Resources and reporting for mothers and others who think about social change.
get active
about mmo
mmo blog
mmo Commentary
Reproductive rights, quality of life, and economics

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 about the right of life to exist.

By Neesha D. Meminger

The birth 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 the baby.

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 controls.

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 their circumstances.

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 connected immediately.

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 in abortions.

“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.

mmo : February 2005

Neesha D.Meminger is a Certified Holistic Health Practitioner, Nutritional Counselor, and Life Coach who specializes in Women’s Nutrition and Post-Partum Health. She runs her practice, See It Be It Coaching in New York City. She can be reached at Neesha@seeitbeit.com.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the MMO or its staff.
Reuse of content for publication or compensation by permission only.
© 2003-2008 The Mothers Movement Online.


The Mothers Movement Online