Reproductive Choice Is About More Than Getting ‘Fat’—It’s About Bodily and Economic Autonomy

Exactly the sort of person who would say “Just have the baby” read my essay about the end of my pregnancy and my son’s first month of life, and Cassy Fiano’s interpretation of my point was “pregnancy makes you fat“—not “pregnancy is expensive, sometimes incompatible with maintaining a job or a decent income, painful, extremely difficult, possibly life-threatening, or sometimes traumatic,” which are the topics I recall writing about when my son was in the hospital and I was worried he might need surgery. I mentioned the cost of clothes, so I was complaining about getting fat, according to Fiano at Live Action News.

The start of my adult working life involved a series of lousy minimum wage and poorly paid jobs. The best perk I had at any of them was that the restaurant jobs usually involved one free meal a day. As a recent New York Times article about the hardships of low-wage workers pointed out, some people don’t even get that:

Naquasia Legrand, a 22-year-old from Canarsie, Brooklyn, works at two KFCs. She washes dishes at one for $7.75 and mops floors at the other for $8. She says she must work four or five hours each week off the clock. She needed to buy a MetroCard last week so she skipped lunch. She shakes her head. “I think I deserve to eat lunch.”

When I worked at a Subway franchise and did get a half sandwich per shift, I never found more than three pairs of pants that fit, that I could afford, and that were acceptable to wear as part of my uniform, though I was a regular at the thrift stores and yard sales in the area. None of the pants were bought new; new clothes were an unattainable luxury. One pair I had was so tight that they barely fit after a big meal, but they were black and they were long enough not to look ridiculous. Those miserable pants had to last because there were no more where those came from. I washed my clothes a lot and was grateful my apartment came with a washer and dryer.

Later, I set my sights higher, got some job training, and started doing office temp work. That paid better, but my clothes cost more, because wearing business or business casual attire was mandatory. Office work doesn’t come with free lunches, and the abusive jerk I was married to didn’t let me have enough of my paycheck to eat lunch every day. I was always excited when I’d get placed somewhere with granola bars in the vending machines, because then if I had a few quarters handy, I didn’t have to choose between candy and nothing. I lost a couple placements because I was so hungry I fell asleep at my desk. But my clothes had to fit, they still had to last, and they weren’t what I usually wanted to ask to spend the household food budget on.

When I say that acceptable work clothes are a serious expense for some people, this is the kind of thing I mean. Maybe it’s inherently ridiculous in the misogynist mindset to hear a lady talk about clothes, but clothes cost real money, just like everything else. Money spent on clothes can’t be spent on food, transportation, or medical bills.

So unless a woman has a job where she can show up in a muumuu and Crocs, I call shenanigans on mocking clothing costs as a trivial concern. Women are held to a stricter, more expensive standard of appearance in the majority of living-wage workplaces, and often have to conform to narrow dress codes in workplaces that pay nothing close to a family wage.

Anti-choice activists who advocate forced birth, like Fiano, work to close clinics because they know all too well that the price of a bus ticket to a more distant office can push an abortion out of reach of a low-wage worker or low-income family. And when your clothes become painful to wear—when you’re bursting out of them or flat out can’t get into them—fixing the situation often costs more than a bus ticket.

If the cost of a new pair of pants is a serious issue in a household, a baby is an enormous economic burden. It is, perhaps, the difference between poverty and dire poverty.

When a person already has children—and, as of 2011, 61 percent of all women seeking abortions already had one or more children—the money spent on those new uniform pants isn’t just taking food out of your mouth, it’s taking food out of the mouths of your kids.

If a pregnancy costs a woman her job, how will she feed her family? If she has to go for a job interview, she usually can’t show up in slovenly, ill-fitting clothes and expect a good outcome.

I get the impression that Fiano either doesn’t care about women getting or maintaining employment, or doesn’t know what a typical workplace is like. The bit she writes about getting leave after a birth really drives the impression home:

Chart also mentions time off for recovery, which usually runs about six weeks. Chart seems to think this means that women are completely incapacitated and incapable of doing anything until those six weeks are over, but thankfully, that’s not quite the case.

Again, as I mentioned in the first place, millions of people in this country can’t get a single day off to recover from a cold or flu. Do colds and flus completely incapacitate people? Not generally, especially considering how many people are forced to work right through them. But if the standard for getting time to recover from an illness was complete incapacity, I think most people would regard this as inhumane.

What’s worse is that the jobs least likely to allow a decent span of leave after childbirth are the ones that tend to be more physically demanding. Rather than sitting at a desk all day, they generally require being on your feet much of the time, lifting, carrying, bending, stretching, and moving, moving, moving.

Low-wage workplaces often operate on a principle summed up by the words of my old boss at Subway: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” Going back to frenetic manual labor before feeling fully healed can extend recovery time from an injury, and let’s be clear that birth for pretty much all people involves at least some amount of injury.

Why do none of the people who say they care so much about theoretical “fetal pain” ever think that demonstrable maternal pain is worth mentioning?

People like Fiano often work to enact waiting periods for abortion, because they know that many people can’t get a day or more off from their job for an extra doctor’s appointment. Yet Fiano feels fine making light of the hassle of constant medical tests, the risk of getting a secondary illness that would require more time off for medical care later, or trying to get anything close to six weeks worth of leave after childbirth.

Fiano’s OK with minimizing these costs though, because a study once showed that some women who were forced by circumstances to have children they didn’t want usually ended up having their initial anxiety levels go back to normal and admitted to few regrets. In other words, they’ll get over it. As with physical pain and injury, Fiano seems to suggest there’s no need for sympathy if a person isn’t completely, perhaps permanently, incapacitated by an adverse event.

She admits that the economic impacts on the women in the study were “significant,” but she brushes past that fact the way people do when they don’t really care about the impacts of poverty on children, adults, and their families. Since 40 percent of births in the United States end up being covered by Medicaid, which only steps in to cover people who are either already quite poor or have spent down their assets on medical expenses to the point that they now qualify as poor, it’s clear that many people are willing to have a child in spite of poverty. Yet that choice should be up to the individual who has to endure the consequences, not a conservative movement that’s worked at every turn to cut nutrition, housing, child care, transportation, and medical assistance for these same low-income families.

Fiano also noted that adoption alleviated many of the economic issues I raised.

Really? For everybody?

Does giving up a baby for adoption erase all the extra personal expenses shelled out over the course of a pregnancy? Does it magically restore any pay or chance at advancement that you might have lost? Does the act of adoption fully return your body to its pre-pregnancy, uninjured state, such that you don’t need time off work to recover afterward? Does it decrease the cost of taking care of pregnancy-induced diabetes or other pregnancy-related conditions that don’t heal up right away?

I don’t think so.

And adoption simply isn’t an option everyone can live with—as if there’s a perfect adoptive family waiting for every child anyway. It’s true that the healthy child of a sober, well-nourished, white college graduate like me has a better chance of finding a good home with a family willing to shell out for the birth mother’s medical expenses than some babies would. But the foster care system is proof positive that there isn’t a loving, financially stable home waiting for every unwanted child.

You bring a child into the world and you are a parent. That means something. It’s not easy for everyone to casually hand that job off to a stranger because, contrary to what forced birth advocates would have you believe, most people have a pretty strong understanding of what pregnancy is and what an incredible responsibility parenthood is from a very young age. Whether your parents did a great, middling, or terrible job, or even if they weren’t there, it’s the rare person who doesn’t get how important that was to the course of their lives. Giving a newborn baby over to strangers is going to be unacceptable to many people.

Lastly, though she mentioned it first, Fiano complained about my lack of discussion of personal responsibility, lamenting sarcastically that “it’s cruel to expect women to abstain from sex if they aren’t ready for a baby.” In a word, yes. That’s cruel.

Sex drive is basic to human nature. We’ve been having sex as a species for a long time—close to 200,000 years by now if you believe in the same science that gives us miracles like advanced antibiotics and level 3 neonatal intensive care units—and many of us are sick of being made to feel guilty about it.

I’m going to take it as a given that Fiano disapproves of sex outside of marriage. And I’m going to guess that when she talks about personal responsibility, it’s code for the people the forced birth movement always acts like they’re talking about exclusively: childless, unmarried teens and early 20-somethings. (Nothing gets their predominately male audience frothing like young girls having unauthorized sex, and Fiano clearly knows her audience.) This creepy voyeurism is stomach turning and is probably at least as much to blame as widespread racism for the conservative movement’s demographic death spiral.

Even as a married woman, I reject the idea that sex should always be about being ready for a baby. No matter how guilty many people feel in public when they’re shamed into mumbling their agreement about the evils of “irresponsible” sex, not all married people are always ready for a baby, even if they already have children.

To be more clear, if Fiano isn’t planning to join the Quiverfull movement, or isn’t one of the less than 20 percent of Catholics who agree with the church hierarchy on contraception, to suggest that women (not men, naturally) should abstain from sex if we don’t want babies is an extreme minority position. If she is planning to do something like that, well, there’s a reason the Duggars have a reality TV show—because most modern U.S. citizens have decided not to live like that.

While views like Fiano’s still have the power to hurt and to publicly shame, I take comfort in the fact that they’re also becoming extinct in practice, rejected privately by one person after another as cruel and pointless. While conservative politicians are taking their gerrymandered statehouse victories and running to turn the clocks back on reproductive rights, I take comfort in the fact that they’re panicking because they can see the inevitability of their slide into irrelevance in people’s lives.

It just makes me sad to think of how many more people are going to be coerced into brutally hard lives in the meantime. All because some cruel social throwbacks value theoretical children over actual women and the families they already have.

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  • Lynnsey

    The privilege of these people is breathtaking. It’s the same mentality that says that poor people should just pay five or ten bucks for their healthcare, because “Hey! What’s ten bucks?” I have to assume people like that have never wanted for much…

    As a participant in the last epic comment thread, I watched as people dismissed the hard realities of pregnancy and childbirth and parenting in one breath and then turned around and told me that people don’t do that and that they had never EVER **EVER** seen anyone try and shame and silence women who talk about how difficult it can be despite having done just that to you.

    • Valde

      Meh, they even dismiss death.


      • Lynnsey

        You should gladly die! Like Saint what’s-her-face!

        Pro-life, yeah!

  • Susie from Philly

    I know people who have given up children for adoption, and I have friends who were adopted. It is not an easy thing for either party. I really wish the women who propose this so blithely would explain exactly how they would carry a child to term in front of its siblings and then give it away.

  • Anon rust

    Beautifully written.

  • KayeBlue

    Wonderfully written rebuttal!

    I think it’s important to be explicit to the point of making people uncomfortable about recovering from childbirth. There is a lovely 29-year-old, healthy blogger named Veronika who just had a baby 6 weeks ago. It was a relatively uncomplicated vaginal birth. Still, the blogger suffered three vaginal tears requiring stitches. She had the usual post-birth bleeding; requiring adult diapers for three weeks afterwards. Then she suffered excessive bleeding, which she described awaking at midnight to find her entire bed and legs soaked in blood. After several days of this, her doctor advised her to have an ultrasound. She was discovered to have some small bits of retained placenta in her uterus (despite the intact appearance of the placenta at delivery). She needed a D&C, which required an overnight stay in the hospital.

    She had a planned baby with her husband. They are upper-middle class and have two incomes, health insurance. If FMLA didn’t cover her husband, and she didn’t have loving family nearby, who would have cared for her baby when Veronika needed the D&C? Who is supposed to pay for her pads, pain medicine, ruined sheets/pants/underwear from blood loss? Who is going shopping for food for her and the baby while she’s incapacitated?

    If an anti-choicer is still so heartless to dismiss this suffering, they need to ask themselves- Would a man be expected to return to work with stitches in his scrotum?

    • HeilMary1

      We need to broadcast these unpleasant details into the smug hateful faces of the fetal idolaters. I believe vaginal lacerations and obstetric incontinence are the real ugly reasons why the Vatican banned marriage for priests and why most male fetal idolaters cheat on and dump their wives. You should alert stuck-up anti-choice teen girls about this and watch their snooty jaws drop. You should emphasize that Veronika probably got off “lucky” — she could have had permanent divorce-causing incontinence or even face-eating cancer that maimed and murdered my best friend after she had two cancer-causing daughters. If Fetal-ibaners can shove fetus porn into our faces, we need to shove back pictures of childbirth injuries, cyclops infants, pedophile priests, Depends and divorce links, and multi-million dollar hospital bills. Wave pictures of fistula hospital patients and dumped GOP brood mares. We need to shame them right back.

      • BlueTigress

        Nah, the Vatican banned marriage for priests when the priests started giving away Church property in their wills. It’s always about numbers – either dollars (or equivalents) or followers. Actual people don’t count.

  • fiona64

    My immediate thought about Fiano and her fans was two-fold: “Clearly, none of these women has ever experienced a crisis pregnancy” and “Clearly, none of these women has ever worked outside the home.” Otherwise, none of them would have said the asinine things they did.

    Excellent rebuttal!

    • LittleMissMellaril

      She will not even fix her website!

  • belgianchic

    Beautifully written.

  • Dez

    Awesome. Absolutely loved the article.

  • Ella Warnock

    Great article, Natasha. Wonder if Flippant Fiano will respond with another pointless and snarky diatribe?

    • LittleMissMellaril

      Snark is all that cunt has!

  • Amanda Kazarian

    Even considering all these things, most people with the prolife stance fail to acknowledge that not only can you not force someone to parent, but what if no one wants to adopt a woman’s baby? Not all babies that get placed for adoption actually get adopted. Lots of people want to adopt a baby but that doesn’t mean they are going to get one. There were people asking for babies at the agency I worked at that were horrible. I wouldn’t even trust a house plant to be in their care.

    So what then? Just let them bounce around from foster home to foster home, getting no proper care or education? Not all foster kids end in a bad place but a lot of them really suffer in the system. That solution just seems so cruel to me.

  • Guest

    Thank-you for both of these articles! You’ve gracefully discussed things most pro-lifers tend to conveniently ignore. My first pregnancy was pretty brutal for me. I had pregnancy aggrevated hypoglycemia and pre-natal depression and the two together made those nine months very hard.
    At the time i was working at a major bookstore in it’s cafe for a whopping $8/hour. It was in this wonderful work environment that i fainted twice on the job. The first time I was lucky and was unharmed and the second I fell and smashed my face into a countertop. I was attempting to call for help on the overhead since I was alone behind the counter at the time. After biting through my face and breaking a tooth out I had an unpaid month of leave to recover since my doctor said i shouldn’t drive/work until i successfully kept my blood sugar stable for some time.
    As a low income case I had medicaid and all of my prenatal expenses were covered. But not my stitches post fainting. Not the pulp cap to cover partially exposed root nerves from my broken front tooth.
    Do i regret having my son? Never, but i will say that the constant brushing off of how difficult pregnancy can be in so many different ways is something the uninformed and willfully ignorant need to stop indulging in.

    • colleen2

      The folks who so casually dismiss the ENORMOUS gift a woman makes every time she gestates a child also consistently and constantly demean women in other ways. The need to keep women in our place and return us to what they call Biblical roles is the glue that holds the religious right coalition together.

      • Valde

        It is a privilege to be born, not a right.

  • Jennifer Starr

    I once had a ‘pro-life’ young man on youtube tell me the story of how his mom had nearly died (her heart had stopped) when she was in labor with him. And when I asked whether he was grateful that she had gone through that for him, his reply was “Why would I be grateful? She was just doing her job.” I’ve had a lot of disturbing discussions with anti-choice people, but I have to say that response–that he would be so cavalier and dismissive of his own mother–it just totally floored me. And then these people have the nerve to act as if they’re morally superior? Please.

    • Valde

      That is SO fucked up.

      Gives me chills down my spine just thinking about it.

      But yeah, see, they don’t view women as people who can have babies, they view women as objects that are to be used to make babies.

      • fiona64

        Every time I re-read that, it makes me want to vomit. What a casual, dismissive way to treat his mother. He’s doubtless going to grow up to be another one of Mr_Cris’ ilk.

  • Michelle

    THANK YOU for not shying around the topic that sex is normal and natural. Women deserve to be able to have as much sex as they want without pregnancy being a “punishment.” The fact that many anti-choicers have a “rape exception” just proves they don’t care about “babies” at all- they care about women and our sex lives.

  • LittleMissMellaril

    Cassy Fiano is just a cunt who doesn’t understand anything but how to be mean and nasty. Plus, her website does not work, try to click on any categories and you get an error message! But when this happens to her it’ll be different, TRUST ME!

  • Happy Childless

    I’ll credit that conservatives have a legitimate and thoughtful position when they stop cheating on their taxes, cheating on their spouses with children, and stop their rapacious greedy march to the top of the money pile on the backs of the ever increasing ranks of the poor around the globe.