Stop patronizing pregnant women

My beautiful mother, upon having recently brought me into the world.

One of the more unpleasant surprises in my first trimester was my discovery of the widespread condescension heaped upon the pregnant.

I did not expect this. I have lived in and managed my body for three decades now. I have been married for eight years. I have been working for ten. I have a mortgage. I have managed to keep myself alive thus far. But should I be trusted to gestate? All on my own? That doesn’t sound safe.

I don’t know if there is an American pregnancy lobby, but I have felt affronted by it just the same. As soon as I made the terrible mistake to start reading articles about pregnancy, I discovered this looming paternalistic conspiracy to treat women like ignorant cows. Women are thick-minded mammals who won’t question “science” or the accuracy of “studies,” even when they plainly contradict themselves. They don’t know enough to keep themselves from killing their babies willy-nilly! They don’t get that babies are the most important thing! Without us, the sanctified lobbyists of American pregnancy, they wouldn’t have a clue about how to take care of their bodies or their babies!

If you’ve ever looked at a patronizing pregnancy app, you get hit with this tone immediately. The consistent approach of these popular apps made me batty. Early on, I was curious about how the baby was developing and what was happening inside me at each week. I downloaded two apps, BabyCenter and The Bump, but I eventually stopped looking at them altogether because of all of the condescension mixed with fear-mongering. The apps present you with (1) a feed of terrifying articles (one was literally titled, “Top 50 Pregnancy Fears.” Others: “Are you miscarrying right now?” “What happens to baby if you have just one drink”) and (2) a flood of condescending advice that is written as if for an ignorant child. And then there’s typically a message board from the pit of hell, with hordes of terrified women asking and giving each other medical advice. In sum: Pregnancy apps are bad. Don’t use them.

But you know what’s also bad (or less than great)? OB offices. My office, which is presumably composed of nice doctors, told me to have a six-week visit with their “pregnancy education nurse,” whom I’ll call Janice. This is basically a visit so that a nurse can lecture a pregnant woman, who is, by all accounts, a knocked-up dodo who has no clue what she’s just gotten herself into. Janice, at least, talked to me this way. Janice was a well-meaning senior citizen. She wore a giant platinum crucifix and struggled with her Dell laptop during the duration of our visit. She calculated my due date with a hand-held plastic wheel (which I thought was a cute, old-fashioned touch).

Janice was friendly, but she was also the peculiar mixture of being both condescending and deeply uninformed at the same time. She ran me through a litany of commandments without explaining the rationale behind a single one.

“And you’re not drinking, right?” she asked, pen hovering over a check box. I wasn’t, but what if I was? What if I had been, just a few weeks ago, before I knew I was pregnant? What a terrible way to lead into that question. And then she didn’t give me any reasons why I shouldn’t drink. All of her questions were framed this way. Another exchange went like this:

“You don’t eat sushi, right?”

“Well, I do enjoy sushi, yes. Why shouldn’t I have sushi?” I asked.

“Because of the mercury.”

“But mercury still exists even in cooked fish.”

“Well. Yeah. I guess that’s true. But you still shouldn’t have it.”

I didn’t ask another “why” because I knew she didn’t have an answer. (I knew the answer, and I knew that sushi really isn’t that dangerous; if you are sketched out by the quality of a sushi place, don’t eat there, regardless of your gestational capacity.)

Later, I was given unsolicited advice from a male osteopathy student about what position I should give birth in if I don’t want to “tear horribly.” The best position, according to him? And I quote: “The traditional way, flat on your back.” Aside from the absurd use of the word “traditional,” this was his counsel, despite the veritable reams of evidence that birthing on your back is the worst position in which to bring a baby into the world. (Importantly, it has only been considered “traditional” since we started having male OBs deliver babies instead of midwives, because it was more convenient for them to catch babies if the woman was working against gravity, on her back.)

This is the American baby bias—baby trumps mother, every damn time—that makes me feel insane. The sacred fetus is to be protected at all costs from that woman it’s growing inside. Women’s knowledge about their own bodies and their own wisdom about birth is repeatedly discounted in favor of the establishment, which often seems to feature a loud chorus of male voices.

As Rachel Cusk writes in A Life’s Work (which is extremely grim for different reasons, and which I do not recommend):

“The baby plays a curious role in the culture of pregnancy. It is at once victim and autocrat. It is a being destined to live only in the moment of perfection that is its birth, after which it degenerates and decays, becomes human and sinful, cries and is returned to the realm of the real. But in pregnancy, the baby is a wonder, a miracle, an expiation.”

The mother is a dangerous interloper. She can’t be trusted! She’s a clueless breeder! She may be creating the all-important life, sure, but does she really know what she’s doing? She needs to be told. She needs to be bossed around and micromanaged. She needs a long list of everything she’s not allowed to do anymore, and then she should be shamed repeatedly, for the rest of the child’s life, if she forgets or ignores a single thing.

As Danya Glabau writes in “Sins of the Mother,” published in Real Life:

“The imperative to do more and be better is not only a question of the well-being of the person carrying the child. At stake (so we are told!) are concerns that are bigger than us and yet seem to depend on us: the future of the national economy and the health of the species. When pregnant people fall short, they fail not only themselves but the imagined heirs, nations, and biological kin by whom they could have done better.”

I’m already sick of it, and I’m only halfway through this pregnancy. Because here’s the thing: Yes, children are precious. Yes, some mothers-to-be could be knocked-up dodos. But we must stop treating women like they are no more intelligent than the infants they’re carrying and then scaring them into submission.

I’m furious about it, and I’m enjoying using my fury in productive ways for the remainder of this pregnancy. Here’s to smart, capable women, who have been bringing human beings into the world for millennia—and down with all of the misogynistic fear-mongers who lurk behind every baby app and cash register and desk.

Further reading that does not patronize the pregnant

(What do all of these pieces have in common? Women authors. I’ll listen to thoughtful, educated men on most occasions, but I’m not taking any birthing advice from them.)

Monday Snax

The four of us, about to leave Primland.

(More Primland photos here!)

We enjoyed a simultaneously wild (nightmare car ride; lost in the woods; I vomited) and relaxing (watching ANTM; eating chocolate; drinking wine) weekend at Primland. I already miss the family women, but I am delighted at the thought that I get to see them all again in just a few days! Very thankful for Thanksgiving.

Today, I’d like to do a special feature on Snax and share with you the work of some of our incredibly gifted friends here:

Matt Kleberg. Matt is one of the most hilarious and generous people we have met in Charlottesville, and he’s also one of the greatest painters. I have loved discovering his work and am always so impressed with his color choices and approaches. Enjoy his diverse and beautiful portfolio! (Matt Kleberg)

Ross McDermott. Ross and I somehow always end up sitting next to each other and conspiring. In our friend circle, we rank at the opposite ends of the age spectrum (he’s the oldest; I’m the youngest). We get along well. I didn’t know until recently how talented he was with a camera. National Geographic (yes, the premier photography publication) courted him to produce the American Festivals Project. He traveled around the country for a year capturing America’s craziest and most interesting festivals. The results are outstanding. (Surface Below)

Now, back to your regularly scheduled program. With some gravy and cranberry sauce on the side.

Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving. I just discovered Allie Brosh’s blog, and it has had me LOL’ing all over the place. I think this is my favorite post so far. Please enjoy. Please LOL. (Hyperbole and a Half)

Ernie. Ernie the lop-eared rabbit looks startlingly similar to our childhood bunny, Spencer. Want to snuggle right now. (From Me to You)

Mirror Mirror. In general, I feel like pregnancy photo shoots always turn out weird and awkward, but this one takes the cake. (Awkward Family Photos)

Free Font: Matilde. I’m always on the lookout for pretty fonts, especially when they’re free. I really like this one. So delicate. (How About Orange)

Photo of the Day. This kid knows what he wants, and he will stop at nothing to get it. (Marvelous Kiddo)

The 10 Most Confusing Vintage Subway Ads. Advertising from the 1940s and 50s is almost always hilarious. And weird. (Best Week Ever)

Owl Lover 2011 Calendar. OK, so I wouldn’t exactly classify myself as an “owl lover,” but this calendar tool is pretty sweet. A collection of artists painted/drew/designed some owls and this site lets you assign your favorite works to a month and print off a lovely 2011 calendar for yourself. I pinned mine to my cubicle wall.

Monday Snax

So. I had a dream last night that I was stricken by another wave of pregnancy terror (not too unrealistic) and so I took a pregnancy test at home. When I looked at the stick to see the result, it said: “MIGHT BE.” I was so mad. NOT helpful! Really, not cool, Psyche. Then I woke up. Hi, Monday morning, nice to meet you.

Great weekend with Guion. His concert on Saturday night was fantastic and it was the most well-attended show I’ve been to at The Garage thus far. Everybody loved him, of course. We went to Pen Park yesterday and flopped on the ground and read Ivan Turgenev’s Spring Torrents aloud to each other. It was romantic. And hilarious.

Snax, with extra cream cheese:

Ally + Kate. Aww. Miss these girls; can’t wait to see them over Thanksgiving. Such beautiful shots of such beautiful kids. (Como Say What?)

Life at Home. Another post from Grace. This makes me really, really, really want to pack up, jump in the car, and hit the road for Davidson. (Como Say What?)

1010 Project. A bit old now, but still worth looking at: A challenge to some of the best blog-based photographers to take 10 pictures on 10/10/10. The results are very charming. (1010 Project)

Lucas Foglia: Re-Wilding. These are some of the craziest photos I’ve seen. Photographer Lucas Foglia wandered into the wilderness of the southeast to find people living off the grid. These humans are fascinating, and the photographs are riveting. (Lucas Foglia)

Tata Vislevskaya: In Switzerland. I want to go to there. (Modish)

Why Can’t Middle-Aged Women Have Long Hair? An interesting question, and it seems to be universally mandated by American culture: older women with long hair get instantly labeled as witches or hippies. Why must this be? (The New York Times)

Chris Pratt’s Weight-Gain Tips. I don’t watch “Parks and Recreation,” but this is pretty funny. (Vulture)

TWO, yes two, features from NYT’s amazing Great Homes section:

Who Lives There: The Pyramid Atop Seattle’s Smith Tower. All I want to know is HOW did these people score this place to live?? Crazy! (New York Times)

A Log Home in Chapel Hill. But not just any log home… Never knew this existed in town. Looks magical, doesn’t it? The owner is a twig sculptor. What a fascinating profession. (New York Times)

A Comprehensive Glossary of GIFs. I don’t know why these are so funny. But they are. You will LOL. (Jezebel)

Why Don’t You? I always get excited to see curly-haired models, because they are so rare. From a recent copy of Vogue. I think this is Doutzen Kroes, but Grace could confirm that… (Dress, Design, Decor)

Living In: Rear Window. One of my all-time favorite classic movies! I still get antsy every time she breaks into the supposed murderer’s apartment and Jimmy Stewart can’t do anything to help her. Kills me. Also, Grace Kelly totally rocks out in this film. (Design Sponge)

Christine O’Donnell Introduced to Concept of ‘Separation of Church and State’ for First Time. OMG. PEOPLE. How is anyone still considering her a viable candidate for office? Anyone? (Daily Intel)

Out-of-Print Clothing. What a cool idea: T-shirts with the covers of out-of-print classic books. Super trendy, I know, but I still can’t help wanting a few of them (1984 and Song of Solomon are pretty rad). (Wide Open Spaces)

A Brief Survey of the Short Story, Part 29: Eudora Welty. I’ve been a big Welty fan ever since Dave gave me her collected short stories when I was a teenager. It’s great to hear someone else praise her as a masterful writer, and a masterful writer who isn’t just a “Southern lady author.” And this is from a Brit, too! (The Guardian’s Books Blog)