The Politics of Motherhood

Mothers are always worried; it comes with the territory. But today’s mothers have even more to worry about than ever: politics.

Author’s Note: I wrote this piece right after mother’s day. By the time I was ready to post it, Uvalde happened and no one was thinking about anything but guns. This weekend’s tumultuous news, however, makes me feel the time is ripe to talk about the role mothers are playing now in society. After all, mother’s day doesn’t happen once a year: it happens every single day.

A few days before Mother’s Day, I was making breakfast for my younger daughter when we heard the news together from the television in the kitchen:

Texas was investigating families who offer medical support to their transgender children, recommending removal of the child from the home. Legal action was proposed against the parents and medical provider; teachers and neighbors were being asked to turn in suspects. My daughter looked up from her iPad.

“Can I still go to my appointment?” she asked.

Her thirteen-and-a-half-year-old face was awash with concern too big for her years to carry, though I don’t think it was for kids like her in Texas, or because Texas was moving to adopt KGB and Nazi era tactics of snitching on colleagues.

No, my daughter’s concerns were more personal. She had already waited eight months to see our new gender doctor in Los Angeles. Having relocated in the middle of Covid from New York City, so she could attend a school for girls like her, who have a specific type of autism spectrum disorder commonly called “Asperger’s,” we had to rebuild our entire infrastructure. This included finding a new gender doctor for her.

I knew how much the upcoming appointment meant to her. Eager to discuss the timing of her hormone therapy, she wants to know when the puberty blocker that’s been in her arm for the last two years will be companioned with estrogen. Girls in her class are getting breasts, having periods. She wants to know when it will be her turn.

Of course we’re going to your appointment,” I said. Then I told her not to worry about Texas. I didn’t mention Arkansas, where it’s already illegal to offer transition care to minors. Fourteen other states are currently considering bans or restrictions on affirmative care for transgender youth, but I didn’t mention any of that to her, either.

“California is one of the good states,” I said, flipping her pancake, my ease at the skillet belying the worry in my mind. The breakfast was delivered just as my phone pinged — an early morning text from my older daughter.

Keep having breakthrough bleeding on my birth control pills. I think it’s the new Lyme meds. What if I get pregnant?

A college junior, my older daughter suffers from complex consequences of chronic Lyme Disease, a condition currently unrecognized or misunderstood by many doctors. At least she’s been getting treatment lately, or should I say treatments? They come and go, some effective for a time, others creating worse problems, like the break-through bleeding.

Use a condom, I typed back.

As I wiped the counter and put the eggs and milk back in the refrigerator, I tried to remember where Colorado stands on the matter of abortion rights. Of course, if worse comes to worse, she can always come to California —

Until she can’t.

How long can I count on my new home states? Forever? For another two years?

I always thought my former home state of New York would be blue in perpetuity, but I know plenty of New Yorkers who voted for Trump, and plenty more who are dissatisfied with the fractured democratic party. Tired of the radical left, they all plan to vote red in ’24. Manhattan may always remain a bastion of liberalism, but it’s no longer clear to me whether the rest of the state will follow suit. Which means California — home of Ronald Reagan — might not, either.

“Time to get dressed,” I reminded my younger daughter as I simultaneously consoled myself with the thought that my older daughter will be graduating soon and can live in a good state, unless a job or graduate program necessitates moving to one of the bad ones.

I grew up singing songs like, “Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue,” and “It’s a Grand Old Flag.” We were a patriotic household, with a long list of members who proudly served in various military branches and fought in various wars. How we loved America! Today, I can only say, “How I love some of America,” which doesn’t feel very patriotic at all.

Finally, in the car and on the way to school, my younger daughter broke a long silence to ask if it’s true that some people don’t believe a kid can be transgender. Since her first full sentence to me, uttered at the age of 2, was, “I’m a girl,” she can’t wrap her own mind around the negation of her actual being.

I couldn’t answer her immediately, as I may have even a few years ago. What is truth now? Back in the 1970s, when I was in grade school, we were taught to think of truth the same way we were taught to think about fact. Truths, like facts, were incontrovertible. They were the pillars upon which entire societies stood. The phrase “alternative facts” would have earned a student an instant F. Luckily, it wasn’t hard to ascertain what was true or false. We learned from our parents and our teachers, our clergy, doctors, judges and journalists. We learned fro our role models, like the President. Collectively, these people could be counted on to teach us right from wrong, fact from fiction, and in return, we believed them.

Today, however, “news,” “truth,” and “fact,” are all open to interpretation and reporters are hired specifically for their bias, the more exaggerated the better for a network or paper’s rating. Judges, too, are picked from pools of bias and packed into courts by politicians eager to promote their own points of view. In fact, in this day and age, truth must be qualified, so I told my daughter that it was true to some very uninformed people but not to me or her dad or all the people we know.

I was engulfed in worry as Mother’s Day approached, but what better present could I have gotten? My older daughter showed up, having driven to Los Angeles in one mad, fifteen-hour shot because the unseasonable heatwave scorching Utah and Nevada made it impossible for her spend more than a few minutes out of her air-conditioned car during the drive west. At least she’s majoring in atmospheric science so she can be part of the global warming solution rather than a contributor to it. That is, as long as we have a political body that supports the idea of global warming.

And then it was Mother’s Day, that most non-partisan of holidays. Surrounded by my two girls, I should have been basking in a sense of accomplishment and pride. But I wasn’t. Instead, I was marinating in a sense of deep maternal angst.

Mothers want to protect their young, even if their young are old enough to become mothers themselves. How can I protect these two girls I love so dearly? How can I keep the good states from getting bad, and the bad states from getting worse? If I can’t always make my kids get along, how can I make our political parties? Don’t the women who support opposing political views from me love their children with equal measure? How can we both feel like we’re protecting our offspring and yet have such wildly opposing ideas of how this might be accomplished?

Mother’s Day ultimately unfolded as it always does. We went for brunch; I sent flower emojis back to all my friends who wished me a lovely day and texted Happy Mother’s Day to as many friends as I could including those who are mothers to pets, nieces and nephews. By nightfall, I was mildly numb from all the focus and slightly guilt ridden because I was too tired, by then, to help wash my younger-daughter’s hair, which I still do because she can’t — and may not ever be able to — coordinate this effort on her own.

If, for any number of reasons, I am no longer able to care for my younger daughter because she is removed from our house, who will wash her hair for her? Will her foster parent make her cut it all off and call her by a new male name? Will my daughter try to kill herself because her true identity is unrecognized? Will her death make the laws against supporting trans youth worthwhile? Exactly who do those laws support? People who are afraid of what they don’t understand? Why do they require laws to protect them? Don’t our children need the law on their side?

And what about my older daughter? If she accidentally gets pregnant and dies getting an illegal abortion because her home state refuses to give her one legally, who will benefit? What if my daughter gets pregnant when she chooses and discovers that the fetus is suffering from something unspeakable? Something that will make her own life impossibly hard to continue? What if she has one healthy child already and dies aborting this next child because her home state won’t conduct a safe, legal abortion? Who will benefit? Who?

As long as we’re asking ourselves questions, let’s ask ourselves this: what woman — either in the throes of sex or at her OB’s office having a fertilized egg implanted — imagines her future child saying, “I’m not a boy, mommy, I’m a girl!’” or visa versa.

What woman — either in the throes of sex or at her OB’s office having a fertilized egg implanted — imagines her future child being raped by her uncle and impregnated when she’s fourteen and too ashamed to admit it— or possibly even understand what’s happened— until she’s already showing? Does anyone want a fourteen-year-old to become a mother? How can someone who isn’t yet in high school successfully raise a baby? I have a college degree and an MFA and barely have the hang of it after twenty years in the business.

So, just who does imagine these scenarios?

No one, that’s who. But they can happen, and if they happen to you and your child, you are going to want to protect him, her or them just as surely as you want to protect yourself.

And so I went to bed on mother’s day with one thought in my mind: if every mother in this country agreed that it is in everyone’s best interest to pass laws that support all of our children, our angst would decrease and this land would truly be one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Until then, there has never been more pressure on us mothers to instill values into our children of compassion and imagination. Without that, I fear the future of this nation truly will be continuously compromised and mothers’ day will be yet another example of the partisan divide that is hurting us all.

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Isabel Rose is a writer and public speaker.

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