Mother’s Day gives us the chance to reflect on our mother, the women who have been our mentors, and the mothers around us. Motherhood is a messy, crazy, amazing, life-altering, life-long journey. It is not for the faint hearted! Before my first child was born I couldn’t have imagined that within seconds of holding her in my arms I would willingly give my life to protect hers.
The decision to enter into this journey is certainly not one to be taken lightly.
Our coalition recently hosted a webinar on reproductive life planning. This is a new concept in our field that encourages men and women to think about if and when they would like to have children in their lives – then support them accordingly. Given that almost half of all pregnancies in the US are unintended, this conversation clearly needs to be happening. But as the speakers on our webinar so eloquently pointed out, facilitating this conversation requires skill, patience and self-reflection.
A very important first step is recognizing our own explicit and implicit bias.
This can be based on our own experience, culture, and religious beliefs. We all have bias and must be self-aware in our interactions, facial expressions and language. Be real – we’ve all got opinions about someone else’s choices. Heck, I thought Princess Kate of England should have waited longer before getting pregnant again (congrats to her on the birth of baby Charlotte).
Second, we need to ask not if someone wants to become pregnant, but whether he or she would like to have children now or one day. Pregnancy is a means to an end. There are many ways to create a family and bring children into one’s life. Those of us who have not experienced infertility, a complex genetic history or miscarriage / infant loss need to be aware of our privilege and be mindful of the reality others may face.
We need to have this conversation with men. After all they are an essential part of the equation and fatherhood is a life-changing role for them too. The website bedsider.org has some good information for guys and we need to continue to develop our skills for working with men on this topic. I was personally on the fence for 7 years about having a 3rd child (we didn’t). My husband was pretty steadfast in what he felt we could handle and his certainty and patience / flexibility was really important.
Finally, providing excellent reproductive life planning services calls us to ask more questions and give fewer answers. Our role is to support women and men in revealing true intentions. Then we need to offer resources and services to help them actualize that intention. One tip for those of you who may struggle sometimes with connecting with your clients on this topic is to find one thing you respect about the person and reflect that back to them – it can change the whole conversation in a blink.
The notion of pregnancy planning is complex. Ambivalence is considered to be the norm. Intentions change. Thinking about the important women in my life – they had different paths. My grandmother eloped at the age of 16 and had my mother by the time she was 17. My mom was a planner like me, but my little sister was born with an IUD in her hand! No one ever asked my great grandmother but I bet the challenge of being a non-English speaking immigrant to the US shaped her decision.
Collectively, we have the chance to elevate this essential conversation to an art form where we can offer deep listening and thoughtful questions to better support women as they consider their life options – including motherhood.
Sarah Verbiest is the Co-Founder and Director of EWSE. And a mom of two awesome kids – Kylie and Tai.