Mothers Day 2022

Oh, child, I am so glad that I get to be your mother. You are amazing.

Mothers Day 2022

This Mothers Day, though, more than anything, I am full of rage. The thought of my daughter and my nieces growing up in a country where they do not have the right to decide whether, when, and how to become parents, where they do not have a bodily autonomy…it is just unfathomably awful, and yet I must fathom it, because that is, with near certainty, the precise country we will live in a month from now. My family is fortunate to live in a state that is likely to remain safer in terms of reproductive rights, but that’s not true for any of my nieces. And it’s not true for so many people who can become pregnant in this country, and the implications of this are terrible, even more so for the most marginalized among us.

One note before I dive in any further: I am very intentionally using “parents” and “people who can become pregnant” instead of “mothers” and “women” in what I’m saying here, both because I want to be inclusive and because I’ve always been a little…ambivalent, I suppose, is the best word for it…about gender myself. I certainly learned what I was *supposed* to be as a girl, but more than anything else, growing up, I felt like an alien. (Sometimes I wonder how much this relates to the stuff I talk about in this post; as the bi/grey-ace person I am, I didn’t “fit” into the into the standard model of straight womanhood, but also didn’t fit into the only other model of womanhood I saw on offer, the lesbian one.) 

But anyway, the one thing I could never forget, growing up, was that I had the kind of body that could be made pregnant whether I wanted to be or not; this was something that the world constantly reminded me. Some of these reminders came from people whose goal was to warn and protect me, and only had the side effect of creating fear; some of them came from people whose goal WAS to leave me, and all girls, afraid. And this fear, this knowledge that I could be made pregnant against my will, shaped the way I approached the world, and the only thing that made me feel as though I could handle existing in the kind of body that could become pregnant was the fact that I knew, as a matter of law, that I would NOT have to stay that way if I didn’t want to. (I was fortunate to live in places where this was functionally as well as legally true; abortion would’ve come with a massive heaping of shame and stigma, but it was available, though I thankfully never needed it.) I do not know how to help my daughter navigate a world in which that isn’t true as a matter of law. I’ll always do whatever I can to help her have autonomy over her body, but it won’t always be in my power; not having the backing of the law is something I just don’t know how to navigate. (And it strikes me that the position we’ll be in is different than pre-Roe, because an entire generation or more of us were raised with this right that is now being stripped away, and don’t know, on a gut level, what it was like before.)

Forcing a person to remain pregnant against their will is torture. It’s just that simple. Even when we *want* to be pregnant, the physical and psychological effects of pregnancy can be absolutely brutal and even fatal, and that’s true of childbirth as well. I was against forced pregnancy before having my daughter, but the experience of bringing her into the world utterly radicalized me on that front, because it was only then that I had more than an abstract, theoretical understanding of exactly what it is that we are demanding when we demand people stay pregnant against their will; I now have a visceral sense of how barbaric those demands are. My own pregnancy was relatively straightforward (though let’s not minimize how miserable and debilitating it is to be anemic and nauseated every single day for months), but my childbirth experience was both physically and psychologically traumatizing; the physical injuries I sustained still affect me to to this day, a decade later, and I still sometimes deal with the effects of postpartum PTSD as well. And this was for a pregnancy and birth that I *wanted*.

Madrigal Alice Harrison Watts, 7lbs 6.8oz, born 10:26am. We are in love!
The first photo of me as a mother; I have no memory of this, because I was still recovering from emergency surgery to repair my pelvic floor.

To force those brutal physical and psychological experiences on someone who does NOT want to be pregnant is utterly inhumane torture, and to claim that you’re only torturing the pregnant person in this way because you have a compelling, competing “interest” in the “possibility” (and I know all too well that “possibility” is not certainty) of the life that is gestating within them is to say that you value that possibility over the living, breathing actual person who is pregnant, and I find that to be an utterly despicable position to take. It relegates those whose bodies can be made pregnant to a lower status than those whose cannot, because those whose bodies cannot become pregnant would never find themselves forced to endure torture because of a state “interest” in protecting fetal life. So I just want to spit fire when I read Alito’s snide, cynical comments about why the equal protections of the 14th amendment wouldn’t apply to regulations relating to abortion (since, in his framing, it is a medical intervention that only one sex can undergo anyway).

And to consider the state’s “interest” in fetal life a valid reason to subject those who do not wish to remain pregnant to the torture of forced pregnancy is even more despicable when you consider that once that “possible” life becomes an actual, living, breathing one, the people most adamant about their “interest” in that life no longer care about it; where is the “interest” in ensuring that babies who are born have enough resources and support to grow and thrive? 

As a child, I certainly imbibed plenty of rhetoric that spoke of pregnancy as a “punishment” for “bad choices” by “irresponsible” women (and yet also imbibed plenty of rhetoric that seemed to imply that I was not a “real” adult, and was also being unfair to men, if I did not eagerly participate in the activity that could lead to a pregnancy; what a delightful toxic misogynist soup!). And even as a child, I wondered what that meant about the resulting baby – was the baby a “punishment”? What did it mean for the relationship between a parent and a child if the child was viewed as that parent’s “punishment”? How is that not an absolutely toxic basis on which to build a parent-child relationship? (And why would we want to place the responsibilities of raising a child on an “irresponsible” person who made “bad decisions”? Or is the true interest in ensuring there’s a “domestic supply” of babies for adoption?) 

In a world where everyone has the right to bodily autonomy, and pregnancies are thus something that are affirmatively chosen, children can know that they were *wanted* by their parent in a way that a child born in a world in which pregnant people can be forced against their will to remain that way can never, ever know; another way to say that is that a choice is only meaningful if it can be freely chosen. 

So on this Mothers Day, I am raging. How DARE you tell me that I am worth less than a clump of cells? How DARE you tell my daughter that she does not have autonomy over her body? I am screaming that motherhood should always and only be something freely chosen, and I am once again grieving the loss of the future I imagined for my daughter. To think that in 2013, following the Obergefell decision, I felt so optimistic for her, was so thrilled that she would grow up in a country where she would know that she could marry whoever she loved; even if that remains true (and I’m not sure it will; if the court is willing to throw out half-century-old precedent, they’re certainly not going to care about precedent that’s less than a decade old), to have that without the right to bodily autonomy, without the right to decide whether, when, and how she becomes a parent…that’s not the better future I dreamed of for her. 

Right now, she is adamant that she never wants to have a baby, and I want her to have the tools to ensure she doesn’t ever have one if she doesn’t ever want one. And if she ever decides that she WANTS to become a parent someday, I want that to be HER choice, freely made. Perhaps she will retain a right to bodily autonomy if she never leaves our current home state. But what a loss of freedom even that is, to be cut off from so many places in our country when deciding where to go to college, where to seek employment. And what about her cousins? What about all of the people in states with trigger laws on the books? (Her cousins, for what it’s worth, are always welcome to come visit Aunt Whitney.)

I’m watching the Supreme Court erect giant fences to protect themselves – the same barriers they ruled that clinics providing abortion could NOT use to protect themselves – and thinking about what all of the implications of this might be. Their legitimacy is already deeply in question for so many reasons, and now they’re gleefully throwing out a half-century of precedent, and signaling to states that they’re open to challenges of a host of other precedents…how is this not opening us up to tremendous civil strife? This week, we watched the first episode of the new Star Trek series, “Strange New Worlds”, and they referenced a “World War III” and seemed to imply it started with a second American Civil War in this century, and sure, this is fiction, but it seems utterly plausible that we’re heading in that direction.

Not the happiest note to end on, I know. Happy Mothers Day?

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