On Mothers’ Day: The lost mothers

This post, one of my occasional forays into the political, is prompted by a Mothers’ Day blogswarm in protest of maternal deaths – a protest in protest of an anti-abortion protest (got all that?) held in Knoxville, TN on May 10.

The Knoxville event was planned as a “funeral procession to mourn aborted fetuses.” In response, the ArchCrone and ShortWoman launched their own blog initiative to mourn and honor mothers who have lost their own lives due to lack of adequate, affordable health care, including access to effective birth control and, in its absence or failure, safe and legal abortion services that left them no option but to continue an unintended, possibly dangerous pregnancy.

It’s one of the things that puzzles me about the “pro-life” movement. Sometimes it seems that its members are more supportive of life that hasn’t actually been lived yet. The movement’s emphasis is on the unborn, and its interest doesn’t seem to extend to what sort of lives they will eventually arrive into. The fact is that, like it or not, there are far too many instances where they’ll arrive into situations that are unhealthy and dangerous for both baby and mother; where they won’t be cared for properly; where the women – or girls – who bore them are ill-equipped, unprepared, or uninterested in parenting. And in the worst cases, they’ll arrive and not find a parent at all, due to a pregnancy that never received proper care or otherwise endangered the life of the mother by being carried to term.

In so many ways, women not surviving pregnancy and childbirth is an old, old story. What makes it a particularly ugly story is that it’s still being told, here in 21st-century America. It was told in my own family, in 1936.

When my maternal grandmother was pregnant with my mother, she developed preeclampsia; she was told that she was at high risk for toxemia, and that another pregnancy would be dangerous. In March of 1930, she delivered a baby girl, born with a vision defect but otherwise healthy. But if the doctors were right, she’d be an only child.

The Catholic Church’s attitudes toward birth control haven’t changed much since 1930, but if pregnancy was potentially life-threatening for my grandmother, my grandparents had to practice it regardless. But they were also practicing Catholics, particularly my grandfather, which in those days meant making Confession regularly. Preventing procreation was a sin, and needed to be confessed – and eventually, a priest called him on it. Making sure that my grandmother stayed alive to raise the child she already had apparently was less important on the big, eternal scale than being fruitful and multiplying; and so, in fear for their souls, they left things open for nature to take its course. And it did. In 1936, my grandmother died giving birth to twin boys, who also did not survive, and left her six-year-old daughter.

There’s a book called Motherless Daughters that I read shortly after my mother passed away, and it was helpful to me, but not for the reasons I expected; it was helpful because of the insights it gave me about my mom, a motherless daughter for most of her life. And the reasons that she grew up motherless shouldn’t be factors today – but they are. As much as there are women who dearly want children and can’t have them, there are others who, for all sorts of reasons – physical, economic, emotional – should not have them, and should not be forced into situations where they must have them. I’m not sure I’ll ever really understand what’s “pro-life” about that.

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  1. Literary Feline – Thanks for the positive feedback, Wendy. This one was a challenge.

    ArchCrone – Thanks to you and ShortWoman for calling attention to this issue.