3. Harper’s Magazine: Good Mother
I’m still young enough to not have any friends who have children. Sure, I have many mentors with children, but not friends my age. I’ve thought a lot about who gets to be a mother and who gets to decide that (Dorothy Roberts is one of my favorite scholars on reproductive rights.) Never, however, have I sat down to define motherhood.
Written by Sierra Crane Murdoch, a white woman, this essay follows the author’s journey of answering a questionnaire for her friend Lissa Yellow Bird, who had five children, “all of whom were taken from her and placed in foster care for periods of her life” and was seeking to be a foster parent.
Motherhood, and who gets to be a mother, is defined by whiteness, and it is not lost on Murdoch “that in matters of the state I have power over her, and for the first time, [Lissa] is asking me to use it.” Through her relationship with Lissa and her daughter Shauna, however, Murdoch’s understanding of motherhood has shifted, and thinks of a definition of motherhood that understands it as “of one life keeping another life going.”
This memoir traverses many areas of motherhood as it also relates to reproductive justice, including eugenics, residential schools, and familial and community structures that do not center whiteness. One does not have to be related to their mother(s): “What is the word for a person not your mother whom you trust as much as your own mother? Lissa would say the word is still ‘mother.’”