#46 Reimagining environmentalism through the motherhood lens with Dr Allison Davis

Words are worlds, as Dr Athan says, and when you have those words, when you have this idea, you have the metaphor, which is another way nature is so healing, is through those metaphors, then there’s a lot of freedom there to really dig into who you are, who you are in relationship to your family and the wider world. 

Dr Allison Davis

Our modern dominant cultures for too long have trivialised motherhood experiences and practices, jeopardising the wellbeing and safety of mothers as they undergo various emotional, physical, social and mental challenges that come with transitioning to motherhood. As like any other social figure, and individual, mothers deserve respect, support and care by systems of power and society, but since most cultures assign the role of the primary care giver to mothers, the urgency to provide holistic maternal support is strengthening for a world which is becoming increasingly volatile. 

In the words of Vandana Shiva, women have always shared an intimate bond with Nature and therefore are the best custodians of the health of the environment that they, and the communities they are part of, are in. The destruction of our natural world and the oppression of women go hand in hand, with women being one of the most vulnerable of society to the effects of anthropogenic climate change, yet also being the safe guarders of ancestral environmental wisdom within their communities. Oppressive systems such as the gender binary and patriarchy have undermined the role that women, in particular mothers, play in managing their biophysical and relational environments, which has subsequently added onto the inward/outward pressures of motherhood, especially for new mothers navigating around our pressing ecological and climate crises. 

In this episode, we are joined by Dr Allison Davis to share with us her deepened understanding of the role that mothers play as environmental stewards, due to their standpoint in the world, and the need for mothers to reimagine motherhood for themselves for sustained personal and planetary health. 

Dr. Allison Davis is a researcher, writer, counselor, and educator of maternal mental health. With an ecofeminist-informed, strength-based developmental framework she helps mothers challenge and reenvision motherhood norms and practices in pursuit of personal and planetary wellness. Her upcoming book The 6 Initiations of Earth-Honoring Motherhood: A Nature-Guided Rite-of-Passage for New Mothers weaves together modern research and ancient wisdom to help new mothers root into who they are and who they are becoming.

Allison is in private practice in New Mexico where she specializes in trauma resolution through nature-centered expressive therapies. She’s also affiliate faculty at Alliant University where she teaches in the Masters of Clinical Counseling Program. As a writer Allison explores “mother praxis” the possibility of a dynamic interplay between the theory and practice of mothering as mothers can reflect on harmful structures while also finding liberatory ways to work with and through them. As a researcher she focuses on bringing an applied psychoecological lens to maternal mental health, investigating how mothering in a time where we’re increasingly aware of humanity’s ecocidal behaviour has profound implications for maternal mental health and how we can create structures to support mothers within this experience. Mothers outside of New Mexico can work with Allison through her support sessions to explore the growth and growing pains within motherhood as an ecological awakening. She also offers consultation to mother-supporting professionals and organizations who want to attune to ecological interactions in understanding maternal mental health as well as health care delivery. 

Episode Structure:

  • How Allison defines motherhood and how the journey has shaped her as a person
  • Allison’s journey into exploring the intersection of motherhood and environmentalism through, particularly the environmental aspects of mental health and awakening of the ecological self
  • The issue of mothers, especially new mothers, suffering from eco-anxiety as they navigate themselves, and their families, around an ever changing world, and how she helps mothers through this process
  • The need for trauma healing work, done by mothers, to be viewed as empowering, particularly when traumas are not limited to the mother i.e. generational traumas and the mother wound
  • Addressing critique around ecofeminism and using the term “mother” within environmentalism
  • The potential of the mother wound to help mothers recognise their purpose/roles in the world which expands from the individualised approach to maternal care
  • Need for understanding the power that mothering metaphors hold in emphasising the caring and healing abilities of Nature
  • Addressing the inequality of omitting non-birth mothers in motherhood norms by dominant cultures
  • Redefining birth as a process through the lens of matrescence which is not just limited to the experiences of birth mothers
  • Using Indigenous teachings of mothering as successful examples of environmental protection/care
  • Allison’s work with adolescence and how it inspired her to explore maternal mental health and issues such as objectification of mothers
  • Need for the perspective of the “good mother” and the “natural mother” to be problematised and reclaimed

Key Resources:

  • Allison’s website: www.motherpraxis.com
  • Allison’s Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/motherpraxis/
  • Athan, A. (2015). Matrescence Conceptual Framework. Unpublished material.
  • Athan, A. (2016). Motherhood as Counter-Cultural. Unpublished material.
  • Cordova, V. F., In Moore, K. D., In Peters, K., In Jojola, T. S., In Lacy, A., & Hogan, L. (2007). How it is: The Native American philosophy of V.F. Cordova. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press
  • Hill Collins, P. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
  • Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.
  • Macy, J., Brown, M. Y. (2014). Coming back to life: The updated guide to the Work that reconnects. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
  • Naess, A., & Rothenberg, D. (1995). Ecology, community, and lifestyle: Outline of an ecosophy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pompeo-Fargnoli, A. (2018). Ecofeminist Therapy: From Theory to Practice. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 19, 6, 1-16.
  • Ruddick, S. (1980). Maternal Thinking. Feminist Studies, 6(2), 342-367. doi:10.2307/3177749
  • Taloma, D. (n.d.). This is Planet Pandora: Introduction to Ecotherapy. Wilderness Reflections. https://www.wildernessreflections.com/resources/this-is-planet-pandora-introduction-to-ecotherapy/

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