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Maternal Health & WellBeing

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I have presented papers at nine conferences over the last decade, including meetings for the Australian Institute for Family Studies, the Australian Sociology Association, and the Association for Research on Mothering at Queensland University, York University in Toronto, and in New York. I was a joint contributor with Dr Kerreen Reiger to an article published in Just Policy and I have two further articles being considered for publication. I completed a Master of Arts, in Women's Studies and Human Geography in the early 1990s and have worked with both the Asia Partnership for Human Development and Australian Council for Overseas Aid.
I was a mature aged mum and my children have now blossomed into teenagers.
The decision for me to have a baby was the hardest of any I've contemplated. I thought about it, off and on, over a ten year period and eventually at the age of 40 my partner and I decided to make the leap. I understand why it was tricky. My parents had six children to raise in post-war Australia. They struggled to do their best by their kids which meant much personal sacrifice and difficulty. I was a child of the '60s. I had traveled, studied, and found interesting work and even at the age of 40 could well have filled another ten years. The options were many, the prospects unknown. And yet we took the plunge. I say we because it was, and still is, important to me that if I were to have children it would have to be a shared experience and commitment, otherwise no way.
I loved being pregnant, the birth was an incredible experience, both good and bad, and here we were with a baby. I had entered Motherland and was 'rapt. The experience of being a mother, however, wasn't quite what I had thought it would be. To be honest I felt my life was a whole new ball game and I needed to reset the boundaries, learn the terrain and do a whole lot of adapting. As it turned out, more by circumstance than design, I discovered numerous books that talked about so many others who had gone before me. I was totally engaged and if you asked anyone who knows me the topic of motherhood became a recurring reference point in my conversations. In 2003 I eventually put together a bibliography to circulate with others who may become similarly ensnared.
I am continually surprised by the breadth and depth of books that are available on mothering, which is great, but there's a long way to go for the work to be done on fathering. All that education is paying off, in more ways than one, for women. I have now completed a PhD thesis asking why is it that many women grapple with issues related to identity when they become first time mothers. Why is it that a substantial proportion of couples who set out to achieve equal, or egalitarian, caring routines have been unable to do so? These questions have led me to explore maternal subjectivity and the social structuring of women within families. It seems to me that modern women and men are pioneering new ways of being, and new ways of bringing up children, if only the social system could catch up and accommodate, rather than hamper, our efforts. In the course of my studies I came across many wonderful resources including empirical studies (qualitative and quantitative on the Transition to Parenthood) and other engaging studies in both gender and sociology that cross over with the experience of women-as-mothers. I am hoping that this site can become a vehicle for other voyages of discovery.

Dr Joan Garvan

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