Alex Foster-Petrocco reviews a new book exploring the experiences of mothers during COVID-19.
April 21, 2021
Mothers, Mothering, and COVID-19: Dispatches from a Pandemic, edited by Andrea O’Reilly and Fiona Joy Green (Bradford, Ont.: Demeter Press, 2021). Link: https://bit.ly/3g2Xw2D.
Review by Alex Foster-Petrocco
In Mothers, Mothering, and COVID-19: Dispatches from a Pandemic, editors Andrea O’Reilly and Fiona Jay Green sought to answer a burning question: Why are so few people talking about the new realities of motherwork during the pandemic? Through a combination of works of academic research, personal testimony, and creative expression from a group of 70 authors from around the world, O’Reilly and Green have collected in one volume a comprehensive look at mothering during the pandemic. The featured authors bring a variety of perspectives, including Indigenous, racialized, queer, disabled, and neurodiverse, as well as a variety of professional backgrounds.
O’Reilly and Green focus on three key themes: the unique challenges and experiences the pandemic caused for working mothers; the changes the pandemic has had on carework and the breakdowns of social support networks and relational connections due to the pandemic; pregnancy, childbirth, mental health, and more.
This collection includes several art pieces and poems, which provide narrative depth and lends emotional weight to the other chapters. As most authors are relating some measure of personal experience with the pandemic, there is a strong thread of subjectivity running throughout the book, which helps humanize some of the larger ideas tackled in the more traditional, research-based content.
A recurring idea across multiple chapters is the expansion of the second shift. In “‘Certainly Not an Equal-Opportunity Pandemic’: COVID-19 and Its Impact on Mothers’ Carework, Health, and Employment,” O’Reilly used an informal study of members of her Facebook group “Mothers and COVID-19” as the basis for her analysis of the present effects of the pandemic on mothering and its potential long-term effects on women’s employment.
Central to her analysis is the idea of the second shift, which, in most households, puts a greater share of the caregiving burden on women. For many, the second shift has grown into a “third shift” and even a “fourth shift,” as the caregiving burden increases due to the pandemic’s effects on social support networks and childcare services. This concept is echoed throughout the rest of the book by other authors, who detail the ways their personal and professional lives have been disrupted by lockdown and work-from-home setups with little recognition or support from the media or the government, and how these changes have interacted with their unique backgrounds.
Mothers, Mothering, and COVID-19 gives readers a glimpse into the new reality facing mothers due to the pandemic. It serves as a valuable resource in an emerging space and offers unique insight into under-represented issues, refocusing attention onto carework and motherwork. As O’Reilly and Green state in the introduction, Mothers, Mothering, and COVID-19 “dispatches the maternal visions and voices for this necessary and long-overdue conversation on, and action towards, empowered social change.” Mothers, Mothering, and COVID-19: Dispatches from a Pandemic is recommended for educators, researchers, students, family service professionals and anyone seeking a greater understanding of the pandemic’s effects on the family.
Alex Foster-Petrocco is a professional writer with a BA in History from Carleton University. He is currently engaged in a six-week internship at the Vanier Institute of the Family.