Newsflash: Pregnancy Is Hard But Anti-Choicers Refuse to Admit It


I feel like there are two lines of argument used by anti-choice activists, one that pregnancy is the most important thing a woman can do with her life, the other, that it isn’t really that big a deal to just go ahead and go through with it and so you must be really selfish not to just have a baby. They always sound like they’re admonishing very young girls for worrying about their appearance. Very few of the people who will tell us those things do anything at all to help women deal with the economic fallout of pregnancy: they neither advocate for fair family leave policies nor stronger anti-discrimination laws protecting pregnant workers. They may not even consider pregnancy discrimination relevant to the question of whether women should get to decide to keep a pregnancy, perhaps because they might have to admit that it can have negative material consequences.

I read all that and can only think, “Damn, I’m lucky.”

I’m 38 years old and six months pregnant. I have health insurance and a job where I can telecommute. I’ll be able to take 12 weeks of maternity leave if I need it. It took a long while to get to this point though, and there were a lot of times earlier in my life when this pregnancy could have caused me to lose a job or otherwise shattered what little economic security I had.

Because while pregnancy affects every individual differently, and some people are famously so unaffected that they don’t even know they’re pregnant until quite late, for many expecting mothers it means months worth of constant illness. Most people don’t have the kind of job security that allows you to manage that much sick leave, there’s no national policy in place to support women who become very ill during pregnancy, and we haven’t even gotten around to talking about leave to care for a newborn.

Let’s start with the exhaustion. Early in my first trimester, I became so tired, so often, that I almost fell asleep once on the way home from work while standing up in a crowded, rush hour DC Metro train. I was incredibly grateful that I no longer drive. I could stay awake reliably for about long enough to have a full work day, and that was about it.

My then employer let me work from home during the remainder of the first trimester, because it didn’t interfere at the time with my ability to do my job. It was very kind and much-needed. I’ve had a number of jobs, especially low-wage jobs when I was younger and many jobs to which I had to drive, and where to continue a pregnancy with the same symptoms would likely have meant losing the job. There have been bad financial times when it might have meant trying to push myself until I’d gotten seriously hurt.

Being tired isn’t one of the worst symptoms a person can have in pregnancy. It sounds innocuous. I wasn’t put on bed rest, I wasn’t constantly vomiting (just constantly nauseous), didn’t have any severe cardiovascular or diabetic symptoms. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open sometimes, no matter what I did.

Then the doctors’ appointments start. I may have gone to the doctor more in the last six months than in the last six years. The appointments are only going to get more frequent as I approach my due date, and then when the baby comes, not only will I need follow-up care, but the cycle of recommended “well baby” visits will begin. All these appointments have to be scheduled during regular business hours; this poses an obvious problem for people with a 9-5 workday, but can also be hard for shift workers who may not get their schedules until the beginning of the work week.

On top of that, there are the mid-pregnancy ultrasounds to check that everything’s in order. When we went for the 20-week scan, it took the technician around an hour and she couldn’t get all the pictures she needed because of how the fetus was positioned. We couldn’t get another appointment for four weeks, right at the cutoff limit for my SCOTUS-approved decision making rights. This time, the technician zoomed through getting the rest of the pictures in 20 minutes, except for one. She spent another 20 minutes trying to see the left ventricle of the heart because of an inconveniently placed shinbone.

So much for that afternoon. And so much for my rights in many places and many people’s minds, even if the pictures had revealed, for example, that I was providing life support for a body that was never going to be able to survive on its own, a level of life support I could not be justly required to provide against my will to anyone already born, even if they were my child.

But everything seemed fine, thank goodness. Also, thank goodness for flex time, which most people don’t have at work. Considering how long it takes to get to my insured provider’s office and back, I’m sure I’d have already come close to exhausting a year’s worth of sick leave.

There are women who show up at the hospital to give birth in the United States having had little to no prenatal care, and I can understand why. If the lack of health coverage for low-wage working families weren’t bad enough, the difficulty of keeping up with the recommended number of appointments is downright intimidating. If you rely on public transit, as I do, the time involved adds up very quickly.

And don’t forget the dehydration. That was exciting. Twice I landed at the medical center so dehydrated that they said I needed an IV transfusion of saline immediately. Both times, my veins had so little pressure in them that they needed three tries to get the IV to stay. The first time, when I nearly passed out after a blood draw, it worked, and also ended up taking four hours. The second time, when I came in for a migraine that I couldn’t keep any safe treatment down for, they gave up after the third blown vein. The doctor warily told me to go home and drink as much water as I could possibly stand to that day.

I’ve just never drunk very much water. Now my body’s having to rapidly build out new networks of blood vessels, provide fresh fluid for a rapidly cycling fetal metabolism, and keep my kidneys clear of all the extra waste. I need extra water like I never have in my life. I don’t want to black out. I don’t want another 24-hour migraine I can’t treat and that would keep me from working.

Dehydration doesn’t sound much more worrisome on paper than being tired does, but during pregnancy, it can be dangerous and it has to be taken seriously.

Yet women can be fired for taking additional water and bathroom breaks during pregnancy. There’d be another deal breaker for my continuing employment, right there, even if I had no other symptoms.

I could pat myself on the back for having waited long enough to have a child until I had a chance to find a supportive and loving partner, and that I built my career to a point where I’ve been able to find decent and secure employment. Though to think that would be delusional self-flattery.

The truth is, that when I was very young and working in minimum wage jobs, temp jobs, jobs where my skills could have been replaced in a week flat if the employer were very picky, I was unwell. I didn’t know it, but I was. I had an ovarian cyst, weighing over two pounds, that had been growing for years. When I found myself having a miscarriage in my early 20s as my first marriage fell apart, the doctors found it. That’s why I ‘waited.’

And I can’t know with certainty what I would have done if I’d gotten pregnant 15 to 20 years ago, when I would have been considered an utterly disposable member of the labor market, as so many other pregnant workers are considered now.

Because women are fired all the time for being pregnant. They’re forced to use up leave they don’t need when they’re feeling fine, they’re denied reasonable accommodations when they’re not, and they’re often refused recovery time after giving birth. All at jobs with wages that rarely cover decent child care.

To minimize the potential impact of these issues on the earning potential of women and their families is nothing short of cruel. Parenting might be lauded as hard and crucial work for women, work that starts before a child is even born, but we’re also often expected to carry the full burden of time and expense with very little assistance or even accommodation.

Meanwhile, the government that stands ready to subject me to criminal penalties if I should fail badly as a parent is skirting perilously close to denying me the right to refuse these challenges and obligations, often on the insulting pretext that they can’t trust me with these decisions because I don’t fully understand them. No, I understand them very well and trust that other women do, too.

It isn’t hard to notice who does nearly all the work of caring for children even when you’re still only a child yourself.

What I don’t trust is the adults out there who act like they don’t understand how much of a physical and economic impact pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood have on women. I don’t trust that they just never noticed, and sincerely mean to deprive us of the ability to choose whether or not to take those on out of concern for our well-being, when they can’t even have a mature conversation about the risks and penalties of becoming a mother. I don’t trust that they care about me when they talk to me like a child, or as if the only person they’re interested in is one that’s never even drawn a breath on its own.

The closer I get to my due date, the more offended I am when opponents of women’s rights and of unfettered access to reproductive health care take a lackadaisical attitude towards what pregnancy entails. To me, those people are the worst sort of freeloaders on the ability to bear children and the willingness of so many women to do the hard and expensive work of raising them, even when our society penalizes us for it at every turn.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ella.warnock.7 Ella Warnock

    This is probably one of the most infuriating things about anti-choice men. “I know it’s hard, but . . .” They KNOW it’s hard, huh? A guy on Facebook put up a video of some dude trying to propose that the “you can’t get pregnant or give birth so you should shut it” argument was a “genetic fallacy,” whatever that means. One of his more brilliant statements was that “you don’t have to be a farmer to eat corn.” Seriously, he said that. Oh, SNAP, well that just changes everything, doesn’t it?

    So I commented and pointed out that being a woman was about more than being pregnant, and that being pregnant was more than just about being pregnant. As a man you might be able to sympathize and empathize with your partner, but that’s as far as it goes and to glibly say that you know it’s hard is dismissive and minimizing to not just the experience of pregnancy and childbirth, but all the hassle that goes with possessing and maintaining the female reproductive system.

    Know what his response to that was? “So when is it okay to kill a baby in the womb?”

    Well then.

    That’s the kind of thinking we’re up against. That’s the kind of obstinate insolence and arrogance that we can expect from most of these people. Put up a video of how you’re not being dismissive of women, then dismiss a woman for telling you that you have better arguments, but that’s just not one of them and it will repulse the very people you’re trying to attract.

    Oh well, can’t say I’m really surprised. I wish you a safe rest of your pregnancy and delivery, Natasha.

    • HeilMary1

      Men and all fetal idolators need to have the horrors of obstetric fistulas and sepsis amputations shoved in their looksist whiny faces. These looksists would never be faithful to, let alone be seen with, mothers suffering gross childbirth injuries like the face rot that murdered my best friend.

  • lorimakesquilts

    This!!! Thank you. I hate men who dismiss pregnancy and childbirth as if it were nothing. I’d be dead and so would my son if it wasn’t for women’s healthcare. I’d be without a sex life too if it wasn’t for a full range of contraceptive services — either that or dead. The anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive services folks are the murderers, not women and not their doctors.

    • HeilMary1

      Exactly!

  • http://twitter.com/JenGStarr Jennifer Starr

    Unfortunately it’s not just men who do this. While I can’t post the link here, I ask you to Google an article on a site called New Wave Feminists called “Chill. It’s not a Winnebago”, in which the author opines that pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing is not as big a deal as say, having a Winnebago or having your house carpeted. And believe me, it’s gets worse from there. The author also seems to be of the opinion that they stay babies forever (they don’t) and also is against efforts to reduce teen pregnancy (what the heck?). There’s a lot more there that I could mention but trust me–it will get your blood boiling–as well as make you question whether or not there is actually life on this woman’s planet.

    • HeilMary1

      If Hollywood made movies on obstetric fistulas, molar pregnancies, the female fetus and breast and face cancer connection, and sepsis amputations, faux feminists wouldn’t get away with their disinfo.

      • PH Student

        I don’t know. I’m pretty sure they’d love that stuff. An anti-choice woman dying in childbirth or from something related to pregnancy? The martyr narrative writes itself.

    • PH Student

      I hate the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=601257553 Greg Papadatos

    I don’t imagine that pregnancy is deadly dangerous, for the most part – though I DO know that it IS so, for some women. (Ecclampsia kills!) The female body is “designed” for it, more or less, and our species has been around for quite a while.

    That said, I do not imagine that pregnancy is “easy.” Yeah, sure, some women say that it is, but I don’t believe that they speak for all women.

    Dealing with pregnancy while in the work force DEFINITELY strikes me as something that is “not easy”. Anything that is not easy, in general, is going to be even more difficult for people who are poor, so I don’t doubt for a second that pregnancy is not easy for poor women in low-wage, low-skill jobs. Employers COULD make it easier for pregnant women, but most WON’T do so unless they are compelled to do so.

    The maternity leave practices in this country are absolutely disgraceful when they are compared to the practices in other industrialized countries.

    Whenever I encounter a person who opposes abortion, I ask them if they have ever adopted a child, or would be willing to do so in the near future. I immediately dismiss the ones who say “no.”

    • Jodi Jacobson

      In many countries, complications of pregnancy are the leading causes of death for women ages 15 to 49. Pregnancy is always potentially dangerous. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality among wealthy countries. Please do homework before declaring pregnancy is not “deadly dangerous” as it can well be so for those without medical care.

      • HeilMary1

        Most pregnancy complications and deaths aren’t recorded as such, especially if the complications are slightly delayed (outside of the hospital), or long delayed by weeks or even years. Fetal idolators refuse to acknowledge this hidden staggering toll. I know/knew several women who suffered bankrupting problems like lethal daughter-caused face and breast cancers, organ failures and incontinence. Their husbands abandoned them immediately and they ended up on welfare before dying. Yet the underlying childbirths never get properly blamed. One daughter-caused breast cancer case even murdered the widowed dad by triggering a fatal heart attack.

        • Ruth Rivera

          It’s truly a travesty all the shoving under the carpet of pregnancy complications that health care systems do. I don’t even work on an obstetric floor and I care for women all the time who are incontinent, have rectovaginal fistulae, neurogenic bladders, prolapsed uteruses, et cetera, ad nauseum. I’ve taken care of a few women who suffer from severe congestive heart failure secondary to pregnancy. But they’re only women, so they should be ecstatic to sacrifice their health and well-being for the Holy Fetus, right? Even if they were pregnant due to rape, of course, because rape babies are gifts from a sadistic, misogynistic, vile god.

          Not a single one of the half dozen women I work with who created children in the last year was able to remain at work after the 2nd trimester. One woman kept passing out because the fetus would compress her aorta at the most inopportune times. Another had hyperemesis gravidarum. The rest just became too fatigued to withstand the rigors of a nursing shift.

          I have no desire to ever create children and will expel any embryo that somehow takes up residence in my uterus, but women who endure the rigors of pregnancy have my utmost respect. And those that continue breastfeeding, pumping their breasts at work, are absolutely heroic. I just cannot wrap my mind around the idea that women should be forced to endure the torture of pregnancy and labor. I never could. We don’t even force people to donate blood or bone marrow, but it’s perfectly okay to so, so many people, especially men, to force women to endure unwanted pregnancy? Forced-birthers and pro-choice-but’ers can shove that nonsense right up their misogynistic asses.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

        Which is the true indicator of risk, Jodi. Since the risks of pregnancy are not being eliminated but simply mitigated through medical treatment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=601257553 Greg Papadatos

    Oh, and by the way: Good luck to you, Natasha! I hope your child is as healthy as it is wanted.

  • erbmon

    Let’s rape women and get them pregnant.
    Ok now lets fire them.
    Now let’s wonder why women don’t respect men anymore.