To Whom Does the Pregnant Body Belong?1/07/2014
by Bee Quammie Life often forces you to evaluate what you’re willing to give in order to get. Are...
by Bee Quammie
Life often forces you to evaluate what you’re willing to give in order to get. Are you willing to give up time, effort, money, or vulnerability to get the things you most want out of life? Do you have limits on what you’re ready to give up, or are you prepared to throw everything you have into it? I’ve been pondering this in a multitude of ways since I’ve become pregnant - hell, even before I was. Pregnancy, for me, has been the ultimate tango between self-sacrifice and self-maintenance.
“Just remember - your body doesn’t belong to you anymore!” I first heard that from a close friend early in my pregnancy, while I was bedridden with a horrible cold. Not wanting to risk anything, I took absolutely no drugs and spent a week treating the sickness au naturale. I’m sure my friend’s statement was in response to some kind of whining or complaining on my part, and at the time, I wore that sacrifice like a badge. I was going to be a mother, and this is what mothers do - they sacrifice.
Struggling through morning - more like all day - sickness at work? Sacrifice. Sitting half-dressed on the edge of my bed, frustrated at the lack of clothes that fit? Just part of the deal. The heightened anxiety that comes with every twinge and cramp as my baby grows into his or her temporary home? All the worry will be worth it when the baby is here. I learned during the conception process that very little was actually within my own control - and as this pregnancy progresses, I’m reminded of the same. My baby is calling a lot of the shots right now, and I’m being the best ride-or-die incubator/life-giver that I can be.
Through the books and websites I’ve read, the solicited and unsolicited advice alike - it’s been easy to feel guilty for anything even slightly self-serving. It’s been easy to feel shamed into what someone else’s definition of what motherhood is. Especially for a first-timer like me, it’s been easy to feel like no one has faith in your level of common sense. My thoughts, ideas, and decisions on various aspects of motherhood and pregnancy have been met with everything from:
“Wait...is that good for the baby?” (in response to prenatal exercise)
“...you know you’re going to be a mother, right?” (in response to my New Year’s Eve dress choice)
“Girl - this baby is about to ruin your body. Don’t get your hopes up.” (in response to my post-partum dreams of playing mas in Trinidad Carnival)
On one hand, I thank my baby (who I affectionately call my “littlest magician”) for teaching me - a self-acknowledged control freak - to relinquish control. On the other, I thank him or her for forcing me to define who I am and what I want in ways I never have before. Part of that definition goes back to lessons my own mother taught me - that too much sacrifice can be a bad thing; that when your priorities are in place, there’s no room for anyone to make you feel guilty; that in order to be a good giver, you must learn to keep some things for yourself.
In utero, my baby is sharing my body. Even when he or she is born, they’ll continue to share my body for nourishment, transportation, comfort, and love. That is a decision I’ve made, a decision I’m excited about, and a decision I am happy with. However, while I learn to integrate the changes that my new identity of “mother” will bring, I’m determined to hang on to a piece of autonomy. Settling with the thought that I no longer have any control or ownership over my body, and resigning myself to a fate that my child will “ruin” it seems irresponsible and damaging, and I’m not going to play that game. My body did a beautiful thing to make this baby. It’s doing a beautiful thing to grow and soon birth this baby. It will continue to do many, many beautiful things after my baby has been born. While I currently have an amazingly magical buddy on board who takes a lot but has given me so much more, my body is mine. I’ve spent 30 years learning to understand it and love it, and I know the journey doesn’t end here.