Motherhood conference will highlight health

York University’s 11th annual conference on motherhood, hosted by the Association for Research on Mothering, will focus on something mothers too often ignore – their own health and well-being.

"Mothers around the world are given the responsibility of caring for their families’ health, but while they are taking care of everyone else, their own health often takes a hit," says women’s studies Professor Andrea O’Reilly (left). "We’re going to be looking at why mothers often end up physically and mentally drained and what types of support they need."

The Maternal Health and Well-Being Conference, which will be held in downtown Toronto from Oct. 17 to 20, will include a wide range of topics, including work-family balance, postpartum depression, "mother blame", reproductive rights and racism. A common thread through many of the presentations is health, broadly defined, says O’Reilly, director of the Association for Research on Mothering. The association was formed after the first conference on motherhood was held more than a decade ago and now has more than 600 members internationally.

"Health and well-being doesn’t mean just an absence of disease," says O’Reilly. "It has to include promoting well-being by reducing stress, ensuring that women and children are not living in poverty, and that they have the housing they need. If people were able to live in decent housing and had a proper diet, a lot of the illnesses that are being treated in our emergency rooms would not end up there."

Highlights of the conference include a presentation by Barbara Hall (right), chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and former mayor of Toronto. Hall will speak about using human rights legislation to protect mothers against discrimination in housing, employment and services, and about the commission’s ability to push societal change on issues such as lack of adequate affordable housing for low-income mothers. Hall’s presentation is on Saturday, Oct. 20.

The conference, made up of concurrent sessions, roundtable discussions, panel presentations and workships, includes a session on work/family balance, with presentations on the costs and causes of stress, a study of the health and career sacrifices that academics make to be mothers, and legislation to accommodate breastfeeding at work. This presentation takes place Thursday, Oct. 18.

Mary Kay Blakely (left), journalism professor at the University of Missouri and author of Wake Me When It’s Over (1989) and American Mom (1994), the first and frankest of the mommy memoirs, will speak to conference participants on Wednesday, Oct. 17.

A mothering and economic well-being panel on Friday, Oct. 19, will reveal the results of a study of 24 single mothers identified as high-risk and the barriers to effective mothering, including inadequate income.

A keynote panel on issues and action for maternal health and well-being, which also takes place on Friday, will look at childbirth reform that has excluded many immigrant midwives of colour and postpartum depression around the world.

On Saturday, Oct. 20, Louise Moody, director of Toronto’s Humewood House (a parenting resource centre for young women) and Julie Maher, coordinator of the Toronto-based group Young Parents No Fixed Address, will speak about the creation of a new Toronto project, "1900 Sheppard," which will provide housing for young mothers with the services they need onsite. The project is the result of the inquest into the death of Baby Jordan a decade ago, while his mother was living in a shelter. It will serve as a model for future residences and the subject of a York University study.

Included in the program is an embedded conference for and about young mothers, and the special issues they face, such as stigma, as well as the need for strategies to address the needs of low-income single mothers.

The Maternal Health and Well-being Conference takes place at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, 475 Yonge St. at Carlton, in Toronto. For more information, visit the Maternal Health and Well-Being Conference Web site.