Motherhood Should Always Be a Volunteer Army.

In a thoughtful, very candid post, TNC talks about how Kenyatta, his partner, came very close to dying after giving birth to their son.

Peripartum cardiomyopathy, the disease that led to congestive heart failure, is rare and lethal. It kills women. And no one knows why. Kenyatta was lucky. She didn’t need a new heart. She only needed her meds, and time. But luck has not obscured from us a set of essential and disturbing truths.

For reasons beyond me, childbirth–in the popular American mind–is swaddled in gossamer, gift-wrap, and icing. Beneath the pastel Hallmark cards and baby showers, behind the flowers, lies a truth encoded, still, in our wording, but given only minimal respect–the charge of shepherding life is labor. It’s work. And you need only look to the immediate past, or you need only look around the world, or you need only come close to losing the love of your small, young life to understand a correlating truth–pregnancy is potentially lethal work.

My embrace of a pro-choice stance is not built on analogizing Rick Santorum with Hitler. It is not built on what the pro-life movement is “like.” It’s built on set of disturbing and inelidable truths: My son is the joy of my life. But the work of ushering him into this world nearly killed his mother. The literalism of that last point can not be escaped.

Every day women choose to do the hard labor of a difficult pregnancy. Its courageous work, which inspires in me a degree of admiration exceeded only by my horror at the notion of the state turning that courage, that hard labor, into a mandate. Women die performing that labor in smaller numbers as we advance, but they die all the same. Men do not. That is a privilege.

This is a point Monica and Amanda Marcotte make fairly often: pregnancy is not easy, and that’s true even as we’ve generally moved to an approach toward obstetrics that is set up specifically to reduce risk to mothers and infants. (As Megan Carpentier has pointed out, the risks attendant to pregnancy are especially pronounced for African-American women.) But the there are as many, diverse “potential complications” for pregnancy as there are potentially pregnant women, and to chip away at the reproductive health options available to women — which Congressional Republicans are, of course, doing right now — is to resign women toward the assumption of those risks.

Katrzyna, one of TNC’s commenters, puts it beautifully.

This is exactly how and why my ambivalence about being pro-choice changed. I was always pro-choice, but I wasn’t militant about it.

Then I had two children. It clarified the risks and difficulties for me in a concrete way. My pregnancies were uncomplicated — one natural delivery and one C-section, with normal recoveries– but I was still sick all day, every day from the first week of conception to the end of the fourth month, and I still have a huge scar in my abdomen from the C-section, and I have nerve damage from the C-section.

Other women get gestational diabetes or high blood pressure or heart failure. Women die from this.

It clarified my thinking.

Motherhood can only be a volunteer army. We cannot ask women to go through something that can kill them, just because it serves someone else’s ends.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Absolutely brilliant post and the best that I have ever seen on the topic. Thank you.

  • CrazyLady

    I wish comments had a sound effect feature, because I would put in applause, a hell yeah and the Price is Right theme just because it brings happiness.

    This post really drives home the point that motherhood, the act of carrying a child to term, is beautiful, dangerous work that should not be forced upon women. House Republicans cannot make that decision for the millions of women in America because it doesn’t suit their religious base or their insanity to place women out of sight and back in the kitchen.

  • This was beautifully expressed. Not often do I see this argument presented in a non-political way. Very, very well done.

  • This was so personal and so thoughtful. Thank you for sharing.

    My Godson was born in November and I had the honor of being in the delivery room with his mother and father as it all went down. There was a moment where the baby’s heart rate dropped, and the doctor and nurses stormed into the room to see what was going on. The three of us were confused and terrified, although neither of us wanted to let on.

    Our little fella was born shortly after that ordeal. The sound of his cries, and the tears on my best friend and her husband’s faces echoed the enormity of those moments — that childbirth is a treacherous enterprise, and every woman that successfully nurtures and brings forth new life into this world is to be celebrated and respected. Motherhood is the ultimate labor of love, from conception til life sunsets. That’s an endeavor and a responsibility that one should only *elect* to pursue.

  • This is such a powerful post. As a mother, I totally agree. Motherhood/parenting should be a whim or punishment. Lives are literally at stake.