Dreams of Motherhood
by Cynthia Cole
I woke up at 6am this Saturday morning and in the peace of my bedroom, read more about the recently passed Alabama abortion law. I had purposely avoided reading about it in detail over the prior week because I wanted to be able to process it outside of the frantic pace of my work day life. And then I went back to sleep, and I had a dream about my children. I dreamt that I was in a motel with my two children and I was anxious. I wasn’t sure if we were on vacation or maybe we were living in the motel as transients. People were everywhere—there was a pool just outside the sliding door of our room where people were drinking and sunning themselves and as the day progressed the motel was overrun. People were walking in and out of our room and I couldn’t figure out how they were getting in. There was no space to move and I felt watched and surveilled. As I walked around the grounds I saw my ex-husband on a lounge chair. I couldn’t tell if he was stalking us or we had invited him. But I was extremely uncomfortable and ran back to the room and told the children to pack up to leave.
I have always been pro-choice. It was not necessarily a natural choice given my conservative Christian, right-wing political family and my upbringing at the knees of men of the pulpit. But I always fundamentally believed in the right of a woman to own her body and her choices and I never understood the need to use the law as a patriarchal hammer especially on the very people who are underrepresented in the lawmaking bodies. And I became a lawyer, in part motivated by these fundamental humanistic beliefs.
And now the law is being used against me. I am going through a divorce in a state that is actually rather progressive, and my ex-husband has managed to use every loophole and an ill adapted family court system to drain me of all my savings, garnish my wages and eek every last bit of hope out of my body. I am the higher earner. He, a college graduate with family wealth and assets, in perfect health, moves from one minimum wage job to the next in order to extract the maximum amount of child and spousal support from me. Last year, he filed a motion to kick me out of the home I pay for and attempted to make a case that I am an unfit mother because I work too many hours (supporting him and our children). The morning of that hearing, I pulled my knees into my chest and called out in physical pain at the choice before the judge that day, and I crawled on my knees into that courtroom and silently begged for grace. (See Opinion: Your Hopes for 2019 NYTimes January 2, 2019)
My children are my soul. They are the reason I get up every morning and continue to fight. I chose to have them. I wanted them for as long as I can remember. And I would do anything to keep them safe and secure. That soul connection between mother and child, or parent and child, is not mine to impose on anyone else. That responsibility and connection is a personal choice that no one else can make. I am sure that these Alabama senators proclaim a strict construction of the Constitution as well. But the last time I read the Bill of Rights (which was last week as I helped my daughter on her 8th grade research project) I noted, in particular, that the Bill of Rights and the Constitution is about freedom. Freedom from government intervention into the personal affairs of individuals and certainly against government oppression of individuals.
Laws designed to criminalize behavior like this are abhorrent and a violation of human rights. No one should have to experience the visceral anguish and fear that I felt on the day of that hearing where a stranger, imbued with the powers of the State of California, was to determine my worthiness to stay in my house and be a mother to my children. Fear is primal and dangerous and these women in Alabama now have even more to fear than ever before. Those same men who would force them to make unwanted choices about motherhood would also force them to pay support to abusers.
Last week I was in court again fighting an ex parte motion on whether my ex husband can take my children to France for summer vacation. My fear of an international child abduction is real even to a country that is a party to the Hague Convention and the court validated my fear. This is the same man who refused to help me finalize my application for French nationality. His reason “You do not deserve it.” After living 10 years in France and giving birth to two dual-nationality, bilingual children, who is he to determine what I deserve?
Who is he? And who are the lawmakers in Alabama? Men have been determining for far too long what women deserve and how they should be punished. Motherhood is not about suffering and fear. It is about giving life to a connection that should be cherished and valued, not imposed by a law designed to remove dignity from human choice.
About the Author
Cynthia Cole is an attorney in Palo Alto, CA focusing on data privacy and technology. She received the 2019 Harpur Palate award for creative nonfiction for her essay "The View from God's Hotel."