The baby bump
It’s a well-known fact among parents that those who say they “sleep like a baby” usually don’t have one. On behalf of the people getting a solid eight or so hours, it’s not really our fault that this simile is false advertising for parenthood.
There is a time in every girl’s life, around 25 or 26 years of age, when she begins to notice babies. This may be because her friends, many of them a few years older, have begun to get pregnant. And while she may be personally dreading the inevitable wind-up of the all-powerful biological clock, she is still invited to many of the baby showers. Sometimes, through pure naïvete, she may say the wrong things.
Just as “sleeping like a baby” is misleading, there are many wrongly perpetrated facts about maternity, some are remnants from the middle ages when unbalanced “humors” were a great threat, and some are from a more recent history but no less false.
For example, it was common belief that the discomfort, pain and peril of childbearing was unavoidable, because women were atoning for the sins of Eve. (I know my biblical history is a little hazy, but I’m not sure what she did that would warrant such a punishment. Put the forbidden fruit on a higher branch. Any parent knows to keep the cookies out of reach.)
Although the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were both what is considered “birth positive” cultures, they were still flummoxed by a woman’s sexuality: virginity was desirable, but desire led to maternity, which took a woman’s purity. Often women were put into a dark, windowless room when they reached the third trimester of their pregnancy: it was called confinement and was for the health of mom and baby.
As time passed, a lot changed for the wealthy women (ahem, contraception, cough), but working class women during the Victorian era were “either pregnant or breast feeding from wedding day to menopause,” according to historian Helena Wojtczar.
But Victorians were notoriously prude about pregnancy: it was never mentioned in the literature of the day, but often babies would appear mid-story. Upper and middle class women didn’t appear socially for months before or after giving birth, an example of life imitating art.
For those who haven’t thought about history since high school, the Victorian era is named after Queen Victoria, of England, a woman who reportedly advised her daughter to “close your eyes and think of England” on her wedding night. And while it was important for the royal family to reproduce, birth records reflect that although literature concerning birth control was illegal, many upper and middle class families were able to control with a little accuracy how many children they had.
From what I remember from my college class “Gender in America,” there was some concern by the upper middle class white men that the WASPs would commit “race suicide” in a few generations because they weren’t having enough children. The many thousands of Irish, Italian and eastern European Catholic immigrants were breeding like bunnies. Therefore, with religious justification, birth control was made illegal in 1873 with the passing of the Comstock Act and it remained a federal offense until 1938, when the federal ban was lifted by a forward-thinking judge.
With the passing of Roe v Wade in 1973, women were given more control over their bodies and their lives. As a society, our time of happy, healthy, wanted and provided-for pregnancies has been relatively short. According to my best source on maternity, my mommy, even some doctors in the 1980s admonished women for exercising during pregnancy.
Between medieval superstition, Victorian prudery and the remnants of the Madonna-whore dichotomy, it’s hard to approach the subject of pregnancy with the appropriate response. We go back to the uncomfortable 25- or 26-year-old at her friend’s baby shower. I wish to offer her some advice:
- Don’t expect there to be alcohol at a baby shower, it is not like the bridal shower you attended one year earlier. Do not “pre-game” for the baby shower. Even one glass of wine is dangerous, even if it makes the games more bearable and the tears you’re supposed to shed for joy more real.
-Drink coffee though if you want to gloat and be in a better mood, just don’t gloat about the caffeine.
-On that note: do not show up nursing a hangover. It’s common knowledge that hangovers make even the best events unbearable. This will make it hard to smile about diapers and you might throw up when the mommies start sharing their birth stories.
- Don’t quote Seinfeld. Ever.  No, “Elaine, you gotta see the bay-bee.” No, “he’s breathtaking” or “maybe the dingo ate your baby.” Nothing. No one else will think you’re funny, even if they understand the obscure, outdated reference.
- Don’t talk about how much time you have, how much sleep you’re getting, how tired you are from training for your marathon, and how much weight you’ve lost as a result of said training.
- When the women start talking about giving birth, and they will, don’t try to lighten the mood with a reference to the movie “Alien.” It will not be well received. The same goes for the last Twilight book, whatever that was called.
- Don’t offer name ideas to the mother to be; first of all, it’s weird to name someone else’s child, and second of all, you don’t want her to steal the names you’ve been saving. Think ahead.
- Don’t mention that the average middle class child will cost his/her parents $226,920, according to a 2010 Bloomberg census study. This is until the child reaches 18 and decides to take six years to graduate from college. I repeat, DO NOT bring this up, the happy parents will figure it out eventually.
Inversely, there are some things that are offensive to those of us who have so far decided not to jump aboard the mommy boat.
- Avoid the phrase: “you’ll understand when you have kids.” This belittles and infantilizes adult women who are not uncomprehending of the challenges of parenthood and assumes that every woman can and will become a mother. Sometimes children bring understanding, sometimes sleep deprivation.
- Don’t pedal the b.s. that children are a “miracle.” I took health in High School. I understand how it works and it’s not exactly the Immaculate Conception. Nor do we live in the Renaissance when raising a child to the age of 5 was actually close to miraculous.
Follow these rules, learn from my mistakes, and you’ll sleep like a baby knowing you didn’t offend your friends.
– Maggie Casey