Pregnancy: Facts and Fiction, what Every Feminist Should Know!
by Sabrina Smith
Pregnancy is one of the few things that most women will experience. What I mean is, most women will get pregnant at one stage or another in their lives; however feminism seems to turn a blind eye to this occurrence, especially third wave feminism and younger feminists. There are countless third wave feminist message boards and websites that speak about music, but very few that address pregnancy, motherhood and birth. This leaves feminists vulnerable to media-led and un-feminist views about one of the most natural and collective experiences of womanhood. Currently, All I would like to do is address some of the myths and some of the facts and perhaps generally discuss my overall experience of being pregnant and being a feminist. I’m not saying “rush out and get pregnant” or anything like that. I just want to express how it’s felt for me and perhaps one day you’ll think back to this article, if you ever get pregnant, and be armed with a little bit of extra knowledge that they don’t tell you!
At the time of writing this I’m a twenty-seven year old feminist who resides in the UK with my partner and I’m currently seven months pregnant with my first child. I know it’s a boy and I know when he’s due. I’ve been to all the appointments, been to all the scans and we are both pretty healthy. Basically it’s considered a normal pregnancy. I’ve sectioned off things I wanted to say into various headings, both to organise my brain and for easy reference for you.
I’ve always been vaguely horrified that most doctors I have dealt with are male. Midwives are female it seems but they tend to act in a nursing capacity. Doctors are still male when you are pregnant and give birth and you will barely see one. The UK has a NHS facility which basically means that all your basic antenatal care is free. My experience is that this is pretty great, but don’t expect the best care. Anything that is considered “non basic” is extra and you will have to seek it out yourself and then be charged for it. Remember those TV shows where antenatal classes are a series of breathing techniques and funny positions often with hilarious consequences? It’s a lie. You will NOT be told about them by the midwife. She will inform you of a one off class, at the hospital you give birth if you are lucky, and it will be information for the birth. The 6 or 8 classes on the TV were once provided (your parents and/or your partners parents may tell you they still exist) but are not deemed “necessary” now. This is fairly scary especially if you are a first time mum or a single parent or an expectant mother at all! The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) do the classes now. They are a charity and I’ve found it pretty hard to find one locally to me. They also cost around £200, but I think they are worth it if you can afford it. The elimination of these classes also eliminates the right for women who live on a lower income to have that basic knowledge and rights in birth and primary care of their child.
Just a breakdown of what happens in a routine antenatal check up then (this is for UK, but I think fairly standard in the Western world). TAKE A URINE SAMPLE EACH TIME (I often forget!!!) this gets tested for urine tract infections which can occur when you are pregnant and diabetes. The midwife then usually checks you blood pressure and listens to the baby’s heartbeat. She may feel your tummy quite hard! Don’t worry, she can’t break the baby! It’s usually over within 5 minutes. She’ll give you lots of leaflets, but possibly will not offer information unless you ask her directly.
Basically I’m not knocking the midwives, it’s just they are often understaffed and oversubscribed. I feel very sorry for them as they are very overworked and it just becomes routine for them. Same with sonograperhers who do the scans. When my partner and I went for the one and only scan you get offered we asked to know the baby’s sex because we were just so exited! The sonographer, very deadpan, just went
“Boy. Baby boy.” As it was just such a routine job for them. Just be aware that the antenatal care you get may not match up to the rush of emotions you will feel over this occasion. The reality is it just a job for them.
One last note! When you go for a scan you are expected to have a full bladder and this can be twice as bad when pregnant!!!
I have been given loads of advice, leaflets from the midwife, advice from baby’s grandparents and advice from friends who have had children in a the past few years! It can be daunting to think about what to regard as more relevant and what perhaps less relevant as the pregnancy progresses.
It sounds harsh but perhaps 90% of advice offered from grandparents is useless, just as 90% of what you will tell your children when you are going to be a grandparent will be useless. Memories tend to fade after about 20 years or so. My mother was so excited when she found out she was going to be a grandmother she rushed out and bought loads of clothes! She didn’t look at any of the labels and they are all for children when they reach a year or more in age and was really disappointed that she had forgotten how small a newborn is! In addition to this parenting has changed considerably over the past 20 or so years. Attitudes towards children have changed, Feeding has changed, routines have changed, clothes have changed, and even nappies have changed! Actually, if your grandparents are still around it is possibly better to speak to them as trends seem to have skipped a generation and gone back to the way things were done in the 1940’s and before. We need to consider that in the 1950’s and 1960’s new things were implemented for babies and children. Formula milk, sleep routines and disposable nappies were introduced and took about 20 years to come into the consciousness of midwives and doctors and eventually, parents. Now, 20 years or so on, these things are not seen as “best for baby” and a step towards how things used to be has been taken.
The best advice then is perhaps from friends who have had babies in the past few years. They will have recently gone through the process, dealt with the systems as they are and struggled with sleepless nights. It will all be fresh in their minds and they may have a few baby items that they want to donate in your direction! It is hard if you do not have any friends or relatives who have had children recently, and I think I would have really struggled without their support, but if so then voice your fears to your midwife and ask her if there are any groups nearby that (if not for pregnant women) for babies and toddlers so you can mix with people after the baby is born.
Leaflets from the midwife are pretty good for the basics. Look up anything on the internet if you are unsure or press the midwife for further information at the next session. Also find any free coupons and cash them in, pronto!
You will probably get the most conflicting advice about what you can and can’t eat. Just go for a varied diet not too high in sugar and you’ll be ok. If you’re vegetarian then just pay a little more attention to milk and dairy, especially in the last three months. And eat lot of leafy green veggies. Take a folic acid supplement from the very beginning and carry on with it throughout. Take an iron supplement as well if you feel especially lethargic in the first three months. Don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. It’s not about you anymore, it’s about the baby and how terrible would you feel if something did go wrong? I know women who have continued taking drugs, smoking and drinking throughout their pregnancies and all their babies were fine but premature. I did think about it and I just knew that I didn’t want to take the risk.
In addition avoid runny and uncooked eggs, pate (including vegetarian) and unpasteurised cheese. Pregnant women are more susceptible to salmonella poisoning and all these things can give it to you. Ok, so it’s hard to keep away from brie for 9 months (I found it hard!) but I’d rather not spend time in hospital with salmonella poisoning!Alcohol in moderation used to be considered ok for pregnant women as red wine is good for the heart. Baby’s grandmother (on his father’s side) seems utterly incapable of understanding why I’m not allowed to drink as she seems too often tell us she drank loads throughout her three pregnancies and everything was fine. However in recent years a syndrome knows as AFS (Alcohol Foetal Syndrome) has been detected in babies of women who drank throughout pregnancies. Yet again I don’t want to take the risk so I’ve stopped drinking.
It seems like a fine line between scaremongering and common sense. “If you don’t want to risk it then don’t”, seems a good rule of thumb. Don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise. It’s your baby, and your body, not theirs.
I just wanted to include a little about pregnancy magazines. There are a few rules with them!
1. Don’t buy them! If you can get someone to lend you some old back issues then do it! They repeat themselves after a few months anyway.
2. Pregnancy magazines tend to normalise all their readers into a “type” (as do most magazines). Don’t worry if you don’t fit into that “type”. pregnancy and womanhood are individual experiences. All women are different, just as all pregnancies are different!
3. Ignore the scary stories about birth that “come ok in the end”. You don’t need that type of scaremongering! These are very rare incidents that are usually uncommon.
4. Among the products hawked at you and the horrible pregnancy dress adverts are a few gems of advice, but be sure to use them as a pointer rather than the absolute truth. If something interests you then go away and research about it.
This passage is less about the hormonal imbalances you may (or may not) face but more about the very real feelings that are there throughout pregnancy and how you respond to the way you may be treated.
Pregnant women are treated somewhere between goddesses and lepers! It’s true! Let’s start with the low and end with the high! Lepers and I hate to say it, but usually by other women and feminists at that. In my experience there have been female feminist friends that I have highly respected, worked with on projects and shared experiences with, but pregnancy divides women in a lot of ways. I feel that being pregnant leads a woman to confront issues of isolation. A pregnant woman is more vulnerable than a non pregnant one physically and emotionally. She serves as a constant reminder to women that they too can be in a similar state and shows that one of the purposes of life is to procreate. I mean, what are breasts really for? To be filled with silicone or as instruments to feed the young? Sometimes pregnant women symbolise a life “on hold” (as some would see it) rather than a different path, and however many times you can feel you would never shun a pregnant friend you will often see them a lot less than normal. I’ve done it myself. You fear they might get tired easily, they can’t join in with late nights and trips to the pub, their mobility is not what is was and consequently they are seen less by women, when in reality they perhaps need to be seen more.
Pregnant women are seen as goddesses. Highest goddesses by those who also want children. By women and men who yearn for kids themselves. They are put on a pedestal of fertility and often feel uncomfortable with this accolade! It’s kind of fun in a lot of ways though and you should enjoy it!!!
In reality the person who needs to be there for you the most when you feel low and feel high is your partner. Remember s/he is having a baby too!
No matter if you are having a child with the man who got you pregnant or the woman who loves you, remember it’s a shared experience. My heart really goes out to single women who are having babies as I personally feel that I’d be lost without that support.
Always think about your partner when you feel low and how it must be for them. Empathetic thinking is the beginning of conversation. Just for a moment think what they must feel. Don’t be selfish, it’s probably best that you get into the habit of thinking about another person regularly now! If you’re on maternity leave and your partner is still working sometimes it would be appreciated if you cooked him/her a meal when they get home even though all you want to do its sleep! It energises you to not give into all the tired cravings!
Sex is a very strange subject throughout pregnancy. The baby can’t be harmed! If you notice extraordinary pain and/or bleeding afterwards then go to the GP or call a helpline like NHS direct for some immediate advice. This is very rare though.
You feel very weird about sex. The flush of hormones tends to make you want sex but the physical changes make you feel uncomfortable about it physically (no positions work!) and emotionally (waaa! Size of a cow!). Just go with how you feel at the moment and talk to your partner to make sure they understand how you feel.
Your partner however may feel a little weird about sex too! Parts of your body are now no longer sexual but have a function that another person will eventually use! Again, think about it, put yourself in their shoes and then talk about it.
Lastly the first three months are probably the worst for your partner. You will feel changes in your body, but s/he will feel and see nothing. You will probably want things to change in your lifestyle to accommodate a new arrival, but your partner will not see the point in any of this yet! Be patient. When your body begins to physically change s/he will be confronted with a physical reality of what is to come and there is plenty of time to make changes.
At the end of pregnancy comes birth, and seeing as I haven’t experienced this yet I’m not quite sure what to say! Just read up on everything that you can, find out what all the drugs are and what they do to you and baby, read up on the different types of birth and options that you have in your area.
There are two different types of birth that are commonly used. A home birth and a hospital one. I’ve opted for a hospital birth seeing as baby is rather large and the placenta is in an odd place (running across the bottom baring his entry out!!!) However (in the UK) mothers expecting their first born are often persuaded into hospital births to minimise risks. If you feel this is inherently wrong for you then speak up sooner rather than later, however do not feel pressurised into having a home birth by friends and relatives if you personally do not like the idea of it. Look at the pros and cons for each one and remember to do what you think is right. Again, it’s your body and your baby.
It’s the same with the idea of assisted (caesarean, drugs, cutting) or natural (gas and air, birthing pools, pushing) birth. Do what is right for you. If you feel that you will not be able to cope with the pain then opt for pain relief. It your decision. Don’t be persuaded otherwise.
The best way to communicate what you want is with a birth plan. There are often plenty of examples of these on the internet and in books. The midwife will probably not talk any of it through with you so you are pretty much on your own. Speak to your partner and make sure s/he is familiar with it. When it’s written up put it in the bag that you’ve packed for the hospital.
And remember, it will hurt… but the pain won’t last forever!
In case you’re wondering: this is our occasional writer Charlotte modelling (oh yeah, AND little Zach!)