Friday, June 02, 2017

Reflections On My Time As An Incubator

When I told my coworkers I was pregnant, a charming Ukrainian colleague of mine approached me in the break room and asked, "Do you have this word in English, incubator?".  I laughed because, obviously, we do have this word, and because I knew exactly where she was going.  Being pregnant with a wholly wanted and loved fetus was at times a wholly dehumanizing process, and more often than not I felt like an incubator that existed only to sate the appetite of the unseen squid-parasite sucking all of my nutrients and energy from me.  And I had a pretty chill pregnancy.

Seriously.  I wanted to be pregnant, and I have wanted a baby all of my life.  Yes, I have always valued my independence and envisioned a life without children that would have been happy enough, but since I was a little girl, begging to babysit and care for children I have wanted to raise kids of my own, so getting pregnant was a joyfully, tear-eliciting event.  And I had an easy pregnancy; I suffered from no morning sickness, none of the hypertension or gestational diabetes that plague so many modern women.  I managed to sleep pretty well, had an incredibly patient and supportive partner, friend group, and family around me the whole time, and had access to regular prenatal care.  I didn't have to give up any life saving or life affirming medications, and aside from occasional pregnancy headaches and carpel tunnel, had no problems while pregnant.  I didn't even have a problem giving up my cherished all day caffeine consumption or nightly half-bottle of wine habit.

But it still sucked.  The whole time I was marveling at how my body was capable of this massive change, this insane undertaking of creating a human from to bags of cells, I was also watching the body I'd known for almost 35 years become unrecognizable.  I used to challenge people to try to name one part of my body that hadn't been affected by pregnancy.  Lose joints and tendons, displaced organs, bleeding gums, stronger hair and nails (that later fall out and become brittle, respectively, not matter how many post-natal vitamins I take...), swollen feet and sore hands.  Even my skin changed color and my sweat smelled different.  Nothing stayed the same, and five months later, my body still feels foreign.  My hips are still not fully secured, my breasts are still too big for tops without an 'X' in front of the L, and as I fight to regain lost muscle mass I watch my linea nigra slowly refuse to fade. 

Which is fine, because I wanted a baby, and my child is a nonstop tornado of magic and insanity that I cried for when I was afraid it wouldn't happen. 

But imagine if I didn't want a baby, or didn't want a baby yet.  Or didn't have support in place, or a partner with whom I shared mutual love and respect.  Imagine if I had to go through more than twelve months (most doctors concede that it takes between 6 and 18 months to recover from pregnancy and delivery) of physical changes that would make Jeff Goldbloom think The Fly was a boring ass documentary.  Who else would say that was an acceptable price to pay for sex and/or failed birth control.  The fact that no (biological) man ever has to worry about this reality, yet many speak openly, vocally, legislatively, about womens' responsibility, is horrifying to me. 

Let me put it more simply.  Imagine every time you had sex you had a one in ten chance of having to give up alcohol, caffeine, deli meats, and raw meat and fish, and gain 30 - 50 pounds for nine months.  And then lost the ability to poop or control your bladder for a few weeks, and then could go back to normal until the next time.  That would suck, right?  And that's just a fraction of the reality a woman without full fertility/birth control options faces.  These choices should be personal, private, and freely available to women capable of sex, pregnancy, or being assaulted.  No matter what.  Because the individual sovereignty of a woman should not be nullified by a cluster of cells, or a fetus, or even a baby. 

If a baby was dying, and only my liver would save it, would the law force me to donate a lobe of my liver?  I could be reasonably expected to survive the surgery, and could go on to recover and lead a normal life, but we would never compel people to give up their biological sovereignty in that way.  Even without a nine-month lead up to the surgery that required me to adopt a special diet, miss work for regular appointments, and intense physical trauma of surgery and recovery.  Until mandatory non-lethal donations are legislated, we can't talk about eliminated birth control or abortion without recognizing the inherent bias against people with vaginas and uteruses.