Motherhood in America: Some Apples for Your Pie

Anat Shenker-Osorio

If motherhood is "the only life sentence without chance at parole you can get without committing a crime," low-income motherhood is infinitely harder still. Still, we judge these mothers and make their lives harder, as we force them into it.

As news of Stupak has dominated our livid attention, many of us
may not have heard the amazing gains made for motherhood in America. As of this
month, all states will now allow women receiving aid through Women Infants and
Children (WIC) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. For the first time,

To anyone who hopes to accuse us of stinginess, we announce that
we’re giving participating mothers $8 per month and children $6 per month in
vouchers to purchase produce. Wait it gets better, breast feeding mothers get
$10! Yes, that’s right $10 whole dollars to stretch over 30 delicious,
vitamin-packed days.

Now what low-income woman wouldn’t want to stay pregnant
regardless of her circumstances or desires with that kind of reward on the
table? Could it be she’s the one thinking precisely of life — contemplating
the one her child will lead? Or perhaps she’s concerned for her already
impoverished existing children and how she will manage an additional one to
clothe, feed, shelter and — dare she hope — educate.

Right now Congress and armies of lobbyists determine whether
women will be deemed worthy of access to the full range of health care the law
and medical science allows. We’re hearing lots about the importance of life and
the sacred bond of mother and child. So, what about motherhood.

Appreciate our work?

Rewire is a non-profit independent media publication. Your tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.


A cursory glance at
maternal health will tell you just how much we value how life is given in this
country. We advocate for and in some cases force over one-third of women to
undergo major abdominal surgery (though we’ve given it a nicer name), rates
unknown abroad. We’ve turned a supposedly blessed event into a medical
emergency and made sure women are terrified to do it and not empowered at
having done it after the fact.

Child-rearing, with its joyous but exhausting and endless
responsibilities, is absolutely the last priority on our national list. This is
obvious to anyone who has contrasted the palatial “birthing suites” where a
woman labors to the dismal recovery room she inhabits once her duty is
discharged. Even for those of us on the lucky end of the spectrum, the hospital
architects have signaled who and what matters in this purportedly mother-loving

Motherhood in any circumstances is a challenge. In fact, my own
mother used to say it’s the only life sentence without chance at parole you can
receive without committing a crime. Low-income motherhood is infinitely harder
still. Where we should be in awe of and reaching out to help the women who
daily sacrifice to undertake this feat — we stand in judgement of them and
seek to make their difficult task impossible. Only to insist it must be done.

With forced eviction from the hospital after two days, no
postpartum support, miserly provisions for food, questionable access to health
insurance, inaccessible but absolutely critical flu vaccines, unsafe and
failing schools, little or no assistance with childcare — how could anyone
without wealth be up to the task of raising one, let alone, many children in
America? Yet, this is a job description of low-income motherhood here. Now
we’re contemplating drafting any fertile female who dares to have sex into this
position — and we’re confused that they’re not so eager to apply.

Child-rearing isn’t battle (as much as parents of toddlers and
teenagers might insist that it is.) But it is a sort of national front-line,
critical to our survival. It is our future, quite literally, at stake. As our
lawmakers now shamefully consider shifting from a voluntary service for this task
of national importance to conscripting women to serve at their will — can’t we
at least demand the provisions they need to do the job?

Load More