By MotherShouldeditors

Misogyny is at the Heart of Our High Maternal Death Rate

A recent story by ProPublica and NPR outlines the tragic and preventable death of NICU nurse Lauren Bloomstein only 20 hours after giving birth to her first child. Despite warning signs and her physician husband voicing alarm and questioning her plan of care, Lauren died of hemorrhagic strokes resulting from untreated HELLP syndrome. HELLP syndrome is an obstetrical emergency related to very high blood pressure that accounts for nearly 8% of pregnancy and postpartum related deaths. The most ominous sign is a rapidly rising blood pressure accompanied by, epigastric pain, intense headache, and anxiety.

I have a lot of feelings when I think about this story. First I recall my experiences with preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome as a doula. In what I retrospectively call the Year of Preeclampsia, I saw first-hand how swiftly preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome can develop and progress. It was a terrible coincidence that I attended several labors in succession that were one case study after another about hypertension, preeclampsia, and actual eclampsia. Eclampsia results when untreated preeclampsia results in blood pressures so high that the woman experiences seizures. Mercifully all the mothers and babies survived, and I left these experiences with a healthy respect for clinical expertise and vigilance while also holding space for the everyday normalcy of childbirth.

A 2013 meta-analysis of data on professional labor support by the Cochrane Review concludes that all women should have access to continuous labor support because of the significant benefits to maternal health. A doula is a professional labor support person who provides, physical, emotional, and educational support to women and their families during birth. This is a non-clinical role that has grown in popularity since the release of The Business of Being Born in 2008.

As a new nurse, I read the story of the needless death of a mother with my heart in my throat. Her blood pressure was unchecked for many hours despite very high readings relative to her baseline blood pressures. As a nurse on any hospital floor, I stand between patients and peril with my blood pressure cuff; I assess and document, I reassess and document. When I get a blood pressure that seems too high or too low, I look at the patient to see if they are symptomatic; I check my equipment; I reassess how I am taking the reading; and I look at the patient’s chart to see what the trend is for this specific patient. This is standard nursing practice on every hospital floor the whole world over. It is hard to understand how such a standard assessment fell off the schedule when this woman had every alarming marker of HELLP syndrome. Yet hospitals are systems for which a tragic death cannot be blamed on one nurse or MD. Tired staff, burned-out staff, high patient to nurse ratios, experience levels, and days worked in a row are boring problems that add up to senseless errors and tragedy when good protocols and ratios are either not in place or not being followed.

As a woman, I read this story and I see a broad systemic failure that is so much bigger than a hospital, labor and delivery unit, physicians, and nurses. My mind races as I think of all the horrifying attitudes and actions by our lawmakers and leaders that openly degrade women. I think of the multitude of ways the government is stripping away health care choices for women and mothers. We are presently between Thailand and Chad in the race to have the highest increase in maternal deaths. Not only are mothers dying in our modern health care system, more of them are dying each year.

Iran, Mexico, Congo, Chad all have between 12-14 weeks of paid maternity leave in contrast to the ZERO weeks provided by the United States. We are asking women to give birth without giving them adequate postpartum support for their health or their new motherhood. The vast majority of women in the US return to work within 6 weeks of giving birth despite evidence that this is not good for women, babies, or society as a whole.

The most depressing element of this is our cultural lip service we pay to mothers, which directly influences the laws we make that can help or harm women. We elevate motherhood as the highest achievement that a woman can attain. American culture is steeped in its own variation of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy as Mother/Nothing. If you are a mother, we will give you a holiday, we will market to you, we will speak of your importance to society while we do to little to protect your life and health care as a mother, while also openly judging your post-baby body. If you have the audacity to be an adult woman and not a mother, then we will treat you as a strange other who is probably selfish, likely defective and sad given your lack of motherhood, a man-hating feminist, or too stupid to understand the beauty of motherhood.

In America, a good woman is a mother, and a mother will sacrifice even her life for her baby. The shameful thing is that this isn’t hyperbole and yet somehow it is still is a shocking surprise to us all.

Sarah Thayer lives in Simsbury, CT with her two kids, aged 11 and 13, husband Joshua, and rescue pitbull. She is a licensed massage therapist and retired birth doula. She has a degree in sociology from Central Connecticut State University and is a new graduate nurse from Capital Community College in Hartford, CT. She teaches Comfort Measures for Labor to expectant families for Hartford Hospital and plans to pursue a degree in nurse midwifery.  In her free time, she enjoys knitting, hiking with her dog, playing piano, and spending time with her friends and family. Her twitter handle @LMTDoulaSarah.

 

 

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A Millennial Interviews Her Mother About Having Kids

From the editors: MotherShould? is interested in how millennials weigh the decision whether or not to have children and/or when to have children. This interview by a 21-year-old college junior reveals how one millennial’s mother has shaped her thinking on having children. The interview also highlights the challenges of being part of the sandwich generation and the silence that shrouded miscarriage twenty years ago and tends to persist today. The interviewee and the interviewer have decided to use pseudonyms here to protect their privacy.

From the interviewer: I’m a 21  year old college student and I chose to interview my mother, Tiffany, 59 year old mom of two. She worked as a dietitian for over 25 years and chose to leave her job. I chose to interview my mother because I feel as though she was different from other moms. Instead of pushing me to find a boyfriend and raising me to be a wife and mother, she taught my sister and I that we have to figure out who we are first as individuals. My mom is one of the many people who inspired me to go after my dreams and never settle for anything less. She is a strong woman with a big heart who worked hard to get to where she is today, and to have my sister and I be the people we are now.

Hannah: You had Erica (my sister) at age 32 and me at age 37. Were the pregnancies different in any way?

Tiffany: I would say being pregnant at 32 was probably a little easier because I could sleep eight hours a night uninterrupted. I was working full time, but I could still sleep; you need extra sleep when you are pregnant. But, that was probably the only difference. See, with you I had a four-year old, I was working full time, and I was pregnant. I was five years older and sleep deprived.  

Hannah: Did the doctors say you were “high risk” at age 37 to have a child?

Tiffany: Every time I went to the doctor, they made a determination whether I was high risk or not depending on my blood pressure and my blood value. Fortunately I was never considered “high risk.”  But at my age, being after 35, I had a  harder chance of getting pregnant. So when I was 35 years old, I went back to my doctor who delivered Erica, and I said that I wanted to have another child, but I am not sure if I want one right now. He said, “You have to get pregnant right away because you are 35. If you wait any longer your fertility rate goes down rapidly.” That was something I did not know. I think women should know that when they are planning on having a family after they’re 35 your fertility rate drops every year and markedly after age 40. So we started to get pregnant right away. Then it took a couple of years because I had a miscarriage.

Hannah: Let’s talk about that. I know you had a miscarriage before I was born. What was the experience like for you? How did you decide to have another child after that experience?

Tiffany: Well, I was 36 when I had the miscarriage.  I was 35 when we started to try for another child and then 6 months later, I was pregnant. During the pregnancy, I felt like my body wasn’t reacting well to the pregnancy from the very beginning. I was only 2 months pregnant, first of all. So it wasn’t a long pregnancy. The whole time I was pregnant I didn’t feel good. I felt like there was something wrong.

What they don’t tell you is you can’t see your  doctor until your 2.5 to 3 months pregnant. You don’t even see your doctor until you are almost into your second trimester. So I hadn’t even seen my doctor. But I knew I was pregnant because I took those blood tests at the hospital, I got what felt like a heavy period two months later. But it was almost like a relief for me because sometimes you just know to listen to your body; like what’s right and what’s wrong. That pregnancy felt really really wrong.

After the miscarriage, I went to work and took care of my four year old like normal. I don’t know if that is a normal response that other women have. I mean I never really talked about it with other women. So my reaction to the miscarriage was kind of like a relief I felt so much better physically. I kind of mentally prepared for it. I would say things like “I’ll be fine.” There was a lot of denial. I would be so busy that I never really sat down and thought about it. I just said “Oh I’m pregnant. I’ll be seeing the doctor in another four weeks. So I’ll just save all my questions for then.” So I just went about it like it was a normal pregnancy.

But when I look back on it, that’s when I have the wisdom that it  wasn’t right from the beginning. Because it felt so different than my first pregnancy and my body felt not right. So I don’t know if that prepared me for the impending miscarriage on a subconscious level; most of this was subconscious. Because I have never really spoken out loud about this before. Not even to Derek [my dad]. I never really talked about something being wrong with my baby. But when I started bleeding after two months I was like “Oh yeah.”

When I had my miscarriage, at 8 weeks, it felt like having a really heavy period. I remember the cramps. It was not as painful as going through a birth, but they were really painful. I remember talking to my doctor on the phone and he said, “You’re fine.You don’t need to come in.” So my primary concern was: Is everything okay? My doctor said to wait to get pregnant for 30 days and then try again. That’s what we did, and I got pregnant right away.

Hannah: Where were my dad and Erica when all this happened?

Tiffany: Your father and your sister were not at home. It was interesting because it was February, and it was after we got this huge snowstorm and your father went off to California and took Erica with him because he was visiting his family. I was alone in the house. 

Hannah: What do you think caused the miscarriage?

Tiffany: It wasn’t my fault. When I look back at it I realized that there was something wrong with the pregnancy from the FIRST DAY I was pregnant. It felt like it wasn’t going to work. I don’t know if other women have that kind of “internal wisdom” but I tried to push those feelings away. Of course because you don’t want to think that. So for 8 weeks, I tried not to think about it. I tried to tell myself, “Oh it’s just a different pregnancy. You could be having a boy.” Like I said I hadn’t even been to the doctors, so I didn’t really talk about it much to anybody.

I feel like since it was my first experience having a miscarriage, and I already had a child, my feelings are different from the vast majority of women who have this experience. It would be very different for a woman to go through this if  they had been trying to get pregnant for so long or they found out they were having troubles with their fertility. It would have made the miscarriage so much worse.

When I got pregnant with you the difference between the pregnancies were that with you I felt queasy, and my sense of smell was heightened. This pregnancy felt similar to when I was pregnant with Erica. But with the miscarriage pregnancy, it didn’t feel this way.

Hannah: What was it like to work and take care of an infant?

Tiffany: I had three-month maternity leave. I had to use my vacation time and sick time. So I had to save them. Most of the time I got a paycheck, which really helped. We really needed two paychecks to get by. Erica was in daycare since she was 3 months old. Same as I did with you. Going back to work was difficult because I was really tired. Erica wasn’t  sleeping through the night, and I was breastfeeding. I tried to breastfeed and work but I couldn’t do both. I don’t know if other women can, but I could not. Breastfeeding took a lot of energy out of me. The fact that I wasn’t sleeping all the way through the night, and I was working full time, I came to the decision that something had to give. So what I did was I gave up the breastfeeding, and I wish I didn’t have to do that.

When I had you it was really different. Erica was now a toddler. I had to keep her life as predictable and stable as possible. So she went to the same daycare, went for the exact same hours; her life had to stay the same. We kept my husband’s schedule the same. Then I had you at home with me for three months. It was just the two of us. I breastfed you then for three months and just remember it being a very happy time. I was very very happy being at home with you. That was the first time I thought that I didn’t want to go back to work. But I had to go back to work because we needed one and a half incomes to pay the mortgage.  

Hannah: You finally decided to leave your career when Erica was 17 and I was 12. Why did you decide to leave your career?

Tiffany: Well my mom got sick, and she didn’t want to go into a nursing home. She didn’t want to go into an assisted living. She also was a widower and lived on her own. I started helping her. I am in what is called “the sandwich generation.” That is when you have kids to take care of and then you are taking care of your sick parent as well. But the thing is, you can’t do everything. I had a senior in high school, I had a 7th grader, I had a sick mom. Derek’s mom had just passed. He was, you know, grieving. It was all just too much. I don’t know how other women deal with that kind of stress, but for me, personally, it was my point where I just needed to take a step back.

So I started to drop back hours. I was doing a consulting job and working a full time job so I was working more than full time. So I cut the consulting job back, and then I cut some of the days back. So I did it gradually. I felt as though I had responsibility for taking care of my mother because she took care of me. So my mom was one of the reasons I left my career.

Another reason was because of you. Erica was going off to college. So I knew the stress I was feeling about Erica was going to be temporary because senior year is a very stressful time. She was applying to colleges, and we had to visit all the colleges she was applying to. So she was going to leave for school soon. That was also my regret because I knew I wasn’t home for Jenna much after school. With you growing out of the YMCA after school program in middle school, I knew it wasn’t working for you anymore [I was bullied by the mean girls a lot.] I wanted to give you more attention. I wanted to be home for you because my mom always worked when I was growing up. There are two roads you can take: One being the happy road to college and being taught your full potential. The other road you can take is not achieving your dreams. I needed to keep you on the right path. I started to feel like this when you were in elementary school. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it because we still needed the money. Whether you are male or female, we still have the financial responsibility to our children. I felt that financial responsibility 100%. My husband and I are the same when it comes to that sort of thing. We both contribute to the family financially as equals. I wanted to do the right thing by you, and I wanted to do the right thing for my mom.

Hannah: When you were at home, did you ever have a moment where you regretted your decision to leave your career?

Tiffany: Now, I know I complain about having a black hole in my resume, however I do not regret leaving my career. It was the best decision I ever made. I know it was the right thing to do.

Hannah: You always told Erica and me to never marry your highschool sweetheart and to wait until we were in our 30s to have children; to follow our career goals and make a name for ourselves first. Why did you teach us that?

Tiffany: That was the wisdom my mom taught me. So I pass it down because it was very helpful to me. I think that when you are 18 you don’t know who you really want to be with. You don’t really know who a good partner would be because you don’t really know yourself. In your 30s, if you worked in your career and are earning good money, you have the confidence to pick the right partner. You also change so much from 20 to 30. What you want and need are different. Marrying the right person is one of the most important choices in your life.You really have to marry the right person for you. It takes maturity to know what that looks like, what that feels like. In your 20s is a great time to date other people and build a career for yourself that you actually love/like.    

Hannah: What are you doing now that your children are all grownup and out of the house?

Tiffany: Well I am working on my business and I’m doing a lot of things art related.

Hannah: If Erica and I eventually do get married and have children, what advice would you give us about balancing our careers and spending time with our children?

Tiffany: Everybody is different. You have to have an “internal dialogue” with yourself every day. Make sure you’re happy. Don’t sacrifice your own happiness because there is always a way to figure it out. You can change things. It’s like having two full time jobs. You have a full time job at work and the stresses of getting up early everyday to go to work everyday working 8 hours everyday. Another full time job is taking care of the baby. So it is basically like working two full time jobs. So it’s tough. You are going to have many sleepless nights. But just try to be as happy as you can doing that. Know that every stage that you go through with the children changes. It’s never the same. First they are teething and crying and then it changes. They start walking and talking. It always changes. If you also are with the right person you’ll always be 100%. Your kid will have two 100% parents being there for them. You can’t be 50/50 with your partner parenting. You both have to be 100%. So if one of you gets sick, your child still has a parent that is there for them. Derek is such a great partner because he was taught from his mom to view his partner as his equal. I am his equal, and he can pass that onto you guys as well.

At the end of the day when you are trying to balance your career and raising children, there should be no regrets. Usually people don’t regret working more, but they regret not spending enough time with the people they love.

 

 

Some Facts About Fostering: An Interview with a Licensed Social Worker

Danielle Maloney, a Licensed Social Worker in Massachusetts, has been working in child welfare for twenty-eight years.

MS: What do parents have to do to become foster parents?

Danielle: There’s an application process. In Massachusetts you need to be at least 18 and have US legal status to become a foster parent. You may be single, married, partnered, divorced or widowed. Your family must have a steady source of income and cannot be reliant on the foster care stipend. You may either own or rent your home. The living and sleeping quarters must provide adequate space for all household members. Some people wonder if children can share a bedroom with birth children. Yes they can, but the children have to be same sex and age appropriate. During the application and licensing process, Department of Children and Families (DCF) will complete a CORI check (criminal offender record information), fingerprinting for applicant and household members ages 15 and above, and physical standard check of household to make sure the home meets safety requirements and standards.

In addition to the CORI and the physical standard check, potential foster parents in Massachusetts have to do a mandatory ten week training called MAPP Training (Massachusetts Approach to Partnership and Parenting). The training helps families better understand the difficulties children in foster care face and how fostering will affect your family.

MS: How do parents qualify?

Danielle: There is an inquiry, application, training, and licensing process.

MS: What qualities are important for a foster parent?

Danielle: DCF is looking for people with good communication and problem solving skills. It is important to have the ability to express and understand feelings your own and those of your children. Having a good sense of humor and being flexible are great qualities when dealing with the unpredictable nature of fostering.

MS: Can single parents foster kids?

Danielle: Yes.

MS: What reasons do most parents give for choosing to foster?  

Danielle: Most say that they want to give back.

MS: What are the most common issues parents face when fostering?

Danielle: The first concern that people come to me with is getting too attached to the child and having their children be too attached to the child. People also worry about having negative influences coming to the household.

MS: How often does fostering lead to adoption? Are some kids only foster?

Danielle: Regionally this can be very different. When out of home placements occur, DCF works with families toward reunification. When this is not an option, adoption with kin is explored. If kin is not available adoption outside the family may occur.

MS: What do you wish people knew before they started the process?

Danielle: Our kids are very resilient and there are “happy endings.” Children in foster care need what every other kid needs to thrive, stability and nurturing and respect/acceptance for who they are and where they came from.

MS: What resources are available to foster families?

Danielle:  Foster parents will have a family resource social worker and the children placed in their care will also have a social worker. Additionally there are many ongoing trainings as well as foster parent support groups available.

As for financial support, foster parents receive a stipend for daily expenses, and a quarterly clothing allowance as well as insurance coverage for medical, dental and therapeutic needs. The stipend does not count as income so it doesn’t affect tax status. In Massachusetts, the stipend is around $22 to $26 per day per child depending on the age of the child. .

MS: How is the relationship with birth parents managed?

Danielle: Foster parent involvement with the child’s family is determined on an individual basis by the case manager.

MS: What should foster parents do when it’s not working out?

Danielle: Turn to DCF staff and professional collaterals for help.

MS: What is the most common question you get?

Danielle: People ask, “What if I get too attached?” My answer is: “We want you to get attached. How could you help a child thrive if you didn’t get attached?” So, yes, you are going to get attached but for most people knowing they helped a child by providing a sense of safety and stability helps them get through the sadness when they leave your home.  

For more information on fostering and state-specific requirements, check out these sites:

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Foster Care Bill of Rights

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Why We’re Striking on March 8

This Wednesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. As a show of solidarity for women’s rights and the rights of all gender-oppressed people, MotherShould? is joining the general strike. The right to choose whether or not to have children and to get the appropriate care that supports that choice is all-too-often unavailable to women around the world. This is just one reason MotherShould? is going dark on Wednesday.

We editors won’t be idle, however. At the university where we both teach, we’ll be wearing red and discussing Asao Inoue’s Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies, leading a Write-In to encourage students to write postcards to their elected officials, participating in a suicide prevention workshop, and limiting our shopping to women and minority-owned businesses.

We recognize that we are privileged to be able to strike and to have the opportunity to learn and teach about topics that feed our passion for social justice. We will not lose our jobs because we are striking. We won’t put our families at risk. We hope that you will participate in any way that keeps you safe: wearing red, refusing to work, writing letters and making phone calls.

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Should I? I Could I?

Still in pain and bleeding from a traumatic miscarriage, still trying to understand what had happened, I had the overwhelming need to be a mother, to be pregnant. Something I’d never felt before. I put it down to hormones but the feeling, the need, lasted for months. My life revolved around it.

From the age of fourteen, I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and joint problems. My whole life has been ruled by them, although at the time, I wasn’t fully aware of it. Growing up, when my parents took my brother and I out to the cinema or on holiday, I would always be ill in someway. A strange fear of crowds meant that at secondary school I did my best to escape assemblies. I never wanted to go out anywhere and when I did I was constantly nervous to the point where I thought I was going to be sick. As I got older, my life became restricted compared to that of my friends. I rarely went out, even with my closest friends and I never went to night clubs. Going out on my own didn’t seem to be an option, my head constantly filled with a stream of what seemed like a million “what ifs” and going to university certainly wasn’t. My mood seemed to get lower with every year that passed. I wasn’t happy and there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it.

My body contributed towards my depression; finding that my knees were usually painful and more often than not swollen. I dreaded P.E lessons at school, I could never keep up with everyone else and I would easily injure myself. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties I was diagnosed with hypermobility, a condition that affects the joints. By this time I was fairly certain that having children wasn’t going to be the right thing for me. How could I bring a child into the world and have it end up like me? In pain, depressed and too afraid to do anything or go anywhere. I couldn’t bring that sort of thing on someone.

By my mid  twenties, my viewpoint changed. Motherhood wasn’t something I was set against but nor was it something I was desperate for. I felt I would be happy whether I became a mother or not. I had also realised that if were to become a mother, I would be able to see any signs or symptoms if my child had any problems. However, I was certain that I did not want to actively try for a baby. If it happened, it happened, if it didn’t, it didn’t.

At twenty-nine, I met my husband. Early in the relationship we discussed our thoughts on having children, something he wanted. He respected my thoughts on not wanting to try to conceive, understanding the effect that stress had on my health and he was happy, when the time was right, just see if it happened for us. Within a year of meeting we were engaged, eight months later married and five months after that we were surprised to discover I was pregnant. I can safely say that I was happy but also terrified. Flooded with anxiety over the fact that I was now responsible for a life, I looked at changing my lifestyle. Fortunately, all I needed to do was to improve my diet slightly. I rarely drank alcohol, have never smoked and exercised regularly.

The pregnancy lasted eight weeks. I wasn’t going to be a mother. What was going to be my first born was ripped from me. The heartbreak and grief was on a level that I had never experienced before. My depression returned as I simply did not know how to deal with the emotions the miscarriage had created, my anxiety and panic attacks intensified. Feeling empty and lost, I became convinced that the only way to fill the void generated from my loss was to become pregnant, to be a mother. Not only had I been deprived of my baby, the miscarriage had changed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It defined me as a woman who, now, desperately wanted motherhood.

After a few months, my husband and I decided to actually try to conceive. Trying to get pregnant was something I never wanted to do but was now something I had to do as all I wanted was to be pregnant again. Becoming obsessed, I charted my basal body temperature in a bid to help determine when I was ovulating alongside using ovulation tests. Each and every month, my body convinced me that I was pregnant. Following what my body was telling me, I was filled with hope only to be in floods of tears at the end of every cycle. Being ruled by intense desire to become pregnant, I didn’t know who I was anymore.

It took almost a year until I fell pregnant for the second time. It lasted six weeks. Still grieving for my first loss, I was devastated that it had happened again.

After my first miscarriage, all I wanted, needed, was to become a mother, for that life inside of me to thrive, make it to full term and to hold my son or daughter in my arms. But since my second miscarriage, I have no idea what I want. I’m lost. I’ve been told that if I want children bad enough, I will keep on trying for however long it takes. I think, like many things, that’s easier said than done. If I had grown up knowing I wanted children, it would be more straightforward. But I didn’t. I’m convinced, even though there’s no reason to be, that any other pregnancy I have, is going to end the same. So what’s the point of trying? Although, the next time I fall pregnant, it could be the one. I need to decide what I want but I have no idea what I want anymore. The intense need to be pregnant, to be a mother isn’t there anymore even though that void is still there only bigger, deeper. I need to decide what I want but I don’t want to make that decision, I’d rather it was taken out my hands but it can’t be. I’m too scared, too anxious and I’m not sure I can cope with going through another miscarriage. It makes me wonder if I do want to be a mother, is it something I can actually handle? Am I strong enough?

A Yorkshire lass born and bred, Kady Jo now lives in Somerset with her husband and their small menagerie. If she isn’t writing, Kady can usually be found with one of three musical instruments in her hands, or a book. Visit her website, Dive in My Dreams.

Mourning a Miscarriage After an Unwanted Pregnancy

There was something about my period that wasn’t right. Having an IUD, it was usually much lighter than this. My womb felt emptier than usual. It didn’t take long to realize what was happening. After a few moments of denial, I finally allowed myself to accept that I was having a miscarriage.

I was in my senior year of college, two weeks away from my 22nd birthday, and I was alone. Having suffered from depression since childhood, I struggled with what was happening. I was glad to not be pregnant, but realizing what I had lost hurt. I cried for my unborn child. I wasn’t certain if I ever wanted a child, and I certainly didn’t want one my senior year , but I still grieved for this unborn child.

Something in me decided it was a boy, and I was sorry for the life he would never live. I told him it was probably best, as I wouldn’t be able to provide a good life for a child. I was young, still in school, and only working seasonally. Even if I had given him up for adoption, I worried that he have a poor quality of life: I had read that the mother’s emotions during pregnancy have an affect on the child’s personality, and I probably would have spent those 9 months feeling extremely depressed. That coupled with the high chance he would inherit my depression made me fear he would feel miserable for much of his life.

I skipped the rest of my classes that day, barely able to leave my bed, arguing with myself that I shouldn’t be so distraught about this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted children. But there was something in that emptiness that made me yearn to be a mother.

When I told my boyfriend what had happened, he apologized for my having to go through the miscarriage, but also pointed out that it didn’t feel like a loss of a child. He reminded me of his mother who, before he was born, had a miscarriage. His parents had been trying for a child, but never considered themselves parents to that child.

“My mom has always seen herself as a mother of two, not three,” he said.

We were sitting in his parked car in the driveway of his parents’ house, silent for a moment. I wondered if his mother had felt the way I was feeling now. She had wanted the child, so she must have mourned it. The miscarriage was still fresh in my mind, but his mother’s miscarriage had happened over 25 years prior and before he was born.

He stepped out of the car and I waited for a moment, wondering if it was worth pointing out that my experience of loss was still valid.

I felt petty for being as upset as I was, seeing as we didn’t want the child anyway. I thought of the women who are struggling to get pregnant and resented myself for having, if only for a moment, been pregnant despite using the most effective birth control available.

Still, I resolved that this was more my miscarriage than it was ours. He didn’t experience it or have the same attachment to our would-be child. The child hadn’t been within him.

Now, it all seems like a strange dream I had a long time ago. Though it feels as if it’s part of the distant past, I try not to completely detach from it. It was an important moment in time that taught me a lot about myself. I realized I’d be okay with having an abortion because it’d be best for all involved. I was also able to give motherhood more contemplation.

I don’t know if my yearning to be a mother was a feeling I could trust or if it was actually a case of me wanting something I couldn’t have. The yearning was strong but, I’m still not sure if I want to ever be a parent but, for a moment, I was one. I loved my child, I mourned my child, but I knew this was better for him. If I ever have a child, it will be when I can give them the happy life they deserve.

Emily Demone is the pseudonym of a New England based writer and, like so many in her peer group, social media manager. She loves nature and the outdoors, but prefers watching it through a window as she cuddles on the couch with her four dogs. She tries her best to navigate the chaos that is being a 20-something in the early 21st-century and wants to let everything happen as it may, but spends most of her time trying to guess what the future has in store.

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Queer, Disabled, and Childfree

In Portland in 1998 I felt my back clench and ache. I couldn’t focus on the words in my art history book. Phrases kept racing through my head with that same image of bulging. Expanding. Blowing up. I took a pregnancy test the day before and found out I was pregnant.

That same day, there was a series of urgent raps on the door. I scrambled to pull it open. My boyfriend Kelvin leaned in. His eyes on the floor. He stepped inside.

I reached for him. Pressed my face to his shoulder, shaking.

He grabbed me around the waist. Held me. Not speaking. I couldn’t either. I could feel objections. Frustration. Panic. I couldn’t articulate them. I just wanted to fall into his body and close my eyes.

“This is such a cliché, I know,” Kelvin said. “But I can’t help feeling like I’m ruining your life.”

“No, I don’t care.” I said. “I have no maternal instinct, I never have. I have no will to nurture. I want the thing to fucking die and leave me alone.

At the age of 22 I got an abortion so that I could finish my thesis and graduate. My ambition outstripped my maternal instinct as became usual. Kelvin broke up with me immediately afterwards, not unexpectedly.

At the age of 40, I still do not want children but it’s even more complicated than it was in college. As a queer widow disabled by several chronic mental illnesses and forced to survive on the charity of SSDI and my parents, child-rearing is not a responsible choice. I may not have passed completely out of the window of fertility, yet I am eager for menopause to seal the deal.

My Schizoaffective Disorder, a rare co-occurring blend of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia matched with PTSD and anxiety is genetically inherited. I am on Disability. I cannot work ever again. Schizoaffective Disorder has a very high probability of being genetically passed on to any child I would have.

I do not want to bring another person into this world who would suffer as I have suffered. I have struggled with addiction, alcoholism, poverty, and mental illness. I feel like consigning my spawn to a life of homelessness on inadequate government benefits because I couldn’t be bothered to handle my birth control would be terminally irresponsible. I have a gynecologist in my phone who would perform the abortion if my IUD ever did fail. I am protecting my imaginary future child from a cruel world. I am protecting society from my child. I am trying to make responsible choices.

Like any story, there are a few ways to frame my story. Given my circumstances I believe I am making a responsible choice but maybe I’ve just chosen not to have kids because I don’t really like children unless I’m related to them. Their messiness, screams, crying and unpredictability irritate me. I prefer to see children from the safe distance of Facebook. Far away and quiet.

Others will tell my story, my choice to end a pregnancy, as a story of selfishness. I have been vilified on Twitter for being willing to use the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion. I am aware that some in the comments section may criticize my way of thinking. But do you want your tax dollars taking care of my spawn? On seeing an online photograph of a 1948 mother put her children up for sale, I shuddered in recognition. Children are very expensive, and I can’t earn my own money. The reality of my mental illness is cruel, no matter what pretty illusions I like to tell myself about being an artist.

The other way to tell my story is that I simply could not have children. With the limitations of my mental illness there are only so many things I can achieve. As a disabled woman I have fewer spoons, to quote spoon theory. A spoon is a unit of time and energy that it takes to do something. Disabled people have fewer spoons then non disabled people. So I put my spoons towards writing and art and cut out everything else that befits a normal life in order to have the bohemian life that I want.

There was a time, though, that I let the thought of motherhood enter my mind. I married a wonderful woman in 2011. We happily lived together for three years before tying the knot slightly before it was even legal. Prop 8 brides. Lesbian homesteading in Echo Park. We contemplated children but as two vain gamines, neither of us actually wanted to get pregnant. With me on SSDI and her working at a bookstore, we couldn’t really afford it either.

Watching San Francisco queer punk writer Michelle Tea’s struggle with artificial insemination online I wondered what lesbian parenting would be like. Our cat wore a pink sweater that read, “I have two mommies.” Yet conceiving is more difficult than kitten adoption. I see Instagram images now of an old girlfriend who just had a baby with her partner. Their family is adorable. I see that it is possible. I missed my chance.

My wife committed suicide in 2012. When she died I gave up on marriage. I will never marry again. I will never have children. I have a Paraguard IUD that will last until menopause. I will never have a traditional normal life, yet I am rapturously happy doing what I love all of the time.

I see my story as a story of acceptance. I sit alone in my Hollywood apartment with my cat typing into the void of the Internet. I am content to die this way in 40-50 years having done more of the same.

I accept my limitations. I hope to have a happier more fulfilling life as a result of this acceptance. As I learned in AA, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I accept my childfree life. I am learning to flourish within it.

Andrea Lambert wrote Jet Set Desolate, Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin and the chapbook G(u)ilt. Her work appears in 3:AM Magazine, The Fanzine, Entropy, Queer Mental Health, HTMLGiant, Five:2:One Magazine and ENCLAVE. Anthologies: Haunting Muses, Writing  the Walls Down, Off the Rocks Volume #16, and The L.A. Telephone Book Vol. 1, 2011-2012. Her website is andreaklambert.com.

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We Won’t Be Erased

Part of MotherShould?’s project is to value the many paths women can now take thanks to:

  • scientific advances in fertility treatments and birth control,
  • laws that protect women’s right to abortion and that allow gay couples to marry and adopt,
  • progressive social mores that make women comfortable choosing to be single moms or choosing not to have children at all, and
  • improved support structures for women dealing with disability and mental health concerns.

Our website includes diverse stories: an Indian woman who with her mom’s blessing defies cultural expectation and chooses not to have children; a lesbian couple who uses a donor to conceive and gives birth to a son with autism and bi-polar disorder; a single mom who fosters three children and manages to adopt two of them; a woman who froze her eggs and became a single mom by choice at 42 years old; a woman who chose to have an abortion and is certain she made the right choice. These stories are beautiful because they are real and complicated and also because they reflect progress. These stories show women choosing the lives they want to live in ways that they could not have 50 years ago.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency demonstrates that a large part of the population would like to erase these stories and revert back to a single narrative: the heterosexual family with the woman at home taking care of the kids. In various radio interviews Trump paints a picture of his “family values.” In 2005 Trump explains to Howard Stern his approach to fathering: “I mean, I won’t do anything to take care of them. I’ll supply funds and she’ll [Melania] take care of the kids.” On the Opie and Anthony show in 2005 Trump reinforces outdated gender roles in the home when asked if he changes diapers: “There’s a lot of women out there that demand that the husband act like the wife, and you know, there’s a lot of husbands that listen to that.” Essentially, Trump managed to create a pre-feminist era world in his private life.

But, he needed to reach out to female voters after saying that he could grab their pussies without repercussion, so the Trump campaign made a stab at feminism with an advertisement featuring Ivanka, the daughter Donald would date. The first line of the ad has Ivanka declaring,”The most important job any woman can have is being a mother…” So, it’s okay for women to work, as long as they remember that their number one priority is motherhood? Also, women must be moms?

Trump’s election feels like a reprimand to us as women–“know your place,” but the most troubling aspect of this reprimand is that it didn’t just come from white men intent on maintaining their freedom and shoring up their power. The majority of white women (53%) voted for Donald Trump.

It is hard for us to believe that women could vote for Trump after we all heard him with our own ears brag about grabbing women’s pussies. We heard him bully and insult women calling them horse face, fat, ugly… read more here if you want to be further incensed. Not to mention, the small detail of at least 17 women who alleged he assaulted them! Yet, 42% of all women and 53% white women voted for Trump. Our immediate instinct has been to shut out the women we know who voted for Trump, to dismiss them, but where will that get us?

If we want to protect the progress that we’ve made and if we want women to be able to continue to write their own stories when it comes to motherhood, then progressive white women are going to need to understand and connect with white women who voted for Trump. As writers and editors, we believe an important way to achieve this is by sharing stories.

Donald Trump has not assumed the presidency yet so it’s difficult to know how the next four years will affect each of us. Nonetheless, his victory has already begun to change people’s behavior; are you one of those people? We are wondering if Trump’s election has impacted your choice to/not to have children? We want to share your stories of how a Trump presidency could affect your choices: choosing not to have kids, choosing to have an abortion, choosing to use birth control. We want to listen and hear you as you tell your stories about being a person of color, a single mom, an LGBTQ+ individual, a person with disability or mental health concerns, a person who may be affected by the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and/or an immigrant as you consider how a Trump presidency affects your thinking about having kids. Are you a woman who voted for Trump? Your story about choosing or not choosing motherhood–or about having the choice taken away–matters to us, too. Contact us; even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a writer, your story matters, and we’ll work with you to get it heard.

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If You Knew You’d Get Divorced, Would You Still Have Kids?

If you’d asked me twenty years ago, whether or not I’d have children, the answer would have been an emphatic of course! From as far back as I can remember, I knew that I wanted to have children. Not just one or two, either– I wanted eight of them, preferably all boys. I inherited my love of children from my mom, who never missed an opportunity to hold a baby, squeeze those little sausage legs, or play peek-a-boo while waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store. She was one of 18 children, from a big Italian family, and I always knew I wanted a big family of my own one day.

To say that I love children is like saying fish love the ocean. As a teen, I spent most of my spare time helping out on the play-yard with the kindergarteners, volunteering at the Y teaching children with special needs how to swim, babysitting on weekends (often without pay), and working as a camp counselor. In college, I taught preschool and babysat on weekends. After finishing my BA, I went to grad school to study child development, got my teaching credential, then taught Kindergarten for two years. Children were a part of every facet of my life.

When I was almost thirty, my husband and I decided to have children. We’d been married for three years. We came to this decision with much intention, partly because he was a programmer, and always considered all the consequences before he entered into anything. Some of the factors we considered were: whether we were financially stable, what we could offer children, whether we could afford to have me stay home until they were in Kindergarten. As much as I thought we were making a well-informed decision, I realize now that we hadn’t considered what should have been the most obvious question: would we still want to have children if we had to go it alone?

We are conditioned from early childhood to imagine the perfect family scenario– mom, dad, 2.2 kids, a dog, a white-picket fence. My version of this was that I’d be a stay-at-home mom , my husband would be involved and attentive to our family, and we’d have my doting Italian mother (Nonna to my kids) only two miles away. I’d had fantasies about pregnancy, too– that glow, that gorgeous round belly, people helping with my groceries. It wasn’t long, though, before reality caught up to fantasy in a dark alley and gave it the good beating it deserved.

The disillusionment began somewhere around the sixth week of pregnancy. I came to understand the misnomer of morning sickness, which was not relegated merely to mornings. No– it lasted all day, every day; and whereas for most people, morning sickness subsided after the first trimester, for me lasted five long months. I managed to gain 60 lbs with my first pregnancy and 58 lbs with the next. And that pregnant glow? Ha! What I experienced was more a putrid shade of green. Looking back, I suppose this was the first indication that perhaps having children was not going to be what I had imagined. But I got through the pregnancy, and after nine months of feeling like a bloated cow, I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl.

Those first few days were as magical as everyone says; all I wanted to do was gaze into my baby’s eyes and hold her close. Then a couple of weeks in, those magical days were replaced by anxious nights, filled with completely irrational thoughts. I was convinced that my precious daughter would get into drugs or have unprotected sex. Even after those initial anxieties subsided, I could never have anticipated all the worries that would accompany having children. In the rolodex of my mind, I filled card after card with every new worry inherent to parenting. But, despite the worries, I enjoyed being a mom. For me, the benefits far outweighed the costs.

I was fortunate enough to have been able to stay home until my daughters were six and four. I’d planned to stay home until they were both in school, but as it turned out, my husband was not happy being married. I think marriage and parenting took a tremendous toll on him. In February of 2006, when divorce was imminent, I took a job as a preschool director in a small school that offered a lot of flexibility. By December, the girls and I found ourselves in our new house without their father, a maze of boxes looming in the living room. Over time, and with my mom’s help, we settled into our new life.

My mom, who lived only two miles away, was a tremendous help. She watched the girls if I needed to run to the store or if I had a meeting. She’d make sure my freezer was stocked with minestrone and sauce. In many ways, having my mom was better than having a husband; she was more helpful and I never felt I had to walk on eggshells with her. But less than two years into my divorce, we learned that my mom had Stage IV colon cancer. The oncologist gave her 6-12 months. The surgeons performed an aggressive resection of her colon and liver. She came to stay with me for a few months while she recovered. The surgeon felt confident that he’d gotten all the cancer, and for a couple of years, it looked as if she might defy the odds. Then, after almost two years of being cancer free, she got the news that her cancer had come back. It was, hands down, the hardest time in my life. On top of being a single mom, I took on the job of being her caretaker. She stayed with us while she recovered from an aggressive surgery, and again at the end when she was housebound and on a morphine drip. I wouldn’t have traded that time with her, but it added another element of challenge to parenting. Somehow, though, I made it through.

If you asked me today if I had to do it all again, would I have kids, there would be no definitive response, rather a long, uncomfortable pause followed by an incredibly uncertain I’m not sure. I have to stop here and qualify this by saying that I have two of the best kids I’ve ever known. If they were not my own kids and I met them at a gathering, I’d be instantly drawn to each of them, and would seek them out as friends. But, here’s the thing– if I had to do it again, what I would change is the mindset I had going into having children. I genuinely thought I was making an informed decision, but the questions I considered barely scratched the surface. I couldn’t possibly have planned for the curveballs that life throws, nor could I have fully appreciated the fact that mothering is relentless. Sleep is scarce, and not just in the early years. As I write, it’s 3:30am. My 14-year-old daughter woke me because she has a fever. Even when I feel I have nothing left to give, somehow I find a way to give some more. And I don’t begrudge doing any of it for my children.

No doubt, I was naive in imagining a perfect little family. In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined what it would mean to put my own life and creative pursuits on hold for a good ten to twelve years, let alone to do so selflessly, without harboring resentment. When my husband and I thought about having children, despite the fact that we were well aware that roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce, we didn’t consider the real possibility that we might end up divorced, and we most certainly didn’t consider the scenario of parenting without a partner. This was an oversight with consequential repercussions, for us as parents, as well as for our children. Even with the most thoughtful consideration and planning, there are always unforeseen circumstances. I know this to be true with just about everything in life. So why did I think parenting would be any different? I guess it goes back to the house, the white picket fence, the American dream, that mythical perfect family. I wanted it so badly. I tried so hard to create it, to shield my children from every pain and hardship. It took a long while for me to realize that the pain and hardship are essential to developing compassion.

I guess if I could impart a bit of advice to someone on the fence about having children, it would be to ask yourself, in complete honesty: Are you willing and able to parent your children alone, and still live a happy and fulfilled life? The answer does not have to be yes.

dimartino-headshotAnna DiMartino is a writer, artist, teacher, and mother. Her writing has appeared in Whale Road Review, Silver Birch Press: Learning to Ride, Atlanta Review (Spring, 2016), The Cancer Poetry Project 2A Year in Ink, Volume 6 (San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology); Serving House Journal: Issues 8, 10 and 12, Steve Kowit: This Unspeakably Marvelous Life, and is forthcoming in Lake Effect. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University and leads a read and critique group for Writer’s Ink. Visit her website at www.annaodimartino.com.

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