Monday, 2 March 2015

Just a love machine

Not like that. Oooooh no. Nuh uh.

A great review in the New Statesman today of a new book, All That Matters, that is a critique of the way in which pregnant women are conceptualised, socialised and treated by society.

At 36 weeks pregnant this week, I'm thinking more and more (and, being on maternity leave, I have the luxury of time to think) about what it is to be pregnant, what this bodily state is like, and what the lasting memories of this time will be. I've also been thinking about the myriad things I've read, the advice I've been given (both from healthcare professionals and others) and the fears/opinions of other pregnant women on forums that I've browsed, lurked in and occasionally posted on.

And I have to agree with much of what Rebecca Schiller describes in her book, which I must confess I haven't yet finished. But there is a pernicious and dangerous undercurrent of fear and guilt that I have felt exerted upon myself, and witnessed being pushed onto other women, throughout my pregnancy. It makes me furious that even something so simple as feeling your baby move is now a source of anxiety, stress, worry and fear. Haven't felt it move? Go get checked out, or you could have a stillbirth because YOU didn't take action.

It's not just from medical professionals either (as might be implied). Other women policing each others behaviour, peer pressure dressed up as peer support, particularly in an anonymised online context. The continual theme is that if anything happens to your baby it will be your fault- you ate that cheese, you went for that run, you had that glass of wine, you didn't take enough account of your baby's movements. I think that this blaming is the dark side of our desire for control- wanting to ensure that all goes well, and distancing ourselves from the terrifying losses of other women by ineffably linking miscarriage and stillbirth to behaviour.

The blame game is also played out in labour itself, of course. I wasted 8 hours of mine and my partner's lives on an active birth day, in which we were basically told that if baby wasn't in a good position then we wouldn't have a good labour. We were given exercises to get baby in that position, but guess what? If I end up having a traumatic birth with a little monster back-to-back, it's my own fault for driving, sitting wrongly, slouching, sleeping in the wrong position etc etc. Even in this circle, where the mantra is "trust your body," the agency of the person inside my body is left out. It's not "you know what you're doing," it's abstracted to "your body knows." So if your body knows, mechanically and instinctively, what to do, it's your fault, your conscious fault, that you let your thinking brain into the process and ruin everything. Trauma from serious tears, interventions, well- you didn't trust your body. It's your fault, again.

Medical staff can be equally manipulative in this situation- I've read scenarios and heard stories, seen documentaries etc (One Born Every Minute in particular...), in which women are frequently forced to make decisions on medical interventions in labour with massive consequences for themselves with little time and still less information. "We need to get baby out now." "Baby isn't happy." The implication being that if you don't go along, do as you are told, and something happens? Well, it's your fault. How dare you desire to be treated as a person with adult thoughts and the right to make a collaborative decision?

All of this, from the shaming over food consumption to the count-the-kicks to the "trust your body" mantras to the emergency forceps, seems to me to be focused on draining out the joy and optimism from pregnancy and motherhood, removing the individuality and agency from a woman and minimising her body to a machine- a production line with a tendency to go haywire if not carefully and continually policed by either external interference or internalised behaviours.In this situation, is it any wonder that perinatal mental health (the ghost in the machine or the elephant in the room, pick your turn of phrase) is so incredibly precarious?

My body is mine. It's doing a bloody good job creating another being. But so is my mind. So is my will. So is my purpose.  I am not going to be sucked down into fear and blame in these last few weeks. I am not going to dread my labour. I am not going to be guilt tripped into panic each time I wake in the night and baby is asleep too. I am not going to spoil these last precious weeks with fear. I'm not a love machine, I'm a person. 

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