Brief note before we continue: No part of this series should be thought of as an authoritative statement about pregnancy, parenthood, or anything else. Rather, it should be understood as expressive of my own personal reactions to the birth of our children, with associated vague thoughts about those reactions. With that out of the way…
Before my wife’s pregnancy, I had never been in close proximity with a pregnant woman for an extended period of time. While I had a certain intellectual understanding of what pregnancy entailed, I had no direct, sustained experience of being around a pregnant woman. Thus, while I had heard of morning sickness and the variety of other ills, I had no sense of the magnitude of disruption that pregnancy itself, as opposed to having actual children, posed. To be sure, I never doubted the difficulty of pregnancy, but I lacked even second hand experience of its overall impact on a person and on a family.
During the thirty-eight weeks of that experience I learned an overwhelming but profoundly simple truth: Pregnancy sucks. Maybe not all pregnancies suck equally (obviously, Davida was carrying twins), and maybe it’s worth it, but in general I think that the proposition holds. The body expands in a series of different directions, nausea ensues, parts move and never move back, and a variety of pains, aches, discomforts, and inconveniences manifest themselves at various times during the course of the term. Pregnancy presents a tremendous medical problem, the more so because it is apparent that medical professionals do not view the health and comfort of the mother as their central priority. The concerns aren’t ignored, but they’re certainly sacrificed to preserve the health of the fetus. Our doctor explained this to us in blunt terms; I didn’t blame him personally, as he was clearly conveying the profession’s understanding of its responsibilities. This understanding reaches its unfortunate apogee in extraordinarily appalling cases like this. Pregnancy also takes an inevitable toll on a woman’s professional life (not the least of which results from discrimination, although we were spared any overt discrimination). The time missed is important, but it goes beyond that; pregnancy itself is a time-consuming project, what with the variety of visits to the doctor, planning requirements, and so forth. Moreover, pregnancy often makes other work more difficult by draining energy and focus. We were fortunate enough to know several other pregnant women during the course of my wife’s pregnancy, and the discussions we had tended to confirm the deep unpleasantness of the experience. Most frustrating of all, there seems to be a widespread societal need to deny or ignore the fact that pregnancy tends to be pretty awful; roughly a million people told us how we needed to “save up on sleep, because you won’t get any once the babies are here,” which was deeply frustrating given that Davida was largely unable to sleep for the last month and a half of the pregnancy. Allowing that many women aren’t really offered much of a choice, I don’t understand why anyone would want to have such an experience a second time. This shouldn’t be understood as a critique of women who do decide to have two (or three, or four) children, merely astonishment at the willingness to sacrifice.
I had an intellectual sense of all this, but experiencing it first (second) hand really brought the issue into stark relief. Neither of the following points will be terribly revelatory for any reader of this blog, or indeed for anyone who has gone through such an experience themselves, but nevertheless:
- It is deeply troubling that, after enduring nine month of pregnancy, women are still more often than not expected to bear the brunt of child-rearing duties. For women with partners this varies a great deal from marriage to marriage, but there’s no question that, on average, the work of raising children falls more heavily on women than on men. At best, we seem to accept this as a grim reality, and endeavor to develop a division of partnership labor that is as egalitarian as possible. Considered from an original position, however, I suspect that even the most egalitarian of partnerships is shockingly unequal. A bit more on that tomorrow.
- I was resolutely, vigorously pro-choice before this pregnancy, and I am even more vigorously pro-choice now that the girls are born. The freaks outside the local Planned Parenthood typically display (alongside the picture of the aborted fetus) several posters that say “Adopt!” That’s all fine and well, but of course adoption and abortion aren’t equal; the first is deeply disruptive of a women’s life and health, and the second not so much. If anyone ever tries to explain to me that Planned Parenthood is concealing the health risks of abortion, I suspect I’ll punch them in the face. The “emotional damage” argument, in addition to infantilizing women and generally being downright stupid, suffers from a similar flaw; pregnancy itself, not to mention the process of raising children (even if those children are given up) is emotionally quite costly. Moreover, from what I witnessed the third trimester of a pregnancy is particularly damaging and disruptive, a fact that is rarely if ever discussed in the context of late term abortion.