“It’s almost like the mother is discarded”
I told my 3 teenage sons the reality that the fetus is a parasite. I told them the story of how my teeth showed up needing major dental work, and I knew I was pregnant from that xray. My teens were at first appalled that I used the word parasite, but it fit what happens to the one carrying the fetus. They were very much worth it, of course, I was quick to say.
My own mental health suffered greatly with my final pregnancy. I am glad I survived, but I went on anti-depressants at my post-partum check-up. It was so bad for myself and also for the 3 boys I was supposed to care for. I wish more was done to help new mothers. I wish I had been in Taiwan where my mother-in-law used to tell stories about the month of rest that all new mothers get.
And the hits just keep coming when you start counting in years after counting in trimesters, weeks, months. I'm trying really hard and failing really hard to stop internalizing these impossible ideals both of working full time as if I don't have two young children and parenting two young children as if I'm not working full time. In my head I'm failing everything. In reality the evidence is everything is thriving around me and I'm ...well, I'm angry and tired. There's no good reason for everything to be this hard.
When my niece was 25, after years and years of suffering from severe endometriosis and adenomyosis, she finally decided to have a hysterectomy. Luckily her doctor supported her, but the hoops she had to jump through for the surgery to be approved and paid for by her insurance were beyond ridiculous. It was the best decision for her and she has been so much healthier and happier since then. Our society worships the concept of motherhood while treating women as second class citizens.
Pregnancy also divides women against woman.
It divided my mother and I. She was seriously sick and miscarried the fetus between my older sister and me. When she became pregnant with me, again she was debilitatingly sick (and unable to take care of my sister) so her doctor, in the unenlightened 1950s, treated her with Diethylstilbestrol (DES). Her value was only in being able to bear a child.
By the mid-1960s, it was apparent that this backfired because that same doctor discovered a shit-load of gynecological and hormonal issues that he barely acknowledged were due to DES. And as I matured, without menses and with the unattractive side-effects of Stein-Levanthal (now regarded as part of PCOS), my value plummeted with my mother (because she was ashamed of her hirsute, over-weight daughter, to the day she died in 2014), boyfriends-potential-husbands, and husband #1 because I could not get pregnant to prove to his parish that he was serious about developing a lively
Sunday School, even after thousands of dollars of infertility treatments; and then there was the day he stood before the congregation to preach his sermon about his feelings about my infertility -- without checking in with me about the sermon content -- and parishioners (men and women) shamed me for crying.
During my work life, I was frequently dismissed by other teachers as being unable to have a clue about children unless I had borne and raised at least one. The teacher's lunch table was anchored by all the other teachers talking about their pregnancies and births and raising children. The other teachers figured I wouldn't have anything to contribute so they never invited me in to the conversation, even to turn their bodies so that they were not even looking at me. I had no value.
Obviously, I have no grandchildren. At social gatherings, once it becomes clear that I have no children nor grandchildren, I'm left out of the conversation as heads turn to other people who have cute stories about their families.
No doctor I've had has taken seriously that DES history even though I continually raise questions about screening they should be doing about things like clear cell adenocarcinoma, heart issues, diabetes, mitigation for my beard that I shave daily. The only good thing is that I was spared menopause.
Barren women are still cast out of society because we have no value and have no reason to be loved.
In my 50s with a full grown son I am still trying to internalize that prioritizing my own happiness and health matter is not “selfish,” and that it isn’t my responsibility to put the health and happiness of his father before mine. It’s astonishing to me how hard this is to truly feel.
As a child of a miserable marriage, I hate when people stay together for the kids. My parents are still together and it sucks. Who wants to live in an unhappy household? It’s tense ALL THE TIME. Women should go be happy and teach their children to value relationships that bring them happiness, too.
Also I read something else this week about the fourth trimester but what it was is escaping me right now. Blech. Will post if I find it.
Twice now I have managed to delete comments I became a paid subscriber to be able to make. I love your essays. You have great wit and insight, and I am learning much from what you write. I especially like your "Dingus of the Week" feature. The perspective you present today was particularly insightful and led me to become a paid subscriber. I had not considered the way in which the health care industry and the politicians attempting to legislate women's bodies have been dividing a woman against herself. The fetus is not a separate and autonomous being. It is absolutely and totally bound and integrated with the mother who carries it, and they need to be treated as one medically as well. Politically, the only treatment of the issue should be the establishment of a woman's right to choose as the unalienable law of the land, and then it should step the hell out of the picture except to prosecute those who would attempt to encroach o that right.
While I have never been pregnant myself, what you are saying resonates so loudly to me. I remember it expressed how uncomfortable pregnant women are when strangers (casual acquaintances) touch their pregnant bellies. The wrapper shouldn't have feelings, right?
Thank you, as always, for bringing the 'fourth trimester' to light.
Late last year Madison Cawthorne took grief for referring to women as "earthen vessels". And I thought, why is everyone so shocked at this? This is how the whole world seems to view pregnant women.
I too was told/forewarned that my divorce would destroy my two children, 4 and 8 at the time (because "research" showed that). Au contraire, I was so much happier, and they have grown to be, now 40 and 44, two of the most wonderful adults and parents to my 5 grandchildren, and professionally successful to boot! I did not do it alone...thanks Mom and Dad...but you'd better believe I take credit for them when compliments come their way!
Thanks..a new subscriber
Society's view on women's bodies, and the way women experience the fourth trimester, are both inextricably linked to the way we carry babies and give birth. When a woman gives birth in power, with true autonomy over her body, not surrounded by strangers putting their hands in her vagina or cutting her without consent or making up reasons to artificially induce labor for their own convenience or timing her and calling it 'failure to progress,' birth works.
And the result is a woman standing in her power, with the confidence to move through the challenges of motherhood. But we don't have a lot of great examples of this because 95% of women are going through the conveyor belt of industrial obstetric "care," believing it's the safest and best way, but losing themselves. (Yes, there are high-risk pregnancies and outliers, of course -- which is why medical care is necessary and life-saving and even empowering, in the situations that warrant it and when it's an intentional choice.)
Every day birth is not a medical emergency; in the rare cases it turns into one, we can seek emergency care -- just like we do for chest pain and car accident trauma. The key is that the "emergencies" we fear are typically caused, in the first place, by medical interventions that interfere with the intricate hormonal cascade of physiological birth. Mammals give birth in a dark quiet place, with privacy, with space to move around as needed and follow their instincts. After birth, mother-baby is intact, with instinctual closeness, quiet, bonding, feeding and sleeping, without interference. We are mammals.
As long as we continue to hand our power over to men (or any authority outside ourselves) to carry babies and give birth, women will not 'own' birth or our bodies, as far as society is concerned. (The alternative to giving our power away is authentic pregnancy and birth support, with the mother at the center and true informed consent -- neither of which are present in modern obstetrics).
And the same is true for abortion. As long as we look to the establishment for 'permission' to terminate a pregnancy, the powers that be will relish in controlling our lives and bodies. It's time to realize we inherently have control. We are sovereign. And that means taking our lives, health, and choices into our own hands. Knowledge is power.
I want to add that I saw in my own family of upbringing the importance of a mother's health, well-being and happiness to the health, well-being and happiness of her children. My mother was forced to make myriad sacrifices that repressed her great intelligence and creativity, and her aspirations, and the unhappiness she felt, and her depression, affected us all. I had never considered the aspect of the mother's health in "the fourth trimester," and didn't know that there were many mothers that died at that stage in the process because it wasn't emphasized enough, but even beyond that, the mother's health and happiness should be as regularly considered as the kids' regular check-ups and vaccinations.
I've always tilted toward "pro-life" in my heart. I say this only because I believe that all but a tiny fragment of sociopaths that really don't give a damn on the pro-choice side are also pro-life. None of the women I know who had abortions did so lightly. It was a difficult decision for most that they wished to God they didn't have to make. BUT IT WAS THEIRS TO MAKE! No one can second guess it. As I said, I accidentally deleted two previous comments and I think I've lost steam and haven't been able to express myself well, but please regard this as a foggy old man's ham-fisted attempt to be a supportive ally.! :)
This really resonated with me. One of my relatives had major struggles with her mental health during the 'fourth trimester' and I think of her a lot.
Powerful words here, Lyz. Yes. Please, let's VALUE ourselves. That's hard to remember in a world where it's easier to regard half the population as support staff.
The BIG question that had to hang in the air in my every decision: "But...what about the kids?"
When I needed to finish off an interrupted college degree, it was my own mother who said. "Think what they will see as you study, talk about school, make plans for a career...." They also watched their Dad switch his work hours, fix their mac-n-cheese, and find bandages for the boo-boos.
Our daughter (now with children of her own) is in awe...and wants to know how DID we do that? Like everything else at the time...just barely.
Lyz and so many of you, thank you. It's way past time to reset the terms of society's consideration of women (full stop) and respecting the integrity of individuals. All individuals. Roe should only ever have been a placeholder -- until the Equal Rights Amendment was codified and the American welfare state properly generated universal health care like just about every other industrialized nation -- but but but. Most of us lived through last century's events conspiring against us and when the ruling classes doubled down, well, here we are. A recent article on this theme that I also found educational belongs to Charlotte Shane: https://harpers.org/archive/2022/10/the-right-to-not-be-pregnant-asserting-an-essential-right/ You all have turned me onto many excellent perspectives here, and I am grateful beyond words.
I am also hopeful. If this governing premise is at last all the way broken, it falls to us to build it up again, but this time functionally and with purpose. None of us are free or safe in this horrific brood sow model. We never were.