The Rules of Maternity

01 Jan 2017

A diverse body of laws and regulations speaking to reproductive rights, healthcare, criminal punishment of drug use, termination of parental rights, and more creates the rules of maternity. These rules are guidance provided both obliquely and explicitly by the law's coercive power telling women both how to and who should mother. Rule one begins in pregnancy, with the message that "your body is your child's vessel." During pregnancy, women are counselled that doctor knows best. After the child's birth, the mother remains responsible for the people who enter a child's life, leading to rule 3: "mothers must always protect." Rule 4 provides examples of the tightropes that mothers must walk: be nurturing, but not too nurturing; breastfeed, but not for too long; be protective, but not overprotective. "Good motherhood is a narrow road." Finally, the rules create an aspirational maternity, specifying that "only some women need apply" for motherhood. Becoming a mother means accepting responsibility for another person but need not remove autonomy entirely. The rules of maternity must be rewritten, from borders limiting the choices of individual mothers to principles respecting their autonomy.