By Neesha D. Meminger
of my first daughter was one of, if not the most profound
and spiritual experiences of my life. She was planned almost down
to the minute of conception, my husband and I believed we were as
ready as we could be, and I thought I was going into this motherhood
business with my eyes wide open.
It was true that I was more ready than I had ever been in my life.
I knew I would not regret the decision to have children at that
point. I had experienced much of what I wanted to in life, the good
and the bad, and knew enough about myself to venture forth into
this uncharted territory.
However. Even given all of my readiness, all of the books I read
and all of the advice/pointers I received from friends, family and
colleagues, motherhood still came as a great shock to me. I was
still blind-sided and stunned by what a tremendous uprooting it
was to literally become another person; one that incorporated my
former, pre-maternal self, yet was an entirely new being.
I was even more amazed at how the entire medical profession, throughout
the labor and delivery process, seemed to forget that I existed
altogether. It was all about the baby. Indeed, even for me, it was
all about the baby. My very supportive, pro-feminist husband also
didn’t seem to fully appreciate how significant my role was
in this whole childbirth deal. Either that, or we were both in such
a state of shock and awe that it just seemed easier to focus on
In my practice, I’ve talked to scores of mothers who felt
a similar sense of “what about me?” after the delivery
of their first child. They have expressed feelings of dismay at
how un-celebrated they felt, especially after all the attention
of pregnancy. And still others, felt that even throughout pregnancy,
the emphasis was always on the health of the baby in the belly;
not so much about the woman carrying the baby and the belly.
In the medical and pharmaceutical industries, the approach to pregnancy,
childbirth, and motherhood is not that they are natural and amazing
processes; rather, they are regarded as problematic, fear-inspiring,
chaotic, and messy. As such, labor and delivery has become a sanitized
experience with quick, invasive, pre-emptive measures, and strict
Kelly, a New York City doula and friend who has supported women
through many births over the course of 12 years, has often commented
on how little control women actually have over their first or subsequent
births, especially in hospitals. It is a particularly vulnerable
time for the laboring woman and her partner, and both are especially
susceptible to recommendations of invasive measures that may not
be necessary or could be avoided.
I am not taking issue with the value that is placed on the health
and well-being of the baby, whether in utero, or in the world. That
is not the issue. Babies are precious, defenseless, and should by
all means be protected. But, valuing the health of the baby over
the health of the mother is another thing altogether.
The issue is not about being “pro-life” or pro-choice.
Many pro-life advocates including the re-elected president of the
United States, are against abortion on “moral” grounds,
yet staunchly support sending young soldiers overseas to a possible
untimely death, or to drop bombs on someone else’s children.
And, as was much of the bottom line in the recent election, it
often comes down to economics. As Naomi Wolf suggest in her book Misconceptions, some women may have the privilege of comparing
an embryo with hair, as something that is “sort of alive”.
Others do not have the time, energy, and resources to contemplate
these matters; they simply must do what is necessary to survive
Many years before I had my first daughter, I sat in the waiting
room of an abortion clinic and looked at the faces around me. Several
were young and frightened– no, terrified. Most were alone,
with the occasional one toting a boyfriend. My husband, then boyfriend,
sat next to me. On my other side was Marta. She was alone, and we
Marta was a Dominican woman in her late 30’s. She had six
children at home, and a husband who was too enthusiastic about gambling.
Marta cleaned office buildings at night so she could take care of
her children, keep house, and make meals for her family during the
day. This was her eighth pregnancy, and she was at the abortion
clinic next to me, waiting for her name to be called. For her, this
was not a difficult choice. The six children at home were barely
fed and the bills were piling up, even with her working extra hours,
and her husband’s job as a doorman in Manhattan.
Her husband and his family were fiercely Catholic and, as such,
didn’t believe in birth control. They also didn’t believe
“This is my second time,” Marta confided, “I
come in the afternoon when my husband is at work– I tell him
I have a check-up– and I do this by myself. Then, I go home
and make dinner before I go to work.”
This issue of socio-economics is rarely addressed in the debate
over “reproductive rights.” The right to live a life
in relative safety, with ample food and clean water, access to a
good education and health care must also be addressed in the debate
over when and how life should exist. The quality of a life once
it is created and born is of equal importance to whether it should
be borne in the first place.
The parent I am today is able to provide a much higher standard
of living and quality of life for my children than the parent I
would have been a decade ago. Both decisions for me, to have my
children or not, were not difficult decisions. I grew up with a
mother who was angry, unappreciated, under-valued, over-worked,
and over-extended. She was expected to accept her lot, work hard
to bring in a second income, come home and pick up after the kids
and her husband, cook meals, entertain, not complain, and be happy.
After everything was taken care of, there was never enough money
left for her. As such, she often took her anger, bitterness, and
resentments out on the easiest and closest targets: her children.
I have heard this story a million times from countless women. It
is the experience that results from living in a society that does
not value women, mothers, and their contributions.
In Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, a mother takes
the lives of her own children so that they do not have to endure
the indignities and inhumanity of living a life of slavery. Protecting
the integrity of life and valuing the joy of life comes in many
forms. This could arguably have been a great act of motherly love.
On the other hand, it could be a reason to medicate the mother and/or
throw her in jail. Perhaps, even put her to death. But, is it less
of a crime to go to war unnecessarily (if ever it is necessary),
in the name of profits? Less of a crime to knowingly allow the release
of poisonous toxins and noxious gases into the air and drinking
water so that corporations thrive?
Perhaps some mothers, as a result of isolation, inadequate nutrition
and post-partum care, plunge into deep depression and do cause harm
to their children; do we then leave all decisions about the right
of life to exist and how it should exist to a panel of judges on
the Supreme Court?
Mothers carry life for nine months in the womb, enduring hormonal
fluctuations, nausea, constipation, headaches and all the various
aches and pains that go along with pregnancy. At the end of the
pregnancy, women labor, have C-sections, epidurals, episiotomies,
still-births, “failure” to progress, forceps and other
potential complications of delivery. Some women miscarry at various
points during gestation and must heal the emotions and spirit before
trying again, if that is the choice. After the baby is born—
if it is a live birth— the mother again must ride the roller
coaster of hormones, as well as sleep deprivation, while navigating
the completely foreign territory of New Motherhood, with or without
a partner, with or without support, all the while recovering from
the physical trauma of childbirth. Not to mention that, at the conclusion
of this process, a woman’s own life is changed forever. This
gives women an intimate, biological, spiritual, and emotional connection
to the processes of life, birth, and the sustenance of life. All
the certification, in my humble opinion, that one needs to make
decisions about what happens to one’s own body and its reproductive
processes. Yet, the fate of the “reproductive rights”
issue is decided by a group of nine Supreme Court judges–
only two of whom, as of this writing, are women.
Upon deeper examination of the issue of “reproductive rights”,
it’s easy to see that it comes down to how valued the women
citizens are of a society. Not to be confused with how valued life
is in that society. The term “pro-life” is a misnomer.
This country’s president proudly states his “pro-life”
stance, yet is spearheading not only one of the most unpopular wars
of our time, but one that clearly places more value on oil profits
than human life.