Stop Telling Me What To Do with My Pregnant Body
by Erin Bagwell, Founder of Feminist Wednesday
Co-host of BeaverTalk
Article edited by Diana Matthews
I knew this day would come. When the asinine things people say to me about my pregnant body would push me over the edge and my anger would spill over like a bubbling cauldron.
Why do people think it’s okay to tell a pregnant woman what to do with her body?
To be more specific, why do men (strangers and friends alike) think that they can give pregnant women advice on something they know absolutely nothing about? There is nothing more invasive or creepy than when a man asks you questions about your birth plan, talks about your vagina like she isn’t in the room, and then pretends to know more about the topic than you.
Let’s start with my birth choice.
First of all, I’d like to state for the record that my birth plan is to have a one hour vaginal birth where I’m photographed like a goddess from every angel. My baby will crawl to my breast, just like in the YouTube videos, and my milk will flow effortlessly. I’ll have my daughter at exactly 11:11am on December 22nd and be home by Christmas Eve, just in time to have a glass of prosecco with a side of jingle cookies.
But you know who is actually in charge of my birth plan? My unborn baby who will not communicate this plan with me. She wants to come ten days late? She’s coming late. She wants me to be in labor for three days and join the world for the first time at 4 in the morning, so be it. If the pain of said labor is so strong I’ll need an epidural, I’m getting a fucking epidural.
This whole idea of a birth “plan” is really just a suggestion and an illusion of control that you truly don’t have. Some of my friends who wanted to go vaginal ended up having c-sections, and other friends who wanted c-sections have gone vaginal.
You don’t decide your birth process, your baby does. So why do people (men) hover around you like some kind of birthing mystic about your choices? I’ve been shamed for saying I wanted a vaginal birth by family friends (who all got c-sections) and I’ve been shamed by strangers for entertaining the idea of a c-section. They tell me about facts and statistics and about how bad it would be for my baby’s health to be born into the world on drugs if I got an epidural. I tell them I’m a c-section baby and I’ve had near perfect health my entire life.
We don’t shame anyone for having a painful medical procedure done without the use of drugs. As Jessi Klein said in her New York Times Op Ed “no one ever asks a man if he’s having a natural root canal.” So why do we put this pressure on women to suffer? It’s as if we place some kind of value on it as a way to convince women that if they suffer enough, it’ll prove their womanhood and make them a better mother. Some countries, like Italy just won the right in 2016 to have epidurals be part of their birth care. It’s actually a right women have fought for, and should always be our choice and our decision about if and when we want one.
Also, why are we so obsessed with breastfeeding? Before you come at me with data and statistics, let me clarify that I know why we push breastfeeding on women, but why do we SHAME women for when, where, and how long they breastfeed? Just the other day my landlord came over and asked me if I was going to breastfeed and he went on and on about how “easy” it is for women. Easy? All the friends, articles, and podcasts I’ve listened to on the topic tell me me it’s the hardest thing women will ever do in their life.
My decision about if and for how long truly isn’t anyone’s business but mine. And when most workplaces or public areas don’t even have a pumping room or clean area to breastfeed, why are we shocked when women struggle to figure out how to make it work? I don’t know, maybe it’s because our entire infrastructure, from no escalators in the subways for strollers to no pumping rooms at work, was designed by and for men!
It’s bad enough we shame women for the way they have babies and then chastise them for how they take care of those babies. But when we live in a country that provides literally no maternal or postpartum support, why do we think we have the audacity to tell women what they can and can not do?
It reminds me of what’s happening with the #MeToo movement. When a man says something inappropriate, everyone can agree that he was in the wrong. But when we are talking about physical assault, questions ensue like “What was she wearing? Was she asking for it? How do we know it wasn’t consensual? Maybe SHE was giving mixed signals?”
There is this notion perpetuated by rape culture that women don’t know when or if an assault really happens to them because we assume women aren’t the authority of their bodies and men, ultimately, know best. In a patriarchal culture men are the authority of everything, including women’s experiences and choices. Whether it’s about sexual assault, the right and access to birth control, or how they want to deliver their babies. To top it off there is a subconscious tidal wave that silences women from being able to properly express and heal from these experiences because we know society won’t believe or support us.
As a victim of physical assault I know this narrative. I know the look of distrust and I’ve heard the conversations when women use their voice to talk about their experiences and their bodies.
But as long as my hormones are third-trimester-raging, I won’t be having any “conversations” about my choices. I might not live in a world that respect’s women’s rights, thoughts, and decisions but in my house I’m the authority of my body. And I’ll be having my baby in a way that best suits her health and my own.