Motherhood in America: Some Apples for Your Pie


As news of Stupak has dominated our livid attention, many of us
may not have heard the amazing gains made for motherhood in America. As of this
month, all states will now allow women receiving aid through Women Infants and
Children (WIC) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. For the first time,
ever.

To anyone who hopes to accuse us of stinginess, we announce that
we’re giving participating mothers $8 per month and children $6 per month in
vouchers to purchase produce. Wait it gets better, breast feeding mothers get
$10! Yes, that’s right $10 whole dollars to stretch over 30 delicious,
vitamin-packed days.

Now what low-income woman wouldn’t want to stay pregnant
regardless of her circumstances or desires with that kind of reward on the
table? Could it be she’s the one thinking precisely of life — contemplating
the one her child will lead? Or perhaps she’s concerned for her already
impoverished existing children and how she will manage an additional one to
clothe, feed, shelter and — dare she hope — educate.

Right now Congress and armies of lobbyists determine whether
women will be deemed worthy of access to the full range of health care the law
and medical science allows. We’re hearing lots about the importance of life and
the sacred bond of mother and child. So, what about motherhood.

A cursory glance at
maternal health will tell you just how much we value how life is given in this
country. We advocate for and in some cases force over one-third of women to
undergo major abdominal surgery (though we’ve given it a nicer name), rates
unknown abroad. We’ve turned a supposedly blessed event into a medical
emergency and made sure women are terrified to do it and not empowered at
having done it after the fact.

Child-rearing, with its joyous but exhausting and endless
responsibilities, is absolutely the last priority on our national list. This is
obvious to anyone who has contrasted the palatial “birthing suites” where a
woman labors to the dismal recovery room she inhabits once her duty is
discharged. Even for those of us on the lucky end of the spectrum, the hospital
architects have signaled who and what matters in this purportedly mother-loving
place.

Motherhood in any circumstances is a challenge. In fact, my own
mother used to say it’s the only life sentence without chance at parole you can
receive without committing a crime. Low-income motherhood is infinitely harder
still. Where we should be in awe of and reaching out to help the women who
daily sacrifice to undertake this feat — we stand in judgement of them and
seek to make their difficult task impossible. Only to insist it must be done.

With forced eviction from the hospital after two days, no
postpartum support, miserly provisions for food, questionable access to health
insurance, inaccessible but absolutely critical flu vaccines, unsafe and
failing schools, little or no assistance with childcare — how could anyone
without wealth be up to the task of raising one, let alone, many children in
America? Yet, this is a job description of low-income motherhood here. Now
we’re contemplating drafting any fertile female who dares to have sex into this
position — and we’re confused that they’re not so eager to apply.

Child-rearing isn’t battle (as much as parents of toddlers and
teenagers might insist that it is.) But it is a sort of national front-line,
critical to our survival. It is our future, quite literally, at stake. As our
lawmakers now shamefully consider shifting from a voluntary service for this task
of national importance to conscripting women to serve at their will — can’t we
at least demand the provisions they need to do the job?

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  • crowepps

    In fact, my own mother used to say it’s the only life sentence without chance at parole you can receive without committing a crime.

    Apparently your mother hadn’t heard that having sex is considered a ‘crime’ in and of itself, married or single. That’s why you hear that those arguments about ‘consequences’ and statements about ‘made the choice when she decided to have sex’.

  • anat-shenkerosorio

    crowepps,

    Thanks for reading and for taking the time to bring this up. You’re right: my mom doesn’t buy the sex-is-crime crap — and, of course, neither do I. I suspect I can safely count you in our club as well.

    We must continue to reject the notion that sex is somehow wrong and therefore punishable. I refuse to dignify this kind of thinking with a response — that’s why I presuppose rather than directly argue that there’s nothing wrong with having sex. 

    –Anat 

  • crowepps

    Fascinating, isn’t it, that in the 1930’s, pamphlets about birth control were considered ‘obscene’ for married couples under the following law:

    “Every obscene, lewd, lascivious, of filthy book, pamphlet, picture paper, letter, writing, print or other publication of an indecent character … is declared to be nonmailable matter and shall not be conveyed in the mails or delivered from any post office or by any letter carrier.
    http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA04/kane/30scensorship/comstock.htm

    And it wasn’t until 1965 that the Supreme Court finally recognized in Griswold that the Connecticut law was unconstitutional because it attempted to intrude into the marital relationship a shaky interest by the State in marital sex being ‘productive’.

    Any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception shall be fined not less than fifty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days nor more than one year or be both fined and imprisoned.
    http://www4.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0381_0479_ZO.html

    Note that the fine is the modern-day equivalent of about $600. There is a deep and apparently inexhaustable stream of prudery in American culture that is pretty hard to explain to the rest of the world. The mere idea that married couples enjoy having sex just for pleasure is apparently shocking and obscene to the sensibilities of the neo-Puritans.