On why I’m not finding out ‘What it is?’

by Jennifer

Disclaimer: This is a personal reflection on why I am not finding out the sex of my baby. Parenting is not a one-size fits all and we’re all out here trying to do best by our child. There’s too much bashing and judgment of parenting and is not my intent to pass judgment on others parenting or to incur judgment on my own parenting.

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“Are you going to find out the gender?” Aliens-Movie-Chestburster

Or my person favorite: “do you know what you’re going to have?” (um, a human infant or you know, a thing like in the movie Alien based on the present kicking/movement)

I’ve been asked these questions and variations of these questions a lot. My answer is an emphatic ‘No’. And the simple explanations I give go along the lines of ‘We’d like it to be a surprise’ or ‘I don’t love pink or blue and don’t want people getting us a lot of either’. But the truth is my reasons are a lot more complex and are rooted in my feminist understanding of the world.

First, we gender children enough once they are out of the womb, so why start before the baby has even finished gestating in the womb.

As a feminist, I am concerned with all the ways that children get socialized into gender roles through clothing, toys, media, and activities. Just look at what gets labeled as a ‘girl’ toy and you’ll see, often in a plethora of pink or purple, princesses galore, dolls, cooking stations, tea party sets, and Barbies with endless outfits, shoes, and accessories. These toys emphasize the importance of looks, nurturing, cooking, and cleaning. And in a ‘boy’ toy aisle, in hues of blues and greens, are super hero figurines, guns, cars, dump trucks, train sets, tool sets emphasizing physical labor, action, and violence.

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From bithmedia.org blogpost

For people that are comfortable with traditional gender roles and think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, this might not be a problem. But for a 21st century feminist, I think it’s important to think critically about the messages children are receiving that suggest how their gender informs their identity and role in society. And as a parent, I would like to foster an environment that first shields from these messages and than encourages my child to critique them.

To address my second reason for not wanting to find out, let’s start with a basic, simplified lesson on sex and gender. (disclaimer: I’m a cisgender person trying to simplify a very complicated topic that I’m still learning more and more about.) Sex is not the same as gender. Sex refers to the biological – i.e. organs/chromosomes – including male, female, and intersex. Gender refers to how an individual A_TransGender-Symbol_black-and-white.svgidentities and expresses their gender identity. Someone’s biological sex might not always match up with their gender identity and expression and they might identify transgender. Further, someone may not identify with the binary gender system (male or female) and identify on an expansive continuum of non-binary or genderqueer identities.

So when someone asks me if I am going to find out the gender of my baby, I can’t help but think that there is no medical test or professional that can tell me the gender of my baby. Only my child will be able to discover and reveal, over the course of years, their gender identity and expression.

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Pregnant and Still Pro-Choice

Now that I got the old stuff out of the way (see last post), I can move on to my current thoughts and reflections which due to my current condition revolve around pregnancy. And I am speaking a topic on which people hold passionate opinions and am sharing how my opinion has been shaped by this new experience so I am a little nervous.

My grandma Margaret was a staunch and die hard Republican. She campaigned for Nixon back in the day. When I was studying at Georgetown, her friends commented that I’d one day be running against the likes of Hillary Clinton not imagining that any granddaughter of Margaret could NOT be a Republican. However, I clearly remember my grandma talking about her discontent with the Republican stance on abortion. My grandma often grumbled about male Republicans making decisions that impact women and that it’s a woman’s body and a woman’s choice.

I’ve been thinking about my grandma’s frustrations about men making policy decisions on issues they have no experience with because I am currently pregnant. And while I don’t think you have to be pregnant to have a stance on abortion, it has been an experience that has given me a new perspective on abortion. I am currently 20 weeks pregnant. Before getting pregnant, I had thought that pregnancy might make me question my pro-choice stance. I thought I would be overwhelmed by the miracle of a life growing within me and the different milestones reached (which I have been). What I hadn’t counted on, though, was all the ways the pregnancy would impact my bodily well being.

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Source: Wikipedia

I appear to be one of those woman that gets hit hard by morning sickness, otherwise known by anyone who has experienced it as every day pregnancy sickness. In my first trimester, I had nausea all day and I often violently threw up all that I drank or ate in the evenings. I went days where I spent up all my energy at work and found myself lifelessly living on my couch afterward (in between trips to the bathroom).

To fully set the stage for how awful this is, I will unapologetically share in detail. Imagine that you find yourself bowed in front of the toilet peeing yourself (even though you just went) because your body is so violently trying to empty it’s insides while everything you ate and then some (think acidic bile) projects out of you into the hated bowl. Then repeat multiple times a day multiple days in a row. Then imagine your hormones are all over the place and while you feel you ought to be happy at this blessed occasion that you’ve been dreaming of, you’re actually miserable, depressed, and fatigued (probably in part due to dehydration as not even the liquids can stay down). And the things that you know might help your mood (seeing friends, being social, getting out of the house) seem impossible due to the fatigue, nausea, and necessity to remain close to the toilet. All the while you learn through your pregnancy app about all the ways your body is and will continue to change to accommodate this precious life inside you.

For me, it was a physically violent and emotionally draining experience. And I experienced all this with my consent. I want this life to be born and to be its mother. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to go through all this if it weren’t my choice. As a result, it is now staunchly my view that it is simply and plainly violence against a woman to force her to go through pregnancy when it is not her choice.

(I know that was a lot of details and build up to say just that one simple statement but there it is.)

(Also for any women reading this struggling with morning sickness, I stumbled across this blog post at Double the Batch and all the comments and they gave me a lot of much needed comfort.)

On Situating my Narrative in the Personal and the Cultural

A short disclaimer before jumping into the post: It has been a minute since I blogged last and I started drafting this around that time and then forgot about it. But I wanted to finish this out before moving on to other topics.

I don’t often share but I am a recovered bulimic. Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binging and purging. In working on my recovery back in my early 20s, I explored and worked through in psychotherapy how my bulimia related to my individual story (my depression, family history, sense of perfectionism, disconnection with my emotions, etc.).

The field of social work utilizes a person-in-environment (PIE) approach. The individual is often portrayed at the center of concentric circles representing individual, family, relatives, friends, community, and then the more macrosystems of government, economy, culture, etc.

Once again, I was given the seed for another life lesson in Dr. Michael Sheridan’s Diversity Class. (I referenced this class in my last blog about working on my ableism.) In talking about Sex and Gender, we watched a documentary that looked at the impact of modern media on women’s self-image. (I think one of the versions of Killing Us Softly). Included in the documentary was information on a study looking at how the introduction of media in Fiji impacted behaviors and attitudes about eating among adolescent girls. The gist being disordered eating increased significantly after increased exposure to television.

I wrote in my learning journal following that class:

“I feel upset. … The video made the argument that the media caused eating disorders. As a recovered bulimic who struggled with bulimia throughout undergrad, I have an experience that is way more complex than the video suggested. The causes for my experience with bulimia had almost nothing to do with the media.”

I thought I had completely pieced together my own eating disorder story and it didn’t include the media or consumer culture. But Dr. Sheridan challenged me in her feedback on that learning journal to think beyond the concentric circles of person and family to that of culture and society.

Since then, my viewpoint on how my individual narrative fits into the broader consumer culture has been continuously growing and changing. But my current personal conclusion (not grounded in fact or research but based in my own experiences and story) boils down to one simple idea. Our current consumer culture doesn’t want women (some would say more broadly people in general) to be happy or confident. Self-confidence cuts into sales.

Instead, it’s better for sales if women have within themselves a gaping hole of inadequacy and self-loathing that they try to fill with various products and services (clothing, shoes, face wash, toner, make-up, gym memberships, hair products, nail polishes, diet products, etc). Advertising and media are there from birth to help shape the way we think and feel about ourselves and to give us the ‘answers’ to our problems.

Perhaps it’s oversimplified. But for me, I can honestly say that as my self-confidence increased throughout my 20s, I found myself making purchasing decisions based on a self-awareness of what brings enrichment and happiness to my life (food, drink, and travel) and not an overwhelming urge to cover-up my self loathing. I consider it counter-culture to be self-confidant and to love myself.

Just one last slightly off-topic thought on this journey. While my years of psychotherapy have been essential and vital in giving me a space to grown into the person I am today, I can’t help but feel that my understanding of my narrative would have been less rich if I hadn’t been pushed to connect my individual story to its societal/cultural context. It’s empowering to identify the ways in which one’s personal narrative has been shaped by oppressive systems like sexism. As a social worker, it has left me yearning for a therapeutic approach that simultaneously engages in individual psychotherapy and consciousness raising.