Tuesday, January 19, 2010

a tardy post for MLK day

So I’m in a café yesterday, relishing in Dr. King’s holiday – and the day off it affords me. Yeah, I could do some volunteering but I work my arse off for a women’s org that empowers women and eliminates racism every day. I think I can do with a day off from official do-gooding.

So I’m reading the paper some guy left behind and two stories jump out at me: the one about Matisha Goens who left her 8 mo-old baby at a police station on the south side and the one about the additional costs gay couples incur just to have the bare minimum of privileges straight couples get to have.

Some questions prompted by the Matisha Goens story:
Why are we criminalizing this young mother for doing exactly what she ought to have done (rather than keep her child and risk future abuse and neglect) when it’s clear that more needs to be done to fix a system of care that is overburdened and lacks the necessary capacity for young parents like Goens?

Though she’s being charged with a misdemeanor and not a felony, how will Goens receive the help she needs? If she becomes a mother again, how will she build the skills to be a safe and nurturing mother?

One solution might be something called the Young Parents Program (funded through the Ounce of Prevention) that seeks to give young parenting women the skills and capacity to mother -- and which could prevent what happened to Goens from happening to other young mothers. Through this program, young mothers attend regular support groups, gain parenting skills (which aren’t intrinsic behaviors, incidentally), are visited regularly by program counselors, are observed and taught to be better mothers. If young mothers experience high levels of stress, feelings of isolation and depression, this program helps these young women develop coping skills and regain their confidence in their abilities to mother their children – which also helps them make crucial decisions to strengthen their childrens’ lives. They can see the possibility to attend school or find better employment rather than see no other way out than to leave their children at a police or fire station.

But if our state’s budget takes another header into the toilet, this program goes away – much like it did for 3 mightmarish months last summer when the FY10 state budget proved inadequate and the Ounce lost the funding it needed to keep this program running. As our state’s fiscal crisis spirals further out of control, and our leaders refuse to take action, stories like Matisha’s will become more common.

Another question:  Why don’t we listen to young women who express their doubts about motherhood? It’s rather clear (to me, anyway) that Goens knew she didn’t have the wherewithal for early motherhood. Her own mother says Goens had expressed doubts about her pregnancy and her ability to mother; she had talked about adoption but her mother thought it would get better once the baby arrived.

(I can’t even deal with the kind of wacky logic that is.)

Goens became more depressed and isolated during her pregnancy and had, once she gave birth, had already tried to give away her baby. Why didn’t anyone listen to her? Why are we in the habit of discounting what young women tell us about their own situations?

If a young woman says she can’t handle motherhood, don’t you think she knows this better than others? Beyond this instance, if a young woman expresses doubt about her ability to be pregnant, to be a mother, why in the world don’t we take her at her word and get her what she says she needs in order to alleviate the problem? (And yes, I’m also talking about access to reproductive services like abortion.)

I often make fun of the decision-making skills of teenagers (whose decision-making centers in their brains aren’t finished developing yet) but when it comes to this, I’m willing to give them a benefit of the doubt.

And just a short statement about today’s piece in the Trib about the legal hoops same-sex couples have to jump through just to have the bare minimum of straight people’s legal rights:

When the world works ONE way to the marked benefit of a significant population, it should work the exact same way for everyone else.

That’s what justice is.
That’s what civils rights are.

And anything else is bullshit.


thenutfantastic said...

"Her own mother says Goens had expressed doubts about her pregnancy and her ability to mother; she had talked about adoption but her mother thought it would get better once the baby arrived."

My first thought: Why do other women (and a lot of men) believe and assume any pregnant female will be different once the baby is born? Are we supposed to have a gush of maternal instinct once the baby is squeezed through the cervix? Instead, for many, the fantasy just becomes harsh reality. And a teenager is in NO position developmentally speaking to understand the repercussions that reality has in store.

"Why didn’t anyone listen to her? Why are we in the habit of discounting what young women tell us about their own situations?"

Exactly. More importantly, why didn't she go through the adoption process anyway? Aren't teenagers allowed to make those decisions without a parent?

As for the other thing (tsk), I explained to the Other Kid this weekend that I will get married again (it was a scam of a partnership the first time) and accept the institution of it all when everyone is allowed to do the same, including making mistakes and getting divorced. Just like her parents and speaking to my own experience. (It might happen sooner 'cause J* is in the Navy which means sort of free health insurance, which currently I do not have. And our crappy familial legal system prefers 2 people who live together to be married before custody is granted. Because you know, all dads supposedly suck all the time. blah.)

Delia Christina said...

i used to hear it all the time:
'oh, you'll feel different when they're your own' or 'you'll feel different when you're married.'

as if they're sure that what i was thinking and feeling at the time was whimsy, just a freak of neurosis.

this discounting of women as thinking, ethical, moral agents is at the heart of sexism as well as the underlying assumption behind laws that seek to control our autonomy.

'oh, she doesn't *mean* it. women *never* mean what they say.'

it is the single most infuriating thing EVER.