So the conversation rages on over the real meaning behind the study released by Stephen Wu and Paul Hagstrom revealing the level of unhappiness experienced by Black women during pregnancy. I can’t be the only person who isn’t shocked by these findings, and while I can appreciate a conversation that attempts to find racially motivated factors, it would not be balanced or fair to the topic at hand to neglect to mention so much more.
If we are going to have a rally cry around pregnant Black women I do think it proper to point out several contributing factors to consider before placing the blame solely at the feet of ‘the mens’. Humor me while I ponder a thought or two and feel free to add to it, I’m not the boss of opinions, I just happen to enjoy having several at one time.
Pregnancy has NEVER been seen as something special, unique, or terribly important. Think about it. Where and who exactly told you that pregnancy is ‘special’? Is it another hopeful ideal that one attempts to experience or is each pregnancy actually and truly special? And to whom? Does society care if a woman is pregnant? Is there special treatment if she is carrying a child? Does society promote the belief that pregnancy is special or is this a public relations campaign that you find out more about once you are beyond the point of no return?
Women have been bearing children since the dawn of man, and in doing so she has climbed, walked, fought off predators, maintained a home and a mate all the while growing a human inside of her. It would be hard to convince one that pregnancy is special when every living thing on this Earth reproduces. Each person is welcome to make their pregnancy into a celebratory situation but we should not pretend like society is receptive and supportive of pregnant women are children.
Black women haven’t had a comfortable seat during pregnancy since being imported here in order to provide manual labor. Indeed, Black women picked cotton, withstood the lash, tended their homes, their other children, the slaves master’s children and wife, their own husbands and sometimes, even the slave master himself or whatever other White man may have demanded her services. From the plantation to the domestic worker, Black women have had to work to survive, with or without a supportive husband.
For those who did have a supportive and enthusiastic husband, the Black women of yesteryear live(d) in segregated societies that were hostile to her very existence. No amount of spousal empathy could have shielded her from racial violence and aggression once she stepped outsider her door. Nothing brings home the meaning of a shared existence in this society quite like giving birth and setting free a Black child into this hostile world, take it from someone who knows. Brown skin comes with a certain set of challenges whether society wants to acknowledge it or not.
Pregnant women suffer discrimination in the workplace and in society at large. Pregnancy discrimination is a reality though there are laws in place to protect pregnant women. Pregnancy discrimination has increased by 71% from 1992-2011 and discrimination is kept under the radar to avoid possible litigation by employers who can use any a number of reasons to dismiss an employee in these volatile economic times don’t think twice about dismissing a person whom they deem as ‘incapable of keeping up’, ‘in fragile health’ or who may cause expended time and money by requiring medical accommodations to do their jobs.
Pregnant women may also feel workplace retaliation from co-workers who feel they have to carry an extra burden to make up for the less active pregnant employee. Both women and men can treat pregnant co-workers in a hostile manner which may be reinforced by the belief that a pregnant woman should be somewhere barefoot and in a kitchen while ‘with child’ and not out and about like ‘serious’ adults.
I was pregnant while working at United Parcel Service and was told by a lesbian colleague of mine that I should not be pregnant without a husband and that I should not be at work expecting everyone else to tow the line because I ‘was knocked up’. I was so humiliated and shocked by her whispered (of course) comment that I all I could do was muster a response in defence of my relationship (10 years/living together) and my unborn child. There is much more to this story but I fear corporate attorneys may find this site and cause issue with my rendition of my treatment while pregnant at U.P.S.
While the Black and Latino men who worked for me would bring me lunch, tie my shoes for me and provide me with cakes, snacks and frozen bottles of water it was the females of the corporation that could give a flying f*ck about my condition. While I put the entire work room floor at risk with my presence, since they paid attention to my movements to ensure my safety, I was instructed to perform my job which had been changed from bey area supervisor to supervisor of Haz-Mat upon announcement of my pregnancy. #truestory
The ideal pregnancy experience is a White woman’s myth that even they don’t get to experience. White women, the ideal woman, has had hired help to alleviate her of the responsibilities of her domestic life. So even if she is ‘stay at home’ and pampered, that care is not necessarily given by a mate as much as paid for by the income of said mate. In order for Black women to enjoy this lifestyle there will need to be hired hands, or a stay at home husband, or at the very least, one with ample vacation and sick time, something almost unheard of in the United States.
Men who are looking forward to being an active partner and father will still need to maneuver the economic realities of room, board and resources and a employment structure that values none of these things.
White women who did not have the luxury of having hired hands were left to work, or to be stay at home mother’s but she still to perform household chores for a husband who may have still demanded that she behave in a manner as close to her prior to pregnant state as possible. Even in this day and age, married women do not report benefitting from having a husband as much as men benefit by having a wife.
Husbands and wives have two separate views of marriage. Even in an environment that is open and encouraging (and paying) for time off for new Dad’s find some father’s reluctant to take time off for fear of being seen as not pulling their weight. The implied lack of dedication is subtly delivered to the fathers almost as seamlessly as it is to the mothers; you are jeopardizing your job if you put your personal life ahead of your professional life.
Certain women are not happy with their pending pregnancy. I would think this is even more the case in the Black or lower economic community. I’m sure there are many people walking this Earth who are here as the result of guilt and inaccessibility to an alternatives (whether physical or psychological). Only a woman who has witnessed this can attest to the frequency and amount of times one may find themselves trying to console a pregnant woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant.
Everybody knows this but no one speaks up! Not every woman with her stomach stretched is in such a predicament due to lovemaking and hopes of the pitter patter of small feet. I would say each woman’s story is different and based on so much more than romantic love and the urge to leave a legacy on Earth; we need to create a space to discuss those times in which a woman finds herself lost, alone and with child (without or without a ring so please cut it out with the magical marriage band aid).
Men value children because it shows they are healthy and virile. It is seen as almost heroic when a man impregnates a woman whether he is with that woman or not, whether he takes care of his children or not. Men judge men based on their ability to have children, and the frequency in which he is able to (get his wife to) produce him offspring is an public indication of such ability.
The honest truth is that women have no recourse to be had when her husband, or the father of her child decides he does not want to be bothered with her or his responsibilities and so you won’t really know what’s going on until you are smack dab in the middle of what is supposed to be a great moment, but sometimes it isn’t. This fact of life should not be the cause of shame and silence when it is the shortcomings of men (or society made of up men who create social order and laws) but these are things that women are encouraged to just brush under the rug to ‘save face’.
In American society there is no reduction in domestic responsibility during pregnancy or after the child is born. Though other countries support more a more egalitarian role of fathers, the United States is in the extremely early stages of viewing both parents as equal so the brunt of the work still falls on the shoulders of the pregnant women (and her female friends).
Society as a whole views pregnant women as an ‘other’ because American sexuality is repressed, and so Black women become an ‘othered other’, in the midst of what we normally endure. We barely discuss sex and sexuality and so when certain members of society are met with evidence of sexual activity the reaction can be anything from curiosity to hostility.
Be a woman, and then be a Black woman and you’ll soon find out that not everyone is willing to give you a seat on the bus (you should be home, remember, barefoot and preggo) and not having expectations of special privileges because you are pregnant. Your pregnancy is your fault and the responsibility of your man.
Old women stare at your stomach and then at your ring finger. Old men sneer at your extra weight and curves. Strange men inquire if you need a sex partner in the event the father isn’t around to ‘keep you happy’, and absolute strangers will reach out and touch your extended belly without a second thought.
People will give you unsolicited advice about your pregnancy, your health and everything else you didn’t ask to know.
People will offer you a seat on the bus and insist that you sit down even when you decline because the strain to stand after sitting will cause you to pee on yourself. You will be pushed and shoved in public with no apology. You will struggle with your bags. You might even have the delivering nurses who tend to you during your child’s birth call you a whore and ask why are you up here giving birth, again, whether you are married or not. #JCMedicalCenter
And though pregnancy is a volatile time and different for each and every woman we run the risk of setting ourselves back in time if we allow society to classify pregnancy as ‘special’. It may sound like an awesome idea to put special treatment and privileges in place for all women once they get that plus sign on the little white stick but before doing so consider whether you would want to live in a society that mandates your body during a routine pregnancy?
Yes, we have expectations and customs that are in place that we believe pregnant women should follow to ensure the health of their child, but these things are elective. No one is going to come and throw you in jail if you decide to smoke a cigarette, have a drink or take a yoga class while pregnant. Whether something is good for you or not is not the issue, the issue is whether or not you would feel comfortable losing your right to do what you think is your own business.
Would you feel comfortable having to follow a regimen required of pregnant women in general instead of what is deemed healthy and appropriate for your pregnancy? Would you want to be on bedrest, or on a certain diet, or made to take certain drug for the ‘best interest’ of your unborn child? Would you feel restricted if you were immediately sent home to eat Bon Bons once you announce your pregnancy instead of doing what you are willing and capable of doing? I’m on strict bed rest, but other women win Olympic medals.
There are definitely some things that the individual man in your life can do to make your world a better place while you carry his child but understand you and he are a small part to a huge, outdated, one-sided and expired view of women (and men) ingrained in our society.
Women’s bodies are not their own, and their bodies become even less so once she is with child. How excited would you be to suddenly have pending arrests, court intervention and legislation passed that will affect you and your unborn child? There is nothing she or the father of her child can do for her defense when certain random occurrences happen. It’s not that I’m insisting these things happen with frequency but they do happen.
I support women and their right to exist and be pregnant with the right amount of emotional, financial and community support. So if you want to ponder a thought and make this world a better place for buns in the oven. Femininity being attacked would surely be a terrible thing (not really) but I promise you the lack of support for women (and men) is a way bigger fish to fry.
Or maybe not.