Taking Control Of Your Pregnancy: Embracing Motherhood As A Feminist

By Jori Hamilton

For those who are to new pregnancy, it can be jarring to jump into the world of motherhood. The expectations that live within the chatrooms, books, and conversations about raising a child. When you’re pregnant, you’re often faced with a barrage of judgments and expectations from friends, family, and strangers alike. It can make you feel as if you’ve become public property. It’s a shame, because pregnancy is a beautiful and miraculous (albeit difficult) time in a person’s life. Pregnancy is empowering, no matter what it looks like for each mother. 

A feminist pregnancy is one that ignores outside expectations, embraces each body, and treats each pregnant person fairly. It provides everyone with pregnancy and parenting resources. It doesn’t punish them for their socioeconomic standing or absence from work to have and raise their children. A feminist pregnancy celebrates each person’s choice to raise a child how they want to without shaming them. 

Ignoring Outside Expectations

Expectations can make pregnancy difficult. Some expect that pregnant individuals will stay home, while others will expect them to go back to work. There are many assumptions about appropriate diets, weight gain, and lifestyle choices. These expectations come from society, friends, family, and spouses. 

Many new stresses are a result of these expectations, which can make pregnancy and postpartum life even more difficult. Statistics show that 25% of all pregnant individuals experience mental illness at some point, and 15% experience postpartum depression after giving birth.  Feminism is all about equality. It’s important for each person to remember this when faced with unfair expectations. Your pregnancy, your life, and your decisions are based on you and what works for you. Ignore the outside expectations, and listen to your gut (sometimes literally). 

Embracing Body Positivity

Maintaining body positivity is an issue for many. This can be exacerbated during and after pregnancy, as there are certain physical conditions that are heightened by the sheer act of being pregnant. For example, over 40% of pregnant people experience some form of varicose veins over the course of their pregnancy, but vein experts recommend waiting until well after the birth to be evaluated for true venous disease because it will often reduce on its own. The truth is, even though your body might feel different than you’re used to, there’s value to simply embracing the journey it’s on and holding your body image in a positive light.

Not every body issue will simply dissolve, and of course the issue is complex in terms of intersectionality, especially within the world of pregnancy. Every individual has unique experiences that result from their background, healthcare access, and beliefs. How can body positivity be improved across pregnant people of all socioeconomic statuses, races, religions, and sexual identities? 

Body positivity comes back to expectations and how bodies are seen and spoken about before, during, and after. The movement to take back postpartum bodies is a step in the right direction. It works to reverse many body expectations that are harmful. For plus-sized moms, body positivity can be hard at this time as some healthcare professionals will shame them based on their size. There is a difference between understanding the potential complications of a plus-sized pregnancy and being shamed for it, but the line can be hard to find for many women going through it. 

A feminist pregnancy is one that embraces all bodies, no matter their color, size, sexuality, or gender identity. Body positivity is powerful, especially for women managing the many changes that happen during pregnancy.   

Understanding Medical Advocacy

Being your own medical advocate is hard in any situation where you aren’t certain what the best medical decision is. Often, you can only hope that your doctor has your best interests in mind. With more marginalized folk in leadership roles in the healthcare field, we may work to bridge the gap between medical staff and the birthing experience. There’s more than one way to have a baby or to handle prenatal or postpartum care. Each person has to decide for themselves what that will look like. 

This can be hard, and doctors can be great resources to help make those decisions and to have those important pregnancy conversations with. This is also one of the reasons why doulas have become such an important staple for many during pregnancy and birth. A feminist pregnancy is an educated pregnancy. The unfortunate truth is that many people don’t have the resources to understand how to be their own medical advocate, which can make pregnancy a dangerous situation. 

In this vein, there must be a wider understanding of cultural differences regarding pregnancy. There are unique birthing traditions around the world to consider. For instance:

  • Latinx rituals in birthing call for the placenta and umbilical cord to be buried as soon as possible after the baby is delivered. 
  • In many Islamic republics, people practice aqiqah, which takes place up to 21 days after a child is born. In this traditional practice, the infant’s head is shaved and an animal sacrifice is offered.
  • Pregnant individuals in West Africa often give birth on a stool. They are surrounded by female relatives, some of whom may act as midwives.

Understanding such traditions can go a long way toward achieving a greater sense of solidarity among those who are pregnant, which is key to embracing motherhood as a feminist.

Navigating Resources for Mothers

There are many systemic problems in the world of pregnancy and motherhood. The average healthcare costs of a birth without any complications is just over $10,000. When you factor in costs related to care before and after a pregnancy, associated costs can increase to $30,000. These costs can seem insurmountable, as available resources are limited and not available to everyone. Further, many options have a long way to go in order to be common practices in the United States. 

Today, pregnant individuals often have their children, then are expected to get back to work in 12 weeks or less. They may be discriminated against at work because of it. They may fight to afford childcare. In some cases, they may not even be provided breaks to pump during work. The system is built in a way that works against mothers — especially single mothers with limited resources. 

Celebrating Personal Decisions

There are a lot of opinions on how each person should handle their pregnancy. We shouldn’t expect moms to breastfeed any more than we should expect moms to use formula. Nevertheless, the world of motherhood is full of judgment. A feminist pregnancy is one that celebrates everyone for their decisions. 

If you don’t want a traditional baby shower, you can choose a baby shower alternative without feeling bad. You can choose an epidural, to use cloth diapers, to forgo a gender reveal, or to only eat organic food when pregnant. Don’t judge other moms and allow yourself to make your own decisions as well.   

What is a feminist pregnancy? A feminist pregnancy is one that fights for the rights for every person, combats unfair expectations, embraces body positivity, and celebrates the unique choices that we make for ourselves and our children. A feminist pregnancy is free of judgement and focuses on love and empowerment.

Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her work on twitter @hamiltonjori or https://writerjorihamilton.contently.com

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