Though I didn't always love the physical realities of pregnancy, I loved being pregnant. I was so excited to meet my son, and thoroughly impressed with my body's ability to make a brand new person from scratch. Still, I definitely struggled with some of the social and emotional changes that came with being pregnant, particularly the way many people felt entitled to me and my body once they realized I was pregnant. In response, I consciously cultivated ways to keep a sense of bodily autonomy while pregnant, to protect my wellbeing and sanity.
"Bodily autonomy" is a fancy term for a simple concept: the idea that we all have a fundamental human right to make our own choices regarding how to use our bodies, and the absolute right to control what happens to our bodies. Even as corpses, we retain this right, which is why no one can be forced to be an organ donor, for example. Yet some people think that living, breathing women don't have this right, particularly when we're pregnant. That's why we continue to fight battles over our rights to birth control, abortion, and other basic health care. In less extreme circumstances, it's why people think it's OK to touch pregnant women's bellies without asking, or tell us what we can and can't eat and that our birth plans don't matter.
Enduring other people's sexist nonsense is almost as exhausting as pregnancy itself. Scratch that — it's more exhausting. So I made a special point of honoring my body throughout my pregnancy, because ain't nobody got time (or energy) to make new people and deal with grown people's bullsh*t. Whether it was doing simple things like eating, sleeping, and moving on my own terms, or standing up to would-be belly-rubbers and bullying doctors, I made sure pregnancy didn't eclipse my right to bodily autonomy by doing the following:
I Chose To Be Pregnant
My son is a rainbow baby— a child conceived and born after pregnancy or infant loss. Before conceiving him, I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to get pregnant again. Once I did get pregnant, I made 100% sure I was on board to stay pregnant because that was what I wanted, not what anyone else thought I should do.
I Found Care Providers Who Respected Me
When my OB-GYN scared me, and made it clear that she wasn't listening to what I wanted and needed for my pregnancy and birth experience, I dropped her and found midwives who respect me and my body. I knew that the experience of my son’s birth would stick with me for life, and I didn't want to suffer unnecessary trauma or health risks as a result of being bullied by my care provider.
I Talked Back To The “Pregnancy Police”
At a holiday party during my third trimester, I was drinking a ginger ale in a glass bottle when a man I barely know came over and scolded me. “Ooh! No beer for you!” I glared at him before encouraging him to learn to read, and to mind his own business. Anyone else who tried to tell me my business when I was pregnant got similarly schooled, ‘cause this mama ain't here for that.
I Indulged My Cravings
I ate what I wanted whenever I was hungry and stopped when I was full, even when that happened every other hour. I did my best to tune out all pressures for pregnant women to try to control our weight and shape in order to have “better” post-baby bodies, because arbitrary beauty standards aren't as important as feeling my best and growing a healthy baby.
I Napped Whenever I Needed To
Making new humans is hard work. So rather than pushing through my fatigue (and getting foggy and scatterbrained as a result), I radically reduced my to-do list so I could rest as much as possible.
I Danced As Much As Possible
Dancing around, whether in my own house or in dance classes or whenever, made me feel good, made my son wiggle in cute ways afterward, and helped me feel at home in my body. Some folks were occasionally surprised to see a hugely pregnant lady in their dance class, but oh well. Being pregnant doesn't mean moms have to hide at home (unless we want to, of course).
Basically, I Listened To My Body
There are no shortage of outside forces — other people we know, media messages, and so on — telling pregnant women what we “should” do. I decided to listen to my own body and prioritize my own best judgment and the best judgment of my trusted care providers, instead of listening to all the stuff other people tried to tell me to do during pregnancy, labor, and birth.
I Read Feminist Pregnancy And Birth Books
Instead of reading the typical books that teach women what to expect and accept during pregnancy, I read books that helped me make informed, research-driven choices that aligned with my preferences and values for pregnancy and childbirth, and which affirmed the strength and wisdom of women’s bodies.
I Challenged Invasive Questions
My husband and I kept our baby’s presumed gender to ourselves until after I gave birth, because discussing fetal genitalia makes us uncomfortable. I also wasted no energy trying to be coy with people, known and strangers alike, who asked me uncomfortable and occasionally infuriating questions about everything from how dilated my cervix was at the moment, to whether I thought my “tiny self” would make it all the way to my due date.
I Talked To Colleagues And Online Friends Who Didn't Know I Was Pregnant
Pregnancy is a big deal, and it's exciting to witness, so a lot of people struggle to talk to pregnant women about things besides pregnancy — however much she might want to sometimes. So for me, it was really nice to occasionally chat with people who didn't know I was pregnant, so I didn't have to deal with their questions and comments, however well-intended, and could just talk about other things that interested me.
I Stopped People Who Tried To Touch Me When I Didn't Want Or Need To Be Touched
I felt no qualms about giving a hard pass not only to stranger trying to rub my belly, but also to doctors and nurses who tried to perform unnecessary internal exams on me. “My body, my rules” is my standard, whether I'm pregnant or not.