Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Enforced pregnancy

All this political discussion of abortion gives me the willies, and it wasn't until I read the phrase 'enforced pregnancy' - on this very blog, in fact - that I worked out why. It's not just that I get irate at people who seem to care more about foetuses than the wellbeing of the grown women who carry them. And it's not even the fact that I'm Catholic, with all the lurking moral quandaries that entails. I just don't like the idea of anyone being forced to be pregnant, regardless of whose fault it is that they got that way. Because in my experience, pregnancy sucks.

Now, I know that for many of you female readers, being with child is a lovely time in your life. It makes you radiant and fulfilled and excited. For those who have had such positive experiences, I'm genuinely happy. But pregnancy made me into a giant, cranky sphere - like the Death Star, but with chubby limbs. I had the panicked feeling of being trapped in a nauseous, unwieldly body, and spent both my pregnancies longing to escape back into normality.

There was the morning sickness. During my first pregnancy, it lasted the whole nine months. Every work day was an ordeal - I was desperately tired, and spent a fair chunk of time in the toilets retching and/or crying. (One day, I dragged myself home from work and decided to distract myself from the nausea by watching TV. I switched on the box to find documentary footage of snails gettin' jiggy. I threw up.)

During my second pregnancy, the morning sickness lasted for only four months, but was far, far worse. I was bedridden for almost a month, and for most of that time, too sick even to watch snails mating on TV or read a book. Over this period, my long-suffering partner ended up taking sole responsibility for our preschool-aged daughter, holding down his job and caring for me all at the same time.

During both pregnancies, I was trying to hold down jobs (two during my first pregnancy). I exhausted my sick leave pretty quick, so had to drag my sorry keister back to work. Quitting or taking unpaid leave were not financial options. (Since then, I've wondered whether I should have tried making an ACC claim for lost earnings following a procreational accident.)

There was the depression, ante-natal and post-natal. There was the craving for boysenberry icecream for breakfast - the only food I could stomach for some time during my first pregnancy - which made me as big as a house. There was the gestational diabetes during my second pregnancy, which may or may not have been related to the boysenberry icecream fixation of my first. There was the discomfort and the exhaustion and the insomnia. And then there were the extraodinarily traumatic births at the end of each pregnancy. Let's not even go there.

The point is that pregnancy and birth can be tough experiences - even terrifying ones - when you actually want to go through with them. Surely, they're much worse when you don't. Pregnancy can mean being desperately sick. It can mean your worklife and finances falling apart. It can put strain on your relationships. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, and I certainly wouldn't force it on them.


hungrymama said...

My first pregnancy was roughish my second was a dream but even with the good one there was no way I could have gone through that if I hadn't been quite keen on the end result. I don't have the self-control to abstain from all the stuff you're meant to abstain from for nine months of an unwanted pregnancy.

Let alone the loss of waist, bladder control and libido.

The ex-expat said...

Sorry to hear you didn't feel so good during your pregnancy. The results turned out fabulously.

But thanks for that. It is good to hear that not all women enjoy pregnancy not because it detracts from the women that do, but because it makes the experience a lot more realistic when it comes to making that choice.

Julie said...

Thanks for writing this Anna - like you and hungrymama's first, I didn't have a wonderful time, although it sounds like I got off lightly compared to you. For me there was a period of about two months when I largely felt great, out of the whole deal, but even that period was punctuated with some awful heartburn which work me routinely in the night. At the start I was so ill I lost weight, and at the end not only did the heartburn return with gusto, it brought breathlessness, massive feet, and other unpleasant side effects I won't share with the whole world on a blog.

When I first contemplated having a child I was aware that being a mum, having gone through pregnancy, might change my views on abortion. And it did, although not as I expected. Rather than getting all soft and gooey about the fetus, I realised just what a huge ask it is to expect a woman to go through with a pregnancy she doesn't want. By about week 10 (by which time I had had an ultrasound) I was firmly of the opinion that no one should be forced to go through pregnancy. Just as no one should be forced to terminate a pregnancy either. It's your body, it should be your choice.

Violet said...

And that's not even including the fact that women can still die in childbirth.

Anna said...

Good point Violet - something that really terrified me about the birth of my daughter (emergency caesarean) was that both she and I probably would have died without the caesar. We're lucky enough to live in a country where such a thing was possible. A great many women don't.

I don't want to put potential mums off having babies though ... the results are all good!

Make Tea Not War said...

I totally agree. I love being a mother but pregnancy absolutely confirmed me in my views as pro choice. There wasn't a single second of pregnancy when I wasn't really uncomfortable. I also ended up having an emergency caesarian and to this day the scar still aches. No one should be forced to go through with it unwillingly. Looking after a baby also confirmed me in my views. It was really hard work (still is in a lot of ways) and my daughter was so fragile and vulnerable it made my heart ache for unwanted and neglected babies. Every child deserves to be born into circumstances where they are wanted, cherished and cared for and forcing women to go through with unwanted pregnancies just isn't conducive to producing those circumstances

Anna said...

MTNW, I find your comment really interesting. Like you, I find the idea of kids who aren't wanted or loved enough really upsetting, and the idea of children suffering is really awful to me. You occasionally get pro-lifers going on about how callous we pro-choice types are, but in my experience there are very few of us who don't care about the wellbeing of kids (quite often in constrast to certain pro-lifers who are also anti-DPB, pro-smacking, etc).

Until I felt my unborn babies kick, I actually didn't experience pregnancy as making a life at all. It just felt like a never-ending dose of the flu. I remember learning in a history class some years ago that until the advent of modern science and technology, women didn't consider themselves to be 'with child' until the quickening (feeling the baby move). Until then, it was OK to have what we would now call an abortion because it was thought of as kind of unblocking the reproductive system.

This is something I don't know much about, mind you - I'd be interested to hear from anyone with more historical knowledge than me!

Nikki said...

For me (and I haven't thought through this properly in terms of a pro-choice argument... just my base feelings), it is the enforced parenthood that I disagree with. It is the enforced bond with someone you may not necessarily want to have an everlasting bond with that a child would produce. (I know ending up pregnant [or the very act of being in a relationship] would also create a bond... child or no... but for the sake of the argument we'll ignore that ;) )

So basically it's a crap choice between feeling guilt and emotion over a termination or feeling guilt and emotional attachment in the case of adoption or potentially feeling guilt and resentment and being trapped if you raise the child.

In my case: situation 1) could deal with the potential resentment (which I do feel at times... not toward my child but my situation) and situation 2) could deal with the feelings that arise from a termination... but not the other two.

Man, am I making any sense?

I just don't think any woman should be forced to be a mother if she feels she is ill placed to deal with the emotions that come along with having a child after an unwanted pregnancy.

Ah, prolifers would have a fieldday with me.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't wish pregnancy on my worst enemy. I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which is one of the leading causes for infertility in women (I ovulate 1-3 times/year) and was told by 4 doctors that I couldn't have kids w/o fertility drugs. So, I didn't know I was pregnant the first time until I was 5 months along (4 mos with the second one). Prior to knowing, I was an emotional nut job, cried 24/7 and had no idea why. I couldn't remember where I put my shoes or keys, or recall my husbands work number for that matter...Yeah, that day I shut my office door at work and cried for 6 hours with the phone receiver in my hand because I couldn't remember his number. A few months later I lost my job because I couldn't function - couldn't remember deadlines or where documents were. The ONLY symptom I didn't get was nausea. I gained 65 lbs and kept 45 of it for 2 years. For my second pregnancy I was terrified because I thought if I was so deeply depressed during and after the first, I would surely get psychosis.

Now, just 2 months after I gave away every baby item we own (my sons are now 4 and 7), I learned I'm pregnant again....I DO NOT WANT ANY MORE CHILDREN....nor do I want to be pregnant again. I fell asleep last night at 8:30 woke up at 2:30 and cried my eyes out until 4:45....Daycare where we live will cost us $2200-2500/month for the 3 of them. That's more than my mortgage! My husband is 42 and a Type I diabetic. We are under insured, so if something happens to him I'll lose everything. Right now I hate myself, my husband, and resent the pending baby...and God help me if it's another boy. He's incredibly pro-life...me NOT SO MUCH. I just feel like I can't get rid of it and I can't love it either....Which makes me feel like the worst person on the planet.

Anna said...

I am so sorry to hear what you're going through Anon. The 'baby brain' thing can be horrible - it's actually no laughing matter at all when you can't focus or function. My situation was quite different from yours and certainly not as severe, but I definitely found that the support of other women helped me through. I hope you have understanding people you can call on. I've certainly found that there is a supportive online community at THM!

Julie said...

Anon, your story is heart-breaking. I truly hope that you are able to find a way through - it sounds like you know what you want to do, but it's not as simple as just doing it. Best wishes to you.

muerk said...


I felt trapped by my fourth (high risk and horribly unpleasant) pregnancy too. I'm Catholic and pro-life and I'm also morally against sterilization but I remember feeling as though I could give my husband a vasectomy with my blunt old kitchen knife for the pain and suffering I was feeling. We already had three children under five.

During the pregnancy my mother had a massive stroke, we had to move just a few days before Christmas, and we chose to put our dog down because we couldn't have her at our new house and she was unmanageable by anyone but the most dedicated dog lover. To top it off we couldn't afford to pay our rent at our new place because my husband had to stop working to take care of me and our three other children.

It. Was. Hell.

I ended up seeing Maternal Mental Health because I pretty much just broke down completely. We ended up in a state house and had to move our special needs son to a new school - and he did not deal with change at all.

Yet, four years down the track, whilst we still have difficulty making ends meet, life is livable. And I'm glad I had my fourth son, I would not be with out him now. Despite worrying that I wouldn't love him because his existence made life just so much harder, I did fall in love with him.

From experience, being so broken down completely made me reach out for help, where as before my pride would have pasted a smile on my face.

Unfortunately, unless you live in Greymouth, New Zealand, I can't offer any practical help, but I'll pray for your suffering to ease and for people around you to recognise that you need support, and to stir them to give it.

Anna said...

Muerk makes a good point there. I used the maternal mental health service for my first pregnancy. It was somewhat helpful, but as I understand it, these services have got better since then. All the best.