Recently the CDC recommended that fertile women who aren’t on birth control never drink alcohol, just in case they get pregnant. No, really. The statement, which sounds like it couldn’t possibly have been written more recently than 1970, got me to thinking…and then, to thinking thoughts I knew I had to share.
I’ve never been terribly fond of the idea of pregnancy. To be fair, my personal lack of pain tolerance is what started my worries. I’ve always wanted to have children one day, but even as a little kid, I wondered what it would cost my body to bring another person into the world.
But as I’ve gotten older, the discomfort associated with pregnancy has ceased to worry me much. Despite my resignation to the idea of sacrificing my body to build someone else’s, pregnancy remains my worst nightmare.
I mean that. I have a recurring nightmare about it. In that nightmare, I get pregnant unexpectedly (I’m a graduate student, so this would be an untenable situation). I’m in my home state of Missouri, where clinics that offer abortions are few and far between, and grossly over-regulated. And for whatever reason, I am refused an abortion. Maybe it’s because I don’t lie about the right things — if I admitted that I have anxiety, for example, they might refuse to operate on the grounds of my ‘not being capable of deciding for myself’ — or maybe it’s some technicality I couldn’t have foreseen. But in this nightmare, I am forced to give up my body, my goals, and my livelihood for something that belongs not to me, but to the state. In other words, I belong to the state.
Listen, you have to really want your child to endure pregnancy gladly. Imagine something that’s been forced on you that distends your stomach, rearranges your organs, changes your skin and your diet, causes foot and back pain, and alters your personality. In the movies, that’s not a pregnancy — that’s a demonic possession, or the plot of Alien. The factor that turns a miracle into body horror is surprisingly simple: the removal of choice.
And even in the case of voluntary, wanted pregnancy, there are conventions in our society by which other people take ownership of a woman’s body. When you’re pregnant, everybody you know monitors what you eat and drink and do to make sure that you’re ‘putting the baby’s health first.’ It’s socially acceptable for strangers to touch you without permission. You are everyone’s concern, and you don’t belong to yourself. And God help you if you suffer the horrible tragedy of a miscarriage or still birth—at best you’ll receive a condescending sympathy that tells you all your friends are secretly wondering what you did to bring this about.
Listen, I love children. I admire women who go through their pregnancy with a good attitude, and women who complain, and women who adopt, and women who carry their own unwanted babies so that other people can adopt them. But all of this means absolutely nothing unless we own ourselves and are given free choice. Women are not respected as women when they are pregnant; people look at them and see only the baby they might possibly bear. This is the horrifying situation that keeps me up at night. After all, until we are allowed to control our own bodies, we are all just carriers.