Motherhood as a Radical Act of Hope
I gave birth to my first child nearly 15 years ago. When I tell him how much I love him, I often add in something like, “you made me a mom.” I doubt he understands the weight of that sentence: being a mom sometimes feels like carrying the weight of the world– and not only because of the late nights, broken bones and heartbreaks. It’s because bringing another human into the world means believing that the world can be made better for and by them. “You made me a mom” means that you made me dream, believe, and work to build a better future.
I am the CEO of Dream Corps and the mother of two teens who have brought relentless chaos into our lives while we shelter in place. Believe me, I get the appeal of going “back to normal.” But I also know that the old normal wasn’t so good for moms, and women everywhere.
In fact, the best way to honor moms this Mother’s Day is to think about life after the pandemic, and start building a new society that is decidedly not normal but #BetterThanBefore. Better for moms — and thus better for everybody.
A normal that left women–and especially women of color– with less access to healthcare, very little support, and too few opportunities for growth, is not a normal worth going back to.
Whenever I hear the words “back to normal,” I think about Andrea Circle Bear’s son. He will never meet his mom. Andrea was incarcerated for a low-level, first-time drug offense, like far too many other Native American men and women. And like too many others, she caught COVID-19 while in prison as the pandemic sweeps through our mass incarceration system. She gave birth on a ventilator, and died just a few days later.
Andrea’s story is not unusual. COVID-19 aside, you might even call it normal. Over the last 30 years, the number of women in prison has skyrocketed by 700%. Most women behind bars are incarcerated for low-level crimes that could better be addressed by counseling and drug treatment, not incarceration. Pregnant women are forced to give birth in shackles, endangering both them and their children. And 80 percent of women in prison are mothers, yet they are sent hundreds of miles from their children, making it impossible to visit.
Is that a normal worth returning to?
The good news is that moms are already leading the way to something better:
- Dream Corps #cut50 teamed up with Alicia Keys and women closest to the problem to put the voices of incarcerated women front and center, winning Dignity for Incarcerated Women in the process. Since then, 12 states passed Dignity Act legislation that protects pregnant women, provides critical hygiene items free of charge, and protects incarcerated women from abuse by male correctional officers — 30,000 incarcerated women have benefitted from these provisions.
Imagine if that same motherly energy helped us dream up a criminal justice system that was completely better than before.
- A “coalition of angry moms,” as one headline put it, united to demand environmental justice for communities from Flint, Michigan to Oakland, California. Pollution-induced illnesses leave these moms and their kids at risk of COVID-19. Dream Corps Green For All is fighting to rebuild the economy after the pandemic in a way that will stop the climate crisis and invest in clean-energy infrastructure.
Imagine those same moms, and millions more, dreaming up a green-for-all economy that is sustainable, equitable, and better than before.
- Too many moms are stuck in dead-end jobs instead of using their wit and wisdom to help design the economy of the future. Millions more fear for their children’s safety and security, knowing young people of color are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in high-tech jobs. Organizations like MotherCoders are equipping moms for these same jobs, while Dream Corps Tech is currently guiding a cohort of future leaders from underrepresented backgrounds in Minneapolis into future careers in tech.
Imagine if we finally unleashed the full potential of our country by putting underrepresented people in careers where they can dream up a world that is better than before.
This Mother’s Day, I want us to remember that motherhood is not only an act of support and an act of care– more than anything, motherhood is an act of hope. To become a mom is to believe that the future will be better than the past, and your child will be a part of making it that way.
Now, we need another great act of communal hope: to look around as a society at thorny problems and budding solutions and decide to birth something better. We can look around at the ugly parts of our country, at pain and suffering, and we can stand in solidarity with those who are trying to build something better than before. That’s the spirit we need right now.