Two weeks after Mother’s Day, a holiday devoted to “celebrating” mothers, my son will have his first birthday. In a year, he has grown from a smiling, curious baby into a wildly curious, babbling, nearly walking kid. He brings my husband and I tremendous joy, and being his mother has been the greatest honor of my life. But being a mother is not easy.
The first day I was alone with my child was one of the hardest of my life. When my husband went back to work two short weeks after our son was born, I was terrified at the prospect of spending an entire day alone, caring for him. I had long wanted to be a mother, and we were very ready—as ready as you can be—to become parents.
But on that first day, alone with the baby, I felt like an inhabitant of another universe. It was nearly 100 degrees. Since our pipes had recently burst, I had to make plans outside of the house for the morning while contractors jackhammered and dug up our basement floor. I made desperate breakfast plans with a couple of friends, who also have children.
The relatively short walk from my house to the diner felt like a slog through quicksand—I was nowhere near recovered from a physically traumatic childbirth. I was also palpably anxious about everything. Was my baby cool enough? Was he sheltered from the sun? How was I going to feed him at a restaurant? How do you change a baby in a public restroom? What if I couldn’t make it back up the hill to get to my house?
Of course, everything ended up being fine. We ate breakfast, my friends helped me change him and I maneuvered him in and out of his stroller. The baby and I wandered around the public library and hunkered down at a local coffee shop. We made it home—albeit slowly—and that day started our journey of figuring out how to be parent and child, together.
It was also fine because I’m the beneficiary of a tremendous amount of privilege, in the form of economic resources, excellent health insurance and medical care, a flexible employer that provides paid family leave, a supportive partner, and all of the opportunity that being white and financially secure affords.
Having the freedom to plan when, if, and how to have a child allowed me to pursue my professional goals, travel, enjoy my independence, and grow into someone who was ready to parent another person. I am not a perfect mother—far from it—but having a child when I was ready has allowed me to be the best mother I can be.
Many parents around the world are not so lucky. Sadly, our government, led by the misogynistic duo of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, is undermining reproductive choice and parenthood in this country, and around the world. Through the imposition of the Global Gag Rule, Trump has cut off literally lifesaving reproductive and maternity care for the most vulnerable among us.
Health clinics throughout the developing world are being shuttered. Outreach efforts are being curtailed. Contraceptive supplies are running low. And millions of people are being denied family planning services, pre- and post-natal care, HIV medicines and other critical health care.
And he’s trying to do the same to health providers in the United States, too.
Global maternal deaths remain staggeringly high. Approximately 300,000 people die from pregnancy related complications every year. Many of these deaths are due to unsafe abortions. Most of these deaths are preventable.
214 million women in the developing world also face an unmet need for contraception, preventing them from accessing the tool that would allow them to be fully in control of their reproductive lives.
Things here in the United States bring little cause for celebration. The maternal mortality rate has doubled over the last twenty years, making us the only developed country with a rising maternal mortality rate. For Black women, the situation is unconscionable: they are three to four times as likely as white women to die from a pregnancy related cause.
So on Mother’s Day, do something thoughtful for the mothers—and kids—in your lives: insist your elected officials support the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act to repeal the Global Gag Rule and allow foreign organizations to provide the comprehensive reproductive health care their clients so desperately need, to make the decisions that are best for their lives.
Let’s join together to make Mother’s Day about more than cards and flowers and chocolates. Let’s make it about autonomy and opportunity and security. That’s a Mother’s Day gift that will last forever.