I have been working on a post for some time about reproductive choice. That phrase is usually code for contraception and/or abortion, but it goes far beyond that, really: the rhetoric of “choice” gives us the illusion that we have choices, plural. And choices imply control. And control implies responsibility, and/or blame for the outcome.
On Mother’s Day, my local newspaper saw fit to run this article on the front page. It was a series of interviews of former teen moms, all now in their late 20s and early 30s, all of whom were being held up as cautionary tales. The moms in the article themselves were quoted as urging girls to delay pregnancy and motherhood. Don’t get pregnant too early, girls! That would be the wrong choice.
But how aware is each of us of the time that is now racing by? In our 30s, wondering how many more chances we have, wondering what would have happened if only we hadn’t waited so long. Waiting too long–also clearly the wrong choice, and one for which the popular media would like us to feel some guilt.
Some of us choose motherhood, and choose it, and choose it, and choose it, and that doesn’t make it happen any faster. That’s because choice is not actually the same as control. We get to make choices, sure, but we don’t get to choose the outcome.
I wish that we as a society could be more welcoming to the many different choices that women make, and also open to the fact that not every choice is possible, and not every outcome is what that woman would have chosen. A society that could accept not only the many, many outcomes that are possible when creating a family, but also the fact that many times we are just playing the cards we are dealt. Let’s embrace everyone:
- Very young mothers, whether their pregnancies were planned or unplanned.
- Older mothers and mothers-to-be, regardless of the reasons why they waited (hint: not everyone chose the waiting).
- Single mothers, regardless of whether or not they chose their single status.
- Partnered mothers, regardless of who their partner is (hint: the plumbing doesn’t matter).
- Childfree women, regardless of whether they are “childfree by choice” or devastated that their choice didn’t work out (hint: it doesn’t matter what measures, if any, they took to have children or to prevent having children).
- Infertile women, choosing motherhood and choosing it and choosing it again, regardless of their age, their preferred treatment, and their outcome.
- Women who haven’t made a choice yet, or have made a choice and then changed it for another one, or who regret the choices they made.
- Women whose choices didn’t work out, regardless of what those choices were.
What if we (and by “we” I mean society) could really accept all of that? All of those different choices, all of those different lives, all of those different families, without judgment, or second-guessing, or shaming.
That is what real reproductive choice would look like.