We Must Be Bold: Shifting Our Cultural Narrative to Support Individuals’ Decisions About Pregnancy, Parenting and Abortion

We have cultural narratives for the major moments in our lives: the first day of school, graduation, marriage, even pregnancy. These are the shared pictures of how things are supposed to be. More often than not these stories are based not only on huge assumptions about race, class and ability, but they are also out of touch with the messy reality of our everyday lives. That is incredibly true when it comes to the assumptions people make about pregnancy.

There she stands, a straight woman in a bathroom looking at the positive sign on the pregnancy test. She is smiling because she wanted to be pregnant and it happened right away. She debates whether to post it on Facebook. Her pregnancy rolls along and we see her in the doctor’s office getting a sonogram. Everything looks great and her man holds her hand as they picture their future as parents. She is glowing in her hip maternity clothes, and aside from a little nausea and those darn cravings for pickles and ice cream, all goes well. Labor is a sweaty endeavor with a lot of screaming, but she has an uncomplicated birth and everything goes according to her birth plan. She heads home with her husband. She loses the baby weight in weeks. She may stay home, or maybe she is another plucky career lady balancing work and family. Of course, it goes without saying that she planned the pregnancy, has the support she needs, and is ready to be a parent. She has the prenatal and maternity care to manage her health and the means to take care of a child. They all live happily ever after.

This narrative reflects our common expectations of pregnancy and the standards by which we judge ourselves, and others. Anything that does not reflect this impossibly perfect path is seen as less-than. We are silent and uncomfortable when someone mentions infertility or pregnancy loss. We demonize young parents and low-income families with disrespect and demeaning policies. And we question women’s decisions about abortion and adoption and giving birth, wanting every detail to decide if she had the ‘right’ reasons. But as a culture we tend to avoid the complex conversations about what really happens after you pee on a stick.

As reproductive justice advocates, and having experienced pregnancy ourselves, we know that pregnancy and parenting are not always simple things in a person’s life, for a million different reasons. Our families and relationships take many shapes. We each have our own goals and values and vision of how we want our future to look. And, sometimes the unexpected happens.

Sometimes people have very difficult pregnancies that threaten their health or just make life extremely hard. Many people are struggling to get by and take care of their families, and just can’t imagine how they could afford another child. Some parents do not have anyone on their side – no supportive partner or family, a workplace that will not make the appropriate accommodations for pregnant women and nursing mothers, and a lack of affordable child care. There are people who have been trying to become pregnant for years and those who simply do not feel ready to have a child. And there are folks who do not want to become parents, ever.

This is the simple reality: there is not one way to experience or feel about pregnancy and parenting. But along every path – whether someone struggles to get pregnant or decides on abortion or wants to raise children – every person deserves to have the information, support and resources they need to support their decisions and to take care of their health.

Unfortunately, our society does not support every person and every community equally, and there are many obstacles in the way to achieving this vision.

One such barrier is the political game-playing that is happening with our reproductive health, autonomy, and decision-making, particularly for low-income people and communities of color. The same people who want to take away access to contraception are also denying benefits and protections to pregnant women. Laws attempt to dictate are being advanced that dictate how many children a person can have, like the Maximum Family Grant (MFG rule) in California, or threaten pregnant women struggling with addiction with jail time. We have seen endless cuts to the programs and services created to help low-income women and families. There are restrictions that deny maternity coverage for young women or insurance coverage for abortion care for people using a range of health benefits, from state health exchanges to the federal Medicaid program.

This is not just politics. It’s about real people’s health and lives. We have to speak out and be bold in order to put the needs of people in our community ahead of political agendas.

That is why more than 50 organizations have come together for the “Be Bold” road trip, which is traveling throughout the country this summer to ignite a conversation about the impact of restrictions on coverage of abortion care, but it is part of a larger conversation about how we can best support people along all the paths that come with pregnancy and parenting.

We all need to be bold in standing up and speaking out to ensure that every person has the information, support and services to prevent pregnancy when they want to, seek abortion when they need to, and have healthy pregnancies and children when they are ready. Let’s stop letting politics get in the way of being there to support each other.