Lonna Gordon, MD, PharmD, is a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City. She is a Leadership Training Academy fellow.
It is a bright spring day and I am headed to meet a friend at the park. A woman passing me on the street smiles at me and says, “Happy Mother’s Day!” I am not a mother, but after many Mother’s Days, as a “true adult” I have learned it is just easier to smile and offer a polite “Thank You” to well-wishers. Moreover, as a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine I am a caretaker of hundreds of children, so perhaps I exude motherly qualities.
Later that week I see one of my patients, a young mother whom I will call Shannon, in my exam room and ask her how her Mother’s Day was.
“Ok,” she replies.
“Just ok?” I prod. “Did you do anything special? Have a nice meal? Get flowers or a card?”
“No,” she says with a sigh, “It was just another day.”
I change the subject, and soon we are discussing how to potty train her son and prepare him for the new baby expected in a few months. I check in on how many semesters she has left at the local community college and tell Shannon how proud I am that she is pursuing her educational goals. However, as I move through the rest of my day I can’t help but feel sad for her. How terrible it must feel as a mother to have no one acknowledge your hard work and accomplishments, especially on Mother’s Day!
In my practice at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City, I work every day with a multidisciplinary team to provide vital, comprehensive adolescent health care that emphasizes confidentiality and support for whatever happens in our patients’ lives. We empower young people to make responsible choices concerning their reproductive health. While access to comprehensive sex education and contraception are absolutely important, this is only one part of the solution. When those approaches fail and one of my patients becomes pregnant, I support her no matter what she decides. If she makes the deeply personal choice to become a parent, I support her.
So while I provide the full range of contraceptive care, I also care for teenage parents and their children and I support them in their efforts to be excellent parents and raise healthy kids. At the Center, I am able to provide these services free of charge, and without judgment.
Our culture frequently sends the message to young parents that they are irresponsible and a burden to society. We tell them they are too young to parent, won’t be able to do it well, and that their lives and dreams are over when they have a child. We marginalize and stigmatize them.
But what would happen if instead we—doctors, teachers, social workers, society—gave them support? We know that when young people are healthy in mind and body, they can make it in this world. What if we taught them good parenting skills? What if we encouraged their educational goals and dreams? What if we ensured they had secure housing, reliable child-care and nutritious food? What if we equipped them with the knowledge and resources for planning their next pregnancy?
Young mothers want the same things for their children that all mothers want. They want to do a good job. They work at balancing parenting with their many other personal responsibilities. They want their kids to be happy, healthy, and successful. They need to feel supported as they do their best in such a meaningful role.
As a doctor, I am in a privileged position. I get to see tangible results of what young mothers achieve when they are supported. They are happy and well adjusted. They finish high school. They go to college. They get jobs. Their kids are healthy and meet their developmental milestones. They learn how to co-parent with their child’s father or other extended family members.
A year has passed and Shannon is the mother of two and just three months away from finishing her associate’s degree. My hope for her this Mother’s Day is that she experiences a holiday where she is celebrated and validated. So to Shannon, and all the young moms reading this who may feel forgotten or undervalued: I believe in you and I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day!
Crossposted on Feministing