Reproductive Bodies

Candace, 26 July 2005, Comments Off on Reproductive Bodies
Categories: Bodies, Women's Studies

There is a myth that pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding are ‘natural’ and therefore ‘easy’ for all women regardless of their race, sexuality, religion, ability, age, or socioeconomic status. This is the paradigm that has substantially shaped my views around reproduction.

I was not prepared for the difficulties I encountered during my pregnancies. I expected pregnancy to be a blissful time when I would glow and grow and connect with my baby and make plans for the future. I did not expect to throw-up around the clockmost everyday for six months . I looked forward to being able to eat as much as I wanted. Pregnant women get to satisfy their cravings! But this was not the case for me. Even smelling other people’s food turned my stomach. Plain rice and water were all that I could stomach, and these only in very small quantities at a time.

I often hated the changes in my body. Although I wanted to have children “someday”, my pregnancies were unplanned. I felt my body and my life being taken over by this ‘thing’ inside me: I couldn’t eat, couldn’t work, couldn’t sleep . . . I was a long way from the content mama portrayed in the media.

Toward the end of the pregnancies as I started to feel better and put on weight I grew to accept the body changes. No one prepared me for stretch marks or leaking colostrum but I started to devour every book I could find about natural birth. I made plans for a homebirth because women’s bodies are made to give birth I reasoned, and environment is key. I thought that by creating the propoer environment I could create the birth I wanted.

Because my first birth did not go as planned I blamed my body. I thought I had somehow failed what should have been a natural process. I did not realize it at the time but midwifery is as political as any field and I believe I was victim of politics in the birthing room. My daughter was born just after the legislation regulating midwifery in Ontario was passed and there were still a few ‘kinks’ in the system so to speak. It took me years and a second birth to realize this.

Having an unattended birth the second time was an incredibly empowering experience. No one interfered with what I knew was best for my body and my baby. I was able to move around and birth however I chose. I believe that birth is a natural process – even if not every birth will be vaginal and unmedicated – but that support to a labouring woman should always reference that birth is older than death and that the process should be supported to follow its own timetable rather than the one outlined in a textbook.

The issues surrounding pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenting were the issues that helped me to find myself. I never considered my ability to reproduce until I conceived. Because my marriage was predominantly sexless I did not have to consider birth control on a regular basis. On the few occasions my ex-husband approached me I was too afraid to demand he use a condom. I never considered taking hormonal birth control because we would go years between needing anything. I did not want to disturb the natural hormones of my body with ingested ones.

Because pregnancy is seen as a ‘natural’ occurrence, women often feel anxiety when anything goes awry. Any time my pregnancy veered from its expected progress I experienced a sense of failure and disappointment in my body. On the other hand, many women who want to distance themselves from the natural world endorse medical management of pregnancy and birth. These women go on to manage their babies’ lives with schedules, routines, measurements, and external expectations.

I am at a new juncture in terms of my reproduction. I am a sexually active, sole support parent with three children. I know it is foolish of me to have more children when I struggle to support the ones I have but yet I have not chosen a surgical sterilization. I feel power in my ability to bear children if I choose, should my financial situation change, should I be in a better relationship to co-parent. I think that if I tampered with my body systems in such a severe way I would feel significantly different: not because I would feel less of a woman, but because I would feel less powerful. For me, my power began with having babies. To change that ability would feel like something was being taken away from me, not something I was giving away. For this reason I know I am not ready.


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