Book Review

02 June 2019
Volume 27 · Issue 6

Maddie McMahon has captured the essence of the ultimate feminist issue of childbirth and motherhood in her nurturing and eloquently written book, Why Mothering Matters. As a doula and a mother, McMahon has spent time observing and studying women as they travel this physically and psychologically transformative path and deliberates how the role of the mother is societally undervalued in the 21st century. The book looks at traditions from across the world and makes balanced suggestions for improving the support and value placed on women. As well as considering the role of the mother, McMahon looks at the many other tasks that women are expected to undertake, the ways in which they influence a woman's identity and the way that society values or undermines a woman's worth.

My favourite chapter was ‘The chemical soup of motherhood’, in which the author considers an area of parenting that is often left unmentioned. As pregnancy hormones begin to work their magic, many women and families have little or no understanding of the intense changes happening as the mother's brain is rewired. With the birth of their child, the changes continue. Also discussed is the importance of breastfeeding and the intricate, complex composition of breastmilk. McMahon discusses the flow of oxytocin and the protective properties for mothers and babies that make breastfeeding so much more than just fulfilling a nutritive requirement.

This book is aimed at women and birth workers; however, it would be beneficial for anyone who knows a new mother, as it encourages an understanding of the transformation undergone by all women during pregnancy and childbirth. As a student midwife, this work has re-ignited my passion for the physiological changes that occur during and shortly after pregnancy. It is a great reminder to all midwives and birth workers to ensure that they are having these important conversations with women and providing them with a full understanding that, as well as external changes, there are many internal expansions and fluctuations occurring. This knowledge will allow women to make truly informed decisions about their care and in turn can have a positive and empowering impact as they step into and embrace their new identity.

McMahon also considers women who find themselves facing motherhood due to religious, cultural or societal expectations, trauma, or simply when it was not their choice or intention—a group commonly overlooked and forgotten by society. The psychological repercussions for women are not always considered and McMahon initiates this conversation, giving all women a platform.

As a woman and a birth worker, this book confirmed my passion for feminism, strengthened my belief in women's extraordinary abilities in the face of adversity, and initiated a long-overdue conversation on the value of mothers and parenthood. If I were to suggest one improvement it would be the flow of the work. Each stand-alone chapter reads beautifully; however, there was a feeling of detachment between the chapters.

Overall, the book covers relevant and important aspects of mothering and ways in which we can support future generations. McMahon puts forward a strong, passionate and persuasive argument to challenge societal perceptions of motherhood, reminding us all that women have many roles and ‘mother, mum, mummy’ is just one of them. Rather than seeing it as restrictive, McMahon encourages women to embrace the title of ‘mother’, and reminds us that with the role comes strength, power, courage and the potential for social, political and economic equality. Behind every great leader and change advocate is a mother, and as a society we should follow Maddie McMahon in supporting and valuing mothers.