Reflections – “Making” Babies, The Work of Gestation

For days now, I’ve had this one quote from Free Willy running through my head (just stick with me here a minute):

Randolph: 300 years ago, my people only had to spend one day a week gathering food, and everybody ate like kings.
Jesse: So what’d they do the rest of the time?
Randolph: Told stories, made music, made carvings. Made babies.
Jesse: Sounds good to me.

When I saw this movie I was probably 8 years old, and I remember this part distinctly. Partly because I was sort of fascinated with native cultures in an unnuanced and problematic way, and partly because this quote was totally thrilling because, you guys, they were talking about SEX!

I’ve been thinking about this cultural assumption, the way that we use language when discussing procreation. We mostly think like I did when I was 8 years old – people make babies by having sex. If we allow space for queer baby-making, we maybe expand the definition of “making babies” to include conception outside of heterosexual sex. We include things like artificial insemination, then. Oh hey, there’s a Tig Notaro joke about that!

So actually, I wrote about the first assumption, that we all know how babies are made and that it’s by heterosexual intercourse, way back in my first (not very good) post for this blog!
But I still kind of accepted that when we say “make a baby” we are talking about the moment of conception. And besides that having some pesky implications in the matter of choice and abortion rights (and oh boy, we are going to talk about that stuff, just not today, ok?) I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that this idea is unfair to those of us doing the work of gestation.

The work of gestation, how come nobody talks about that?

The thing is, we describe gestation in fairly passive terms. You are pregnant. It is not something you do.

But that’s absolute bullshit.

To get a baby at the end of nine long months requires much, much more, than sperm meeting egg to form a zygote. It requires a real physical body to do real physical work. And that body is a person. And that person is working. Whether that person is an excited new mother, a transman working towards becoming a father, a gestational surrogate, a scared teenager who’s decided to give the child up for adoption, or any other identity, that person is working.

We, as a society, have a history of trying to find ways to define work seen as “feminine” as anything other than work. I know this. As a feminist I think about it a lot. And yet this one, this one is really under my skin right now.

Because I am working my ass off over here.

I am making a baby every day.

We do not consider a plant grown simply because we have a seed in our hand. We do not consider a house built because the contractor has the plans and some of the materials. We consider those things the start of the work.

First I made a tiny cluster of cells, and then I grew that bigger and bigger. Eventually I began to make proto-organs, and arm and leg buds, and I made an entire placenta to help nurture and support this new thing I was making. Now I’ve made fingers and toes, and bladder and heart, and even tiny eyebrows. And still I am working, working, working. My child needs me to do this work so that they can grow strong enough to one day make themself with less of my direct assistance (though, you can bet your ass I’ll still be working then).

And this is work. And this work shows. For three months I was so sick that I could hardly function. I found myself utterly exhausted even though all I had done on the outside was lay in bed and read a book. I was exhausted because I was working. And even as the sickness has eased (somewhat, it isn’t gone), still, I continue to work. I struggle through the insomnia, I find ways to cope with my ever expanding uterus, with my total loss of my normal center of gravity. I deal with the insomnia and the heartburn and the nosebleeds and the itchy boobs and the tiredness and comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. All of this is work.

Maybe instead of considering “making a baby” a magical moment that happens on a cellular level, and the subsequent nine months of pregnancy mere passive incubation, we should start honoring gestating people for the hard work they are doing. Maybe we should start acknowledging that we don’t live in Brave New World and absolutely none of our babies grow in bottles (although I’d point out that even in Huxley’s imagined future, there were people caring for those fetuses, and everyone accepted that those people were, ahem, working). And yes there are political implications for how we treat pregnant people (poorly) in this country, but maybe we should just start by acknowledging that they exist and that they are, you know, actually doing something.

From now on, I am not pregnant (adjective), I am gestating (verb).

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One thought on “Reflections – “Making” Babies, The Work of Gestation

  1. Yes. Men still dictate how everyone views the world. For men, “making a baby” is not work, thus, we are all told that it is not work. But it is. As is raising a child. The modern world is built on the unpaid work of women.

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