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Invisible Pregnancy

By Dr Sharon Thompson on May 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

So here’s a funny thing.

Rape  and abortion are often in the news a lot. People opine about whether abortion is allowed in cases of rape, what god intended about rape, about a ‘life’ that is created from rape and how women’s bodies can fend off pregnancies after rape.  But is usually not in the news is pregnancy. I don’t mean the-test-is-positive I’m pregnant. I mean pregnancy. The 38-42 weeks of growing a baby.
Little public commentary ever seems to incorporate the fact that pregnancy, the very long physiologic process, is a significant experience. There is a phase between the ‘creation of life’ and a baby being born. The fact that the ‘creation of life’ is something the individual woman does in her own body using her own resources could be discussed in a complete essay, however the something (10 months long) that comes between that creation event and a baby and should be less invisible than it is.
The reality is, the work of pregnancy-the physical and physiologic work goes unrecognized.  Everyone has an opinion on whether a woman should be able to end a pregnancy and under what circumstances; we all see pregnant women every day and births (such as they are) are frequently on tv and in movies; and who hasn’t heard a joke about a fat, moody pregnant lady.  But how many times have you thought about the increased energy needs, the changes in blood volume, the increased cardiac output, the changes in kidney function, the shifting of bones and ligaments, and the altered lung function that are happening during gestation (not an exhaustive list). Or have you considered the fact that these necessary changes can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, pelvic separation, carpal tunnel syndrome, blood clots, seizures, hemorrhage or death?

Now you may think, don’t be ridiculous, are we supposed to pay women for being pregnant now? Well first, why not? But second, aside from economic renumeration, we don’t even acknowledge that work is done.
For a contrast, that men as a group, are physically stronger than women as a group, is acknowledged in almost every aspect of our lives. Most men are not lifting 100lb loads daily and their strength is limited–there are things they need help lifting too (you’ll probably hear about this in a future entry). Nonetheless, their superior strength is acknowledged and in many ways, financial and otherwise, rewarded. There are numerous jobs/pursuits based on physical strength.  Men get those positions more often and those positions often pay more than non-physical jobs. Not to mention how much people talk about this difference.
We don’t typically pay for pregnancy (see above) but let’s try to think of non-monetary ways, pregnancy is acknowledged in our society. 1) time off work–no women and men get the same; 2) naming the child–I don’t know the data on who gives the baby the first name but we all know which parent the child get’s it’s last name from the vast majority of the time; 3) presents–it’s called a baby shower not a mother shower. For kicks, I would love to find out how many women get presents for themselves alone (a breast pump does not count) at baby showers. 4) Exemption from household work by spouse and family. Now there are a few women whose partners and/or family members pamper them during pregnancy. But it is called pampering isn’t it? Meaning it’s extra. And honestly, how many of you can think of a woman you know who was absolved of expectations for work (out of and in home), child care and family responsibilities just because she was pregnant.
I’m not saying the world would be a better place if pregnant women were paid or could sit around doing nothing in addition to growing a whole new human being (although let’s not rule it out). I’m just wondering what women would choose if they were running the world from the truth of their own experience?

Dr Sharon Thompson

About the Author

Dr Sharon ThompsonView all posts by Dr Sharon Thompson
Dr. Thompson received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Vassar College and a Masters in Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley. She went on to medical training at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and completed her postgraduate training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Harvard affiliated integrated Brigham and Women's and Massachusetts General Hospital residency program.


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