Around nine years ago, I fell pregnant for the first time. I was very excited to be pregnant. I wanted to do everything right. I was committed to remaining vegetarian, and I would have, except for bacon (Cravings. What can you do?) I tried to avoid situations which might impact on the growing foetus. I read as much as I could about pregnancy, birth, and what to do when the baby came. After the first awful nauseous part was over, and before the elephantine final weeks, I enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed feeling the baby move inside. I felt lucky to have been able to fall pregnant and that everything seemed to be going well. And it continued to go well — First Offspring was born, and we went on to have three more Offspring, and each time, I marvelled at the way my body adapted and changed to accommodate growing a tiny person inside and how they came out, everytime, and nobody died (although given that kind of pain, it felt a lot like death at the time).
Having done it four times, I feel as though I know pregnancy. It’s one of my ‘things’. I can talk about pregnancy and labour and birth to others and feel as if I know what I’m talking about. I feel as if it’s a part of my identity, as a person, and I guess, as a woman, too.
When I heard about the world’s first pregnant man, I remember feeling a conflict of emotions about it. I could understand the desire to want to have children, but my identity as a pregnant person was wrapped up so completely in my identity as a woman, that I found it hard to reconcile that with the concept of a pregnant man. If I identified as male, my thinking went, then being pregnant — something which is so inherently woman — would not be an experience I would want to embrace. It would go against all that meant ‘man’. Really, what bothered me most was the idea that giving up one’s female identity to become a male should have meant that one would give up the opportunity to be pregnant. Making the decision to live as a man would surely preclude pregnancy!
It bothered me more than I wanted to admit, and I was so confused as to why. Why, when I was likely never to meet this person, who was living on the other side of the world, did it matter what he and his wife decided to do? Why did it matter how they chose to have a family? It was because pregnancy was MY thing. My thing as a woman. And it bothered me because I hated the thought of a man having it too.
Pregnancy, to me, seemed so much like secret women’s business, and the cultural approach to pregnancy reinforces that. Midwives are usually women; advertisements about nappies and other baby-relevant paraphernalia are often directed at women; pregnancy gave me a deeper connection with other women which I’d not had up until that point. The experience is such a life-altering one, which often bonds mothers who would otherwise be strangers with little in common. I was part of the club, as a pregnant person — a pregnant woman — and the club rule was: NO BOYS ALLOWED.
Obviously I’ve got over this! Not having a body full of pregnancy hormones certainly helped the rage, as did some perspective and maturity. But it came to mind recently when I was discussing the recent marriage equality decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. In Australia, our laws regarding cohabitation and tax are slightly different, in that a de facto couple, either same- or opposite-sex, will be considered spouses for tax, welfare, custody and pension purposes. This means we don’t have to be married to enjoy the benefits (or otherwise) of married couples.* For those in the US, this isn’t the case. So it’s not just for the sake of social equality — of course people should be able to marry if they want to! — but also for practical purposes, such as tax and inheritance. Not allowing couples to marry puts pressure on families, children; it leaves the surviving half of a couple in financial limbo when their spouse dies. There’s really no good reason not to allow those people to marry, who want to marry.
However, what resistance and uproar there has been from those who oppose same-sex marriage! As far as they’re concerned, it’s outrageous. It’s appalling! But the argument that an equal marriage act would somehow affect the marriage between a man and a woman seemed so flawed. How is it going to do that? And I really couldn’t see what their problem was, until I realised that they were having the same reaction as I was, to a pregnant man. Marriage, for these heterosexual people who are married (or who one day want to be) is THEIR thing. It’s part of their identity, and to broaden that definition bothers them, because it threatens their identity.
It was an ‘aha’ moment for me, because for the first time, I could feel compassion for these people, who’d otherwise just seemed bigoted and ultra-conservative. I understood some of what they were feeling, because I’d felt that feeling too. And yet, just because we feel uncomfortable about someone else’s life choices (here I’m talking about choosing to be pregnant, or get married — not that someone chooses their sexuality or gender. Just to be clear) doesn’t mean we get to decide what they choose. And we certainly shouldn’t get to impose laws upon them which will affect their happiness, or their well-being, no matter how much that challenges our own identity! Feeling upset about someone else having something which we think is OUR thing is also OUR problem. And it’s our problem to get over, so that others can get on with their lives, and so that we can stop living in anger and resentment, and just enjoy ourselves.
*This doesn’t mean, of course, that there is really any argument against same-sex marriage. I fully expect the ridiculous law which prevents same-sex couples living in Australia from marrying to change in the near future, and the US Supreme Court decision will certainly put pressure on our politicians to do something about it soon. Not before time, either.