Notes and Notices

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Towards a more pluralistic view of pregnancy

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

When people find out that my husband and I are expecting, the three most common questions posed to me after the customary round of congratulations are:

  • Are you excited? (Answer: Yes, but also a little intimidated.)
  • How are you feeling? (For the most part, good.)
  • Do you know if it's a boy or a girl? 
Just like the perfunctory "How are you?" question, these questions and the answers that accompany them have almost become rote. Every parent-to-be probably has the same answers tucked in his or her back pocket. This is why Andrew Solomon's latest piece for New York Times magazine was such a refreshing read.

Photo by Roberto Carlos Pecino// Flickr
Though it focused on the emergent of reproductive psychiatry, particularly, the darker side of pregnancy--dealing with depression while gestating--Solomon also managed to make the issue relevant for all women whose bodies were changing daily and whose lives would be irrevocably changed. He writes, "We should strive for a more pluralistic idea of pregnancy — for one that accommodates a wide range of moods and attitudes."

At many points, I found myself nodding in agreement and hoping more readers get it. Here are more pithy points of discussion he brought up:
Even in our increasingly egalitarian society, mothers feel the weight of parenthood’s identity shift more profoundly than fathers do; they reconceive who they are, and often do so with both delight and frustration. 
How can anyone not be swept up by the momentousness of producing a child who will give her life purpose? The myth of the pregnant mother who is high on hormones has had considerable staying power. Something sentimental in us likes the notion that the physical discomfort of pregnancy is outweighed by the thrill of nurturing a new life within your own body.
In dozens of interviews, I found that each woman had to invent this new identity for herself. A woman cannot know what motherhood is like until she does it — and once she does it, she cannot resign from the program. During pregnancy, she tries to understand who she will be when, as is sometimes said, a piece of her heart lives outside her body. Many mothers experience angst about the persistent admonition to expectant parents that nothing is ever going to be the same. Some imagine this vaunted change as a sentence of doom. Insofar as motherhood is a new language, it is hard to gain fluency before the child has been born. 
We still have retrograde ideas about how pregnant women should feel, and we need to revise them — not only for depressed women but for all women. Pregnancy is portrayed and talked about almost exclusively as a time of rapture and fulfillment. But it involves a major shift in identity, a whole new conception of self that can lead to depression and anxiety. Change — even positive change — is stressful, and in this way pregnancy can constitute a kind of elective trauma. 
Read Solomon's full piece here.


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