For the mamas who don’t get love on Mother’s Day

Finally, a mother's day card that reflects your family, www.mamasday.orgEd. note: This is a guest post by Rebecca Trotzky-Sirr. It is part of the Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blogStrong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families. Rebecca’s bio is after the jump.

“No one threw me a baby shower. No one said congratulations. My pregnancy was not celebrated. My child’s birth was seen as a failure,” Jayme, a strong teenage mother, shared with me during a checkup for her healthy young baby. I sympathized with her as a family doctor and as a young mother myself. What do you do when you don’t get any Mothers’ Day adoration? In spite of decades of work for girls’ and women’s health justice, a surprisingly narrow band of acceptance surrounds mothers. Jayme was too young, too single, and too poor to receive the embrace of her community.

That same day, a friend I studied with during my medical training, gladly gossiped with me about how welcomed she felt in the world of mothers at the park, in the farmers markets, and the prenatal yoga centers. I asked her if she realized her privilege, her skin color, the ring on her finger, the zip code on her driver’s license, and the brand-name maternity wear that opened doors for her during her pregnancy and mothering. She paused. I backtracked, awkwardly offering congratulations. “You and your baby deserve to be welcomed, celebrated, and supported,” I cheered. Without saying it, I thought, and so do Jayme and her baby.

In college, as one of the few student moms in the ivory tower, I was the confidant of pregnant and parenting women. Like Jayme, I had my kid too young. My pregnant belly didn’t fit in the narrow desks provided in our college lectures. I succeeded because I received support, not judgment, from family and friends. Structural supports like Pell grants and needs-based assistance for college students allowed me to step ahead. Still more, I succeeded when others dropped out, because of a lot of social advantages that had nothing to do with my merit. My citizenship, skin color, health, luck of geography, and class meant that I could attend school in districts where I could learn, someone believed in me, and I believed in myself. My kid’s dad worked and provided child support even though we weren’t together. Though I have a B.A. and an M.Eng from Stanford University, I earned a far more comprehensive education, including a deeper understanding of empathy, from welfare and government offices.

I ignored well-intentioned advice to drop out of college and enroll in a technical program where it was thought young mothers could more easily succeed. A counselor asked, “Have you considered beauty school?” I’ve had two professional haircuts in the past two decades and last wore make-up for Halloween face paint. Any social worker or career counselor, if they had the case load to allow them to open their eyes, would see that beauty school was the last place I should go. But, as a young single mom who received food stamps and Medicaid, I was the target of a lot of bad advice and judgment. 

Medicine and mothering intertwine in my life. My kid entered kindergarten the same week I started medical school. As a mom and a doctor, I am thrilled that I am able to work toward a world where all women and kids are supported and celebrated. Motherhood should be a fair choice, not a forced choice.

Today, I am a family physician who believes in providing comprehensive health care. All women deserve access to comprehensive sex education. We deserve to be in healthy, positive relationships and to decide when and with whom we want to have sex. We should have affordable contraception and quality health care. We should be able to choose to continue a pregnancy without judgment or shame, regardless of our backgrounds. Had I found myself pregnant under a different set of circumstances, I shouldn’t have had to choose differently. Regardless of whether my wallet carried a health insurance card, credit cards, or a driver’s license, women deserve to choose to be, or not to be, mothers.

I believe that my adolescent patients have the resiliency to build strong positive relationships. And yes, these relationships involve sex. So my job involves providing solid and accurate information about sex. As much as I wish this were the norm among my health provider colleagues, I know that’s not always the case. Too many of us believe the myth that teens can’t use highly effective forms of contraception, like IUDs. Too few of us provide options to women who find themselves pregnant when they don’t want to be. Too many of us don’t support teen parents. But when a pregnant teenager enters my office and declares she is ready to be a mother, I believe her. I support her. I know she has the inherent capacity to succeed, because I was once just like her.

That’s why on Sunday I celebrate all mothers. So Happy Mama’s Day from a mom who knows what it’s like not to hear congratulations while pregnant. And Happy Mama’s Day from a family doctor who believes that every woman and every pregnancy deserves to be celebrated.

Rebecca Trotzky-Sirr, MD, MSc, is a single mom to an amazing teenager who barely tolerates her sense of humor. She’s been a part of the reproductive justice movement since before becoming a family doctor. During medical school, Rebecca received a Fulbright grant to study human rights based medicine in Venezuela. Currently she practices family medicine in Los Angeles. She is a Physician for Reproductive Health Leadership Training Academy Fellow.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Emily

    This post reminded me a little of the memoir The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez. In this book, high schooler Gaby pretended to be pregnant as part of a school project. She documented people’s attitudes towards her and her “pregnancy” and theorized that those attitudes set teen moms up for failure.

    It also reminded me of my childhood best friend who got pregnant in college. She too faced pressure to drop out and the stigma of being the only (visible) young pregnant student. Though the pregnancy was not planned, it was wanted. Her family tried to make sure she heard nothing but support. I remember though I was far away from her, I made her baby blanket. I was crocheting it when I was waiting to see a guidance counselor, and the counselor asked me about it. She came forward with a bit of predictable judgment when I told her the situation. I couldn’t imagine having to hear that sort of thing all the time.

    This best friend is my role model for good mothering and working hard. As a single mom, she graduated college. She later got married, had another kid, and got her master’s. She’s really amazing.

    Happy mother’s day.

  • Tiffany

    I was a teen mom as well. When I first found out I was pregnant, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and initially didn’t have my family’s support to have and keep the child. Once the decision was made, my parents were behind me 100%, which is a privilege in and of itself. My grandmother upon finding out squealed, “We’re having a baby!” The first person outside of my family to say congratulations was a nurse at my OB-GYN’s office (another privilege–health insurance) when I was probably about 3 months along. It’s been almost 19 years, so I may have gotten more negativity than I remember from strangers, but I definitely remember how my family treated me, and it made all the difference to our lives.

    The ironic thing is that I get far more disapproval for providing my own teenager with birth control than I ever got for being a teenage parent.

  • F.Toth

    I’m conflicted.

    My husband and I had our only child when I was 39. We both had good educations and careers. Five years later, he died–and since young widows are rare these days, the slut-shaming began: Is the father in the picture? Was this PLANNED? Even though I was a self supporting adult. I cannot imagine having to go through the single parent journey as a young person. It’s horrifying.

    But we also know that a teen’s body is NOT the best for the fetus, that it is difficult physically for both, that the emotional strain on a teen is probably greater than on an adult and that, yes, in reality, caring for a baby WILL negatively impact her education and career and life.

    How can we, as feminists BOTH fight teen/unwanted pregnancy and celebrate/make available contraceptives while also being happy for teen mothers?

    • Charlie Rose

      First, I am sorry for your loss and for the horrible way people treat you.

      As for your question about feminists – I’m not interested in “fighting” anyone’s pregnancy. I am interested in giving folks support and access to control their own reproduction.

      A lot of the “stats” about teen moms are:

      1. made up. (really! Try chasing down some real sources that aren’t the campaign to prevent teen pregnancy or stayteen or some crap like that – their links to sources are a black hole as far as I’ve been able to trace.)
      2. actually stats about discriminatory systems, not individual families. (I was never in my life more encouraged to fail than when I was a pregnant and parenting teen – my teachers literally told me to drop out.)

      Also, teenagers tend to have very easy pregnancies and births (minus all the stress that comes from being consistently treated like crap and discriminated against).

      Most teens don’t want to be parents and we should support their access to prevent pregnancy, but that has nothing to do with how we treat young mothers.