Thursday, August 13, 2015

Objectifying the Bump

I promise I won't keep writing about pregnancy. There are a million-and-one preggo bloggers out there and I have no intention of joining their ranks, but I do have some thoughts I'd like to share today. 

Pregnancy seems to have a strange power over people. It is something I have noticed before but felt totally unaffected by until now. People really get excited about being in the presence of a pregnant woman. I don't know why, but I just have not found pregnancy to be either alluring or attractive. It is not something that I have ever been drawn to or that interested in. That doesn't mean I don't love people who have been pregnant before or that I don't love their children. I do and I intend to love the child that is growing within me. I am glad that I am pregnant. I just don't feel that magnetism that seems to be present in a large portion of the population. 
I have had some wise women (both mothers and non-mothers) explain to me that it is simply something carnal and ancient about the experience of pregnancy and motherhood. It is like a magical tie that binds all feminine life together through this experience that has been had or will be had someday. Again, I have not felt this particular connection, but it appears that other's really do. It is sometimes hard for me to wrap my head around experiences that I have a hard time fathoming myself. So this magical, preggo connection that is assumed for me, really just makes me uncomfortable because I can't authentically claim that I feel it with other women.

Humankind has a long history of goddess worship and fertility rites. It was not that long ago that even in the USA, women where considered valuable if they are able to give birth and bring life into the world. Indeed, a woman's overall value was found almost entirely in her womb and the potential it has for bringing forth heirs. For many, many women across time, the greatest accomplishment that could ever be conceived was that of conceiving a child. 
I certainly have no intention of downplaying this reality. This has been the history of females in our world for longer than time can tell.  I have talked with some of the most successful women I know and they would still declare that their greatest accomplishment was having their babies. I too am grateful to a very accomplished mother who took the time to give me life and still loves me more than I can really explain in words. I know this is a primal, incredible gift of creation and a blessing from the Divine. 

Now that I am pregnant, I have a healthy respect for what is happening in my body. I have a deep curiosity to know more about the life growing inside me. I am amazed by how, without my control or approval, my body is transforming to become a better host for this life with each new day. The whole process of pregnancy, giving birth and the stages thereafter, really are to be considered with great awe. It is a miracle that our bodies were designed for this task, to survive it and thrive because of it. 

Even so, while I am enchanted by this opportunity to have a child and I look forward to starting a family with Joel, being pregnant is not the be-all-end-all for me. I don't sit for hours goo-goo eyed petting my enlarging belly. I don't dream of what the nursery will look like with a baby in it. Hell, I haven't even thought once about creating a nursery. I am pretty sure we aren't even going to do that. We are not reading books and stocking up on baby clothes. Really, we are just taking it one day at a time. My reality is that this pregnancy does not define me and I don't want it to. 
I believe that a baby is a gift from God. In fact, I believe this baby IS the Creator's. I honor that and intend to love this gift with all that I am. But I have also worked with families for 7 years. I have observed many parents and seen the results of years of faithful parenting, whatever that looks like for each person. What I have decided must hold true is advice that my mother has been giving for as long as I can remember. 

"A baby is born into YOUR life not the other way around."

This baby is coming into the world I live in. It is coming into my life and I am a whole person with goals, dreams, desires, with a marriage I intend to put first next to God, and a life that I intend to still live to the fullest. This child is welcome into all of that, but I am not shaping my life around this child. This child will have it's own life to allow to be shaped and I will happily be part of that important and intentional process. My parents lived by this bit of advice and I think that my sister and I turned out pretty good. 

Photo by Kevin Beasley

Dad used to tell me the order of his values when I would try and get him to do something that I wanted. He would say, "This is how I value my priorities- God first. Then your mother. Then you all (meaning me and my sister)." This used to make me so mad as a kid because I thought I should be first in my Dad's life. Looking back on that now, I am immensely grateful that he lived his life in this way. I intend to do the same. Without a healthy relationship with God and a healthy relationship with my husband, how can I have a healthy relationship with my child?
So while this pregnancy is most certainly a humbling and holy experience and I am wholly thrilled to become a mother, I do not see my self-worth being wrapped up in this moment in time. In fact, for the first time in my life, I have discovered what it is like to truly feel objectified. It has been shocking to be referred to, not as a person, but as an oven baking this little bun that is so anticipated. The lack of interest in me as an individual has been disturbing to me.  I know that people intend for me to feel like one of these fertility goddesses, holy and revered. However,  I have only felt like I am what that statue truly is to them- an object.

Venus of Willendorf
Pregnancy seems to offer a double edged sword in the public eye. On one hand, people are excited and interested, drawn to this belly and the life within. I believe people are longing to be close to pregnancy because it offers the only tangible experience we know of life everlasting. It is literally the passing on of my genes. It is the "guarantee" that my DNA will live on in this world after I am gone. No matter what we believe spiritually and theologically, something deeply carnal tells us that this is how we live forever and we esteem that process as holy. 
On the other hand, the trouble with putting something on a pedestal sometimes comes in the form of idolatry. What is intended as a gesture of awe comes out as a dilution of the human individual. It is difficult to go from a respected, interesting woman in a community to a vessel carrying life. The questions that some people ask me are about my body or it's intended uses over the next few months. Sometimes they are about this baby, who is not here yet. I find it difficult and uncomfortable to answer for a child I don't yet know and an experience I have not had. Where I have always been exposed to healthy boundaries from people I encounter, suddenly, my belly is now available for everyone to touch. It is like I am a lucky Buddha to be rubbed for good fortune. Simply being pregnant seems to mean that my body is not my own. So does that mean it is everyone else's?

These goddesses from across the expanse of time tell a story with their existence. They are worshiped and honored but in the end, they are simply objects that people talk about, pray to, and rub for luck. As for me, I don't want to be an image of the Venus of Willendorf. I am still Claire, still whole, still living and dreaming and I also happen to be pregnant.

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