M/other & D/other

by Astrid Joutseno

I discovered mommy blogs, or what I have termed maternal online life writing, in 2011 when I was pregnant with my child. I was hungry for examples of how to bridge from an adult-woman-artist life into mothering. Sylvia Plath and Patti Smith were my mother idols, but the way they had written about mothering was far-removed from my life. Sylvia’s maternal reservations and then her embrace of the ideal 1950s mommy image did not suggest a path I wished to follow. Patti Smith didn’t share that much about mothering as a musician, except she made clear she had separated the care phase with small children from a life of touring or recording music. Smith wrote about a dream world where art happens and where the everyday with children does not figure. I loved occupying that space yet, my burning question was: What kind of mother will I be, or should I be?  

So, I read mommy blogs once I entered their world after a tip from a young journalist interviewing me. Blogs offered glimpses into the homes and lives of contemporary mothers. New York mothers were my fascination. I had always modeled after New York and was forever on my way there, so it felt important to know how someone felt during a home birth on Lower Manhattan, or how to navigate prams and subway stations or where to buy crounats. In my pregnancy dream, I would be a New-York-mother in Helsinki, Finland. Or at least, I could find a connection to that world. An unprecedented intimacy unfolded. Although there were still not cronuts to be eaten in Helsinki, I did manage to order a nursing bag of my blog reading dreams all the way from Canada. 

From 2014 I read the same mommy blogs as a researcher, beginning to prepare my PhD. I was interested in the way that mothering practices were changing as a result of this novel engagement with blogging as readers and writers. I felt this assemblance of computer and mother turned me into a kind of mother that did not exist before. At the same time, I also became a cancer patient and a new perspective opened in front of me into the precarity, fragility and impermanence of life. This illness experience appeared incompatible with the ideals of (intensive) mothering, which privileged continued presence, maternal sacrifice of time and energy and the ability to exert control in a child’s life.

In looking for the theoretical approach for addressing how digitality is entwined in contemporary internet-abled mothering, I struggled to pinpoint the construction of the in-between character that I identified in the way mothers moved on and offline. As did mothering as a practice, in being written about and pictured on the blogs and social media. I needed to find articulations that built on continual transformation rather than definitive boundaries, because the way I witnessed and experienced it, mothering was constructed in a material-digital loop.

In time I came up with the figure of D/other (see the article “Becoming D/other: Life as a Transmuting Device”). This figure embodies the flow of digital materiality and analogue materiality. D/other addresses the transmutability of m/other into d/other. The D refers to digital, death, and daughter… it became my way of reading this m/d slide as significant also for the politics of mothering, for untangling mothering from women, cis-gender, and able-bodied-ness. Even the demand to stay alive and the definition of what having a life means. 

From becoming mother into reading mommy blogs into investigating digital/material mattering into illness writing, I have engaged in a journey. It has involved poetry and ethics, life writing and theory of hopefulness as well as despair. I have weaved into the knowledge about mothering the claim that it is an epistemic node and the maternal online life writing its networked encyclopedia filled with entries for questions and hesitations.

Astrid Joutseno is a doctoral student preparing to defend her dissertation about mothers online. She has published two articles: “Cyber Labor: Birth Stories on Mommy blogs as Narrative Gateways into Maternal Thinking”, Journal of Motherhood Initiative 9:2, 2018 and “Becoming D/other: Life As A Transmuting Device”, a/b Auto/biography Studies 35:1, 2020She is also a songwriter and a performer by the name of Astrid Swan and has published seven albums. In 2019 she published a Finnish language memoir (Viimeinen kirjani) about living with incurable metastatic breast cancer. 

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