My first Mother’s Day was the one that soured me for good. I’d struggled with what to do with my face, general demeanor, and social media accounts on Mother’s Day for well over a decade at that point (being that I have a dead mom), but I thought that maybe having a baby would change the tone of the holiday for me, give it a new focus. My daughter was 8 months old on Mother’s Day of 2016, and we woke up at around 4:30 AM to cram all our stuff into a rental car and drive three hours from Sedona to Phoenix, where we’d board the first of two flights that day on our way home. Ros wailed for just about the entire car ride, which wasn’t hard to predict because she’d done the same thing when we’d driven to Sedona two days earlier. Once we got to the airport, though, and checked all the baby shit and got through security, I was wearing her on my chest and she was quiet and cuddly and I knew I had packed enough snacks to get her through two takeoffs and two landings and I was feeling like maybe the hardest part of the day was over. Maybe this would be the Mother’s Day I’d remember as the one where I Got It Done like real moms do.
As we boarded our flight to Atlanta, a smiling flight attendant handed me a pink postcard with roses on it declaring that Delta Airlines was wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day. As this was the first Mother’s Day card I’d ever received, I felt a momentary rush of gratitude. What a gesture! And then as we were settling into our seats, Ros vomited banana all over my husband’s pants and my right sleeve. Trying to contain the grossness, I scooped her up and rushed to the back of the plane, apologetically asking which restroom had the baby changing table. The flight attendant looked confused. “I don’t think we have one?” As she looked at me, seeming genuinely puzzled as to what I could possibly be so upset about, I had one of those frightening moments where the rage is just building in your chest and you know you’re either going to cry or yell or both, but you’re in public and you know you’re not supposed to make a scene and then you’re just panicking because what if you can’t not make a scene?
It was the Mother’s Day card, tucked into my back pocket all this time, that made me furious. It wasn’t the fact that I’d spent my first Mother’s Day in a car with a wailing infant, then in line at airport security, and now on a plane covered in vomit - though none of that particularly helped. It was the fact that this airline was congratulating itself for printing out some pink branded postcards (which were absolutely meant to benefit moms, of course, not to mention great for the environment), while also staring awkwardly at me as I asked where I could change my baby. There was no effort to help, or even any real acknowledgment that this was an actual problem. There was a Delta Airlines Mother’s Day card, though, so they’d at least told themselves they’d thought about my wants and needs as a mom.
I’ve written about Katherine Goldstein’s work and since I wrote that piece, her podcast The Double Shift has continued to present stories of working moms filled with thoughtful research and reporting, including an episode on sex workers in Nevada’s brothels. Among other things, the podcast’s website now hosts an “invisible labor calculator,” which is exactly what it sounds like (my unpaid labor as a mom and co-head of household is apparently worth over $43K a year, for what it’s worth). In another recent episode, though, Goldstein talks about how the first production company she pitched her podcast to rejected the idea on the grounds that there is “not enough compelling and surprising about this topic.” Moreover, they told her, “everyone knows that being a working mother is hard,” and they didn’t want to invest in a project that (they imagined) would “hit that note over and over.” Even though the whole concept of the podcast is that it reports on the endless, fascinating and frankly heartening diversity in lived experiences of working mothers, the producers heard “working mother” and switched off. A reaction so unsurprising (one note indeed) and yet no less rage-inducing for how truly pedestrian it is.
My Delta Airlines moment in 2016 was the first in a long and ongoing series of realizations I’ve had about what our culture thinks of motherhood, each more infuriating than the last. And because I know how our culture likes to treat mothers who are angry about motherhood, I willingly offer the caveat that I love my daughter and I love my husband and I love our family. I love that I get to be Ros’s mom, and I love being a part of her life and having her as a part of mine. Particularly since I have had two miscarriages in the past year, I sometimes feel it is nothing short of miraculous that she is here, that she is whole, and that she is such an endlessly fascinating and challenging person. I am often frustrated at the idiosyncratic things she insists on and the inconveniences they present (that only one pair of pajamas is ever, ever acceptable to wear comes to mind), but that is the motherhood I signed up for: in some moments I am frustrated and working hard to maintain my equilibrium, and in others I am transported by something hilarious she has said, or even just by the smell of the top of her head first thing in the morning or the way it feels when she hugs me tight.
I’m not angry at her or about her. I’m angry at a lot of things, though, and shutting up about it isn’t helping anyone.
I’m angry that people who pretend to care about life want to pass laws (have already passed bills) that would effectively force women into motherhood no matter the circumstances, offering them no assistance other than ramming them through nine months of pregnancy. I’m angry at the cognitive dissonance that they don’t seem to hear in that paradox. Furthermore, the abortion ban that passed in Georgia (and yes, a 6-week ban is an effective ban and I am not going to litigate that because others are already doing a better job than I could) actually criminalizes miscarriages. I miscarried twice in the last 9 months; had I been living in the Georgia of 2020, that might have raised some eyebrows somewhere. “Prosecutors may interrogate women who miscarry,” according to HB 481, and “if they find evidence of culpability, they may charge, detain, and try these women for the death of their fetuses.” As I think about this, I remember how many people told me after both miscarriages that it wasn’t because of anything I had done; that women miscarry frequently for unknowable reasons and that I wasn’t to blame myself for what had happened. Were the medical professionals who said these things to me lying? Do these lawmakers know something I don’t about how to establish culpability for a miscarriage? Might they consult my Strava feed to see whether I’d been exercising too much or too little, or my grocery receipts to see whether I’d bought deli turkey and soft cheese? There are already plenty of people in the world who think it’s their right to edit anything they see a pregnant woman doing; now, in some states, they’ll have the law behind them.
Truly, I’m supposed to imagine that the world is smiling on mothers this Sunday when this kind of shit is going on, and I’m supposed to expect my husband and daughter to somehow do something for me that’s nice enough to compensate for it?
I’m angry about the cost of having two miscarriages: pretty much the sum total of two insurance deductibles, thanks to a provider switch at an inopportune time, not to mention days of lost wages, dampened productivity, and physical therapy. None of that, however, begins to touch the emotional upheaval they wrought.
I’m angry that people waved me off when I said I was done trying to have more kids after the second miscarriage. A psychologist I’d waited months to see, after hearing me talk about the pain of the miscarriages and after hearing me say I’d decided to be done, advised me to stop trying to make this decision for myself. “You could always just let nature take its course,” she told me (by which I think she meant just not use birth control and, I don’t know, keep letting whatever happened happened?). I left her office smiling and nodding and made five more appointments with her, until I realized four days later that I was still upset about what she’d said. I’m angry that I felt like my feelings were the problem, and I’m angry at the dismissive way people talk about only children and parents who decide to have only one child.
In short, I don’t feel particularly valued by the United States of America in 2019, and I don’t feel like Mother’s Day is doing anything other than reminding me of that.
By the time we got home from the Palm Beach airport on that awful Mother’s Day in 2016, Ros and I were giggling in the backseat despite our utter exhaustion. She was, after all, 8 months old and completely adorable, and she had these enormous cheeks that were impossible not to smile at when they crinkled up in laughter. When we got her into her bed and collapsed into a heap, my husband presented me with a card that he’d written himself, no pre-printed Mother’s Day greeting. It said how proud he was of me for getting through such a tough day and still laughing with Ros at the end of it. It’s still the best card related to motherhood that anyone’s ever given me. This year, he’s giving me a day completely free of parenting duties - I’ll get to go for a run with a friend and not rush immediately home to a morning routine afterwards. The best part is that this isn’t a once-a-year thing in my family - neither the heartfelt appreciation of what I do as a mom nor the temporary reprieve from doing things as a mom. Yes, I am very lucky (yes, I am only saying that because I feel like I have to).
I am lucky, but moms everywhere - especially if not limited to moms less fortunate than I am - deserve better than what they are getting right now.