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pregnancy

Feminism

ambivalence, not anticipation: on pregnancy

I’m pregnant.

I’ve been waiting to announce this until I felt … something. I don’t know the name of the emotion I’m looking for, I just know that I’m not feeling it and I expected to be. Y’all know I and my partner have been trying to get pregnant for several years and I am happy to have finally made it to this point, to be sixteen weeks pregnant and a few weeks into my second trimester. So far, things are going well and it’s been easier than I expected. The event we termed “evening sickness” (because of course anything my body does is going to happen at night, not in the morning) has died down, the symptoms I’m experiencing now are fairly minor, and the test results we’ve gotten back have all been encouraging.

But the story of my pregnancy has mostly been one of either ambivalence or frustration, not hope or wonder or happiness or anticipation or excitement. I thought I’d feel … I dunno, special? magical? and all I’ve really felt is tired both physically and mentally.

For example:

The first Monday after the positive pregnancy test I immediately made an appointment with my primary physician and started calling all the local OB/GYNs and midwives. I went over all my current medications with my doctor (which will be relevant in a moment) and we decided which ones I’d cease taking and which to continue. When the first OB office called me back to schedule an appointment, the receptionist also passed along a message from the doctor: I “must immediately stop taking Cymbalta” (they knew I was taking it after a brief questionnaire).

Of course I balked at this, especially since I’d already weighed the risks and benefits of all my medications with my doctor who’d prescribed them to me and knew my medical history and why I needed them. I told her so, and the receptionist asked if my primary was an OB. Of course not, I replied, but added I felt confident in her care and medical advice. At that point, the reception mumbled underneath her breath “well if you really cared about your baby…” and then proceeded to give me available appointment times.

I had known I was pregnant for less than a week at that point and I was already experiencing this nonsense. I’m on Cymbalta to treat C-PTSD, General Anxiety Disorder, suicidal ideations, depression, and Sensory Processing Disorder… but this doctor, without knowing my medical history or that I was suicidal before I started taking this medication, was ordering me off of it, without even speaking to me? I decided to make the appointment despite my reservations and as upset as I was, hoping the OB herself would be different in person (spoiler: she was not). Also, there aren’t enough OBs in my area to serve the population, so appointments were extremely rare and I was lucky to get in to see anyone.

That appointment was a disaster (I won’t describe all of it, but she was incredibly offended I was considering multiple medical providers and I wanted to ask her questions about her philosophy of care) and it was followed up with a formal letter informing me that my decision to see a midwife instead of an obstetrician was not recommended and “Prenatal OB care is extremely important for the health of your unborn child,” directing me to “schedule an appointment immediately.”

… I’m still considering blasting them on social media for this.

Another example:

Because of a genetic mutation (MTHFR C677T, for the curious), my primary decided to prescribe me Lovenox, an anti-coagulant because this mutation can cause clotting issues and puts me at a 50% chance of miscarriage at that stage (the general population risk is 18%). For me, taking Lovenox meant extremely painful daily injections for two months that left dark purple bruises 2-3 inches across at times. It was extremely good news when I finally was able to see a maternal-fetal physician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies and she let me know I could quit taking Lovenox. Handsome and I cheered “no shot! no shot! no shot!” every night for a week.

A petty example:

Recently I’ve made it to the baby bump stage where none of my pants fit, and finding maternity pants to try on has been … an unreasonably difficult struggle. Target had two pants in my size, neither fit. Kohl’s had one pair, but they were incredibly itchy. I drove almost two hours to visit Macy’s and Penny’s because their websites said they had maternity sections, but the one at Macy’s was completely gone (despite still being on store signage) and Penny’s “maternity section” was a single rack with six shirts on it labeled “clearance.” H&M had a maternity section but all their clothes are made for people shaped like twigs so I nearly had a breakdown in the dressing room after twelve pairs of pants made me feel like a lumpy meatsack. My remaining option was to order a bunch of pants in various sizes online, but I’m going to have to drive the same two hours in order to return all but one or two pairs I decide to keep (if any of them even fit, I am not optimistic).

***

And on top of all of that, I have this niggling worry what I’m feeling isn’t normal, or “right.” When I look down at my growing belly I don’t feel joy or anticipation. Mostly I feel … confused. Even being pregnant for over three months has not been enough to convince me this is real and happening and something worth feeling excited about. If anything I’m just annoyed my feet hurt, I can’t take my migraine medication (hello, headache I’ve had every day for three weeks), and I have to get up three or four times every night to pee.

Usually, planning things is my jam. I am the “research what to buy” queen, and it’s normally a task I revel in. The thought of decorating the nursery, instead of making me giddy and having me pin endless ideas (my typical response to home improvement projects) is filling me with dread. Figuring out what to register for is utterly overwhelming and makes my brain shut off every time I even glance at one of those “registry checklist” articles.

My therapist keeps telling me I can’t legislate my feelings — I can’t decide what emotions are “correct” or “appropriate” to feel and then allow only those feelings and banish all the others. My feelings exist, they’re there, and I have to deal with them as they are instead of insisting they be something different.

I don’t want to feel frustrated, annoyed, confused, or at best ambivalent. I want to feel happy– I want to be reveling in the anticipation. I feel like I should have the second trimester pregnancy “glow” and all I know is people congratulating me makes me feel an emotion I can’t name. Embarrassment? Resentment? I want to disappear? There have even been moments, when I’m particularly exhausted and my back has hurt so bad that day I can’t really move around, where I’ve felt regret and I’m filled with shame. We were actively trying to get pregnant for years and I feel regret? Over a decision I consciously re-made every time I had sex? I hate that in conversations with acquaintances and friends I feel like I’m constantly faking it. Good news: I’m pregnant! Except it doesn’t feel like good news, just … news.

I’m doing everything I’m supposed to. I’m taking my prenatals, I’m trying to eat well and drink enough water. I’m going through all the motions– making appointments with chiropractors, getting routine bloodwork done, putting lotion on my belly. But now the recommendations are all things like “talk to your baby! you and your partner can read books out loud!” and I’m still struggling not to refer to the eventual person growing inside me as “it.”

This isn’t the pregnancy announcement I wanted to write. But it’s an honest one.

Photography by Tatiana Vdb
Feminism

ordeal of the bitter waters, part two

mother and baby

For this series, I’m going to be monitoring the comments a little more closely than I ordinarily do. I haven’t gotten any comments that I’ve needed to moderate, yet, but I am discussing an incredibly charged issue. I will not tolerate any personal attacks– on me or anyone else.
Also, I am not really writing this series to convince anyone. This series is about my story
— the road I traveled that brought me to this point.

For a long time– years, actually– I was in a very similar space to many of you. It’s a place that is beginning to fill with people who are searching for answers and realizing that there aren’t many. So, I used to exist in a sort of limbo where nothing quite makes sense, but somehow it feels the most honest and the most compassionate. It’s an in-between place where your hearts can grieve over a tragedy, but still see the necessity for women to have access to safe reproductive medicine. Being willing to protect the reproductive rights of women, all while believing that abortion is morally wrong. Politically and legally necessary, but still wrong.

The interesting thing about this place is that there is a huge spectrum. No one is there for exactly the same reason, and the gray is constantly shifting. When I first entered that space, I was there because I had my first glimpse at the harsh, broken reality.

For most of my life, I believed that almost all abortions were wrong– evil, actually. The only exception– the only one— was in cases where the pregnancy threatened the life of the mother. Only then was it acceptable. Only then. Exceptions for rape and incest weren’t even on my horizon– after all, why punish an innocent baby? It’s not his fault that the father was a rapist. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and the words would come out glib and blithe while I confidently flipped my hair and turned up my nose at women who would murder their own baby.

But then I came staggering, bewildered, into the gray place. Because, at the time, I didn’t have the word rape for what had happened to me. The only thing I knew was that the thought of having my fiancé’s baby terrified me for reasons I couldn’t explain. I could not have his baby. I could not. And I didn’t understand why. But, in those weeks, before I either miscarried (most pregnancies fail in the first few weeks) or was merely late, I came to understand that there were probably thousands of girls who were so frightened they could barely breathe or eat or sleep, and I could no longer judge them– because I was one. It took me years to understand that one of the reasons why the thought of carrying my abuser’s baby frightened me beyond reason was that he was also my rapist.

And that’s when I understood that being pro-life and advocating for the rape exception was wrong.

Because, if I’d lived in a system where you have to prove you were raped? I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I didn’t even understand that I was raped– and, even if I had, that would have meant going through the excruciating, traumatic process of reporting him. All of that would have had to happen before I could have even called a clinic. And the thought of living in that world . . . it sickens me.  And when I first stumbled into the gray place, one of the first things I discovered was that, in 31 states, rapists can sue for custody of the child— and they frequently do this in order to get the woman to drop criminal charges. If she doesn’t take him to trial for raping her, he’ll surrender all legal rights to the baby.

My eyes were forced open, and the reality I’d been denying all my life came crashing in. None of what I’d been taught to believe was as clear-cut, as black-and-white, as it had been given to me. There were reasons– desperate, horrible reasons– for a woman to need to end her pregnancy. I understood that, had felt it in a way that now, when I try to remember what those weeks were like, I can barely breathe and all I want to do is cry.

I wandered deeper into the gray when I started reading the stories of women who had terminated for medical reasons. I had come into this place believing, with all my heart, that it was all right– even merciful– to terminate a pregnancy if it threatened the mother’s life. It never occurred to me how untenable that position was, or what it revealed about what I believed about unborn life. But these stories brought that piece of me into the harsh light: there was a sliver inside of me that already knew that an unborn fetus was not the same thing as a full-grown human being. I had accepted that, in this worse-case scenario, it is morally acceptable to terminate a pregnancy, and I had made that decision because I believed that a fetus did not have the same rights as a mother.

But I read stories, like this one, and my heart broke. Because these mothers didn’t see it that way. They wanted their precious babies, to cradle them in their arms and smell their skin and touch their fuzzy-soft hair. But they gave them up, valuing them as life unlived, because of a diagnoses that meant their child would live in constant, unending pain. And what I’d always believed– that God is in control, and he created that little baby with all its medical problems — that belief was crushed under their grief. And they didn’t decide to terminate their pregnancies because it would eventually result in their own death: they ended them because they loved their baby, and were trying to do the right thing, the best thing, for their child.

So I stepped further into the gray. I decided that I could no longer accept any of what the pro-life/anti-abortion movement wants to accomplish. They seek to reduce access to contraception– even though that raises the teen pregnancy and abortion rates. They believe that a rape exception would be all right– but living in that world would be heinous and terrifying. They want to ban any abortion after 20 weeks outright, with many laws having no exceptions for any medical reason.

In short, they want Ireland.

Ireland is a pro-life advocate’s dream.

But, Ireland is being forced to come to terms with the real-life consequences of its policies. Tania McCabe, pregnant with twins, died in 2007, because doctors could not legally terminate her pregnancy. Savita Halappanavar died in 2012 from sepsis, because the doctors had to wait until the fetus’ heart had stopped beating in order to perform the procedure. And, today, lawmakers in Texas, Ohio, Nebraska, North Carolina and others are pursuing the same type of legislation that killed these women.

So, I became politically pro-choice.

But, morally, I couldn’t bring myself to embrace it.

That changed when, after years of struggling, I turned to the Bible for answers– and what I found unraveled everything I believed.