I was hunched over on the toilet, belly on my thighs, panties by my ankles, watching my urine make its way up the plastic cartridge. I admit—I had done this a handful of times in my life, more out of irrational paranoia than an actual reason to do so. But this time my period was late.
And this time the pregnancy test illuminated two strong, blue lines. I was pregnant.
My husband and I were very newly married—3 months, to be exact—and we wanted to have kids. We thought maybe in a year or two we’d start, as they say, “trying.” So this was a surprise. The way I figured it, we were pregnant by way of a rogue, acrobatic sperm that lived inside of me for several days. There was no other explanation.
Given the surprise of my positive pregnancy test (what women on pregnancy blogs call a BFP for Big Fat Positive), I immediately entered a period of mourning. I mourned my pre-pregnant life, our pre-pregnant plans for travel that now had to be put on hold, my pre-pregnant relationship with my husband. In the weeks that followed I struggled as I faced the task of “doing pregnancy” in the face of a hyper-feminine, patriarchal, you-must-be-super-happy-and-grateful-at-all-times pregnancy culture.
“Don’t think negative thoughts,” one crunchy-yoga-essential-oil-y friend told me, “because the baby can feel that and that hurts the baby.”
But how was I supposed to stop those disappointed thoughts and feelings from happening? I didn’t feel a surge of maternal happiness—instead, I felt like my identity was suddenly in flux. This was partly because, as an academic, a skeptic, and a research fiend, I tend to processes much of what I’m feeling through cognition and information gathering. I also sport a pixie cut and grew up romping and catching frogs in the mud.
So, as a newly pregnant person, I was fascinated by the very mammalian process taking place within me— the slow disappearance of the embryo’s primitive tail in utero—and had virtually no interest in shopping for strollers.
I kept asking myself: where are other pregnant women like me? “Congratulations!” read the opening words of my new pregnancy books—but I wasn’t ready to be congratulated. “You must be so excited!” friends assumed—and in some sense, I was, but in another real sense, I was dealing with the growing pains of identifying as a pregnant person who didn’t identify with the narrative of pregnancy in our culture.
Being a thoughtful Feminist-type in the face of a culture saturated with anti-thoughtful, patriarchal ideals was nothing new to me. Leading up to my recent wedding, I had grappled with the idea that it seemed anti-Feminist of me to celebrate the culminating experience of a woman’s life being binding herself to a man. Just like every bride-to-be, I was inundated with marketing for dresses, shoes, and even underwear that read “Property of the Groom” (yes, really). By the time my wedding rolled around, though, I had
found enough community on the internet who were like-minded—people who were reimagining weddings to be meaningful ceremonies in new, convention-defying ways. Now here I was again, newly pregnant, finding it alienating that people around me assumed I reached the tippity-tip-top of my potential as a woman by carrying a child.
So I began combatting this norm on my own in subtle ways. There were countless people asking if we were going to “find out the gender” of the baby.
“Oh,” I’d quip, “I don’t think we will find out its gender identity or political affiliation and all that till after it’s born. We’ll find out the biological sex in the second trimester, though,” (I know, I’m an asshole). Of course, I know by “gender” they meant “biological sex,” but it just irked me so much that the sex of my baby was so important to everyone.
When it came to the baby shower I tried what I could to undermine the icky, domestic feelings associated with such events. So just as I had previously scoured the ‘net looking for unbiased, ungendered, unheteronormative ceremony scripts, I now searched for ways to have waste-free, ungendered baby showers and ethically sourced baby products. (Side note: easier said than done.)
As I write this I am now halfway through my pregnancy, and my period of mourning has waned. I am excited to meet this little being within me and feel a kind of camaraderie with expectant mothers and the joys/pains of pregnancy. My morning sickness (which was no joke) has been replaced by a near-to- constant desire for banana pancakes, which my husband is glad to satisfy.
Most importantly, I have grown more accustomed to the task of standing up for my identity as a pregnant woman—with complex thoughts, emotions, and desires beyond those dictated by pregnancy books.
I write this in hopes of reaching other women like me who are newly pregnant with the message that your identity is not going away—it’s changing. Even if you don’t feel super elated to be pregnant at the moment, as my mother pointed out to me, you have 9 months to get used to the idea. Don’t listen to the naysayers who think your life is over—your life is facing a large upheaval, but it’s certainly not over. When people say “get your sleep now” in somber tones, nod politely and know that you’re going to be ok.
I think a change to the way we approach pregnancy is more urgent than ever, especially in the current political climate in which women are potentially losing access to birth control and other reproductive rights. Can we appreciate the biological strangeness that is pregnancy and feel all the parts of that process with no shame?
Authenticity with regards to the complex feelings surrounding pregnancy would be a good place to start, followed by support for keeping one’s identity strong and flexible without succumbing to the changes dictated by mainstream culture. Pregnant women should be in dialogue regarding their fear of losing their individual identity, their changing relationship with their body, the reorganizing of daily life—and the possibility that those changes won’t always fill a mother-to-be with maternal bliss.
And can we allow ourselves to feel these emotions and think carefully about our new roles as mothers without the guilt-police showing up and saying that negative thoughts might be “hurting the baby”? I mean, please. Just like a baby doesn’t have a gender identity in the womb, it doesn’t have the capacity to sense or process its mother’s emotions and reflect upon them. Being authentic with ourselves as pregnant women is the first step in raising our children authentically, too.