Reports of Women Putting Off Motherhood Aren’t Surprising


front view of displeased young woman against white wall

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On Monday, the New York Times published a detailed report outlining the declining birth rate in the United States. Complete with multiple interviews with women who have either delayed or just outright decided not to enter into motherhood, the report highlighted the myriad reasons why U.S. “births have fallen for six straight years and declined precipitously during the pandemic.”

The article was hardly surprising nor were the reactions of the pearl-clutching conservative politicians. You know, the same ones who, since January 2021 alone, have introduced 561 abortion restrictions, including 165 abortion bans, across 47 states. Those of us with uteruses are well aware that GOP lawmakers are hell-bent on forcing us to give birth, no matter what, so the *eye roll* cries of outrage are to be expected. Whatever.

The thing that really made my brain melt was the faux surprise expressed by others who simply cannot fathom women wanting to delay or avoid motherhood—the Tucker Carlsons of the country with their wide eyes and concerned brows, busy scratching their heads at the mere notion that women want to put themselves, their physical health, their mental health, their careers, their goals, their aspirations, ahead of parenthood. Imagine that!

Why would we put our lives at risk for the “thrill” of a baby in a baby carriage?

See, if these people had listened to us—for even a minute— they would know that pregnant people and mothers have long been screaming, even begging, for adequate, systemic support that would make motherhood not only sustainable and more enjoyable but also safer.

We live in the only industrialized nation with a rising maternal mortality rate. Motherhood can literally equal death, especially for Black women who are three times more likely to die from pregnancy- and birth-related complications. When doctors don’t listen to pregnant women when they’re in pain—and when doctors don’t take Black mothers’ pain seriously or outright ignore their cries for help—why would we put our lives at risk for the “thrill” of a baby in a baby carriage?

Out of 11 developed nations, the U.S. has, what a December 2020 study described as, an “undersupply of maternity care providers and is the only country not to guarantee access to provider home visits or paid parental leave in the postpartum period.” Politicians want to enforce government mandated forced birth but do not want to mandate paid family leave or ensure pregnant and postpartum people have access to necessary, adequate health care. Women have been stockpiling birth control and Plan B because this country has made it abundantly clear that they want us to be moms, but they do not want to be part of that so-called village we’ve been told it takes to actually raise a child.

If being a mother and caring for a child was really The Greatest Job in the World, men would be the ones to stay at home and actually do it.

This country pays mothers 71 cents for every dollar it pays fathers. Employers deny working moms more-than-earned raises and promotions. Forty percent of hiring managers avoid employing women of child-bearing age for fear they’ll eventually become pregnant. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, dads have been three times more likely as moms to receive a promotion while working from home. What was our pandemic “raise”? An increase in labor as we handled a disproportionate amount of at-home e-learning, cooking, cleaning, and other household chores.

Oh, and child-care costs an average of over $1,200 a month.

Did I mention that we had to fight to ensure that pregnancy wasn’t a preexisting condition so that health insurance companies wouldn’t be able to get away with denying us coverage?

By the way, 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression, anxiety, or another mental health ramification of pregnancy, childbirth, and new motherhood. The current standard of care for new moms in the U.S.? It doesn’t include a postpartum depression screening.

And we could talk about how much Black and brown moms are made to fear for their children’s lives when they go to the corner store for a bag of skittles or wear a hoodie or play with a toy gun in a park or turn without signaling or walk home with their headphones on or sleep in their beds—but that’s a bigger story for another day.

At every turn—from trying to conceive, to carrying a pregnancy, to birthing a baby, to trying to raise a child while working or free from an environment overwhelmed by pollution and police brutality—we are both punished for becoming mothers and constantly told it is what we’re supposed to do.

But if being a mother and caring for a child was really The Greatest Job in the World, men would be the ones to stay at home and actually do it. But they don’t, because they know what we’ve all long-known: It’s really just the only job men in positions of power want us to have. Even if it kills us.

Women aren’t delaying or avoiding motherhood—we’re just saying that we matter more than the idea of a life not yet born. We are done being martyrs for a birth rate in a country that doesn’t seem to actually care about mothers and babies all that much, and we’re done sacrificing our minds, our bodies, our careers, even our lives, to uphold a white, heteronormative American ideal that never prioritized women, let alone Black, brown, or Indigenous women and other women of color.

If the Tucker Carlsons of this country had simply shut up and listened, they wouldn’t think any of this was surprising. Instead, they’d know it was inevitable.

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