Am I a mama, or an activist, or can I be both?

The days leading up to this past weekend were marked by a ridiculous level of personal turmoil for me, around an issue that on the surface doesn’t seem to be of immense importance.  But for me, I felt torn and desperate and confused about my life and my identity. 

I had the opportunity to attend the fantastic “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom” conference  hosted by the Civil Liberties & Public Policy Program at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, and I turned it down to the spend the weekend with my daughter.  For days, my mama self and my activist self seemed to be at odds.  Does it have to be this way?

This is a conference, mind you, that embodies my passions and my work more than any other annual conference I’ve heard of.  It brings hundreds of women together from around the country and the world to work toward a more comprehensive understanding of reproductive rights, that encompasses everything from abortion to birth control to childbirth and beyond.  It’s the closest thing to a ‘radical doulas’ conference yet.  It fits perfectly, in every way, with who I am, what I do, and what I’m trying to accomplish in my life.

And I didn’t go.  Again. 

I’ve been trying to attend this conference every year since 2001, when I was a student at Hampshire College and my life started down this path of birth work and feminist activism.  Even in 2001, 2002 and 2003, when I actually lived on the campus where the conference was held, I could never be there.  In the years since moving away, I’ve made travel plans, applied for travel & housing vouchers, and registered long in advance, knowing each year that this will be the year I make it.  But I never have.

Then last week, I found a round-trip ticket from Colorado to Hartford for $177, just 2 days before the conference.  I weighed my options, called to make sure I could still register, arranged housing at a friend’s house nearby for the weekend, and began to wiggle out of my prior commitments for the weekend.  My plan was finally coming together!  I was finally going to the CLPP conference!  But alas, the final question…how much money was in my bank account?  $40. 

I could borrow money from my ex-husband, leave my daughter for 3 days, miss a close friend’s belly dance recital, not do any spring cleaning in my home, leave my daughter for 3 days, spend 20 hours traveling and 30 hours at the conference, and leave my daughter for 3 days.  Did I mention that I would be away from my daughter for 3 days? 

My flight was to leave at noon on Friday.  I woke up Friday morning, looked into my daughter’s smiling eyes, and decided to stay.  3 days with her is worth the world to me.  And I’m feeling ok about missing the conference (again) because it was my choice this time, not just circumstance. 

So, the real question is, is it ok to take a few years off from my dreams to cuddle with my little one?  Or is it sad & unfortunate to not be able to pull off simultaneously succeeding at both motherhood and activism?  Both of these sound lie extremes, and the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.  I’ve been a mama for almost 2 years now, and a committed feminist activist for almost a decade.  It seems that I should soon be coming upon a time where these two pieces of my identity stop competing with each other and just learn to get along.

5 responses to “Am I a mama, or an activist, or can I be both?

  1. Hey, I totally feel your pain. I may not be a radical mom like you but a mom nonetheless, of 3 as you know. I too am having issues with my life, actually starting to take it back but then thinking “the last time I tried to do this, my world fell apart”. Where do we find ourselves? How do we make the two worlds meet and get along? I don’t know. We work through it. Hang on with our very fingernails to the things we have found that have touched our lives. Press forward trying to make the world a better place one person at a time. Maybe sometimes that one person are those we gave birth too.

  2. i think it’s ok for you to take time off “from your dreams” if that is what you want, if you have made a choice to do so. what makes me sad is when parents, mamas, womyn don’t have the means to make that choice for themselves.

    i think in activists tend to burn themselves out (with or without kids) because we get so passionate and can’t fathom not contributing but i have come to realise that raising kids radically is a huge committment and a feat one should not take lightly! as a mother of a son i feel huge responsibility to raise him to be an emotionally articulate, socially aware male (if he so chooses to be identified that way). if he does grow up to be that wonderful person, then i will have contributed something that i feel no amount of activism, projects, meetings and group involvement can compete with. i wouldn’t judge any parent for the choices they make around this stuff but i do feel that having that choice is for me, is the most important element.

    sorry i rambled so long! i’ve struggled with this lots too :)

  3. Heather, your last line really jumped out at me–”Maybe sometimes that one person are those we gave birth too.” Fantastic perspective!

    Manda, I think I’m just in this really prolonged stage of adjustment to the new relationship between these two roles for me. It’s one of those times where the answer is simple and obvious, but difficult and complicated at the same time…but isn’t all of parenting? and all of being a woman? and all of being an activist? Aaaahh, more questions! : )

  4. Hi! I know this post is really old, but I just found your blog. I wish you had come to the conference. I was on the mama panel talking about the rights of teen mothers and also about mothering and activism in general. Cae and Ramona could have hung out in the really great childcare space. We’ve gone the past two years and it is one of my favorite weekends ever.

    Anyway, we seem to “know” a lot of the same folks. I’m at Smith now, but I am always homesick for BookWoman and Monkey Wrench.

    I’m also planning on going into woman’s health after I graduate in May. Nice to meet you!


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