy. These are some of my observations and questions.

This is a response to my friend's comment on the Grandmother's Choice suffrage quilt along thread.  If you put women's plight in the category of grim, I think you have to classify many human problems as grim. I generally find that prospect depressing. Isn’t all of life to some degree a struggle?

My maternal grandmother lived through her 10 (home birth) pregnancies, but her first child died quite young, due to some (also horrible) childhood illness. I've seen pictures of him in his casket, like the pic this week’s Grandmother’s Choice blog.

I shudder thinking about my Maw-maw being pregnant for 90 months or 7 ½ years! She was a hardworking farmer’s wife, so I guess she took it in stride. I know later in life, she had trouble with her uterus and had to have it ‘tacked up’—why wouldn't such a busy place needing holding up?!

A woman being subject to many subsequent pregnancies was definitely a marker of the times. Though I cannot morally reconcile the practice, I kind of understand the women of a slightly earlier age who tolerated their men ‘visiting the saloon in town’ to have their sexual urges dealt with ‘upstairs.’ Weighing the odds, they may have thought it a lesser of two evils. In a different era, perhaps they didn’t really ponder the situation at all. They may have been too busy!

As an aside, with many illnesses of past ages, the scientific discovery of microscopic germs led to landmark improvements and lives that were spared. Handwashing still changes lives today. How often do you see signs posted urging frequent handwashing?

We like to think of women’s rights of having come a long way. I believe we live in a male dominated society that will never wholly change. Women will never be truly equal, though illusions of liberty appear. I believe it to be an ever evolving dilemma, which has now moved to women in the work place.

What about the daily stresses of a single mother? Is it always her choice to parent alone or is it a lesser oppression? Is it an oppression to feel the need to work outside the home in order to make ends meet? Is true freedom to have to choose between having children and a career? Isn’t it a life altering situation to have to choose between the well-being of one’s children or making a salary? Is not associate guilt potentially oppressive?

Lastly, is the psychological and social divorce of sex and procreation healthy for women? Can a balance be struck? Culturally, do we currently balance these two considerations or will they always be at odds? I know this is a moral 'can of worms', so we won’t delve into specific individual beliefs on these matters. In our 21st century modern, postmodern ‘liberation,’ these are my unanswered questions.

My own mother died from a long, long bout of uterine and ovarian cancer. Her death can technically be considered a part of the continued struggle for women’s rights. She was free to limit her pregnancies and she chose oral birth control or “the Pill.” In its early years, women were severely overdosed with a cocktail of hormones. It is unclear whether the overdosing was intentional or not.

Initially, overdosing caused some unwanted infertility (a problem with many forms of birth control.) Later in life, this mismanagement is manifesting in cancer like my mother’s. She was contacted to be a part of a class action suit against the manufacturers of oral contraceptions. She didn't have energy to pursue it.

This is a heavy subject. Sometimes, it weighs on my mind and in my existence. For instance, I am currently dealing with breast cancer. Why is breast cancer so prevalent today? For the record, mine was found in Stage 0, which means it was easily cured by surgery. I won’t require further chemo or radiation. I count myself blessed.

I end with more questions. Will women cave into hopelessness or continue to fight? Are we not better for accepting each other in love for whatever our life experiences make us? Are we not better off for continuing to fight some evils together, regardless of class, color or beliefs?

There is strength in unity. We can help each other. Through gracious love and acceptance, we can overcome many of life’s challenges. Fostering a sense of community strengthens our resolve.

I thank you, Mama for all you tried and often succeeded in teaching me about life. Everything is not always sunshine and flowers, but hope abides. I am thankful for the strong women in my life who have gone before me. I am thankful for my mama and both maw-maws. I am thankful for the hope that real love and community still offer.

Oh, as I blogged at the beginning of the Grandmother’s Choice quilt along, I am making this quilt in honor and memory of my mother. It is a colorful, joyful reminder of all that is rewarding about being a woman, wife, daughter and mother.


  1. I'm not sure how I found your blog. I'm so sorry your mother had to endure the trials she did with cancer. I am thrilled your breast cancer was found very early. I am a breast cancer survivor. My was found at stage 2+. I had very, very intense chemo followed by radiation. I have been in remission for 9 years. I still take meds to keep it at bay since I am high risk for recurrence. I often wonder if my was due to having taken oral hormones for over 25 years. I had a hysterectomy at 28 due largely to having been sexually abused as a child for an extended period of time. Then I had lots of stress in my life. After 23 years of marriage, my husband divorced me and I was left to deal with an adult alcoholic son and put our daughter through college and pay for her wedding. While suffering from depression and probably at that time undiagnosed fibromyalgia, I was trying to work lots of time out of town, trying to pursue a PhD (which I gave up just short of obtaining), and trying to keep things status quo. So I think the stress and the hormones each played a large part in my cancer. Hope you are doing well.

    1. (((BIG HUGS!))) Thanks for sharing your story. I admire your perseverance! I hope your kids have a good idea how much you have sacrificed and given for your kids. they won't ever know the full depth... I don't think that is possible for them ;)