I’m a young journalist in Washington DC—one of the country’s busiest metropolitan centers, an area in which only 23 percent of women and 28 percent of men are married, according to a 2009 Pew poll. The median age at which people first marry in this city is 30 for women and 32 for men.
I’m also 35 weeks pregnant. The pregnancy apps on my iPhone tell me Baby Girl is now 5.5 pounds, and about the size of a pineapple.
So, as you can imagine, I’m beginning to feel conspicuous: 24 years old, wedding ring on my finger, bulging pregnant belly. When people comment on my pregnant state, they always ask, “Is this your first one?” They ask this before inquiring about gender, due date, or anything else. They seem eager to affirm that I’m new to this whole motherhood thing. (I do wonder how they would respond if I said this was actually my second.)
The past eight months have afforded me a lot of opportunities to reflect on what it’s like to be a young pregnant professional. I know I have it easy: working at a desk isn’t exactly the most strenuous or physically demanding job. I don’t have to try to fit into a work uniform; my hours are pretty standard (or as standard as a journalist’s hours can possibly be).
But I often feel like an outsider, and want to run up and hug every pregnant woman I see like a long-lost sister. (Considering the stand-offish and private demeanor of most DC professionals, I’ve decided this probably wouldn’t be a wise course of action.)
People Think Babies Are Awkward
People are quite kind, in general. About two or three months ago, a few people began giving up their subway seats for me—I’m guessing because they felt comfortable making the judgment call that my bulge wasn’t just a Chipotle burrito.
It made me feel sheepish at first, and I was inclined to say “No, thank you”—until I realized that, once you’ve been singled out as the pregnant woman in the Metro car, you’re going to get multiple seat offers until you finally just accept one and sit down. Once, when I was getting groceries, the cashier completely unpacked and repacked my grocery bags for fear she had made them too heavy—then commanded me to take the elevator down to the parking garage, rather than the stairs.
But a lot of the time, people are also rather awkward. I can’t walk down the street without the eyes of women passersby (especially those my age) zeroing in immediately on my belly. Sometimes I really wonder what they’re thinking. Are they considering how young I am, why I’m choosing to work and be pregnant, why I’m choosing to be pregnant at all? Maybe they’re just surprised to see a pregnant woman? I don’t know.
Honestly, I don’t mind too much—except for hoping that they aren’t too dismayed at the thought of a young, pregnant woman. Life with Baby Girl is pretty awesome thus far, despite its challenges, and though there will be more challenges in future days and months, I’m relishing the adventure.
Abortion Revelations Scare Me Immensely
But I keep asking myself, as the days till Baby Girl’s arrival tick away: what does DC think of the pregnant woman—especially the young one?
This summer was an interesting one (putting it mildly) to be pregnant: the Center for Medical Progress began releasing a series of undercover videos about Planned Parenthood. To the shock, horror, and chagrin of many, these videos chronicled a systematically blasé attitude amongst abortionists toward harvesting aborted baby’s organs (in the latest video, abortionist Amna Dermish notes, “I haven’t been able to do that [extract an intact brain] yet… This will give me something to strive for!”). This callous demeanor is coupled with suspicious comments concerning harvesting said organs, and the reimbursement employees receive.
Legality aside, every video has made my stomach turn. Just as the first were being released, I saw my first ultrasound of Baby Girl’s face and limbs: I saw her little button nose, her little mouth reaching up to suck an outstretched thumb. I saw her flex her bicep muscle, and laughed and smiled to see how strong she was.
To think of her as a pile of financially lucrative organs was impossible. Now, as I feel her constantly squirm and stretch her legs—as she increasingly takes up more and more of my body with her presence and aliveness—it is unspeakable.
People Are Scared of Babies
Staunch feminists, inside DC and out, often champion a woman’s right to choose, her right to do what she wills with her body, to the point of blindness. They tell me that I should be able to set my own course, that I should “lean in” and “have it all”—but they seem at a loss when I set my course toward pregnancy, when I “lean in” toward motherhood, when I decide that “having it all” doesn’t matter as much as having her.
Am I repressed, socially backwards, ignorant? Do I care about having a career, making a name for myself? Lena Dunham dresses up for Halloween as a Planned Parenthood employee. Women parade their abortion stories across Twitter. Countless women (usually complete strangers) tell me and other pregnant women how awful pregnancy/childbirth/motherhood is—they warn ominously, “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into,” or retort with a bitter laugh, “Just you wait…”
I’ve talked to pregnant women who are scared to death of labor and delivery, who fear they’re never going to sleep another wink in their life, who tell me with a note of panic that, apparently, to be a stay-at-home mom is to die a slow and painful death—to be cut off from society, career acclaim, marital bliss, and personal happiness.
It’s Not All Awkwardness and Fright
Yet—to be fair—there’s also more of a celebration of natural birth and child-rearing in DC than you might think or expect: there are a lot of midwives and natural birth centers in the area. Most seem to cater to upper- or upper-middle-class women who attend yoga classes and do special juice cleanses. As you can imagine, a lot of these services are pretty expensive.
But the fascinating thing to me is that the ones I’ve heard of are so often pro-life: talking adamantly about how your child is super-aware in the womb, asking whether you raise your voice too much, fight with your husband, or otherwise cultivate a stressful atmosphere around your unborn baby.
Some of this seems a bit over the top to me—though I hope to be further sanctified in coming months and years, I’m guessing there will be times I raise my voice in the days before and after Baby Girl’s birth. That said, these women display an incredible awareness of an unborn baby’s aliveness.
It makes me wonder: how do these people feel about abortion? Most of the women here are working professionals who have kids later in life, and would probably describe themselves as pro-choice. Once they finally decide to have kids, will they—people who’ve probably used birth control for ages—suddenly grow fastidious about the chemicals they put in their bodies? Will they, all of a sudden, be playing Mozart and reading Dr. Seuss to their growing bellies, cognizant of the listening ears and developing brain within?
Our Oddly Binary Reaction to Babies
I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but there is something at least ironic—if not downright contradictory—about our tendency to denigrate the “fetus” or unborn baby, right up until the moment when someone wants him or her. Then, we pull out all the stops: go to all the birthing classes and doctor appointments, take all the supplements, buy all the fancy baby supplies. As reverence for all things “natural” grows in our national conversation, I wonder how it will affect women’s attitudes around fertility, pregnancy, and child-rearing.
I grew up in an area where family was vitally important: the backbone of society, the focus of social gatherings, the foundation of personal support and stability. Getting married, settling down, raising a family: this is just what people did, what their degrees (if they got one) and careers were focused on.
It wasn’t about finding personal acclaim or accolades, or at least it wasn’t just about that. It was about putting food on the table, putting clothes on your kids’ backs, maybe setting a little extra aside. There’s a culture of comfort and warmth and encouragement surrounding family life.
On my last visit home, my old volleyball coach brought me little flannel burping cloths that she had sewn herself. My aunt and cousin drove over with a pile of baby clothes, and we swapped pregnancy stories. Family members often text or call, checking up on my progress, asking how I’m feeling.
A Culture Bereft of Children
A lot of cultures are very supportive of children. They’re quick to assist or sympathize with a mother and her wailing child. They’ve got a sense of community and support for family life—they’re used to having little ones in restaurants or cafes, out on the street or in the mall.
Here, things are different. There are so few little kids on the streets in Washington, they seem to stand out a lot more. Whenever or if ever they make noise, it seems to cause more discomfort than elsewhere. Children’s very rarity causes them to become a spectacle, and Washington’s standoffish crowd don’t seem to know how to handle a screaming baby on the Metro, except to stare in disdain or look away in obvious discomfort.
That’s what worries me. I don’t mind people staring in bewilderment at my belly. But what happens when Baby Girl is a less obvious lump around my middle, and a much more vocal bundle in my arms? How will people treat me then—how will they treat her?
Being pregnant in the city has definitely been an adventure. We’ll see what motherhood in the city is like.