Measuring Mothering

Abstract
As a culture, we have a tendency to measure motherhood in terms of a set of signal moments that have become the focus of special social attention and anxiety; we interpret these as emblematic summations of women's mothering abilities. Women's performances during these moments can seem to exhaust the story of mothering, and mothers often internalize these measures and evaluate their own mothering in terms of them. "Good" mothers are those who pass a series of tests—they bond properly during their routine ultrasound screening, they do not let a sip of alcohol cross their lips during pregnancy, they give birth vaginally without pain medication, they do not offer their child an artificial nipple during the first six months, they feed their children maximally nutritious meals with every bite, and so on. This reductive understanding of mothering has had counterproductive effects upon health care practice and policy, encouraging measures that penalize mothers who do not live up to cultural norms during signal moments, while failing to promote extended narratives of healthy mothering.
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