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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.