First discovering you are pregnant :-/

// 21 March 2012

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This is the first in a series of posts by Yasmin, a pregnant feminist who will be sharing her experiences of pregnancy with us, in the hope that she is not alone in her thinking!

The word freedom traced into sand on the edge of the seaWhen I first discovered I was pregnant, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of shock. I am 32 this year but in no way felt ready to become a mother. For years, I had resisted all ‘innocent’ remarks about the fact that I continued to remain childless (childfree!) despite having been with my partner for nearly 8 years. Members of my family would talk about this openly and, when friends became pregnant, they would assure me that I too would be overcome with joy at this most ‘beautiful’ of moments.

The belief, particularly when you are my age, is that you should be grateful that you can still conceive. This, however, was not how I felt. I worried about the loss of freedom, but when I voiced this I was quickly dismissed. ‘You can’t be young forever!’ ‘It’ll be fine once the baby gets here’. I resented the assumption that by critically considering the far-reaching consequences of this momentous event, I was necessarily being selfish, Western, in my family’s eyes. Though my shock subsided and was later replaced with an excitement about what would be happening to me, I have not lost the underlying sense of fear.

This, I guess, was my first experience of the ways in which pregnant women become a body other than their own. People come to not hear you as an individual; rather, they would prefer to see you as a representation of pregnant WOMAN. A special identity to which you are supposed to readily subsume the one you have painstakingly been constructing over the last 31 years!

Whatever the case, you are not really given a space to voice your fears and concerns because this is supposed to be a time of great joy and happiness. Should you experience joy yet have this tinged with worry and sadness at the loss of your former self, this is frowned upon. Indeed, people squirm in your presence because the pattern of pregnant woman conversation is not following its usual and ‘natural’ course.

This early pathologising of what to me seems one of many, logical reactions to pregnancy signals, as I see it, the ways in which pregnant women are from the very beginning, public property. If you do not instantly feel maternal then something is inherently wrong. You cannot possibly want or feel something different to the patriarchal construction of all women as aspirant mothers.

And what a mother should be is anything but critical of the process and all that it entails. At my first antenatal appointment, the one in which you are given the picture of your baby, I was ‘able to find something to complain about’ because, I am an ‘angry feminist’ whose rational thinking brain has long since gone out of the window. Apparently, I should not have been so ‘put out’ by the fact that the instructional videos aired for expectant parents continuously referred to the baby as HE. When I mentioned this to a pregnant friend I was made to feel like this was no time for my feminist gripes, I was pregnant and should be damn happy about it too!

How, I wondered, was the fact that I was pregnant supposed to act as a buffer to my feminist ideals? How could this old friend, who knows exactly how important feminism is to me, blithely tell me to discount my indignation? Well, the answer was simple; pregnancy is not a time for critical reflection about gender. In fact, it is the point at which you return to your natural and instinctual self. Why, at this point, be critical of the fact that boys are presented as the human default? It is just harmless, nothing to be worried about. As though this is not in some way related to the sad reality which has millions of female foetuses selectively aborted. Nothing can or should derail my 100% mirth at being part of the ‘special club’!

Yasmin also writes for Black Feminists, who you can follow on twitter @BlackfeministUK.

Comments From You

Rosie // Posted 21 March 2012 at 11:29 am

I identify with your post 100 per cent. I felt exactly the same way when I first got pregnant. Even my closest friends congratulated me as if it was the fulfilment of a lifelong wish, when I have always been open about my deep ambivalence about having children. I found that very isolating. I had a miscarriage in the end (which then made me feel really guilty about not being straight-forwardly overjoyed about the prospect of motherhood, as if it were a punishment for that). I’m now pregnant again and feel much more at peace with it. However, I think all your concerns are completely valid and I say carry on being honest about what you think and feel and sod people whose preconceived notions of motherhood it doesn’t fit into. I reckon both of us will probably be completely enraptured with our babies when we have them, but there’s no reason why that isn’t compatible with maintaining our feminist identities and values. Good blog – I look forward to the next one.

Sue Barsby // Posted 21 March 2012 at 11:30 am

Hi Yasmin

This is pretty much spot on how I felt too – especially your comment that you are a representative of pregannt women everywhere. I think I missed the feeling of joy and euphoria altogether (I’m 33 weeks pregnant now) and just went back to sleep. I also felt that there was a sense of relief among people we told that perhaps we were never going to have a baby (I’m 36 years old) and that their joy at our news was also joy at hearing how normal I finally was for giving in to “normal” female desires.

But I was naive enough to think that people didn’t have expectations of how a pregnant woman should behave or think – you see so much media pressure on mothers that it never occurred to me that I would be expected to conform right from conception too. I’ve hated everything about my pregnancy but voicing that has drawn a range of odd reactions from people; they clearly think I’m not doing it right. I’ve been blogging (not as eloquently as you) about my pregnancy at onhatingpregnancy.wordpress.com and I’ll add something about this series too on there.

Thanks for this post – I’m sure you’ll find you’re by no way alone in your thinking.

Hannah M // Posted 21 March 2012 at 11:33 am

Very much looking forward to this series as a feminist who is also pregnant for the first time! I have definitely felt this implication that I’m supposed to leave my old identity behind, particularly to the extent that people seem to react with amusement/scepticism to me carrying on with pre-pregnancy hobbies and interests and expecting to carry on with them post-birth. The other thing is, of course, attitudes you start to notice towards your plans re: work and career. I’ve had the whole spectrum of reactions, from disapproval that I will not be quitting working outside the home to it not being an issue at all.

I don’t know whether my baby is a boy or girl and I find that this is the first questions everyone asks. So far have only had a couple of comments along the lines of “But how will you be able to buy clothes for it?” (sigh).

Post-Normal Scientist // Posted 21 March 2012 at 11:38 am

I definitely got irritated by things like ‘he’ though most texts will alternate between he and she and there a few who just use she.

If you are like me you will find that contrary to feminism being something to put aside when pregnant the opposite is actually true. As you have described as a pregnant woman you become Pregnant Woman: irrational, incapable, glowing in feminine maternity, bending to the will of the patriarchal model of medicine and medical birth.

I HATED pregnancy both times. I was debilitatingly nauseous 24/7 from 6 weeks to birth. It was a means to an end to get a marvellous child (and they are marvellous I promise). What kind of a Woman doesn’t enjoy pregnancy? Well, my kind apparently, and plenty more, contrary to the soft-focus rose-tinted imagery.

I’ll save my beef with the medical model of birth for a later post…

Drelli Pops // Posted 21 March 2012 at 12:18 pm

OH MY DAYS! I’ve found someone who feels exactly the same as I do.

I agree 100% with the automatic reference to the human species as male being wrong and outdated because whilst ever MALE is normal, female is abnormal.

Shaheena Salahuddin // Posted 21 March 2012 at 12:19 pm

Thank God you said it! I always felt like there was something wrong with me! I hated being pregnant, I didn’t hate my child of course, but the feeling of being pregnant and the dread of everything changing was at times too much for me to bear. There is a kind of expectation and pressure put on new mothers that fathers seem to get away with experiencing.

My family are very progressive British Asians and for the most part treat girls equally to boys so imagine my shock when someone from my husbands family expressed immense joy at the fact that I was carrying a boy and not a girl! I bet they were sorry they’d even opened their mouths as I burst into tears at the thought that I could’ve been treated differently. I think people know now that I won’t tolerate that kind of thought. Anyway, I’m rambling now, just wanted to wish you the best of luck. Motherhood is a culmination of the best and worst feelings but I can promise you this, your life will change and at times you won’t like it and even if you don’t feel it initially, you will love your child like you have never loved anything else.

Ceri // Posted 21 March 2012 at 2:07 pm

Excellent article, I too when I was pregnant felt a real sense of resistance from many people to hearing an honest answer when asked how I felt because this included ambivalence about being pregnant; fear and anxiety about the birth, about becoming a mother and whether I’d be a good parent, and how having a child would effect us as a couple, work, income, future, in so many ways; and also exhaustion and sickness. The eyes would slide away and the smile falter slightly and then would follow reassuring platitudes, perhaps a bit of chuckling and a changed subject.

In response to ‘they are marvellous I promise’ from Post-Normal Scientist – I’m afraid to my mind this falls into a similar trap. I’ve probably done it myself and its so tempting to offer this ‘carrot’ to someone who is having an awful pregnancy or struggling with doubts about becoming a mother – because most of us do fall in love with our children and think they are basically lovable and wonderful and totally worth all the sacrifices and suffering we go through for them. But the rates of post natal depression are about 13 % which means more than 1 in 10 women will struggle to cope emotionally – and often practically as well – for 2 weeks or more after their baby is born. So, lets try and make sure that these women do not similarly feel guilty about their feelings being ‘wrong’ or ‘unnatural’ and know that lots of women feel like that.

Sue Gilbert // Posted 21 March 2012 at 2:44 pm

Wonderful post! I had similar experience 30 plus years ago, such a pity nothing has changed. Women are perfectly entitled to feel dubious about any pregnancy including a fully planned pregnancy and you are nomal if you do! The rose tinted spectacles society regards pregnant women through are ridiculous and the de-personisation has always been sinister. Not everybody enjoys pregnancy and that’s normal too. Constant nausea is nobody’s idea of fun.

I read wonderful books by Shiela Kitzinger who always referred to the unborn as she, nobody else did.

Post-Normal Scientist // Posted 21 March 2012 at 3:57 pm

I won’t apologise for thinking my children are marvellous, why else would I have chosen to have them, or at least a second after my first awful pregnancy? I haven’t at all invalidated the way women might feel about their children after birth, my post did not refer to post-natal feelings as this blog post doesn’t cover that ground. I suffered from depression about my birth for a good two years. Arguably I also had PTSD. Believe me I know a thing or two about mixed emotions towards children. But it would be wrong to suggest that in the end most women don’t love their children however they reach that point.

There are a number of things that can help with PND, not least a proper support system in pregnancy and particularly through and immediately after the birth.

Clodia // Posted 21 March 2012 at 4:11 pm

Absolutely and completely how I felt! I was nearly 39 when I got pregnant and felt extremely ambivalent about it; half of me wanted a child desperately, the other half was worried about the effect on my identity, my independence, my career, and the dreadful male consultant who was so bloody offensive to me that a midwife told me in the end: “Look just put on a pretty maternity dress and say Yes doctor.” My reply was unprintable and in the end he threatened to section me if I didn’t start behaving “like a normal woman.” Needless to say I never did, and he never did. I made a formal complaint about his sexist behaviour but got nowhere. He is dead now; I am alive.

The daughter was worth it, every minute of it, but I never did it again!

Alex_T // Posted 21 March 2012 at 9:04 pm

What I couldn’t bear was how colleagues – I work with a lot of women – with whom I’d previously had nothing in common, now suddenly assumed we were best mates because I was pregnant and they too had children. Nope. I don’t like you, never have, and I haven’t suddenly joined your gang. Now leave me alone and get back to your awful magazines. I’m busy with this copy of ‘Misconceptions’ by Naomi Wolf (worth a read if you like getting angry!)

Ceri // Posted 22 March 2012 at 12:28 am

Post-Normal Scientist: I did not ask you to apologise for saying your children are marvellous, or criticise you for saying your children are marvellous. Perhaps this is a misunderstanding. When you wrote “I HATED pregnancy both times. I was debilitatingly nauseous 24/7 from 6 weeks to birth. It was a means to an end to get a marvellous child (and they are marvellous I promise).” I did not think you were simply promising that your own children are marvellous, as why would you use that turn of phrase, why would anyone question the marvellousness of your children and therefore require you to not just state but promise that they are? I thought the meaning of the part in brackets was that all children are marvellous, that you were promising Yasmin that she would feel the same as you do. Ie the same ‘It’ll be fine when the baby gets here’ sentiment that Yasmin mentioned in her piece. Thats what I was responding to. As to your post not referring to post-natal feelings, that is simply not true, a statement that when you got your children they were marvellous is a statement about your feelings about your children after they were born. “it would be wrong to suggest that in the end most women don’t love their children however they reach that point.” perhaps so, which is why I wrote “most of us do fall in love with our children and think they are basically lovable and wonderful and totally worth all the sacrifices and suffering we go through for them” but your original post didn’t reveal that for you this was a process after struggles and still includes ambivalence. “There are a number of things that can help with PND, not least a proper support system in pregnancy and particularly through and immediately after the birth.” I absolutely agree.

bayleaf // Posted 22 March 2012 at 12:58 pm

Excellent post! I’m currently pregnant with my second and due to my disgruntlement at being pregnant the first time round friends and family are now just leaving me to it.

I was surprised at how much I did not relish being pregnant given the fact that I always wanted a family.

I also totally agree with Alex_T I never wanted to be friends with anyone purely on the basis of having shared an experience.

I will however say that it is very important for one’s sanity to actively look for like-minded carers of children especially when they turn into toddlers and you need to suddenly frequent child friendly places with tons of other parents ALL THE TIME. Sigh.

I got away with doing things my own way and being very outspoken about my general grumpiness surrounding the general public’s expectations of a ‘new mum’, my son has birth defects so we will always be the odd ones out.

Anna Brown // Posted 22 March 2012 at 1:32 pm

I would go so far as to say that all women of child-bearing age are public property! I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked by casual acquaintances if I am pregnant “yet”, people making conversation just ask if you have children.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that some of us don’t want children, some of us are ambivalent and some of us can’t have children or are dealing with trying to conceive and these casual questions can cause so much pain. Since when were my reproductive choices a matter for casual conversation!

I would posit, with the backdrop of the abortion debate that “all” women are considered as walking potential incubators and when you are visibly pregnant you bear the full brunt of society’s expectations.

Best of luck.

x

Saranga // Posted 22 March 2012 at 3:44 pm

I expect that at some point over the next couple of years I will get preganant and I expect to not enjoy preganancy. I am dreading dealing with people’s reactions to my possible (probable?) dislike of pregnancy, and I am dreading dealing with the ‘I told you so’ reaction from people who have been adamant that my preference for not having children is wrong.

I think I will be written off as an angry feminist, a selfish woman, and a bad mother for not being unequivocally delighted about being pregnant or the prospect of having a child. (How can I be excited about someone that doesn’t exist yet? I’m sure I’ll be happy with a kid when it turns up, but I don’t know how I’ll feel until it does turn up. And I will have every right to grieve the loss of my old (current) life)

Thank you for writing this article.

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