Issue 18 / Summer 2019 / Abortion Ban Protest Special Issue
The night I went into labor, a week early, I drove myself to the hospital, down streets devoid of people, thinking it was a false alarm. My son arrived with two whorls of hair atop his head, like twin eyes of colliding storms. His pediatrician was from the Philippines. “In my country,” she said, her dark eyes twinkling, “a double crown means they’re going to be a handful.”
I looked down at my newborn, then back up at footage of submerged Canal Street. Hurricane Katrina had hit the week before. Tucked into a hospital bed, some 800 miles away, I watched a ravaged city wade through the aftermath. Three years later, as Hurricane Ike became a Category 4, a second son with two whorls of hair was born. Neither boy turned out to be a handful. It’s motherhood that’s the storm.
People wonder why anyone living in the path of a large storm would chose to stay. We forget that some folks can’t afford to leave, or have nowhere else to go, but what if the option to even consider it was removed entirely? The recent flood of anti-choice legislation in states such as Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri aims to remove the freedom to decide whether to stand in the path of the biggest physical, mental, emotional, and financial storm a person could face (a risk no less diminished if adoption is chosen instead). Even the most prepared among us rarely manage to ride out a hurricane unscathed. Motherhood is no different. I became a mother at 27. I knew I would keep both my children, but I also ended up raising them alone. Their father was verbally and emotionally abusive, with the latent capacity to bash a person’s face into furniture, which the woman after me discovered. He had no qualms about pulling our eldest into arguments, yanking him from my arms like a rag doll. His lack of respect for boundaries extended to our physical relationship as well. What if I hadn’t been able to limit the number of children I brought into that situation?
The inability to decide on the size of your family interferes with the capacity to financially support them. Aside from the lack of paid family leave, it’s hard to find employers willing to accommodate the demands of motherhood: the doctor’s appointments, the days your kids are too sick to go to school but too young to be home alone, or the days where school is cancelled, due to snow, but you’re still expected to show up at work. I learned this lesson the hard way. Two weeks to the day after announcing I was pregnant with my second, I got laid off. The company claimed it was downsizing, but I already knew that my boss, a confirmed bachelor with no offspring, had little patience for the absences incurred from just one kid. Two was more than he could tolerate. “Take care,” he said, pulling the door closed behind him after ushering me outside. Due to a recession and several extensions, the unemployment benefits lasted a while. Otherwise our livelihood would have depended on a man who ultimately opted not to pay court-ordered child support.
I never had daughters and frankly, I have mixed feelings of relief that I did not. I will never have to explain to a girl that even before she becomes a mother she will potentially be viewed as nothing more than a walking uterus, with her ability to decide what to do with that uterus constantly up for debate. I will never have to explain that she will be judged for having sex, even the protected variety, and for choosing to terminate if said protection fails, and then again, if she doesn’t abort, for when and how many she chooses to mother, for how they come into this world, and yet again for her style of mothering, whether it’s free-range or homeschooling or formula feeding or with a same-sex partner. I will never have to caution her about breastfeeding in public, to expect glares for doing the most natural thing possible, to be asked to relocate to the bathroom so that others will feel more comfortable. I will never have to warn her that she will be criticized for how she looks before she’s a mother and then again for her ability to hang on to her looks once she joins the ranks, that everybody seems to love a pregnant woman who’s eating for two, but few know what to do for a woman with postpartum depression and a body she doesn’t recognize anymore, because we are expected to be happy and healthy and merge into motherhood with our figures and spirits intact. I will never have to explain that just because we have the capacity to have babies, women are expected to automatically be good at it, that it is incomprehensible to some that we might not want to mother anyone in the first place, or discover it was harder than expected, and I will never have to hope that she doesn’t find herself mothering alone, because somebody, somewhere, will see it as her fault, no matter how gratifying the experience can potentially be. I just long, in general, for a society that doesn’t make motherhood – hell, being female – such a tightrope. It’s a balancing act I wouldn’t want to bestow on anyone else, especially my own flesh and blood.
I wish I felt more positive about the world our children, girls in particular, are inheriting. The declining birth rate suggests I’m not alone in this headspace. I dream of a perfect world, though, some alternate universe where the planet is thriving, family life is supported with policies that make parenthood more manageable, and women aren’t in danger of being reduced to broodmare status. A world where a daughter is born with two whorls of hair atop her head, just like her brothers, and she is her own perfect storm.
S. Jordan lives and works below the Mason-Dixon Line. This is her first published essay.