One of my favorite academic publications, that came out of my doctoral studies on women who experience psychological distress during their pregnancy, is the one on “Unspeakability”. This is a concept which highlights the inability for women to “speak” directly about their distress or about anything dark, depressive, problematic, scary or non-perfect in relation to their identity as mothers. Perfection in its highly demanding and visible forms, of both body and mind, is what society requires ever more so pressingly from today’s mothers-to-be.
Before diving into the Unspeakables, I would really like to indulge in the description of the “Perfect Pregnant Woman” or PPW. There is some alluring pleasure doing this perhaps because of a very deeply rooted need for this Perfection to be real, for this magical all-encompassing fully-devoted creature to exist, right there for us all. Importantly however, there is a huge amount of relief when the PPW image is actually exposed, seen, spoken about, and deconstructed… only to vanish into its own absurdity.
PERFECT PREGNANT WOMAN or PPW
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- Father and Mother (Sorry, other genders or partnerships, you cannot qualify for the PPW title), a married, committed and highly hetero-normative white couple (this includes a civil marriage, employment, a house, and a pet) *If you are an exception to this template, please refer to the 36548963 added accomplishments you need to have ticked to meet the criteria
- she is able-bodied and fit (on prenatal vitamins 6 months before conception avoiding all toxins, alcohol or smoke diligently; and she has only baby bump, the youcannevertellfrombehind baby weight gain)
- conception was mutually planned, scheduled and immediate (You know the saying “If you really love each other, pregnancy happens from the 1st try”)
- she is also within the perfect “childbearing” age range of 22-27
- she is financially secure; works part-time (in her spare time she paints a child’s room with a non-toxic gendered paint and attends birth classes), has full health coverage (now we are dreaming) and a pre-arranged 2-year maternity leave, has already opened a financial fund for her child(ren)’s education
- she is feminine, light and gentle…there is a dance to her walk, not a sway but a carefree maternity-dress and pink-cheeks shimmy, that highlights her gorgeous curves while she carries the organic grocery towards the upgraded family car
- she is usually seen dreamily gazing downwards, picking flowers (or wearing them in her hair), making a heart-shape with her fingers, in full make up, receiving belly kisses by her husband (and the dog) during sunset
- she is in full CONTROL of her physical environment, social context, her body and most of all – of her emotions
And here’s the crux of my work. The PPW has a straightforward attitude (no regret, no fears, no concern, no anxieties…) about her decision. She has never doubted her ability or choice to bring a child to the world. If you ask her, she hasn’t given it a even thought. Wait, what, no kids? Of course I always wanted to be a mother, this is the ultimate and highest epitome of being alive. Full stop. She knows, she’s always known and she’s become it.
Do not be fooled (I only wish) but I recognize myself in most of the points in the list, or better said – I recognize the pressure to subscribe to the list in an almost somnambulist state of mind, with no critical examination about what formed the list in the first place.
A simple why can really open a huge crack. Once the crack is there I am not certain that society provides enough supportive structures for women to work with this why. And then sometimes, fully knowing that there isn’t much to be done, we don’t even go there, we mute the why. We swipe it under the rug, we shush it out, we forget it forever…until, one day.
That day, let’s say it’s a Tuesday, you open your lunchbox during your usual and uneventful 15-minute break, and there is a slight breeze in the air that you happen to notice for the first time in awhile….and you look around, like really Look Around, with a slightly different light in your eye that takes you away. Somewhat far and yet right here on your lunch break chair, but you can see yourself from a distance. Then, all of a sudden a tiny why props itself on your shoulder like a delicate leaf.
There are so many reasons why women avoid asking these questions. And most of these reasons aren’t even conscious or personal. The problem stems from the fact that women experience the moment of asking such questions as highly isolated, internal and personal. Not having an open, honest, versatile, and debatable platform where it’s OK to ask the hard why’s, where it’s OK to question, disagree, argue and state them all. Until you have your because’s, you guzzle your wine, and go home with zero social penalties.
Oh, how needed are such spaces!
p.s. and don’t get me started on the wine while pregnant material. This has to be the battle of the century- PPW vs WPW