I’ve always had mixed feelings about Mother’s Day. As a mama myself, pregnant with kiddo #2, I can appreciate a day to celebrate and thank our mothers - I love brunch and homemade cards. But I wonder about dedicating a single day to toasting mothers, when we should be ensuring that their basic needs are met all year round.
In the midst of this pandemic, the need for better structural and social supports for parents has never been more poignant. This Mother’s Day will mark the 9th week of sheltering-in-place for many of us nationwide. For parents who are essential workers, that’s nine weeks of managing the constant fear of exposure, concerns about illness and potential loss of income, and loss of time with their families. For those, like me, who are able to work from home, that’s nine weeks of juggling work, attempting to homeschool children whose schools are closed, and managing the household’s meals and cleaning. And for thousands of others, that’s nine weeks of unemployment, a lack of income and benefits to support their families, and mounting uncertainty.
I am fortunate to work at an organization that understands the challenges and nuances of this moment. At All-Options, we support people in all of their decisions, feelings, and experiences with pregnancy, parenting, abortion, and adoption. We offer judgment-free peer counseling and referrals through our national Talkline, and provide free diapers, abortion funding, and pregnancy tests at our Pregnancy Resource Center in Bloomington, Indiana. For over 15 years, it’s been clear to us that society’s structures were not designed to support pregnant people in all of their options, nor are they equipped to hear pregnant people’s struggles with compassion and empathy.
COVID-19 has thrown this reality into sharp focus. People are reaching out to us, confused and afraid, as policies on abortion care, birth and miscarriage support, social distancing, and more seem to change by the hour. One Talkline caller shared the story of his wife’s loss of a wanted pregnancy, and being turned away from care at their local hospital. Another revealed that she and her partner had unexpectedly become pregnant after years of trying, but that a move in early March and current social distancing requirements have left her severely isolated and questioning whether or not to continue the pregnancy. We’ve heard from laid-off parents, both nationally on our Talkline and statewide at our Hoosier Abortion Fund, that the costs of their abortions - or the costs of having additional children, for that matter - are no longer affordable. And we’ve seen a marked increase in families turning to our Hoosier Diaper Program, after struggling to find affordable diapers and wipes on the shelves of their local stores.
On top of these challenges, we hear the persistent refrain of internalized blame and guilt. Recently, I saw a Facebook post that made me do a double take: “I love my kids but I don’t love parenting.” After weeks of attempting to parent, homeschool, and work simultaneously, the words resonated deeply, but I’d never seen a confession like that made so publicly. We know the toll that COVID-19 has taken on families, but we expect people to be stoic about their own challenges, and to never admit to disliking the outcomes or the realities of their decision to parent. After almost two months of being home with my partner and kid, connected only by group text to my community of mama friends, I felt a little less isolation and shame after reading that. And based on the flood of comments responding to the post, many others agreed: “I feel seen”; “Me too, I suck at this.” Feelings of shame and guilt surrounding how we parent are not new; at All-Options, we hear these things everyday. But they are hard to admit. And when burdens are high and resources are low, parents need to be met with compassion, understanding, and unconditional support. We are doing the best we can, under extraordinary and painful circumstances.
COVID-19 has laid bare our systems’ unwillingness to provide tangible support to families, particularly families of color and families living in poverty. In these unprecedented times, we need access to more supportive resources and health care options - not fewer. This Mother’s Day, we need more than flowers, brunch, or a “treat yo self” day (though parents deserve these, too!). We need structural supports that allow us to thrive, year round - a higher minimum wage and hazard pay, fully paid parental leave, accessible and affordable abortion care for those who do not want to be pregnant, and accessible and affordable resources, like diapers, that allow us to keep our kids healthy and safe. We need safe places to talk about the realities and frustrations of parenting, and to be met with empathy. During this pandemic, we’re all trying to make the best decisions we can to support ourselves and our families. What All-Options offers should be the standard, not the exception.
— Poonam Dreyfus-Pai is the Deputy Director of All-Options.