the pregnant body politic

by mraynes

cross posted at the exponent

i’m a grad student in a public administration program and a term we often use is “the body politic”, meaning a collective group of people organized under a governmental authority. i’ve been thinking about this concept in terms of what it means to be a pregnant individual and part of a society since i am currently pregnant with my third child.

pregnancy is full of complexities, mostly personal in nature. but pregnancy is one of those times when the personal intersects with the public. not only do you cease to consider yourself merely an individual due to the presence of another, but the community also ceases to see you as an individual. on some level i can understand this; pregnant women quite literally represent the continuation of our society, we are the lifeblood of the body politic. it is no surprise that others have an interest in the welfare of the next generation. but should pregnant women be asked to set aside their privacy and at times, their autonomy, to ease the fears of society? some would say yes, evidenced by the broad legislation utah passed last year that would prosecute women for reckless behavior resulting in a miscarriage. as the one being asked to set aside the self for the good of society, it is much harder to willingly comply.

i did not expect to be pregnant. in fact, i was actively trying to prevent myself from becoming so. perhaps for this reason i am more sensitive to the lack of privacy than i was with my previous two pregnancies. when i first discovered i was pregnant, i worried what people might think…

how could a supposedly educated woman have an “unexpected pregnancy”? she’s had two kids before, doesn’t she know how the process works? that

woman can barely manage the two toddlers she has, how’s she going to handle a third?

…unfortunately, i wasn’t too far off in my fears. i have had people ask variations of these questions multiple times. and of course, the typical intrusions of privacy such as random people touching my stomach or commenting on my size, which apparently is huge since i frequently get asked if i’m having twins, is ever present. something about the pregnant condition makes people feel entitled to ask questions they have no business asking.

it has been hard for me to deal with the intrusions. i am, by nature, a private person so the visual tell of my condition is already difficult to deal with. but the questions…as if it wasn’t hard enough to personally come to terms with the addition of an unexpected child, the stress of having to respond to other people’s questions and comments is overwhelming and often painful.

i try to be patient and tolerant of the impertinent question, telling myself that in so doing, i am contributing to other’s comfort in society. that by setting aside my self, though momentarily painful, i am providing hope in the future. i realize that in choosing to be a mother, i have a responsibility to love and care for my children in a way that will help them contribute to society. i have willingly made and make the sacrifices that come along with being a mother.

but this should not be a one-sided sacrifice. society needs to treat its mothers with respect and unfortunately, this is something we fail miserably at. not only are people given a free pass to say whatever they want to pregnant women but mothers are frequently disadvantaged in every sector of our society. we must stop treating pregnancy like its an alien condition and motherhood as if it is a gift freely given. our society must begin to recognize in substantive ways the contribution that women, by sacrificing our bodies, privacy and independence, make in keeping our body politic strong. to do otherwise is exploitation.