8 Reasons Why Motherhood Should Never Be Considered "Punishment" For Women
When I was 23, I had an abortion. When I was 27, I became a mother. As a woman who has spoken openly about the trials and tribulations of motherhood (as well as the wonderful wins) and as a woman who unapologetically believes in safe, affordable, and legal access to abortion care for all, I have heard it all from anti-choice advocates. While I can respect a difference of opinion, especially a personal one, I cannot get behind the argument that pregnancy is a consequence. To me, motherhood should never be considered a punishment for women. Ever.
Of course, not all anti-choice advocates believe motherhood or pregnancy should be used as a ramification of a woman's past decisions. However, there have been more than a few anti-choice politicians who, in an attempt to pass legislation that would diminish or eliminate access to abortion care, have made comments that position motherhood as a "punishment" for women who became unexpectedly pregnant. In defense of a 20-week abortion ban in Arizona (that has since failed to pass), solicitor general David Cole said later-term fetal abnormalities were, "The woman's problem. She should have made that decision earlier." In the defense of legislation in Virginia that would "make it legal to penetrate abortion-seeking women against their wills by requiring a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound," according to NPR, Virginia State Delegate C. Todd Gilbert said, "Women already made the decision to be vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant." Last, but certainly not least and in what can only be described as heartless in nature and cruel in intention, Virginia State Delegate Robert G. Marshall claimed disabled children are a punishment for their mothers’ prior abortions, stating that “nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children," according to The Washington Post.
In other words, it would appear that at least a few (and in my opinion, a few too many) anti-choice advocates are quick to position pregnancy and motherhood as a "punishment" women must endure in order to be labeled as "responsible." Well, that's just something I cannot accept. As a mother who endured a difficult pregnancy, an excrutiating and emotionally taxing labor an delivery, suffered through postpartum depression, and has been on the receiving end of a very willful toddler's tantrums, I cannot imagine something as difficult and beautiful and exhausting and fulfilling as motherhood be dwindled down to nothing more than a punishment.
Mothers deserve better. Children deserve better. We, as women in this world who are capable of making our own decisions bout our own bodies and our own futures, deserve better. No more.
Because A Child Should Never Be Made To Feel Like A Consequence...
It's odd, to me, that something as "sacred" as motherhood is simultaneously described as an inevitable consequence of sex. If a woman becomes unintentionally pregnant, most people who don't believe in abortion access (or at least the people I have spoken to in private and/or on the internet, because, of course, not all anti-choice advocates are the same) are quick to say, "Well, then you shouldn't have had sex." Um, what?
I don't view my son as a consequence, but as a choice. I love the fact that I get to look at him every single day and tell him that I choose him and that he is wanted and that he is and was very much intentional.
...And Every Child Should Feel Wanted
Every child should be able to know, deep down and without an ounce of doubt, that they weren't forced on their mother because she didn't have access to safe and affordable abortion care. They should feel like their presence isn't an inevitability of anti-choice legislation, but a conscious decision made by one or both (or multiple) parents.
My son will know that he was a choice, and a very much wanted choice at that, every single day of his life. That brings me the most joy.
Because Pregnancy Shouldn't Be Forced On Any Woman
My difficult pregnancy was, for me, another reminder of just how cruel (I believe) it is to force a woman to go through pregnancy. I was initially pregnant with twins, but lost one of my twin sons at 19 weeks when his heart inexplicably stopped beating. I spent a week in the hospital with a severe blood infection that threatened the viability of the fetuses, and my own life. I was in and out of the hospital for invasive tests, pre-term labor scares, and more invasive tests. I was constantly sick throughout the entirety of my pregnancy, unable to keep much of anything down.
However, and while I didn't choose any of those experiences specifically, I did choose pregnancy. My pregnancy was unplanned, but I chose to see it through, whatever "see it through" might inevitably mean. To force a woman to endure pregnancy, whether it's "normal" or one riddled with complications, is to tell a woman she should not be in control of her own body. It's to essentially punish her with a pregnancy. Again, to me, that is nothing short of inhumane.
Because Childbirth Is Too Difficult To Not Want To Experience
Then there's the physical, mental, and emotional toll of childbirth to consider. Yeah, that's a big deal, my friends.
To be in that labor and delivery room, going through labor pains and contractions and throwing up on the nurse's shoes and trying my hand at every medication-free pain reliever before finally agreeing to have a needle inserted into my spine, made me acutely aware that this is what I signed up for. This is what I wanted to experience, even if I was completely incapable of knowing what labor and delivery would actually be like. No woman should be in that amount of pain without expressing a desire to be. I mean, even women who choose to become mothers don't really want to be in that much pain, but they did choose the end result of that pain and to say that doesn't make that pain easier to endure (especially with an epidural thank you very much) would be a lie.
To force a woman to experience the incredible pains of labor and delivery because you, personally, do not believe in abortion care or other reproductive health care services is, to me, just cruel and unusual.
Because The Responsibility Of Motherhood Is Too Great
Motherhood is an incredible responsibility. Massive, in fact. I mean, I am acutely aware, every single day, that I am in charge of making sure my son is healthy, safe, thriving, cared for, and happy. I am in charge of making sure he learns the necessary lessons that will aid him in becoming a productive and kind member of society. I am raising a part of the next generation. That's a huge responsibility that I don't take lightly, and I think we would all be hard-pressed to find a parent that does.
So, why would we, as a society, take such a huge responsibility and force someone to endure it?
Not too long ago I was participating in a political discussion online. In that discussion, I had a pleasant exchange with an anti-choice individual who doesn't believe in safe and affordable access to abortion care, and would very much be relieved if abortion was made illegal in the United States. This individual equated the act of abortion to getting out of a DUI, saying that if you choose to drive drunk you should be responsible for the consequence, just like if you choose to have sex, you should be responsible for the consequences. While I see the flaw in that logic immediately, I likened the experience in a different way in the hopes of politely and respectfully reaching across the aisle.
Forcing another woman to be responsible for an eventual human life because she became pregnant, is like forcing the responsibility of driving home (and caring for the other drivers on the road) on someone who accidentally had too much to drink. Indulging in a few libations is fine, just like having sex is fine. Sometimes, you get too drunk. Sometimes, you become pregnant when you didn't plan to. When you get too drunk, you can choose not to get in your car and drive home, by either calling a cab or an Uber or relying on a friend. If I become pregnant when I didn't plan to, I can choose to lean on the safe, affordable, and legal abortion care that is provided in this country.
Choosing not to get in a car when you've accidentally become too drunk, is responsible. Choosing not to become a mother when you're not ready, willing, or able, by accessing abortion care after you've become pregnant, is responsible.
Because Wanting To Be A Mom Gets You Through The Tough Times
While I love being a mother, I can honestly say that, at times, motherhood feels absolutely impossible. When I was struggling through postpartum depression, everything felt out of reach. When I was dealing with breastfeeding struggles and triggers as a sexual assault survivor, motherhood felt isolating. When I was trudging my way through sleep deprivation and temper tantrums and even potty training, motherhood felt like a constant struggle.
It also, however, has felt worth it. Why? Because this was a life choice I made. I wanted to be a mother when I found out I was pregnant, even though that pregnancy wasn't planned. When those lines showed up and I took stock of my life and my romantic relationship and my finances and my future, I knew I could be a mother. More importantly, I knew I wanted to be a mother. I keep that in mind every single time motherhood feels like a daunting, never-ending, impossible task. When I feel like I'm failing, I remember that I wanted to experience motherhood: both the good and the bad. I can't imagine not feeling like I was in charge of my future, and like this choice to be a mom wasn't a choice I actually had or was capable of making. I can only guess it would make motherhood feel that much more impossible.
Because Not Everyone Can Afford To Be A Mother
Yeah, kids aren't cheap, dear reader. Like, at all.
Which, of course, isn't to mention any additional cost if there are complications during a pregnancy, labor, delivery, or postpartum period. What if a child is born and immediately needs surgical care? What if the baby is born premature and needs to spend months in the NICU? What if a high-risk pregnancy involves additional tests, all of which are extremely costly?
I can't imagine telling a woman not only does she have to see a pregnancy through that she no way planned on experiencing, and raising a child she in no way wants to (or is able to) raise, but she has to pay for that child with money she doesn't have. What kind of life will that child have? In what ways are we, as a society, trapping women and their families in the endless cycle of poverty because they don't have access to safe and affordable abortion care? If a woman is forced into motherhood, she is essentially forced to spend her money accordingly and, again, children are not cheap.
Just like the freedom to choose what they do with their bodies, women deserve financial freedom, too.
Because Motherhood Should Always Be A Choice
This is really the end of the discussion, and the beginning and the middle. Motherhood is a beautiful, exhausting, wonderful, difficult, incredible, taxing, life-changing experience that should always be a choice. If we, as a society, are truly going to hold mothers up as the "end-all-be-all" of female existence (which is an entirely different problem and a fictitious notion at best, as women are more than their choice or ability to procreate) and praise mothers for all they do and all they're responsible for and all they accomplish, we need to trust women to make the choice to become mothers, or not, on their own.