Slow, painful, rewrite #9

I’m guessing about the #9, actually. I’m pretty sure I’ve completely rewritten this paper more than nine times, it’s just nine for this title. But for what it’s worth, I’m sharing my daily progress because it’s just so painful to still be working on this paper, and to be SO LATE to the editor (sorry, editor). Today’s work so far (it’s 4pm) is… two paragraphs.  The work of the past few weeks was not doing what I needed it to to do. I have more hopes for this, version, it has to be the last.

The title is

Learning to be Affected: Maternal connection, intuition, and ‘elimination communication’

A mother/ With her intuition/ Will know just what to do

Carly Simon

At least once, I have found myself hiding under the blankets in utter despair, as one of my children claws at me, crying, asking me to fix whatever problem it was that overwhelmed them (and, let’s face it, me) that day. Many parents are familiar with this feeling – a mixture of panic and despair, realising that we actually do not know what we are meant to do in a particular parenting situation, yet the buck stops with us as the grown up. Yet perhaps we forget to remind ourselves of the many, many times when we do just know what to do.  In the early days, mothers in particular (but not exclusively) spend many long hours reading the nonverbal cues of their small infants, responding with breastfeeding, nappy-changing, shifting position, funny faces, or whatever it is that seems to work. This may start out as quite conscious but over time, becomes intuitive, embodied, and second-nature.  The moments of panic and despair and total miscommunication may still surface, but for most of us, a connection with our child normally develops that results in mostly getting it right, most of the time. This knowing-through-connectedness could be close to what Carly Simon, in her classic song about the Winnie-the –Pooh character Kanga, identifies as ‘a mother’s intuition’.

In this paper, I seek to interrogate this idea of ‘mothers’ intuition’.  Not as a matter of fact, not to debunk through answering what is it, really? where the answer we might expect now is ‘a social construction’. Rather, I seek to understand mothers’ intuition as a matter of concern, where the answer is ‘no longer …  to debunk but to protect and to care’ (Latour 2004a).  Not, in my case, to protect and care for essentialist assumptions about mothering, assumptions that work to constrain the lives of women (and children, and other caring adults) by assigning a natural biological cause, once and for all, to mothers’ intuition. No, not that either. But to protect and care for the lived realities and stories of mothers who have shared their feelings of concern, connection and intuitive knowing with regards to their children – their feelings of unwillingness, in many cases, to leave the care of their loved one to anyone but themselves.

Intrigued? Here’s the abstract —

Even when heterosexual couples have relatively egalitarian relationships prior to children, once children are born, mothers tend to take on more and more of the care tasks associated with the home and family. Mothers themselves often report an unwillingness to leave their infants in the care of others, even co-parents, for fear that the caregiver may not be able to read or intuit the needs of their infant.  The aim of this paper is to examine the sociomaterial and embodied process by which mothers deliberately come to develop intuition – in this case around their infant’s elimination needs. Using the experiences of practitioners of both the early infant toileting practice ‘elimination communication’ and the equivalent Chinese practice of ba niao , I argue intuition can be deliberately cultivated through parenting practices that promote embodied and responsive connection.  I describe how mothers and (a few) others ‘learn to be affected’  (Latour 2004b) by their infants preverbal communication, and conclude that the practice offers a way for other committed caregivers to develop a form of  ‘maternal’ intuition.

Keywords: Intuition; Parenting; Mothering; Elimination Communication; Care; Infant Care; Gender

5 thoughts on “Slow, painful, rewrite #9

Add yours

  1. If I’ve understood you correctly, you’re trying to understand how mother’s develop their ‘intuition’ about their child’s needs – in hopes that the formation of such intuition can be fostered in those closely involved in the care of children. That’s brilliant and sounds like such important work! I’d love to hear a little of what you found.

    PS I’ve been following your blog since you mentioned it on the C&F Facebook group Thalia started, although I don’t think I’ve commented before.


  2. Yes, that’s right! Phew! I’ll get there eventually. It had a WHOLE lot of other stuff in it that was trying to pre-empt critique, but I think I’m getting to the core now. Thanks for stopping by!


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