Monday, July 20, 2009

Pregnancy, my greatest fear

When I became sexual a few years ago, the monthly prayers began. Every 28 days, I became a nervous wreck, checking for my period several times a day, looking at the calendar, policing my hunger for the odd cravings that I thought would be a tip-off. I was perpetually convinced that I was with fetus. Since my cycle's average is 35-40 days and is lengthened by exactly these kinds of worry, this meant two weeks of nerves and trich unless I pissed on a six-dollar stick.

The fear crept out of frenzied conversations full or reassurances from friends and into my my academic work. In my senior year of college, literally everything I wrote was about pregnancy - and it was all in the horror genre.

And it was never founded. I am very, very, very careful about avoiding pregnancy. In my three plus year relationship with my partner, we've never gone without some form of birth control (be it prophylactic, hormonal, or otherwise) and we usually use two forms. I am not casual about these things.

At one point, I was primarily scared of getting an abortion. That seemed, to me, the ultimate sacrifice. It's still scary, but more for the "invasive surgery" aspect and less the moral handwringing. I've made my peace with doing away with a being whose creation I took steps to prevent, who would leech off of me for nine months. It wouldn't make me feel awesome morally, but many things I do do not make me feel awesome morally.

But now, after experiencing the terror of OCD triggered directly and repeatedly by the hormones of birth control, I'm more scared of losing my sanity through impregnation. Even if I procure a hasty abortion, I will still be pregnant for a few weeks, I will still be subject to the hormones that that brings along.

Pregnancy is often framed as independent of the woman whose body is being incubated. In law, in the gynecologist's office, in birth and after birth, in politics, in popular culture, the contribution and serious sacrifice demanded by creating a person within our body is minimized and dismissed. In reproductive health legislation, in discussions of famous pregnancies, in religious functions, the burden of pregnancy upon women pales in comparison to the angelicized babies they create.

When I began looking at non-hormonal methods of birth control (crazy things like diaphragms) the male gynecologist I saw said that no young woman had ever asked for one, and dismissed the idea out of hand because I wasn't in a serious enough relationship (though I'd been in a monogamous relationship for almost two years at some point). He patted my head and sent me away with a form of birth control that made me lose control of my emotions, heightened my anxiety, and killed my sex drive.

Being in control of my body, in and out of the realm of fertility, is a major part of my feminism. I've been a feminist for over a decade, but becoming sexual, becoming physically vulnerable to the whims of a state that does not inherently respect women and their agency in their bodies, gave my views a personal stake and an urgency. It's one of the reasons that I've actually become more of a feminist since I began dating my partner, who is decidedly not a feminist.

Perhaps one day, I will be ready to make the sacrifice of my body and possibly a good chunk of my sanity to have a child. But until then, I'll be dependent on condoms, diaphragms, pregnancy tests, and the safety of abortion (and the privilege that nearly assures me of a safe termination).

But until then, I will be scared of and obsessed by the possibility of pregnancy.

Illustrations are from my senior honors thesis, a feminist dystopian graphic novel. College was awesome.


  1. My god... someone else is as utterly paranoid as I am. Makes me feel a little bit better. :)

  2. You wrote a feminist distopian graphic novel? That sounds amazing!
    Pregnancy is also my worst nightmare, but somehow I've managed to avoid paranoia about it. In 12 years I've only taken 1 test. It was shortly after I got and IUD and it was very strange to have no period to reassure me each month.

  3. I've never been very comfortable with the idea of pregnancy - first from the birthing videos we saw in 10th grade health, and then for my fear of doctors. Since getting into my 20s and thinking more about possibly having kids someday I have tried to imagine what it would be like to be pregnant. Those daydreams usually end in a miscarriage or horrible birth defect that leaves me with little other choice than to abort the fetus. Apparently I'm not meant to incubate a child in my body.

  4. This post reminded me a lot of my feelings towards pregnancy. I am completely scared of getting pregnant. I often joke with my friends that I will never have children. This might change down the road, but right now I don't want children. I am not emotionally ready to be pregnant, let alone a mother.

    And I hate how I'm made to feel by society (and even some specific people) like I'm not a real woman because I do not want children. Like I am missing some important gene that would make me a woman because I do not want and am not ready to be physically, emotionally, mentally, socially responsible for another human being and I'm not ready to give up my personal agency by becoming pregnant. If I'm missing the "mothering gene" that just makes me not a mother, not not a woman (if that makes sense...).

  5. Your discussion about seeking non-hormonal methods really interested me. I find it extremely irritating that a lot of health care providers are so reluctant to discuss non-hormonal birth control, let alone sterilization, with younger patients. Those who complain of side effects from hormonal options are offered a lower dose option, but not really allowed to explore alternatives without really pushing for it. And those of us who *never* want children are just ignored.

    There seems to be an assumption that we will be irresponsible and use the method wrong, or that we may not apply the method consistently with our myriad of sexual partners (evidently young people aren't actually capable of monogamy, dontchaknow), or we're going to "change our minds," and be filled with bitterness and regret. Or something.

  6. I love this post! Thank you for writing it. It reminds me of the paranoia I experienced for years in my hetero relationships. While I thought I was "in love" and knew that if there was a child I'd be okay with it, I certainly didn't want one!

    But, most importantly for me. I've had a LOT of struggles in the experience of coming out. Some days I wish I had just stayed in denial. I've lost friends, career, home and family. It has been miserable. So, it's nice to have a reminder that there is the occasional perk. Now when I have sex it's all about the connection between my partner and worries about creating a child accidentally! I'm SO glad to be a lesbian! *grin* And I will ABSOLUTELY keep fighting for better pregnancy prevention for women. It's too important to set aside.

    Thanks again. This is a delightful post!

  7. This is an excellent post, and from the looks of it, it's made a lot of people realise they're not the only ones feeling like this.
    I'd like to hear your thoughts on being in a relationship with someone who is NOT a feminist - I am in this situation, and at times I find it really hard to rationalise it to myself and stay together. Actually, it's driving me insane.

  8. I'm really interested in what you've written because until this past year I always thought of pregnancy as an extremely negative thing for any woman to go through. Why? Because it always felt to me that our society has constructed pregnancy in such a way that the women who experience it are considered less adults than children-- children who must be monitored, controlled, and told what to think, feel, and do-- often by strangers-- at every pass.

    So what changed? Nothing in society. Our culture-- and maybe most cultures-- do make pregnancy horrible, I'm convinced of it. But this year despite regular and consistent use of hormonal birth control pills, I got pregnant. I had no symptoms in the first trimester, didn't realize I was pregnant until well into second trimester, and then I had a second trimester abortion. I knew immediately it was what I wanted to do and my husband was my biggest and greatest ally. I'm so glad I had my abortion. But for the week that I knew I was pregnant-- I was terrified, of course, but I was aware that if circumstances were different-- maybe in a few years-- pregnancy might be something I could do. Because I know can manage telling other people to back off and go frak themselves if they start getting involved in my business uninvited. I can make sure to decide to continue a pregnancy only when I have the funds available to afford working with a radical feminist doula and feminist OB who will help advocate for me and my rights as an adult. I could work really hard to make my pregnancy a big frak you to a culture that wants to make me less than human for the sin of being female.

  9. Thanks everyone for stopping by. Especial thanks to those who chose to share their experiences. It's very brave and very helpful to me in a number of ways. Thank you.

    (Zombie - look for a post on the feminist/non feminist relationship coming up.)

  10. Yes. THIS. All of this. Thank you! When I was with dudes, this was my biggest nightmare. And it's not like they understood, or were particularly enthused about condoms/paying for half the pills. SO glad to be with a woman now.

  11. J has many flaws, but he has never balked at helping to pay for birth control. It's a bill we always split.

  12. Ah, the days when I had this kind of thing to consider...

    Having three great young people who have grown via my body was a pretty interesting journey, I assure you. I also do not recommend anyone have children that doesn't enjoy people. They are a huge responsibility and do require that you change your schedule for a few years.

    Amazing to be a part of the growing process from the mommy side, though. One of my limiters in pregnancy and family-production is to be married to the dad in advance...and so, I always did this as a pre-requisite to pregancy.

    I'm alone now because daddy #2 died, but life goes on and guess who keeps me company? That's right, my cat...

  13. I always considered pregnancy and birth to be very natural and empowering for women. It is commonly demonstrated as an illness (the fetus itself being a parasite that leeches off your body's supplies) and this illness is easily "cured" in a hospital once you pay your nine month dues. What has helped me to look at pregnancy realistically were documentaries of natural birth. It showed birth as something rather uncomplicated and (dare I say it?) pure.

    These documentaries focused on how women are PERFECTLY equipped to give birth on their own, and it shows women's bodies as not growing weaker, but instead being incredibly strong (much stronger than mens'). Our patriarchal society designed birth to be traumatic, not natural and empowering, in an effort to traumatize and terrify women into choices and experiences that are not realistic. (If you want more information about the CONSCIOUS traumatizing of birth and pregnancy, I suggest "The Business of Being Born" and articles on the process of "Pit to Distress". Don't drink anything while reading/watching, you might spit out the contents all over the screen.)

    It is okay to not wish for children, but I would not be terrified of something 98% of women are not only perfectly capable of handling on their own, but also something that they do so terrifically that something as "stereotypically female" as giving birth could be seen as embracing feminism itself.

    I should also note that I don't understand how you would suffer through pregnancy. There is weight gain, nausea, swollen feet and all that, but all in all its temporary and not a true "sacrifice", unless you're the type to care know, superficial things like stretch marks and weight gain. Or god forbid, saggy breasts.


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