My Pregnancy Experience: Lessons in Feminism Part Two
The experience during and following birth may not be what we’re encouraged to believe
"Love your pregnant body," they would tell me. The books, the magazines, online forums and health professionals are quick to assure you that your changing shape is something to love and enjoy. As a long-term sufferer of body dysmorphia and eating disorders, the body that I had spent so many years aiming to manage and be in control of was now at the mercy of a growing parasite. The weight gain and swelling was no surprise to me, but where in all of the text books was the 'pregnancy beard'? As I stroked my tuft of developing goatie, I quickly realised 'they' would feed me a pregnancy experience based on a patriarchal ideology of femininity. And my hormone-induced chin hair was too 'manly' for this pregnancy ideal.
It took nine months for me to accept the lack of control and place trust in the growing foetus that required my intravenous support and nurturing. And now, postnatally, I have the arduous task of regaining control or learning to accept I may never have control again. I have, as yet, not learned which it is.
I have lost friends who could not understand I did not identify with their own experience of pregnant motherhood. They felt it inappropriate that, after my failed attempts at previous pregnancies, this time around I did not coo at the quickenings or feel a warm connection to the potential life form growing inside of me. It was perhaps a safeguard I had employed to ensure should the worst happen (again) I would not be completely devastated by loss (again) but I simply did not feel the sense of divine femininity I expected to feel. Because of my loss of control, I felt I had lost my connection to my own sense of femininity and womanhood and my pregnancy was, ashamedly, a nine-month inconvenience – a necessary vessel to my ultimate goal of motherhood.
Nobody told me my experience of motherhood would be as unique as my pregnancy. It was assumed as a woman I would naturally adapt to my 'calling'. I was told my hatred for my new body would simply disappear at the first sight of my child. Eight weeks later I'm still waiting. The expectant 'maternal' instinct was definitely apparent when my baby was hauled out of the gaping hole in my stomach and quickly whisked away to be weighed, screaming the room down with her mighty lungs. In my paralysed state I could do nothing but cry for her swift return to my chest and begged my husband to not take an eye off her for a second. Yes, I would gladly rip limbs off those who presented a risk to her, but even now, eight weeks after her birth, I have a distinct detached approach to my parenting. Trying not to become dangerously in love with someone in case they are taken from me. It's a feeling most people around me cannot relate to and incorrectly call 'baby blues'.
It seems, in my experience, that if you can't push a baby out of your vagina you are less of a woman. My pregnancy and birth was a juxtaposition of empowerment and disempowerment. Through circumstances beyond my control, I had been robbed of the opportunity to have a vaginal birth, which, albeit was in the interests and well-being of my daughter, but however made me feel somewhat less of a woman. My vagina, uterus and cervix, all designed for the one thing that I would not be able to do. In my own mind I would feel satisfied to know that it didn't matter to me how my baby would be delivered as long as they were healthy, so it confused me when professionals would sigh in a sympathetic tone how sorry they were for my C-section. In the back of my mind, I did sigh in relief that my baby would not have to pass through the vagina that was ritualistically raped for so many years. It perturbed me that such a thing of beauty's first encounter would be with something so horrific.
The focus on breastfeeding by maternity professionals is incomprehensible. After being encouraged to watch their breastfeeding propaganda videos in both antenatal classes and in the hospital waiting rooms, it becomes an unethical and dire decision to consider formula feeding your child. It was 2 major infections in my C-section wound that rendered me unable to breastfeed my baby, passing the infection on to her through my breast milk and consequently 'drying up' before I was recovered.
Even the many years of struggling with my body dysmorphia, and the body shame that comes with it, could never prepare me for the sense of guilt I would feel towards my now useless breasts. Perhaps after all these years of me believing otherwise, the time had come to reside myself to the fact my breasts were merely 'fun bags'; further compounding the lesson I learned in sexually abusive childhood that my body is indeed a sexual object.
When I recount my experience to those involved in my postnatal care, they agree it has not been a straightforward time for me. "There's always next time" they reassure me. When I explain I only intend to have one child, they look aghast. Their reply: "Oh that's what they all say".
It is fair to say that before I committed to the vocation of motherhood, I was viewed in many circles as a baron landscape of wasted femininity. There was an air of judgement surrounding my decision to not procreate. Some, questioning the stability of my marriage, wondering about my sexuality, others feeling pity at the affects of my abusive childhood. Similarly, through the process of becoming a mother I have now, somehow, consigned myself and my body to making baby humans. Either way, opinionated folk who are keen to tell me what I should be doing with my body have been plentiful.
My journey is one I will never repeat again - not based on this pregnancy experience, but because, after all my experiences of not having a choice, I choose not to.