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Motherhood

They say crisis brings people closer. Certainly it was true during the Jesusita Fire when, if you weren’t evacuated yourself, you were welcoming displaced friends into your home.

I think motherhood — especially new motherhood — is a kind of crisis in itself. For all their wee littleness, newborns bring colossal emotional upheaval and physical duress. Their arrival demands mandatory evacuation from our comfort zones.

And women bond over it. Un-inclined to discuss their chapped nipples and husbands’ quenchless libidos with the friendly check-out guy at Vons, they’ll squawk their guts out to any stranger with a diaper bag.

Or a movie camera.

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27th, UCSB’s MultiCultural Center Theater will screen a new documentary on the pleasures and pains of parenthood. Birthright: Mothering Across Difference will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker, my friend Celine Parreñas Shimizu, who teaches in the Feminist Studies department. The event is free.

The film is a patchwork of interviews with 50 area moms: gay and straight, rich and poor, married and single, working and stay-at-home, white and Latina and Asian and black. Despite differences, they share anxieties, hopes, and points of pride.

Celine struggled with her own personal and professional identity after her sons were born. Then she attended a PEP meeting — a gathering of new Santa Barbara moms organized by the nonprofit Postpartum Education for Parents. And she saw how quickly, and easily, women can bond over new motherhood.

“I didn’t expect to make such intense, close friendships after a certain age,” she said. These women became her family. Some are interviewed in the film, which is shot up close, so you feel like you’re inches away from each subject.

“I wanted to capture the intimacy of getting to know a woman,” Celine said. “I told my cinematographer, ‘You have to have, like, an umbilical relationship with this woman. You have to worship her.'”

It’s hard not to. Their revelations are frank — but to any mom, familiar — as they discuss working vs. staying at home. “You can’t have it all,” said a woman who gave up her job. “I sacrifice something every day when I stay home. There’s a corporate woman inside of me that is pushed down, and that’s unfortunate, because I have a lot of gifts. But the truth is, that guilt was too much for me.”

I invited some of the moms in the film to continue the discussion over dinner last week. “Just being here tonight is guilt-filled,” said one working mom. “I feel like I should be home reading stories.” But another admitted she’d cranked her car radio on the way there and fantasized about driving into the distance, never to return.

Talk turned, as it often does with moms, to feelings of jealousy and inadequacy. “I was envious of women who could provide milk,” said a woman who had trouble nursing. “I pumped and pumped for two lousy ounces and these other women were just dripping with milk all the time.”

Others said they were shocked to find they’re not the moms they always imagined they’d be. “I’m disappointed at how undisciplined I am,” said one. “My kids walk all over me!”

All of them said they’re less judgmental of other mothers now than they were before they had kids. “I had a friend pocket-call me once,” said a mother of two. “Her phone dialed me and she didn’t know it.” And she was yelling at her kids. Really yelling. “It was awesome,” she confessed, with a wide grin and a deep sigh. “I didn’t hang up. I listened to the whooooole thing.”

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