Celebrating Fertility — And Choice — on Mother’s Day

Designated as the second Sunday in May by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, Mother’s Day has been around for over a century. Moms have been around since the dawn of time, and celebrations of motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele.

Mother’s Day has also always been a political act towards gender equity. The official Mother’s Day holiday arose as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis who conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. Arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she campaigned for the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood. Since then it has also served as a date for launching political or feminist causes, like in 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr’s wife, Coretta Scott King used Mother’s Day to host a march in support of underprivileged women and children. In the 1970s women’s groups in America also used the holiday to highlight the need for equal rights and access to childcare.

With all the value and celebration that goes into motherhood, it’s not hard to see why advancing knowledge and use of contraceptives in the world can often be tricky. Manya Dotson, Project Director for Adolescents 360 at Population Services International, asked the audience before her presentation at this year’s Youth, Tech, and Health Conference if they considered fertility their friend or foe. The audience consisted of many youth, and people of different backgrounds. More than half the room chose the latter.

She talked about how when she returned to Africa pregnant during her time working there, she could see the attitudes of the communities she was working with show her more respect. The value given to motherhood is palpable in many parts of the world. She posed the question: “If being a mom is what has value in many of these societies, then how do we connect contraceptive use with young people’s dreams and hopes?”

There’s definitely an unmet need for contraceptive use in low and middle income countries. But when development workers speak to girls and adolescents, they can see and hear the fears these women have that contraception could harm their wombs for life, or prevent them from having a child later. It reminds me of my fears when I started using contraception and the sensitive conversations around intentional family planning and fertility. These are not easy conversations to have with anyone. No matter how important career and other pursuits may be for a woman, for those that do want to have children the anxieties around childbearing seems to take over their lives. It feels like a precious — and complex — commodity, one that I only realized the full dimensions of after becoming a mom myself

For most of my life, my friends and I focused on studying, furthering our careers, and hopefully finding loving relationships along the way. As we slowly started advancing in our 30s, we realized we had to make hard choices around many of these things. I found that the conversations around fertility were confusing — 35 was the cut off but so was 38? Then what about all these women having babies in their mid 40s? How expensive was IVF? What were all the risks?

A more useful way of framing contraceptive awareness is around how it can help promote wiser and more effective family planning. If motherhood is part of many women’s dreams, then supporting them through their pregnancies by providing resources around nutrition, health, and safe pregnancies goes hand in hand with enabling women to make choices for themselves around when and how they fall pregnant. Whether it is through our maternal health platforms like MomConnect, or youth platforms, like Tune Me and Girl Effect Mobile, the idea is always the same: giving women the proper tools and information to make their own choices. This could take the form of comparing the benefits of different methods of contraception, or explaining the warning signs of a risky pregnancy. And when there is advice it’s coming from voices they already trust — peers and local experts.

We are happy to be able to share and lead this conversation in many parts of the world on mobile phones. And so we celebrate the holiday for another reason: more phone calls are made on Mother’s Day than any other day of the year. (Phone traffic can spike up to 37%)

Happy Mother’s day to all our users, readers, and families. And let’s not forgot that the woman who founded it all remained unmarried and childless her whole life. Power is in choice.