Friday, November 11, 2016

Hope in Dark Times: What We Can Do to Fight Trump, Cope With Our Grief, and Protect the Oppressed

I took most of Election Day off. I wanted to spend the day with my daughter, so I could one day tell her about how we voted for the first woman president together. I read her Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Seneca Falls Convention keynote speech. I dressed her in the baby version of a pantsuit, with a onesie instructing us to "Destroy Patriarchy."

When we voted, I put her hand on the machine to cast the ballot. I cried. The sweet old woman overseeing the polling place gave me a sticker for both of us. I cried again. On our walk to our car, a young African-American man congratulated us. I thought about congratulating my black friends eight years ago in 2008. I thought about my black foster brother crying when Obama was elected, thought about the slow and halting march toward justice, and cried again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

We Need to Stop Blaming Postpartum Depression on Women's Hormones

Three weeks after I had my daughter, a friend was stunned to learn that I had not yet returned to work, and that Athena was not even close to sleeping through the night. A week later, another friend was shocked when I told her I hadn't yet lost all the baby weight. "But you're so thin, and you were in such good shape before you got pregnant!" she exclaimed. Clearly neither of these women had children.

Veteran mothers may laugh at this ignorance of postpartum life, but it speaks volumes about the lessons our society teaches--and fails to teach--about what it's really like to become a mother. One of the biggest lies our culture spreads is that postpartum depression is just one more example of women's crazy hormones making them, well, crazy. Just as PMS and "pregnancy hormones" allow us to simplify and dismiss women's emotions, the idea that postpartum depression is entirely hormonal allows us to ignore the cultural factors that make postpartum life so difficult.

I'm lucky enough to have had an easy postpartum recovery. I haven't struggled with serious health problems or pospartum depression. Nevertheless, my postpartum experience has helped me understand why the story is so different for many other women. Perhaps even more telling, my "easy" recovery might sound like an utter nightmare to someone who has never had a child.

Friday, October 14, 2016

What Does Child Labor Feel Like?

Childbirth is shrouded in secrecy, so questions about what labor really feels like often go unanswered. We all know that it hurts like hell, but only those who have gone through it really know what that even means. And much of what happens during birth--vomiting, confronting your own mortality, losing bladder control--is taboo to discuss. So women enter into one of the most intense experiences of their life unprepared and frightened.

When I told everyone I wanted to have a natural birth, people were adamant that I couldn't do it. They were equally insistent that birth on my terms--no hospital gown, basic respect for my wishes, a quiet and peaceful room--was impossible, and that expecting otherwise meant I was naive and spoiled.

They were wrong. So if you're here because you're considering a natural birth, know that you can do it. Child labor is painful, but it's not the horror many people want you to believe it is. That's especially true if you have a supportive care team (and if you don't, you need to fire your doctor or midwife yesterday).

I spent my entire pregnancy Googling what childbirth feels like, and the answers I got were unsatisfactory. Every woman is different. Every birth is different, and we all perceive pain differently. No one can give anyone else a fully reliable picture of childbirth, since most of us only give birth a few times. But if women know what to expect, they may be better equipped to cope. And no woman deserves to enter motherhood terrified and intimidated. So here, in as much detail as I can manage, is what labor felt like for me. If you want to get a more general idea of what to expect from childbirth, you might be better off reading my birth story.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Sexist Assumptions Inherent in Unsolicited Parenting Advice: Don't Worry, Moms, Everything You Do is Still Wrong.

Before I became a mother, I thought of motherhood as a politically neutral status. Now that I have a child, I'm stunned to see how politicized the simple act of parenting a child is. Almost every time I post anything about my child on Facebook, someone comes along to shame me. They're often quite aggressive--from mocking my comments about my child to accusing me of being a child abuser because of my parenting choices. In one particularly hilarious and disheartening episode, I posted a complaint to Facebook about unsolicited parenting advice, especially that which comes from men. The first response I received from a man was--you guessed it--unsolicited parenting advice.

It's important, you see, to remind women that no matter what they do, it's wrong.

Monday, October 10, 2016

10 Things to Know Before Visiting a Newborn

The Internet is full of listicles about what to do and what not to do when visiting the parents of a new baby. Weirdly, the comments sections of these articles are always full of hostile backlash--"I'll do whatever I goddamn well please" and "Well then, I just won't visit."

We're talking about protecting the health of people who may have been up for days, the sanity of a woman who is at a high risk of suffering from depression and anxiety, and the life of a delicate newborn baby. That people would react this way under the guise of "care" for the baby is nothing short of despicable.

Still, lots of new parents fail to adequately explain why they've established the rules they have. Also, a number of articles on rules for visiting a newborn focus on bringing gifts and food. I don't need my visitors to bring me things. I do need them to respect my family time and to understand how demanding it is to have a newborn. Here's what you need to know before you visit me, or any other new mother.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Here's Why Opposing Public Breastfeeding Makes You a Misogynist Who Doesn't Care About Children's Well-Being

If you come over to my house, you might catch a glimpse of my nipple. I promise it won't kill you. Studies show that not one single human has ever died from looking at a nipple. But many have died because they weren't offered ready access to their mothers' nipples. One recent study found that breastfeeding could save 800,000 lives a year.

If you run into me at the book store, you probably won't see my nipple, since it will be in my kid's mouth, but you might--gasp!--see approximately the same portion of my breast that a revealing top might show. I know, I know. It's unbearable to even think about. You're pro-breastfeeding, just not public breastfeeding. Or you think it's fine to breastfeed in public. You just wish people weren't such exhibitionists about it. Why do all these lactivists have to be so attention hungry? Why do moms have to be such exhibitionists?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why It's Sexist to Think Women Should Love Pregnancy

"But I loooooved being pregnant."

My community of friends has been universally supportive of this blog, and of the challenges associated with pregnancy (particularly when you're nine months along in 105-degree Atlanta heat). But every time a friend shares a blog post, at least one comment expresses befuddlement that I don't love every single second of pregnancy.

It usually comes from a woman who is well past her childbearing years. Occasionally there's also a comment from a guy calling me a bitch or a shrew. They're ultimately just two sides of the same sexist coin, borne of the notion that biology is destiny, and that women must universally love the bizarre and often frightening changes that accompany pregnancy.

I love my baby. I love that my body can undergo this incredible transformation. When your superpowers include making a human, it's difficult to accept lies our society tells us about how women are weak. I feel stronger than I ever have, more in love with my body than I ever thought possible, and more dismissive of sexism than I have ever been able to be.

Still, I am not under any obligation to love being pregnant. Telling me otherwise is sexist, and assuming that women don't love their babies if they don't love being pregnant is woefully reductive. Let's talk about why.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Where's My Medal? Why Pregnancy Should be an Olympic Sport

The Olympics are here again, which means it's once again time for us all to pretend that athletic prowess is the same as character, and that the basic decency of helping an injured comrade somehow constitutes a triumph of the human spirit. I, for one, am extra excited about all those travelers to Rio who will return with Zika, spread it to our local mosquitoes, and contribute to an outbreak. It's a fine time to be a human being.

No, seriously. I love the Olympics. When they came to Atlanta in 1996, my brother and I turned into miniature hustlers, conning everyone into giving us their Olympic memorabilia, then selling it for double and triple its actual value. Dreams really do come true during the Olympics.

I think it's time for pregnant women to start seeing some Olympic dreams come true. So let's ditch the facade that pregnancy is a time for rest and bonbon-eating and treat it like the epic athletic event it really is. A few proposed pregnancy Olympic events:

Monday, August 15, 2016

5 Baby Gift Rules That Make Everyone's Life Better

I pride myself on being a good gift-giver. I see gifts as a way to show that you really know someone, so I'm loath to give a gift certificate or an impersonal trinket. But this pregnancy has made me realize something: I was a terrible gift-giver to new parents and their kids until I got pregnant.

When you're childless, you just don't think about what new parents might really need. Case in point: when my neighbor had her second baby, I got her a bunch of basic baby supplies and onesies--as if she didn't already have dozens of those. My friends Daniel and Krystle were the first in my circle of friends to have a baby, and I spent way too much on frilly, useless shit that I am sure left them with a pile of clutter and a side of guilt (sorry, guys).

So I'm not here to judge anyone for not knowing what to get for a baby shower, new baby, or as a token of affection for a new mother. Know better, do better. My job is to help other hapless, childless people like my former self know better now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

General Pregnancy Update: 35 Weeks

I'm 35 years pregnant (one pregnancy week is the equivalent of one human year), so we are truly in the home stretch. Everything feels very, very real. I've been so focused on finishing our house renovation project, getting everything set up for the baby, and steeling myself for the birth that I've had little time to blog, take pictures, or socialize with other humans.

I wish I had done a better job logging this pregnancy. I really wanted this to be a start-to-finish account of everything. I'm sure it would be interesting for me to track my shifting emotions across the life of this pregnancy, or to see how I feel about pregnancy after its over as opposed to when it was happening. Alas, I am only human, and I already spend eight hours a day writing. It's hard to feel motivated to do even more on top of that. Especially when your hand is numb (one of the many, many common pregnancy side effects that precisely no one warned me about).

Folks have been asking for an update, and Jeff is preparing for a trial, so I thought I'd give a largely random overview of the pregnancy, the birth, and life these days. Enjoy the boring horror that is the wait for a child to arrive.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Why Doesn't the Feminist Movement Care About Mothers?

Last week, a jury awarded $16 million dollars to a woman who was sexually assaulted in a hospital.

It's probably the biggest news in reproductive rights all year, and a huge victory for advocates of sexual assault survivors. But you won't see anything about it on feminist blogs. And you'll probably even see some feminist women downplaying the verdict's importance.

Why? Because the woman in question was giving birth, and the people who assaulted her were nurses. You see, the feminist movement simply does not care about pregnant and laboring women, nor about mothers. Even though more than 80% of women are mothers. Even though misogynists constantly tout motherhood as a fair basis for inequality. Even though pregnant women and mothers are far more likely to experience violence, discrimination, and virtually all forms of oppression.

Why is this? Because Third Wave Feminism operates a lot more like a cool kids' clique than a meaningful social movement. Perhaps it's because much of feminism has focused on helping women avoid motherhood. Maybe it's because feminism is primarily a young movement, and mothers remind young feminists of their hopelessly uncool parents. Since so many feminists are young, maybe they just haven't thought about how motherhood affects women.

Whatever the explanation, and there are many, my pregnancy has taught me that the mainstream feminist movement would prefer to pretend mothers don't exist. Even when that means projecting misogyny onto mothers.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Another Privilege Checklist: The Privilege of Not Being Pregnant, and Not Being a Mother

As I've written before, there's no clear line dividing mothers from non-mothers, since our society treats pretty much every woman as a potential mother, and then uses that status to oppress her. Thus the list below is a work in progress, only designed to draw attention to some of the ways motherhood hinders women's lives--not an exhaustive list, and not at all intended as a clear line of demarcation between mothers and non-mothers.

Note that I have deliberately excluded privileges that can all be written off as the inevitable result of parenting. For example, childless people have the privilege of leaving their homes at a moment's notice, or of travelling without having to find childcare. These are absolutely privileges that are taken for granted, but I think most childless people would be quick to insist that parenthood is a choice (even though it isn't always), and that these struggles are inevitable results of parenthood (even though they don't necessarily have to be).

Feel free to comment with additional privileges, and remember this blog's only commenting rule: if you intend to lecture pregnant women and mothers about what they don't understand, please preface your comments with "In my experience as a pregnant woman...:

Monday, August 1, 2016

Five Ways Childless Feminists Can Support Friends Who Are Mothers

The feminist movement has largely abandoned mothers, but this doesn't mean that all feminists think mothers have no place in the movement. Yet a weird societal notion suggests that mothers are fundamentally different from non-mothers. Give birth to a child and suddenly you're a raging bag of hormones who can care about nothing but diapers and layettes. So it's hard for non-mothers--even those who get the feminist struggles associated with motherhood--to know how to be supportive, especially if they don't know a lot of mothers.

If you want to break the divide between mothers and non-mothers--and you should, since most women become mothers, and feminism and motherhood need each other--here are some incredibly simple ways to do so.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rude Things People Have Said to Me About My Pregnancy This Week

Being pregnant is like walking through life with a big sign that pleads, "I'm pregnant, exhausted, and three people have commented on my weight today alone. Clearly I need someone else to be mean to me if I'm going to develop postpartum depression in time for the baby's arrival."

A lot of people have asked me why I think people are so mean to pregnant women. Many of them seem to doubt my stories. This doesn't surprise me, given that women's stories about other forms of oppression are so frequently doubted, too. But if you want to read my thoughts on why people feel the need to be cruel to pregnant women, click here.

So let's take a look at some of the horrible things people have said to me just this week.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Five Forms of Sexism We Expect Pregnant Women to Tolerate

Sometimes I think feminism has forgotten about mothers. Eighty-one percent of women eventually become mothers. Women's status as potential mothers is routinely used to limit their choices, with many employers openly admitting that they won't hire women of childbearing age. Motherhood, avoiding motherhood, and the constant treatment even of infertile women as potentially pregnant may affect more women than any feminist issue.

But as soon as we talk about feminism and motherhood, we're accused of participating in the mommy wars. Men can endlessly post to Facebook about fantasy football leagues, and daily updates about fictional television characters are just fine. Share your opinions on birth, though, and you're just another one of those women whose lost her mind to motherhood.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why 'Are You Going to Work After the Baby Comes?' is Always Offensive and Sexist

Want a simple way to degrade the work all women do, whether paid and outside the home or unpaid and within the home? Ask a pregnant woman if she's going to keep working after the baby arrives.

I know, I know. You're just making conversation. You're curious. You're trying to be nice. The problem is that your "niceness" and "idle conversation" are premised on the notion that women who can quit working outside the home will, and that women who stay home with their children don't work. People don't ask men this question. That's what makes it sexist.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Terror of Life as a Freelancer: Or, Why All Women Deserve Paid Maternity Leave

I love my job. I love that I get to set my own schedule, make my own rules, and answer to no one. I love it even more that I've found a way to succeed in a highly competitive profession. Others put "writer" down as their profession because it sounds romantic and mysterious. I claim it because it's mine. It feels wrong to complain when you are as lucky as I have been, but there's one glaring hole in my otherwise awesome professional existence: I have no maternity leave.

I'm lucky enough to earn a good living at my job, but I've been crunching a lot of numbers lately. It's made me realize that, even when you have savings and work hard and do the right thing, continuing to pay your bills is extraordinarily difficult when you have to take extended time off work.

I'm in good company. Only 13% of American workers have paid family leave, and most of them are upper middle class folks like me--the people who need it the least. If we as a society are collectively unwilling to do something to fix this, it's simply unreasonable to expect that women will be able to be healthy after giving birth, form solid attachments to their babies, and continue paying their bills.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Pregnancy is Hard. Why Is This So Hard to Acknowledge?

I always thought I'd be one of those women who loved being pregnant. The idea of a life growing inside of me felt positively magical. After three years spent trying for a baby, my positive pregnancy test seemed like a miracle.

I love my baby. I can't wait to be a mother. But I loathe pregnancy. Private conversations with mothers from all walks of life have revealed to me that I am not alone.

Every mother I have ever known has warned me about the challenges of pregnancy. I thought I was special and different. I thought other women struggled because of their bad attitudes, unhealthy bodies, unsupportive spouses, or shitty doctors. I thought hating pregnancy was a choice. I thought I was too enlightened, too healthy, too good for all of that.

In short, I engaged in the sort of victim-blaming for which I have derided others my entire life. I chose not to believe women, to see them as crazy or inept or dishonest for one simple reason: it made things easier for me.

I've learned my lesson.

I am continually surprised by how much we expect of pregnant women, all while deriding them as hormonal maniacs who are incapable of reason.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Why We're Choosing a Natural, Unmedicated Birth

A decade before I got pregnant, I knew I wanted a natural birth. At first, my reason was superficial and a bit silly: I liked the idea of doing something challenging. I saw an unmedicated birth as akin to hiking Mt. Everest or winning a Pulitzer--something very challenging that not everyone is able to do.

When people began to tell me how stupid I was for considering a natural birth, my research began in earnest. That's when I realized that the value of a natural birth is much deeper than just surviving a challenge and showing people I could do something they think I cannot. Natural birth offers numerous health advantages, and it more neatly matches my feminist values.

My decision to have an unmedicated birth has been met with surprising pushback. A lot of people insist it is simply impossible, even though it's what millions of women have done for as long as there have been women. Others become immediately angry or defensive. There's a lot of judgment and blame in birth culture, and I suspect that guilt also plays a role. Women are taught that, no matter what they do as mothers, it's wrong. So when a woman hears my plans for a natural birth, she may see it as an attack on her own birth choices. Because so many women are deprived of any choice at all when they give birth, simply hearing about another woman's plans may trigger feelings of regret, victimization, and inadequacy.

I'm not going to defend my choices any more, and I'm not going to engage in arguments that make everyone involved feel terrible. Birth should be a happy event, not a feud over how best to birth a child. And really, my answer to queries about why I'm having a natural birth should end there: because I want to. Because it's my right. Because it's no one's god damn business.

Like the women who feel judged and shamed for their medicated births, I too often feel defensive. So here's why I'm choosing a natural birth.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What I've Never Regretted, and What I Always Will

I thought I was ready for a baby three years ago. I had a great job, a great spouse, and had spent years consuming every developmental psychology text I could get my hands on. There's a certain smugness that comes with being a non-parent. Everything looks easier when you're disconnected from it.

Now that I'm pregnant, I cannot believe it is legal for me to raise a child. I find myself constantly ruminating on what I can possibly offer another human. I keep drafting letters of advice to my child, only to realize all the things I've fucked up in the past, and all the things I'll fuck up in the future.

This isn't about doubting myself or about self-esteem. I know (hope? pray?) that I'll be a good mom, and my mistakes are what have brought me to the incredible life I have now. Knowing how naive I've been in the past, though, makes me realize how naive I am now. Ten years from now I'll laugh at myself for being so stupid, knowing so little, and screwing up so much.

That's called life.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Greenwashing Zika: If You Tell Women Zika Isn't Caused by Mosquitoes, You're Putting Babies in Danger

Earlier this month, the CDC announced that it is now certain of the link between Zika and the birth defect microcephaly. But that did nothing to stem the tide of conspiracy theories. Every time I post about Zika or mosquitoes on Facebook, the greenwashers come out to explain to me what the "real science" says. Of course, they can never point to any actual real science. No peer-reviewed studies, no cellular evidence that Zika is harmless, no reason at all to believe that women and their babies will be safe if the epidemic comes to the U.S. 

I've been patient. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger defender of natural living and critical thinking than me. Just a few months ago, I got into a vitriolic debate with someone who insisted that we should drive mosquitoes to extinction. I understand that authorities lie, that Big Pharma really is evil, and that the advice our doctors give us is not always right. 

I also believe in science. Science tells us that "natural" approaches like breastfeeding are often better. But it also tells us that infectious diseases are real, and that nature is not an all-loving, all-forgiving mother who has our best interests at heart. Evolution is directionless and purposeless. It has no interest in protecting us, or anyone else. But greenwashers believe that natural is always better and that infectious diseases must always be due to modern medicine or technology. This approach usually ranges from harmless to annoying, but in the case of Zika, it endangers the lives of women and babies. 

Greenwashers: Stop telling women Zika is not real, does not cause microcephaly, or can be treated with natural remedies. Every time you spread this misinformation, you endanger babies. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Feminist Parenting, and Why Men Who Do Their Fair Share Aren't Doing Us a Favor

My husband does all the cooking, food preparation, and food shopping in our house. We split the cleaning. I manage the finances. We're equally involved in planing for the arrival of our child. From reading studies about birth to picking clothing and helping my family plan my baby shower, my husband has been right there alongside me every step of the way.

People constantly tell me how lucky I am, how grateful I should be, how good I have it.

I love my husband. But I'm not grateful.

Friday, April 22, 2016

What Does a Feminist Birth Look Like?

Feminism has a motherhood problem. Something about birthing a member of the next generation seems to exclude women from feminist discourse. Don't believe me? Consider the fact that women with young children are routinely asked to leave feminist events, that the child-free movement freely uses grossly sexist language without feminist corrections, and that many feminists continue to believe that staying home with children is not work.

Nowhere is this issue more prevalent than in the debate over birth. Home births have steadily increased over the past decade, yet this sudden surge in reproductive activism is hardly a blip on the feminist radar. When feminists do wade into the childbirth debate, it's usually to assert--with absolutely certainty--that there is only one correct way to birth a child. This dichotomous approach to parenting completely neglects the very real issues feminist mothers face, not to mention the stunning coercion and abuse women face when they give birth.

There is no single feminist way to give birth, but there is a feminist way to approach birth.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why Are People So Mean to Pregnant Women?

People often ask me why people are so mean to pregnant women. After all, it's not exactly normal to tell a stranger she's fat, grab her body, or inquire about her sex life. These questions often contain hints of disbelief or blame. Maybe I'm exaggerating to get attention. You know, because it's proven fact that frustrating stories are the best way to garner attention. Perhaps I'm doing something to provoke people. In this justification, otherwise normal people can be induced to grab strangers or insult their bodies. People who have never been pregnant simply don't want to accept that sporting a baby bump subjects many women to abuse.

This doubt of women's stories is nothing unusual. Although 1 in 3 women faces workplace sexual harassment, these incidents almost never lead to winning lawsuits. Even police officers don't believe rape victims. Women domestic violence survivors often face queries about what they did to provoke their attackers, even when blood drips down their battered, bruised faces.

A world where women lie about abuse or provoke people to abuse them is a much safer world than one where innocent women face a climate of assault and abuse. Victim-blaming, I think, derives from the desire to feel safe, to find some reason it couldn't happen to you. And for people who have never been pregnant, the abuse women face at a highly vulnerable time may be too shocking to accept. When I share my stories with pregnant women, though, I hear only sympathy, echoes of agreement, and usually an assortment of shocking stories.

Statistics points to the very real nature of pregnancy-related abuse: Murder is the number one cause of death in pregnant women. Pregnant women are 60% more likely than non-pregnant women to face violence. 

So I'm a little hesitant to address why exactly it is that pregnant women get so much abuse. Nevertheless, it's a fair question. Understanding this phenomenon does not require victim-blaming, and greater insight is a necessary prerequisite to ending abuse of pregnant women. I don't think there's a single explanation, and I don't think all pregnant women experience equal levels of abuse. Because feminists have largely ignored pregnancy and motherhood, there's not much empirical research addressing this phenomenon. There's not a right answer--except, of course, that it's not women's fault. Some ideas:

Friday, April 15, 2016

How to Respond When People Touch Your Pregnant Stomach

One of the most frustrating things I've discovered about pregnancy is that random strangers think it's okay to touch me solely because I'm carrying a little person inside of me. It's as if I've ceased to be a person myself. Not only is it a huge violation. It can also be downright jarring when a random stranger sneaks up behind me and grabs me.

There's no perfect response, because people who do this seem to believe it is their fundamental right to touch pregnant women against their will. Even some pregnant women defend this practice as something we all just have to grin and bear--as if we should be grateful when a creepy stranger touches a sensitive part of our bodies.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Sexism of the 'Mommy Wars': Why It's Anti-Feminist to Belittle Parenting Disputes

Breastfeeding or formula? Crib or co-sleeping? Hospital birth or birth at home? Cry it out or attachment parenting? If you have an opinion on any of these issues and you're a woman, then you're part of what has been dismissively labeled the "Mommy Wars."

You know, because parenting is trivial, women are crazy, and whenever a woman has a strong opinion on anything it must be dismissed. So pervasive is the Mommy War narrative that, in many spaces, women cannot even discuss parenting philosophies without being criticized for participating in this "stupid" and "pointless" debate.

People fight about lots of things, and lots of things that matter significantly less than how we rear the next generation. Yet only disputes between women about something still viewed as women's work gets dismissed as a pointless debate unworthy of consideration. Want to endlessly compare Star Wars to Star Trek or devote your afternoon to analyzing whether unbaptized heathens get into Heaven? Completely valid. Dare to question whether the dominant parenting paradigm is healthy for children, though, and you've just crossed the line into trivial, empty blather.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pregnancy, Breasts, and the Special Tragedy of Being a Large-Breasted Pregnant Woman

My friend Lindsay likes to remind me not to get too upset about the myriad horrifying bodily changes that occur during pregnancy. After all, I'll lose whatever dignity I have left when I finally expel this baby.

Too late. That total loss of dignity might already have come. Last night I began unapologetically brushing my nipples with a hairbrush. As it turns out, itchy nipples and breasts are among the most common pregnancy side effects, particularly for large-breasted women. And one of the things you quickly learn if you suffer from this symptom is that nipples are remarkably hard to scratch. Thus the brush.

My 32DD breasts have grown out of control during this pregnancy, resulting in a G-cup that shows no signs of ceasing its expansion. I have nightmares about being eaten by my breasts. I worry I might literally tip over at some point. I monitor them for signs of growth. I plead with them.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Zika FAQ for Pregnant Women: Here's Everything I Know About Zika (So Far)

Google Zika. The first thing you'll find is a “reassuring” reminder that there's not much to worry about if you're not pregnant. But what if you are?

Welcome to the world of useless advice. Mainstream pregnancy sites are filled with hollow information. “Zika might cause birth defects in babies,” they tell us, “so take reasonable precautions.” What precautions? What birth defects?

More clinical sites such as the CDC and Mayo Clinic don't offer much help, either. “We don't yet know whether Zika will come to the U.S.” “We don't know how many pregnant women will be affected,” they say.

And then there are the “natural living” sites. They tell us that Zika is a government conspiracy, or that it doesn't cause birth defects and that, in any case, bug sprays don't work and pesticides will kill your baby.

So pick your poison: Confident paranoia that leaves you comfortably able to do nothing. Uncertainty about what to do and when to do it. Or maybe just a hefty dose of confusion.

At first glance, Zika might not seem like a weird issue to cover on a blog about pregnancy and feminism. But the dearth of reliable medical advice, the condescending and judgmental advice so many "green" websites are willing to dish out, and the intense paranoia so many pregnant women feel absolutely matter. The challenge of finding good medical advice that blends what's good about natural healing with the best of modern science is a recurring theme in feminism.

Moreover, women deserve to spend their pregnancies happy, not in a state of terror or locked in a basement afraid of going outside. I've spent endless days researching Zika statistics. It's hard to find specific and clear information. I think my readers should benefit from my obsessive research tendencies. Here's everything I know so far.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Informed Consent and Childbirth: Why We Need to Stop Talking About What Doctors 'Let' Us Do

"My doctor won't let me have a vaginal birth."

"My midwife says she'll let me eat during labor, but only if things are progressing quickly enough."

"I have to have an episiotomy if I push for longer than 45 minutes."

Every time I hear comments like these, a part of me dies. Since when did pregnancy mean that your body no longer belongs to you? Whatever happened to informed consent? And why are doctors, who should not want to force anything on anyone else's body, embracing this language?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

5 Simple Rules for Interacting With Pregnant Women (Or, Pregnant Women Are People, Too)

People, especially men, really do not like it when you tell them what they can and cannot say to pregnant women. Something about pregnancy stokes a collective sense of ownership that pregnant women learn to expect--and dread.

On social media, reactions to my blog fall into two distinct categories. Women who are pregnant or who have been pregnant loudly cheer just about everything I say. People who have never been pregnant react with fear and frustration. "But what CAN I talk to pregnant women about?" "Now I'm terrified to touch a pregnant woman!" "Why are pregnant women so demanding?" 

They keep missing the point, which is that pregnant women are people, too. The rules for how to treat them are exactly the same as those for interacting with any other human. The problem is not that pregnant women require special rules. The problem is that people must be reminded of these rules at all. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Things Never to Say to a Pregnant Woman: 30 Ways to Make a Pregnant Woman Hate You

This week, three different people have forced me into conversations about my breasts. Despite my attempts to steer the conversation elsewhere, I've repeatedly found myself fielding others' inaccurate, offensive, and intrusive comments about my body. This is par for the course when you're pregnant. You might think that telling a woman her breasts are enormous is a great compliment; but if she's struggled with back pain and unwanted attention because of those breasts, you're just drawing attention to a source of misery--not to mention commenting on a private area of her anatomy.

The same is true of so many other comments people direct to pregnant women. I've had a handful of comments that were clearly designed to be hurtful, or even threatening. In most cases, it's simple ignorance with a side of narcissism. So if you can't resist talking to pregnant women about their pregnancies but don't want to destroy relationships or hurt feelings, here are the comments pregnant women are sick of hearing.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

How to Respond When People Ask if You're Pregnant (Whether You're Pregnant or Not)

One of the many ways our culture reminds women that their bodies are public property is by openly--and often repeatedly--asking them if they are pregnant. Asking a woman if she's pregnant is always a recipe for disaster. Most well-mannered people learn never to do it. Not all people are well-mannered, of course, and I've come up with a foolproof response to these questions whether you're pregnant or not.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Gift Ideas for New Mothers: Focus On Her, Not the Baby

Looking for a great gift for a woman who's just given birth? You don't have to navigate the horrors of the baby aisle. In fact, the nicest and most helpful thing you can do might be to get her something that has nothing whatsoever to do with the baby.

Three years ago, one of my neighbors had a baby. I got her a bunch of baby clothes and assorted baby supplies. This week, she brought home another baby. I'm giving her a gift card for a massage. Now that I'm pregnant, I understand the need for women to be differentiated from the children they bear.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Pregnancy Etiquette Rules Every Pregnant Woman Wishes You Knew

Procreation is arguably the most important thing we do. Parents' decisions shape the future and shift the direction of our society, so it's understandable that so many people are interested in others' pregnancies. There's no shame in telling a pregnant woman that she's glowing, offering to bring her food, or dropping off a few baby gifts. Sadly, many people show their interest in pregnant women by offering judgment, stereotypes, and a hefty dose of condescension. 

We intuitively know that it's unkind to comment on someone's weight or ask about her sex life, but this common sense seems to disintegrate in the presence of pregnant women. A woman's decision to become pregnant does not mean that she is now public property, nor that she desires an onslaught of commentary from people she does not know. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Pregnancy and Fatphobia: 5 Reasons It's Sexist to Comment on Pregnant Women's Weight

"I feel bad for you, with all the weight you're going to have to lose when the baby comes."-- Close friend

As early as we can talk, most of us learn that it's never acceptable to comment on someone else's weight. Yet something about pregnancy sends common sense, decency, and basic etiquette packing. Suddenly women's bodies are subjects for public consumption and discussion. This tradition is the product of sexism, sizeism, fatphobia, and a bunch of other ugly societal norms that harm women.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Miscarriage as Shameful: The Real Reason There's a Culture of Secrecy Surrounding the First Trimester

Two years ago, as I was bleeding out what remained of my miscarried baby, one of my clients asked me when Jeff and I were going to have kids. He then proceeded to guilt me for being selfish; had I been a better person, you see, I would have already inflicted my spawn on the world. Our society's insistence that women keep their pregnancies secret during the first trimester creates some really painful, strange, and awkward situations.

Monday, February 22, 2016

How to Deal With First Trimester Pregnancy Symptoms (No Really, These Actually Work)

The horrible thing about the first trimester is that it's the time when you're most likely to feel like shit, but least likely to be publicly discussing your pregnancy. So, because pregnancy must be secret because miscarriage must always be a source of shame, pregnant women are stuck suffering in silence. This means we don't talk to each other like we do about, say, yeast infections, so no one knows what the hell to expect or how to cope.

Women's websites capitalize on this ignorance, selling us remedies that don't work, offering us solutions that are nothing but recycled old wives' tales, or insisting that because it's all "hormonal," it's inevitable.

Some of it probably is. But a full trimester in, I've found a handful of things that work. If you have your own brilliant strategies, please feel free to chime in. After all, every pregnant woman is different, and what works for one will not necessarily work for another.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Stop Telling Pregnant Women They Look Good 'For a Pregnant Woman'

If pregnant women were really driven by their hormones to act on every emotional impulse they have, several of my acquaintances might already be dead. Yesterday, an acquaintance told me that I look really good "for being pregnant." I did not respond. I paused. I took a deep breath. I went to my happy place (which was, incidentally, a place where I could go full-scale Incredible Hulk and smash him with a chair). I remained calm.

He was undaunted. "Aww...I'm making you blush!" I scoffed, contemplated murder, and smiled. Pregnant women, you see, are expected to welcome public comments and backhanded compliments on their appearance. Otherwise they're bitches and cunts; I know, because the few times I've responded with snark, I've been threatened with violence or called a sexist name.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What No One Tells You About Infertility

Five years ago, I walked into a fertility clinic for the first time. My sister-in-law wanted to have a baby as a single mother, and I wanted to be a sort of fertility doula. Her story ended happily, with the gorgeous little shrieking banshee I call my niece. But it was an uphill battle, and the experience stuck with me.

I never wanted to be one of those women who obsesses over her fertility. The fertility clinic smelled of desperation. The nurses were patronizing; the clinic oozed paternalism. It all reeked of buying a baby at any price. Endless rounds of cancer-causing hormones? Fine. Renting someone else's womb without regard for their feelings or how economic hardship led them to this point? Par for the course. Scrolling through catalogs of semen and trying to find the "best?" Normal.

I had a lot of judgment and very little compassion for women struggling with infertility until it happened to me. I still think the fertility industry is disgusting and exploitative. I also understand why women are willing to put themselves through literally anything, consequences be damned, to get pregnant. If you don't understand this, it's because you have not been there.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

10 Weeks: Intrusive Advice Roundup

The amount of intrusive advice I get from strangers about my pregnancy is stunning. At first, it was charming. After all, they mean well and it's exciting to have people acknowledge that you're pregnant--at first. As the pregnancy progresses, that all changes. Intrusive advice becomes a lot like telling women to smile: an unwanted interruption to which I have to respond, no matter how much of my time doing so wastes.

Because the random people who shower me with advice think they're being nice, I can't shut it down. I have to treat their comments as if they are insightful and helpful, which means wasting even more of my time. The advice-givers seem to believe I don't have any real concerns, and therefore am obligated to respond to each and every "suggestion" I receive. After all, I'm pregnant, and that means I must spend every waking second thinking of the baby. I must not have a job--certainly not after the baby arrives!--or anything I'd rather do than respond to someone dropping some "science" about how heartburn means my baby is going to be hairy.

Most strangely of all, most of the advice comes from men. They've never been pregnant, never will be pregnant, and therefore have no idea how much intrusive advice I have to field. Instead, they seem to see themselves as great witnesses to truth; my doctor, my midwife, the many pregnant women I know, the books I have read...none of them could possibly tell me anything useful. Nope. I need a random, creepy man to explain what pregnancy is really like to me.

So I might make this a regular feature, or I might never do it again, but here is a random sampling of the advice I've gotten this week.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

5 Things No One Told Me About Pregnancy

I spent years reading about pregnancy. I can recite the stages of labor by heart, name the hormones and their quantities that matter during pregnancy, and tell you the exact contents of breast milk.

Yet 10 weeks into this whole pregnancy thing, I've realized I knew nothing. Nothing. Popular culture tells us that pregnant women are hormonal bags full of insanity who spend most of their time vomiting. I have yet to cry, though I do occasionally interrupt phone calls to vomit. Everyone's experience of pregnancy is unique, so I can't speak to what anyone but me will experience. There is no universal pregnancy experience, but some symptoms are more common than others.

A full trimester in, I've encountered some truly bizarre symptoms. Upon Googling them, I realized they're common. Like, way more common than morning sickness and crying at commercials. I sort of feel like I've been kept out of a secret society, and until I realized these symptoms were common, I felt like something was wrong with me. 

If you're pregnant, odds are good you're going to experience at least a few of these symptoms during your first trimester (and while we're at it, here's something no one will tell you: pregnancy symptoms are caused by HCG, which diminishes toward the end of the first trimester. You will feel your very worst when the fewest people know you are pregnant. It gets better, I promise). 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Why Pregnancy is a Feminist Issue

If you listen to right-wing critics of feminism, you'll quickly hear that feminism is an anti-motherhood, anti-family movement, and that there is nothing feminist about getting pregnant. Meanwhile, self-styled feminists attempt to exclude mothers and children from public spaces, and feminist parenting advice is virtually nonexistent. That denial of the transformative feminist power of motherhood is reason enough to call pregnancy a feminist issue, but it's far from the only reason.

I'm Hyphenating My Baby's Last Name. Here's Why Everyone Needs to Shut Up About That.

My husband and I are hyphenating our baby's last name. A couple of years ago, I arrived at what I thought was a great solution to the ongoing feminist baby name debate. My way hasn't caught on, though, so this seems like the best option.

Thing is, when you're pregnant, your choices suddenly become matters of public consumption. People who will never meet my baby, who have no investment in me or in my family, have very strong feelings about what Jeff and I should name our child. Reactions to our announcement have ranged from crying (yes, seriously) to threats of violence. I am a terrible monster who is destroying the world, as are thousands of other feminist men and women who choose to share both of their family names with their offspring.

Here's the thing: if you are not pushing my child out of your vagina, paying the full costs of raising my child through the age of 18, or offering to provide us with 24/7 childcare, you get no say in what our baby is named. If you want to name a baby, have your own.

Don't like my baby's name? That's cool. I'm sure there's something I don't like about you or your name. We're all entitled to our opinions. Basic human decency requires us to keep hurtful opinions to ourselves, and to remain silent on issues that do not affect us.