The Pregnant Feminist Series: Part 2

She’s sucking her thumb!

I am now 23 weeks pregnant (5.28964 months)!  My thoughts continue to abound here in Part 2 of The Pregnant Feminist Series.  I invite you to see also Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public and Part 3: The Postpartum Feminist and the New Normal.

Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life

I have 491 friends on Facebook.  84 of those friends “liked” the picture of our ultrasound when I posted it as a means of announcing my pregnancy to the internet (it is the cutest ultrasound picture ever taken, you gotta admit).  I am still going out to coffee with people, dinner parties and picnics, staying up past my new pregnancy bedtime of 7:30pm, and making “plans” for abstract things that we’ll just have to do sometime.

But the truth of the matter is that I have been feeling increasingly isolated as my pregnancy advances.  It was kind of like, bam! – I hit 30, found out I was going to have a baby – and all of a sudden my life flipped inside-out and upside-down.  I started having thoughts that I had literally never had before in my life (hmm, maybe being a housewife wouldn’t be that bad after all…), followed by not being able to relate to people that were once my kindred spirits.  And I’m pretty sure that they don’t know what the heck to do with me either.

In my feminist entourage (in what I affectionately refer to as Vagina Land), I have a diversity of men and women that I admire and love.  None of whom happen to have children or even plans to have children (happenstance – lots of feminists have or want children!).  I have always wanted kids, which was no secret, but it was never even a thought as to whether my friends would want them – it simply was not a factor in my friendship!  I believe in personal choices and leading the life you dream of for yourself.  If that includes kids for some, great, if not, great.  None of my business!  As a good friend, I also believe in supporting your friends’ life choices and encouraging them to do what they believe in for themselves.  No matter what those choices are.  I thought my friends felt the same about me and my choices.

Well…we’ll get to that later.

Yet here I am, pregnant up to the hilt, and finding myself wanting in emotional support and lacking in understanding.  How did I get myself into this situation?

It’s not like I hadn’t reached out.  Around month 3, I started contacting my friends to tell them my good news.  I’m an emailer – always have been – and it’s how I stay in touch with many of my closest friends.  I sent off a volley of  excited messages calling my friends “future aunties” and including pictures of work we’ve been doing around the house in preparation…but I ended up feeling surprised, hurt and confused by the cookie-cutter responses.  I kept emailing.  Ultrasound photos, pictures of the belly growing, rants and missives about my changing body, feelings, work and relationships.  Everyone seemed happy for me…but happy in the way you’re “supposed” to.  Some of my best friends on the planet, the people who know me the best, were using lines on me fit for hallmark cards.  I expect that from my coworkers, but from my very best friends??

I figured that my expectations must have been a bit off-kilter to start feeling so upset that my friends weren’t reacting how I was assuming they would.  Except the disappointment just kept getting stronger and stronger.  A failed attempt at a phone date.  A brush-off at a party.  And then the clincher – a friend visiting from out of town that missed our rendez-vous leaving me 5 months pregnant waiting on a street curb alone in an unknown part of town in the cold fall rain for over an hour.  I was so hurt that our meet-up was not more important to her that by the time she got there I was nauseous, sore and uncomfortable, burst into tears and said that I was leaving.  And she just let me go.  I haven’t heard from her since.

My heart broke as I cried for hours that evening.

I came to the bitter conclusion: My life is changing.  I should expect my relationships to change as well.  I realized the big expectation that I had was that my friends would care about my life changing and want to be a part of it.

My life on paper resembles something that many people in Vagina Land have a hard time relating to or not judging – the house in the suburbs, the husband, the dog, the kid on the way (the hetero-normative portrait of conformity).  I can guarantee that my life choices were ones rooted in a great deal of self-determined feminist reflection, but the result is the same.  I think it is still possible to be a feminist and choose a life that looks like a product of the patriarchy to outsiders.  My friends should be the first people to understand that.

And yet here I am, doing the ultimate submissive act for a woman by carrying a child, which in every way resembles that which we have railed against.  So I repeat, what are my friends supposed to do with me?  I imagine they must feel like they don’t even know me anymore.  I can’t blame them, I am changing – I’m not even sure I can confidently say that I know myself these days.  I am disturbed by the fact that I have taken more comfort in talking to women that have a much more cookie-cutter view of society than those in Vagina Land.  I am unnerved by the fear of bringing this female child into the world.  I feel extremely vulnerable and fragile whereas the women of Vagina Land are supposed to be invincible.  I am having thoughts and feelings that would be enough to confound any proper feminist.

So should my friends care that my life is changing and want to be a part of it?  There will be some that will care and some that will choose rather to just let me go.

I’m not saying that this isn’t extremely painful or sad, but at the same time, I have a new priority coming into my life in just a few more short months.  I want my daughter to see what healthy female friendships are like – ones that are the right balance of acceptance, love, caring and support.  Anything short of that hardly seems worthwhile.

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The Pregnant Feminist Series: Part 1

5 months

As I write these words, I am 22 weeks pregnant, which is 5.05966 months pregnant for those who are not week-literate.  It’s my first pregnancy: with every passing week, new sensations and social phenomena blow my mind; I am becoming increasingly convinced that pregnancy is the feminist’s final frontier.  In fact, I have had so many hormone-fueled thoughts on the matter, that I decided that I would need to break this down into a series of blog entries.  Aside from Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public, please see also Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life and Part 3: The Postpartum Feminist and the New Normal.

Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public

I find it horribly unfair that I have to be the one that is pregnant.  My partner and I have often bemoaned that fact that he is in a far better position physically, professionally and geographically than I am to support a pregnancy.  An avid runner, he is in the best shape of his life.  I gobble down sachets of instant oatmeal as I run from meetings to networking events.  He is an entrepreneur that works from home and can self-manage his time and workload.  I am just beginning year two of a two year contract that keeps me hopping days, nights and weekends (not to mention jobhunting at the end of the contract).  We live 10 minutes walk from his family.  I am separated from my family by an international border.  But alas, I am the one with a uterus in this couple, and so tag – I’m it!

It hasn’t kept me from grumbling to myself – Equality is a feminist illusion.  And we will never truly gain equity until we can reconcile this whole child-bearing thing.

But that, my dear readers, is another rant.  Today, I make the grim observation that in North America, the pregnant body is public property.  Oh yes.

And we all know how people treat public property.

It’s not so much the belly touching for me.  Although the belly touching does make me uncomfortable (thoughts that run through my head – is my belly too soft?  Were they expecting a firmer baby bump?  That’s not where the baby even is, but please don’t go poking around 4 inches lower…), I have accepted it as something that people can’t seem to control themselves from doing.  It started at the dawn of month 4 when I was just barely starting to show and hadn’t even come to terms with my own changing body yet.  And it’s not just your old Aunt Matilda that does it – I have had my belly stroked, patted or poked at family barbecues, yes, but also at networking events and at the office, at restaurants by waitstaff, and at the locker room at a public pool.  It’s like I have this giant magnet strapped to the front of me and people run from all directions to put their hands on it.  Ok, I shouldn’t say people – women!  The day a strange man puts his hand on my belly without my consent will be a very unpleasant day for him, I can guarantee it.

Like I said, though, it’s not so much the belly groping that I take issue with.  I have been far more put off by some of the insensitive comments, observations and questions.  My body is now a point of speculation for the self-appointed pregnancy experts, the uninitiated in the wonders of child-bearing and the curious.  I’m not to say that all comments, observations or questions are unwelcome.  I have encountered very many kind, gentle and tactful people in the past several months and I heartily welcome their insight, shared experiences and well-meaning queries.  In fact, one question I love to hear is “How are you feeling?” – when asked sincerely by someone who really wants to know, it is a relief for me to be able to vent about the variety of new sensations, physical and emotional, that I am experiencing.  But when I am asked, “How much weight are you allowed to gain?” or told, “You don’t look very pregnant”, I have to wonder what planet these people are on.

I haven’t gained very much weight at all, mostly due to the fact that I was vomiting multiple times a day for the first 4 months and just desperately trying to get nutrients into my body.  It was really worrisome to not be able to keep down every attempt at providing a balance of vitamins and minerals, proteins and carbohydrates.  And hard to not count pounds and calories and to focus on how I feel.  I talked about it with my doctor, read some books on the matter, developed game plans with my partner – things are going better now, and we have things under control.  So then to hear from some random acquaintance that “you really should try harder to gain some weight”, I feel like killing them.  Like I want to have to explain my concerns and strategies to this person I barely know so that they can feel like I’m not intentionally trying to not gain weight.

I’m not the type of person that needs other people’s approval – but then again, I’m not used to be confronted so directly on issues that I am already feeling vulnerable about.

I gave a presentation to a room full of regional managers at work.  At the end of the presentation, I announced my pregnancy and intentions regarding leave and the continuation of my project.  One of them shouts out, “Where are you hiding it?”, and they all laugh.  Yeah, yeah, it’s really funny that I am 5 months along and just look like I’ve had a few too many beers.

Like a lot of women, I have always had a difficult relationship with my body image and weight (see: Having a Positive Body Image: A Feminist Devoir).  When the morning sickness subsided and I started to put weight back on instead of shed the pounds, it was the first time in my life that I have been happy to gain weight.  Relieved, even.  And it has taken nerves of steel to reaffirm to myself everything that I believe about my body, and owning my experience, and believing in myself in the face of criticism.

So here is my advice to other first-time pregnant feminists out there:

  1. Focus on intention.  When some awkward dope in your entourage says something that makes you want to unfriend them from Facebook, just try to remember that 99% of the time it is well-intended (believe it or not).
  2. Rally the troops.  Bring your confidantes in closer and build a network of allies.  If you’re finding social situations hard to handle, check out Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life.
  3. Make self-care community-care.  You are not alone.  No, seriously, remember – you are not alone.  All of that public property awkwardness stems from the fact that in North American culture, having a baby is a community event.  Work that to your advantage.
  4. Stay true.  Just because you are the pregnant version of you and are probably not feeling quite like yourself these days, don’t forget that you are still you – all of the boundaries and beliefs that you held pre-pregnancy may be evolving, but they are still your own.  Don’t give them up or hand them over to anyone else.
  5. Take the time to fall in love.  You are going to be a mother!  If you are a gen-y feminist like me, that probably scares the crap out of you as much as it energizes you.  Take the time to marvel at the wonderful weirdness of your body and the life that you are creating.  This is what’s important – the rest of what’s going on outside of you and your body right now, it all takes the backseat to this.

Namasté!