Many of the readings this week got me thinking about shame, and how it functions in the lives of women are pregnant, want to become pregnant, or even wish not to become pregnant. I felt sympathy for the women of Barbara Duden’s article, in a time where “lifelong flowing and stagnating could take on the meaning of pregnancy or infertility”. I paused at this sentence, considering the concept of your body taking on a meaning, a positive or negative meaning, outside of your mind and personhood, due to biological function.
“What cannot be read from the statistics is the suffering, the fear, the hemorrhaging between the acts of giving birth, that is, the death that occurred inside the body.”
The ambiguous nature of early 18th century pregnancy with the attribution of the personal fault to the termination of a pregnancy were sure to breed a culture of shame – where a woman’s personal experience of not knowing what is going on within the body, unknown excretions, whether your body is either breeding the “good” or displaying symptoms of withholding the “bad”, where your ability to have a child is entirely unknown, and the worth of your body and self as a child bearer unsure. This death was an inner death on two levels, the potential human life within the woman, and the spirit of the woman mired in her ambiguously pregnant body.
It is significant how the female body that was without child was pathologized- the corruption inside signaled corruption and decay, the “fruit” could be killed by the mood of the woman, her “inner” blood, that which could become passionate or angry, was suffocating to the child. Women were placed in a biological double bind, one outside her control to affect or respond to, where not enough blood and health would not provide sufficient nourishment, where too much would smother and kill.
I would argue that the adult female body without children is still pathologized as abnormal and unhealthy. Over a certain age, women are expected to become “expecting”- to enter a time in their life characterized by waiting and preparing, for the arrival of something meriting greater attention than all else in that woman’s life. Births are expected – when a pregnancy unexpectedly ends, it is often referred to as “failed”- i.e. “She has had several failed pregnancies” – which implies both preventability and shame. As I read through Iris Marion Young’s article, I really kept waiting for a section criticizing the “necessity” of childbearing to a woman’s life, but I mainly found positive affirmations of the pregnant body. The connectedness to the Earth, the surprise at the agility of the pregnant body, etc. I finally realized I was imposing personal fears of myself as pregnant on the article, and vowed to read it more objectively from there on.
To be clear- I love children, I am nanny most of my time at home as my job, I love babies most of all, and I think that the ability to make a beautiful and perfect child, exactly one half yourself and one half someone else, is among the greatest blessings the female body was given. However, the fear I have of becoming that vessel for life, and not much else, makes me anticipate the shame I may experience in not wanting to take on that identity for quite some time. My boyfriend, kind of atypically for his age group as a senior undergrad, likes to talk about how fun it might be to be getting married, getting a house in Athens, and having a family in the (somewhat) near future. While I love him and eventually would love nothing more – when I consider that prospect for the near future I feel an unbearable suffocation, an almost palpable weight upon my chest. I have a (selfish?) notion that the day I become pregnant, or confine myself to this small town in a family role, will be the day I put aside myself, my goals, and everything that is me in favor of waiting for this other inside me, that which is me and not me, but certainly not the me I know right now. Young talks about the touching of the belly on one’s leg when bending over, or the suddenness with which one realizes that getting up really is a body project, as it increasingly becomes “a task that acquires my attention”. For myself, I cannot help but wonder that when these movements become a project, how will I complete my other projects, my real projects that define me as someone impacting the world, that allow me my transcendence? How will I run a marathon, join the Peace Corps, work in a career I can contribute real time to and be proud of? I know these are feasible with a family- I just have yet to understand how that will work, and eventually transpire for me. It is in these thoughts that as I face graduation and “real” adulthood, I am beginning to feel the reality of a still present double bind – will these things, the family and the babies and the white picket fence, still be waiting when it is my time?