Column: This Mother’s Day, forget the cards and flowers. Women want their rights instead

A woman holds a hand-drawn Mother's Day card.
Forget the cards and flowers, writes columnist Mary McNamara. Instead, guarantee pregnant women access to emergency rooms in every state.
(Dobrila Vignjevic / Getty Images)

When I was young, my father gave me one piece of advice about choosing a career: Stay away from any occupation with a national “appreciation” day.

As a public high school teacher, he believed that those days were a performative substitute for fair wages and social respect.

So what, by that logic, are we to make of Mother’s Day?

I’ve been a mother for 27 years, and was the child of a living mother for 40, so I appreciate the importance of a culturally enforced day in which motherhood is celebrated with breakfast in bed or tea in some fancy garden, with cards and gifts and floral and/or edible arrangements. You will not see me ever turning down any of these things (though I never have been a fan of breakfast in bed, mainly because I know if something spills, and it will, I’m the one changing the sheets).


But if we’re being honest, motherhood is not something this country actually celebrates at all.

Oh, we sell motherhood. Hard. We make it abundantly clear in every cultural medium at our fingertips that while having a mom can be a bit of a chore, being one is the best. From “Baby Boom” to “Jane the Virgin” film and television have taught every woman who didn’t think she wanted a child that it was the best thing that could ever happen to her. Even “Succession’s” Shiv Roy was going to have a baby, and you just know it would make her very, very happy.

We greet celebrity baby bumps with unabashed glee, watch YouTube videos of complete strangers’ gender-reveal parties and nod in amused sympathy at all those TikToks about kids’ messy rooms or really stupid texts. Moms: They really do do everything, including shoot hilarious emotional breakdowns in their cars for our general amusement.

And we love, or love to hate, the accouterments of motherhood. Will Crocs ever not be in fashion? Or tote bags? Or “mom jeans”?

Never mind the multibillion-dollar industries aimed directly at mothers, from birthing classes and baby clothes boutiques to test prep and wedding planners. Being a mom means always staying involved!

But when it comes to actually supporting mothers — as in, providing essential services that they actually need — well, that’s another story entirely.

Just as women’s reproductive rights are being restricted, a flurry of troubling reports about ‘Ozempic babies,’ egg freezing and more underscore the male bias in our healthcare system.

May 3, 2024

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, many states have made it abundantly clear that they consider motherhood a legal obligation, if not an actual punishment for having sexual intercourse, consensual or not, that results in pregnancy. Intent, desire, capability matter not at all. Cells are dividing in your body and you will ensure that they result in a child. Or else.


Given that 60% of those seeking an abortion already have at least one child, surely control over their own bodies is a better Mother’s Day present than a gift card to T.J. Maxx.

Not surprisingly, those new laws have resulted in pregnant and miscarrying women being turned away from emergency rooms and clinics, where doctors and nurses are too afraid of being penalized for potentially assisting in or failing to report anything remotely resembling an abortion to do their actual jobs.

According to a recent Yale study, there are approximately 5 million pregnancies each year, at least 1 million of which will end in miscarriage. One. Million. Coming to an emergency room near you.

As someone who had a miscarriage, and eventually required a D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure to stop the weeks-long bleeding, I can tell you that the experience was quite painful and emotionally traumatic enough. I cannot imagine enduring it without fast and appropriate medical treatment or under threat of being prosecuted.

You want to celebrate motherhood? Forget the cards and flowers; guarantee pregnant women access to emergency rooms in every state.

As for those who choose to get pregnant and manage to carry that pregnancy to term, or for those who choose to adopt, well, all those “pro-life” politicians and proselytizers quickly lose interest — their definition of “life” may begin at conception, but it ends at delivery.


Alone among industrialized nations, the United States still does not guarantee paid parental leave or, excepting a brief period during the COVID-19 pandemic, provide any meaningful amount of federally funded childcare.

For the first time in 25 years, I spent a weekend alone at home without kids, husband or work. In the process, I was reminded that I am not just the sum of my responsibilities.

March 4, 2024

Because we believe that when it comes to motherhood, there is never enough sacrifice involved.

Most mothers (71%) work outside the home and most, particularly those earning the least, continue to pay the “motherhood penalty” of lower wages and significant career interruptions.

Is it any wonder that 70% of Americans living in poverty are women and children? There are more than 11 million single mothers in this country and 38% of them live below the poverty line.

Every few years, someone suggests that stay-at-home parents should be paid, through either more extensive tax credits or extended parental leave policies, but it has never gotten any real traction in this country. Who would pay for it?, people tend to ask.

I don’t know. Maybe the top companies in the baby diaper, baby formula, baby food, baby wipes and baby gear industries could kick in a few profit percentage points.

How about if every company that uses Mother’s Day as an advertising opportunity uses that money to help fund affordable daycare instead?


Again, I am not saying we should cancel Mother’s Day, which is lovely and important, and I will definitely be expecting French toast and flowers from my adoring children and spouse. But as we all make those champagne brunch reservations or run out for last-minute bouquets at Vons, let’s take a moment to consider how our country actually treats motherhood.

I love being a mother, so much so that I had my third at 43, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. But it is a 24/7, no time off, sometimes physically demanding, often emotionally draining job that should not be forced on anyone, either through legislation or social conditioning. Nor should it be made any harder than it already is.

If we truly celebrate motherhood — or worry about declining birth rates — we should show it by treating all women and their reproductive choices with respect, and by supporting those who choose motherhood with policies that address the reality of the American workforce and those mothers who are struggling in and outside it.

To paraphrase the suffragettes: We may love roses, but we also need bread.