Recentering Reproductive Justice

Image : Unsplash

When I’m in an unfamiliar situation, I reach for resources. Moving to a city? Read a thousand blog posts about its best neighborhoods. Traveling abroad? Peruse guidebooks at the bookstore until finding the perfect one for my trip. Writing a cover letter? Research the living hell out of the organization I’m applying to.

So, when I, an idealistic and childless 20-something, was offered a position at a national breastfeeding advocacy nonprofit, it was only natural to reach for the most comprehensive resource I knew: the Boston Women’s Collective’s landmark text—Our Bodies, Ourselves. If I wanted to have any knowledge about breastfeeding beyond the simplistic idea that it involves breasts and feeding, I needed help. I flipped past the spine-cracked chapters on general biology, contraception, abortion, and menstruation to a less-visited place in the book: Motherhood.

And, I began to read.

united states breastfeeding committee group photo
US Breastfeeding Committee Group Photo

As it turned out, I didn’t really need to worry as much about building a breastfeeding knowledge base before starting my job. The organization that I work for doesn’t provide direct services to breastfeeding families. Instead, we work for policy, systems, and environmental changes that will benefit breastfeeding families. This runs the gamut of hospital policies to paid leave, family support groups to state and local coalition building. Even though I was a little overzealous in my searching through Our Bodies, Ourselves, it turned out the act of flipping beyond the well-worn sections of my copy to the chapters on motherhood was a preface to my changing attitude toward reproductive rights.

My job has opened my eyes to an entirely different perspective on reproductive justice—motherhood. Before this job, if someone had asked me what reproductive rights meant, I would have probably said something about the right to informed reproductive choices, referring to access to comprehensive sexual education, contraception, and abortion. I would have talked about the importance of supporting survivors and victims of sexual assault, and I would have railed against politicians who want to do things like defund Planned Parenthood for daring to provide basic women’s health care in the United States.

Today, my understanding of reproductive rights is complex. It still entails all those things I used to think, but I have broadened the scope of my definition. Reproductive rights include workplace policy changes like paid family leave and paid sick days, accommodations for pregnant workers and working mothers. Reproductive justice is not just about choosing not to have children, it’s also about choosing how to have children, whether that’s in a hospital with an OB/GYN, at home with a community-based midwife or anywhere in between. It’s about life beyond reproduction–breaking the silence around being middle-aged and going through menopause.

Having this world of reproductive rights and motherhood opened up to me through advocacy work has made me realize there is always more to learn, whether it’s how to best support and affirm trans individuals or working to understanding how race, sexuality, and motherhood intersect. I now also know that while I love Our Bodies, Ourselves and still hold it up as a resource, there are many times when I need to reach beyond it.

Sarah Walz : Constant reader, sporadic writer. Always wants to eat fries and watch movies. Non-profit coordinator with more than a healthy dose of idealism. Book recommendations are my love language.
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