Recognizing our sexual and reproductive processes is necessary in a feminist society. It is also true in the face of a labor market that has been designed by and for men. The only way for employment to fit into life is to identify those processes that are part of life, many of which are directly linked to our sexuality, and give them time and resources. The Sexual and Reproductive Health Law is the ideal space for this, for example with the improvement of sick leave for painful menstruations.
However, we still find too many feminist discourses that make a strange distinction: they recognize women’s sexual processes only until we become mothers. That is, the right to abortion (so necessary), menstruation, contraception is recognized and expanded. However, when that egg stays inside our body and grows, we go through a stage of devaluation. Right at that moment, our processes are no longer protected and begin to be suspected of maintaining the patriarchy.
Returning to the law, we have seen how, despite the struggle of groups such as El Parto es Nuestro, the term obstetric violence has been left out. Again they call malpractice this form of sexist violence recognized by the UN. We have also encountered a setback by including the loss of the right to informed consent in case of risk (assessed by medical personnel, including those who exercise obstetric violence, and going over the mother’s decisions), or what is known What “the letter of the dead baby”.
On the other hand, thanks to the struggle of groups such as PETRA Maternidades Feministas, it has been possible to include a Prepartum leave in this law. A permit that guarantees pregnant women not having to request medical leave (because pregnancy is not a disease), not depending on the harsh requirements to access a risk permit during pregnancy or not having to work until the same day of childbirth. However, that this permit is granted after week 39 is practically a joke and is very far from the proposal of PETRA Maternidades Feministas for a Prepartum permit from week 34, similar to that of Germany.
And with that miserable prepartum permit and the guarantee of access to health and labor rights that already existed (and that are really insufficient), the recognition of the sexual processes of women mothers remains in the law. There is no more. Neither childbirth, nor the postpartum period, nor breastfeeding, nor the puerperium are processes worthy of inclusion with specific measures in a sexual and reproductive health law. But where is the reproductive? Only in the right to decide not to be a mother: reproductive rights focus on the non-reproductive. In fact, we can find the word contraceptive 34 times and the word breastfeeding only once (to talk about permission due to risk). So, where and who legislates the reproductive processes? Are we going to leave everything related to maternity hospitals in the hands of the right or, even worse, the extreme right? Where is the left and feminism when we become mothers?
Going deeper into this debate, these days we have come across speeches that ask for motherhood to be recognized, but with care. Discourses that assure that menstruation is not essentialist but, apparently, gestating, giving birth and lactating are. That they recognize our fluids only when there are no associated creatures: menstrual blood but not postpartum blood, much less breast milk.
Why does this happen? The main argument they usually use focuses on care: once the baby is born, everyone has the ability to care, not just the mother, therefore granting rights to the mother would mean keeping her in her role as caregiver. This argument, bought by too many people, is considering the mother as a mere container for babies, without continuity or a relationship between the process of gestating and giving birth and the product of that birth. If this were so, we cannot be surprised that no measures are put in place against surrogacy (also excluded from this law). Thinking that there is an absolute equalization between the mother who has just given birth and the father or any other person ignores both the needs of the mother and those of the baby. On the one hand, we know how separation from their child affects mothers, how the bond works, how hormones act, we know what happens when the dyad is not respected, among other things, it can be a trigger for postpartum depression. On the other hand, we know what a baby needs, what its habitat is as an instinctive mammal devoid of culture. To ignore these physiological needs is misogynistic and adult-centric.
For this reason, equalizing the permissions of the father and mother after childbirth makes invisible the fact that the mother has gestated, given birth, goes through a postpartum period and a postpartum period and can breastfeed. Not even attention is paid to hard recoveries, such as those from traumatic and violent births, caesarean sections (which are major surgery) or breastfeeding problems (breast engorgement, pain, cracks, mastitis, etc.). How can it be that women who give birth begin to directly have a permit to care? what permission takes care of them and their processes?
One of the arguments for rejecting a puerperal (or postpartum) permit as as requested the association PETRA Maternidades Feministas, is that then adoptive mothers or non-pregnant lesbian mothers would have less time off. But recognizing all realities is not synonymous with homogenizing. If adoptions require a bonding period, it should be taken into account through a specific permit. But we cannot therefore eliminate the biological reality of giving birth. Lesbian couples are well aware of the differences that occur in the body and mind of the mother who has gestated and, being both mothers, I am sure that they would not try to make the process of her partner invisible to take her place. All places are important, but different.
Another argument that links motherhood and patriarchy is to speak of “intensive maternity”: mothers who want to spend more time with their babies (for example through leave of absence), who perhaps breastfeed, who perhaps sleep with their babies or carry them… It could be related to respectful parenting models, although I don’t know if to be called “intensive” all the requirements have to be met or just some. This abstract concept is enormously paternalistic, because it assumes that the mother acts as a slave to the system and before a god: the baby. Perhaps it is normal that, after so many years of contempt for childhood and normalization of abuse (let’s remember some behavioral techniques for sleep, food or behavior), there are people who find it hard to accept that the perspective of girls and boys children must be taken into account: it is our responsibility to guarantee their well-being. It is not a patriarchal imposition, it is respect for children. In addition, child-friendly parenting models are also respectful of the mother’s wishes, because they are not imposed by the system and allow free choice.
We can also come across the theory that respectful parenting models reproduce the idea of good and bad mothers and generate guilt, by demanding from us what we cannot or do not always want to offer. This argument is deeply superficial and does not go to the root: the fault appears because the system is capable of transferring its responsibility to us. For example, they tell us that breastfeeding is the best (objectively it is, just like not eating sugar, no matter how much it may give us pleasure) but, when we choose breastfeeding, they make it difficult to the point of having to abandon it. The “I couldn’t breastfeed” is much more common than the “I chose not to breastfeed”. The first option is a system failure (unless there is a real disease). And the failures of the system are not accidental, they are called patriarchy and they generate defenselessness in mothers, making them feel guilty so that they do not demand responsibilities, so that they do not make claims and do not raise their voices. In addition, they do it taking advantage of very vulnerable moments. However, one cannot stop talking about the benefits of breastfeeding and exercising paternalism over mothers so that, if the health system spoils their breastfeeding, they do not feel guilty. Mothers have to have all the information to be able to claim their rights. For this reason, to speak of good and bad mothers is to put the focus back on women and not on the system. Mothering in a patriarchal and capitalist system (both intensive) is full of contradictions: they incite us to be mothers, but mothers that are invisible, undervalued, precarious, disconnected, consumerist, stressed, tremendously alone, isolated, exiled, etc. Therefore, there are no bad or good mothers, but mothers who survive as best they can within a system that prevents mothering with dignity and as each one decides.
As I was writing this article, I was receiving a call from a mother with a five-day-old baby and breastfeeding problems, a desperate mother who allegedly left the hospital “exclusively breastfeeding”. Those of us who are in support groups know firsthand the desperation of mothers, calls at any time, visits on weekends, videoconferences during the pandemic, etc. Sometimes they are physiological problems, but the vast majority of times they are problems generated by the system: health and also cultural. For example, many mothers do not manage to adapt to the myths and norms about motherhood and breastfeeding (let them get used to the arms, that they should breastfeed every three hours, that suckling hurts, they must sleep all night and in their crib, that they do not use you pacifier, etc.). These mothers feel liberated when they know that they can do what they want and feel, that there are no rules in their upbringing, that they decide. It seems incredible that from certain feminist sectors they see these groups of women who fight against the system as accomplices of the patriarchy.
As long as the focus continues on mothers (and they call us essentialists), the system escapes again, victorious. Nobody puts the blame on him. The Spanish Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics emerges victorious by not including obstetric violence and by placing conditions on the informed consent of women. The patriarchy is victorious in the face of the non-recognition of our sexual and reproductive rights. The capitalist system emerges victorious because employment is once again put at the center. And we mothers remain before the institutions, once again, in oblivion.