A great passion of mine arose from a deeply personal experience: Pregnancy and a traumatic birth experience. It was not until I became pregnant my first time that I became aware of this seemingly hidden subculture of pregnant women and families.
I joke, though I believe this whole-heatedly, that pregnancy is one of the most deeply personal but public experiences for a female. What she eats, her physicality, become open for public scrutiny and commentary. There can be, quite frankly, a policing of a pregnant females choices by both familiar people and strangers.
Pregnancy is an incredible journey that for many, can be stressful and even painful. So many women have encountered uncomfortable physical symptoms while celebrating their pregnancy. Often times, they seek consult or help from certain providers to be told “this should resolve after you give birth”. Though the intent is not always as such, the impact is often a dismissal of the pregnant female herself and her needs. Though understandably, there is a big focus on supporting the body and baby as being critical– what saddens me is the displacement of the mother, her experience, and her personal needs as being seen as secondary or irrelevant in the pregnancy process.
In my first pregnancy, I developed what was later termed ‘atypical peripheral neuropathy’. This is a fancy term for unusual presentation of nerve pain likely due to pregnancy. I had never countered this prior to pregnancy and was sent through a litany of tests and appointments to be handed a business card with this term hand written on it and told to ‘google it’. In fact, I paid hundreds of dollars to a Neurologist who informed me that I was likely imagining my pain (level 10/10 most days) and wrote this diagnosis on his card after ten minutes of talking with me. He informed me that due to my pregnancy, I was not eligible for the standard treatment (typically meds like Gabapentin), that there was nothing he could do, and neutrally informed me that the best case scenario would be that it resolved after birth. He handed me his card, ushered me out of his office, and offered me to return to meet with him again if needed. “FOR WHAT?!” I wanted to scream. I was about 4 months pregnant and knew I was facing 5 months more of this pain.
There can be, at times, what seems to be judgement and negativity towards women during their pregnancy. Her experience, her body, her choices suddenly become open to public scrutiny and commentary. Here are some examples I want to share that have been reported to me:
- Commentary of the female’s size and weight gain: This can range from jokes about being pregnant with twins, being too large or small, being too skinny or too fat, and updates on the female’s growing belly.
- Unsolicited touching of the pregnant belly. There have been so many women in public who were approached by a stranger and suddenly, this person lays hands on their body. This has caused great stress and feelings of violation as though being pregnant gives permission for all others to enter a pregnant person’s personal space.
- Policing of a pregnant women’s actions. This has included them purchasing items deemed not appropriate and people remarking on what they ‘should’ be doing or comments like “I hope that’s not for you!”. I bought an energy drink for my husband and was scrutinized by the cashier for doing so.
- Dismissal of a pregnant woman’s complaints with comments such as “Well, at least the baby is doing fine!” Or worse yet, attributing a pregnant female’s complaints as indicating she does not want the baby.
- Offering horror stories of painful births or deaths of mothers/babies.
- Unsolicited directives of how to care for one’s own body. “When I was pregnant, this is what we did….” “You have to do this, this always worked”
- Questions from both strangers and familiars related to birth plan, gender of baby, and baby names. Some pregnant women find this invasive and stressful, especially in relation to strangers approaching and demanding such personal information.
- Pushing and guilting women into activities that they do not want or need. I have seen this with pushing food on women and eating beyond capacity, yelling “You are eating for two!”. Or, negative remarks about women maintaining a health regime and exercising (safety) during pregnancy. My person joke was if you want to clear out the weight room at the local gym, go in pregnant and start lifting. I worked out through out my three pregnancies and you would think Chewbaca walked in by the faces and stares.
The main point of this article is to denote the negative patterns around pregnant woman. If you are pregnant and finding yourself stressed, I invite you to reach out to your supports OR create ones. Pregnancy can prove stressful and we benefit in learning how to navigate it in a manner that best supports you. If you are reading this and finding yourself guilty of some of the above listed items, at the very least, please refrain from engaging in these behaviors. I invite you to consider the impact on the pregnant female and how you might best support her (or leave her be) in a manner that may be befitting.