Holly Richardson: Look past the commercialization of Mother’s Day

This Pat Bagley cartoon appears in The Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday, May 13, 2018.

Mother’s Day weekend is upon us — the holiday many mothers and not-yet-mothers hate.

Celebrations of motherhood can be traced back to a time when women were celebrated and even worshiped as powerful goddesses. Our modern version began with the work of Ann Jarvis, who organized “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” before the Civil War. In 1870, suffragette Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” asking mothers to unite in promoting world peace and, after Jarvis’ death in 1905, her daughter Anna made it her mission to have a holiday to honor the many sacrifices mothers make for their children.

I know Mother’s Day can make people wince or roll their eyes. Maybe it feels like the church talks are a bit too sugary, like when an adult man talks about his “angel mother.” (Translation: Now as a parent himself, he can’t believe the crap his mom put up with when he was a loud and rowdy teen.)

Maybe it’s the pedastalization of “perfect” motherhood, when the reality is a lot more messy and a whole lot less perfect. (And if there was ever a perfect mother, it had to be Heavenly Mother, but we don’t talk about her, so how do we know?) Maybe you don’t “fit the mold.”

It may be that it’s just too painful a topic. Infertility, adoption, dealing with the death or chronic illness of a child can make it all just a bit too raw. Some moms may dread Mother’s Day because domestic violence doesn’t stop for a date on the calendar. Or their children were taken from them when they tried to escape violence and make it to a country that used to offer safety. Or they don’t know where their next meager meal will even come from.

For some, Mother’s Day is a reminder of a mom who has died. Some die of “causes incident to age,” but far too often, the very act of becoming a mother can be deadly.

A new study by University of Utah researchers found that opioid-related deaths are the number one cause of pregnancy-related deaths in Utah. Number one! Sadly, it’s not even that surprising. In 2014, a national study of over 1.1 million women on Medicaid, from 46 states and Washington, D.C., found that more than one in five of those women filled a prescription for an opioid during pregnancy. Utah, though, topped the nation with an eye-popping 41.6%. Of course that raises the question: Who the heck are the doctors writing out that many prescriptions for opioids?

The United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world, a rate three times higher than the U.K., Germany and Portugal and a whopping six times higher than Finland. According to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of maternal mortality for women of color in this country is about three times higher than white women.

Responding to that report, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement saying that the leading factor in maternal mortality is race.

“This disparity is due, in part,” they said, “to racial bias and overt racism that exists in the provision of health care.”

And, those increased risks are no respecter of wealth or fame. Both Serena Williams and Beyoncé almost died after the births of their children and both have spoken publicly about the racial disparity. Severe maternal consequences not resulting in death affect 50,000 women in the U.S. each year.

Instead of wincing at the commercialization of a national day of remembrance and the uncomfortableness of judging ourselves to not be perfect, maybe we can look past all that. Maybe we can be grateful for fistfuls of dandelions and burnt toast. Maybe we can ignore the mess in the kitchen and maybe, just maybe, we blessed and privileged moms can find joy in the efforts of those who love us.

| Courtesy Holly Richardson, op-ed mug.

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, recognizes that motherhood can be freaking hard, but she’s glad she chose it anyway.