Motherhood is a bundle of rights, a representation of the divine transference from immaterial to materialization. The mother with the child represents a promise to a given society, the continuance of willing laborers who labor to keep the promise—the child—alive. The mother and/or mothering carries the promise to term—whether it be nine month, eighteen years or longer. The goal is to get it to safe haven. Good soil.
“Midwifing the dream” is a common colloquialism that is akin to this notion of divine transference of rights and freedoms—as seen in the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross as understood by Catholics and as seen in the religious references throughout testimonio texts and Danticat’s works. Is Danticat’s text testimonio given her Haitian background and the context of the narrative? Well, we have to examine to what testimonio is appealing and for whom. One thing for certain is that testimonio is imbued with Biblical references.
Danticat’s choice of language shows how the essential structure of society is organized birthing work, and is organized around the birthing of a child, the (re)making of the family unit, what some consider the essential form of life grouping. Emile Durkhiem in the Division of Labor in Society (1893) writes,
Although the division of labour is not of recent origin, it was only at the end of the last century that societies began to become aware of this law, to which up to then they had submitted almost unwittingly…Yet the division of labour is not peculiar to economic life. We can observe its increasing influence in the most diverse sectors of society…It has become fragmented into a host of special disciplines, each having its purpose, method and ethos…It is no longer a mere social institution whose roots lie in the intelligence and the will of men…[;] the conditions for which must seemingly be sought in the essential properties of organized matter. The division of labour in society appears no more than a special form of this general development. In conforming to this law societies apparently yield to a movement that arose long before they existed and which sweeps along in the same direction the whole of the living world. (Durkhiem 2-3)
Traditionally, in many cultures, the mothering role goes to the women and the fathering role goes to the men. What is the mothering role? What is the fathering role? In many societies it was sacrilegious to confer the mothering title to anyone other than the female. However, there has been recent challenge to that notion. It is not to say that those roles are or are not based in biology—for some they are deeply biologically-based and considered given as sacred categorization from on High. To say that there has been challenge to the female’s role as mother, is to say that society is facing a real existential challenge.
One way to respond to that challenge is to look at how Danticat talks about the protagonist’s, Amabelle’s, parents’ function—both male and female—as procurers and greeters. In a scene right after Amabelle delivers Senora Valencia’s twins, Doctor Javier asks, “Amabelle, were you a midwife all this time and you never told us? (Danticat 18). Amabelle replies, “I don’t think myself a midwife, Doctor” (Danticat 19). Then the doctor retorts, “How did you know how to birth those children,” to which Amabelle follows, “’My mother and father were herb healers in Haiti. When it was called for, they birthed a child,’ Amabelle said, wanting to be modest on behalf of my parents, who had always been modest themselves’” (ibid). Growing up, Amabelle remembers her parents rushing about, paired, when there was a birthing, at the news of an emerging child. It appears as if the practicing of healing and homeopathic care was something that united the mother and the father in the birthing process beyond the bounds of biology, although their own child’s birthing had its basis in biology—had its basis in the womb.
Herein, in Danticat’s Farming of Bones, do we have the post-queer politics response that unites the sacredness of the womb, with biological grounding and Durkhiem’s consideration in the Division of Labor. Amabelle’s mother and father were healers. The baby, the child and the spiritual keeping ends up representing the process of societal healing and remediation, renewed structure, a welcoming. The mothering of the child is— at times dangerously so—or can be argued after passing through some test of socio-biology. There is further possible contention for a kind of mothering that is a fathering that looks like—a keeping, preparing well…stewardship. “Such a fact clearly cannot manifest itself without affecting profoundly our moral constitution for the evolution of mankind,” (Durkeim 3) according to Durkheim. What that means is there is at least a double-binding that upholds the sanctity of life in the keeping of it from womb to tomb and every healing space in between.
To accomplish this, there has to be a raising of consciousness—comparatively. What is meant by this is a comparative person-to-person, being-to-being through a common—if not universal understanding of laboring as noble work.
In do such, we’d need to acknowledge a protector of work—since it is, next to love (capital “L”), the primary unit of life. In the passage on page 43 where Papi is looming over a painting of Generalissimo, we see a “coat of arms and the shield: Dios, Patria, Libertad. God, Country, Liberty” (Danticat 1998). The connection between birthing—calling in the “Sacred Immaterial” to a prepared destination such as fertile soil or, our lovely planet called Earth—and the connection to preparing for it is the scurrying of Amabelle’s parents on page seven.
Healing and the keeping of children within the bounds of a country, or the family unit, seems to be the way Amabelle and her mother and father organize their living. As a unit they each have their separate yet interconnected roles in midwifing, protected by their way of life—service—how they refer and speak about and to one another and in the way they honor each other’s unique roles. This precarious balance is done conjunctively with a respecting of the distinction between sex and gender and divine responsibility.