Don’t advise pregnant women unless you’re a doctor

Several women I know are pregnant right now. This should be a joyous experience, and mostly it has been despite the physical symptoms that are no picnic, but one thing that’s causing all these women some grief is:

You.

You, the friend, family member or random asshole in the grocery store who feels the need to advise them on what they should eat, do, wear, be around or name their offspring. You, the person who hassles them with all the horror stories of all the pregnancies you’ve ever heard of third person, let alone experienced. You tell yourself, “Oh, I’m being so helpful – five points to me on the scoreboard of life!” but really, you’re just being a smug turd and using this woman as an object to bolster your own ego. You need to shut right up, and failing that, our society needs to accept that if a pregnant woman stuffs a very smelly sock down your throat, it’s not that her hormones are acting up: it’s that you are being an asshole and objectifying this woman.

Pregnancy clinicUnless you have solid reasons to suspect this woman isn’t under a doctor’s care at all or is smoking pounds of crack or something equally drastic, shut up. Do not think to yourself, “She’s buying brie cheese and cat food – clearly, her doctor is a quack or she’s ignoring the doctor’s advice, so I, a mid-level manager in a factory, should immediately dispense second-hand medical advice in the interest of saving not one but two lives!” And here we get to the real reason why you feel the urge to intervene if you think a pregnant woman’s being exposed to cat turds: it’s a two-for-the-price-of-one dime store hero act. You go home and tell yourself you’ve saved a baby and some vessel-thing it was in, so YAY YOU!

Except not. This is how the ego works: it lies to you to get its way without interference from your conscience or common sense. All you’ve really done is contribute further to her stress levels which, ironically, is not so good for the health of her or the baby. You haven’t helped anybody. You’ve actually done some harm, and if you’d engaged your empathy before using her, you might have noticed her discomfort.

Why, oh, why is the mean old feminist being so mean to you? Well, let’s talk about that.

  • When a woman gets pregnant, a lot of people around her lose sight of the fact she’s a human being. She becomes an object/event, and people limit their discourse with her to the topic of her pregnancy. Suddenly, everything she does twenty-four hours a day is supposed to be about the baby. She disappears from the equation. A woman’s brain does not hibernate for nine months because there’s a baby inside her. If you don’t think she deserves consideration as a human, then at least be aware that an “incubator” who’s stressed and unhappy is not an optimal environment for the developing new life you actually value. Doctors understand this: that’s why they aim to keep both the woman and the developing baby as healthy and comfortable as possible.
  • Pregnant women are not “crazy” because their hormones go all funky. In fact, pregnancy has a stabilizing effect on several mental illnesses. Pregnant women only appear “crazy” to you because they are suddenly being subjected to harassment like they’ve probably never experienced before, but you have the privilege of not realizing this (and yes, even if you are a formerly pregnant woman yourself, that doesn’t mean you realized how badly you were being treated before passing on the same behaviors). They’re under tremendous stress, because there’s all sorts of contradictory information about what they should do to ensure their baby’s well-being, and they’re doing their best, and they know if anything goes wrong, not only will they worry like crazy, but they know they have to look forward to assholes like you sitting in judgment…
  • …because that’s what it’s really about for you. It’s about feeling superior.

“But but but,” you say, aghast at my terrible attitude, “I really just want to help! I don’t feel superior! Well, I mean, obviously I know something she doesn’t so I feel better informed, perhaps, but not superior, per se.”

My response follows. Observing that someone is pregnant and giving them unsolicited advice about it is a lot like observing someone has a really fantastic secondary sexual characteristic and giving them unsolicited comments about it. What you are saying is, “I’m monitoring your body for you. As a representative of your overlords, I have to tell you, here’s what we think of your body and what you are doing with it.”

Not only do you not know everything, but neither do doctors. Different doctors make different recommendations to pregnant women regarding diet and activity. Different countries tend to give contradictory advice. Who died and made you S/He Who Knows What You Should Really Do When You’re Pregnant?

You need to realize that this behavior is actually all about you. It’s about your need to feel special, your need to participate in what’s none of your business, your need to connect with someone (and your discovery that pregnant women are easy targets). Get over it.

Comments

  1. Sam L. says

    But really, isn’t almost all social intercourse just about using people as sounding boards to show off how great you are? I think I know about, maybe five people I have actual conversations with. Every one else I just talk to because I like the way I sound.

  2. The Other Patrick says

    What about smoking while pregnant? That’s probably the only moment when I have to make myself not say something; everything else I think a pregnant woman knows and can decide for herself. If she drinks a glass of wine, I think it’s possibly the only glass of wine in a month or the whole pregnancy, and if not, she probably knows what she’s doing. But with a cigarette, I always think that if she smokes one, she smokes ten or twenty a day.

    So far, I don’t think I ever said something, but I always wanted to.

  3. Anemone says

    Never mind the baby. If she smokes around *me* she’s getting a complaint.

    I’ve noticed this with bare feet: when people say something about my bare feet, they don’t seem to realize that they are just one of many commenters, and it gets really old really fast. Being pregnant and getting that all the time would be so much worse.

  4. SunlessNick says

    I don’t feel superior! Well, I mean, obviously I know something she doesn’t so I feel better informed

    How do you know? Just because she’s not reading a pregnancy how-to right now doesn’t mean she hasn’t informed herself.

  5. The Other Patrick says

    @Anemone: Well, I regard that as a separate issue, because in such a case I’m either in a bar or an apartment where smoking is expressly allowed, or is expressly forbidden. In the first case, I know what I got into when I came there, and in the second, anyone smoking can expect to be told not to. And if we’re outside, there’s still a difference between “would you mind smoking in the other direction and a few steps away from me?” and “Do you really want to endanger your kid?”

  6. says

    Amen. And I think it’s a fairly clear sign of how dehumanized people think pregnant women should be, that your first comment is someone explaining the circumstances under which he thinks it’s okay to lecture a pregnant woman (if I see you bossing a pregnant woman around once a day, I know you’re bossing every pregnant woman you see! Heck, probably most of the women of any kind that you see!)

  7. says

    Patrick, I would tend to assume the pregnant smoking woman has heard that OMG SMOKING IS EVIL YOU WILL DIE DIE DIE since it’s kind of hard to avoid having heard that the last couple of decades. Now, I have actually known pregnant women who were advised to cut down on their cigarettes rather than quit, because the stress of quitting could be bad for the baby. I have no idea if that’s sound advice – doctors frequently dispense half-baked ideas that turn out to be horseshit. It’s also possible she knows she shouldn’t be smoking but just doesn’t care. But again, what business is it of mine?

    Do you tell men to quit smoking? Deeply hidden studies have shown that whatever men imbibe up to 5 years before contributing a sperm to a zygote can compromise the genetics of the zygote, yet no one wags their finger at married men who are sucking down beer in what might turn out to be part of a 5 year window before becoming a father. Because that study got buried FAST – no one wanted to blame fathers for birth defects, oh, no. Woman-blaming is far more popular.

  8. mana g says

    As a woman with a baby: So. Goddamned. True. And it never ends! Never! Now that I have brought my sweet little boy into the world, it seems that every aspect of my and his lives are up for scrutiny. His size. His eating habits. His facial expressions!
    For instance, my child doesn’t really like it when strangers get all up in his face, so when people he doesn’t know try to be all, “cootchie-coorchie-coo” with him, he just stares at them. And then, I get the, “He’s such a serious baby! Why doesn’t he smile?” (I’m always tempted to answer, “Oh, he smiles. At people he LIKES.”) He’s also thin. Tall, but thin. He’s incredibly active, he eats very well, he’s ahead developmentally on a few things, and his doctor is perfectly fine with his size. And yet, family, friends, and even random strangers seem to think I am simply not feeding him enough. (I worry enough about my son as it is, thank you. I do not need other people giving me the impression that he’s malnourished.)
    I think I made a comment at some point on an earlier thread that I wasn’t aware of the fact that my pregnancy suddenly turned my body into public property. However, your statement that a pregnant woman goes from being a “person” to a “baby vessel” is an even better descriptor of what a pregnant woman goes through. At one point, my mother-in-law fussed at her dog for “staring at baby,’ (in my general direction, while I was still pregnant. I wasn’t even sure the dog was looking at my stomach, but unless the creature had x-ray vision, he was only looking at me. That didn’t matter, however, because all I was was an incubator. (This, also, has unfortunately not ended for me, at least in the eyes of my mother-in-law. Now that I have borne one child, she is all set for me to become a vessel for the next, which, by the way, she “requests” will be a girl.)
    I know I’ve been guilty of giving pregnant women unsolicited advice, especially right after my son was born. I justified it by saying that I was just trying to share what worked for me, but every woman, and every pregnancy, is different. Just because it worked for me, doesn’t mean that anything I’ve been through will help anybody else. In fact, sometimes it hurts, not only by making the mother more stressed, but also by creating false expectations. (Just because I did X and everything was fine, doesn’t mean the same will apply to another woman, and vice versa. A woman should trust her own doctor, so long as she’s found a doctor she feels she can trust.)

    (Such a long one! Sorry! This one brought up LOTS of very strong feelings!)

  9. DSimon says

    Jennifer, can you post a link to that study? I’ve never heard of it before, and now I’m all a-curious. Not that I ever plan on having kids, but if I ever change my mind on that, this sounds like the sort of thing I should know about.

  10. says

    Sorry, DSimon, it was reported in the back of Omni magazine in the late 80s, and I have never, ever been able to find it elsewhere. Like I said, it was buried hardcore. I never even found anything saying it had been discredited, which is always a possibility with studies.

    Alongside it was the study where they took women on BC pills and women not on BC pills, and gave them t-shirts drenched in male sweat to sniff. Some of the t-shirts were from male relatives, others were from strangers. The women were asked which ones smelled more attractive to them, and the women on BC picked their relatives while the women not on BC picked strangers. This was taken to suggest that BC turns our histocompatibility recognition stuff backwards and causes women on BC to lust after relatives, or something. THIS study reappeared in a class I took in college and later on the news. But the one suggesting men who want to father kids have any responsibilities other than financial? Disappeared like someone the CIA didn’t want to hear from again. ;)

    Actually, this is as close as I can get, but it doesn’t mention how long you need to clean yourself out. It talks about 74 day cycles, but isn’t clear on whether that’s enough time to mitigate the effects:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/feb/19/health.drugsandalcohol

  11. sbg says

    One of my sisters, well into a pregnancy with twins, started dreading leaving her house, because people would stare and comment and point and touch. And she was huge, mind you. She’s a tiny woman and carrying two 6 lb babies (she had them at 8 months, so you can imagine how much bigger they could have been!) showed a lot, but jeez.

    It was exactly like you said – like she wasn’t a person anymore. The worst were the stares, because I witnessed quite a few of them were full of derision/disdain. I could never figure that out, and confess I wasn’t sure it was true until I saw it for myself.

  12. mana g says

    I’m glad you felt it was useful, Jennifer Kesler! I felt like I was just ranting! sbg, I remember the stares, some of them seeming to be outright angry, as I got closer to my due date. I could never figure out WHY some people would glare at me like that. Was it because of my size? I am also petite, so I ended up being just HUGE by the time my son was born. So was it just fat-shaming? Was it because of the fact that I look so young that I was mistaken for a pregnant teen? (And therefore, I suppose, deserved to be glared at, I say sarcastically.) Was it for simply daring to take my very pregnant body out of the house? I know some people, as the time grew nearer to my due date, would gaze at me in alarm, as if they felt that I would begin having my baby at any moment. (“TV-labor” does not occur for most women. Trust me, it can take a WHILE to get that baby out of there.) I could never figure it out, either.

  13. says

    Hear hear! What I hate the most I think is the “oh you silly hormonal thing” treatment. Suddenly all our ideas and beliefs and feelings are moot or blamed on hormones if the other person doesn’t agree. Just a few weeks into my most recent pregnancy my husband and I had a go around about money, which is not terribly common for us, but I feel it was a reasonable discussion. Then I get the “OMG you are soooooo hormonal” bit from him and wow, did that ever end that. He certainly got an earful then! (This of course applies to a lesser degree with the “har har are you pms’ing?” quips)

  14. AmyMcCabe says

    THIS!!!!!!!

    It is really annoying that everyone under the sun is now telling me what to do with my body and what I shouldn’t be doing about my body. I’m having a hard enough time with my wicked strong morning sickness, but every time I turn around I am either guilted that I haven’t been able to eat like I should despite the fact that I have a medical condition preventing me, or I’m told what little I can manage to keep down is bad for me and will hurt my unborn child.

  15. AmyMcCabe says

    I witnessed quite a few of them were full of derision/disdain

    Wow. I have been trying to prepare myself for strangers groping at me, but I didn’t realize random people will be hating me for no reason too. What fun! /sarcasm

  16. sbg says

    Jenn, yeah – that’s why I wasn’t quite sure my sister’s radar wasn’t affected by the fact she was growing increasingly, physically uncomfortable. But, nope. She might as well have been pond scum.

    AmyMcCabe, I think maybe it had more to do with the fact that she was very, very, very big. My sister’s barely 5’1″ and with two good-sized babies in there, she was much larger than she was with her first child.

    And, no, I’ve never quite figured out why that was seen as bad.

  17. sbg says

    I could never figure out WHY some people would glare at me like that. Was it because of my size? I am also petite, so I ended up being just HUGE by the time my son was born. So was it just fat-shaming? Was it because of the fact that I look so young that I was mistaken for a pregnant teen? (And therefore, I suppose, deserved to be glared at, I say sarcastically.) Was it for simply daring to take my very pregnant body out of the house? I know some people, as the time grew nearer to my due date, would gaze at me in alarm, as if they felt that I would begin having my baby at any moment.

    You should never have to wonder why, because it should not happen. Alas, more often than not, people suck.

    That last bit made me giggle, imagining people thinking, “OH NO SHE’S GONNA HAVE A BABY ON MY FEET RIGHT HERE AT THE WALMART! DANGER, DANGER!”

  18. Jack says

    I really liked this post! Very thought-provoking.

    Especially:
    “You tell yourself, ‘Oh, I’m being so helpful – five points to me on the scoreboard of life!’ but really, you’re just being a smug turd and using this woman as an object to bolster your own ego.”
    and
    “You need to realize that this behavior is actually all about you. It’s about your need to feel special, your need to participate in what’s none of your business, your need to connect with someone . . .”

    But, perhaps touching on what Sam L. mentioned, couldn’t a lot of this apply to other social interactions? Especially with regard to other people whom others may deem ‘voiceless’ – the underprivileged, people of color, people with disabilities, so many others that inspire others to campaign on their behalf, for their own good.

    For example, a little modification of your points and they can still be similarly valid:
    – When a woman gets pregnant, a lot of people around her lose sight of the fact she’s a human being.
    – When a person is a person of color, a lot of people around her lose sight of the fact that she’s a human being.

    – Pregnant women are not “crazy” because their hormones go all funky
    – People of Color are not “crazy” because their culture or beliefs may be different

    One could even make parallels between this “stop reproving to other people what they should/shouldn’t do just to feel better about yourself” and the recent embroglio about women writing slash fiction (so sorry if you understandably just wanted this matter to die and stay dead): the general impression I got out of it was that many people who were not gay men who write male slash were not going to just say “Sorry about all the appropriation! We’ll stop now!” but were bringing up the subject (ad nauseum) as a way to declare “See! My privilege is not blind!” and “I’m hip to the Gay Issues!” as ways of making themselves feel better about their privilege and their fiction. Then they took it a step further and started admonishing all around fandom that we need more femmeslash and het and good female and PoC characters, smugly tut-tutting all the TV shows and other fiction that have too many of those apparently intrinsically deplorable white men.

  19. says

    Jack, what you’re describing is objectification, and that’s how I classified the pregnancy treatment, so yes, it’s analogous to a lot of social issues.

    – People of Color are not “crazy” because their culture or beliefs may be different

    Even better and more analogous to my original point:

    People of Color are not “crazy” when they say you are behaving in a racist manner – they are simply observing that which your privilege shields you from having to recognize.

  20. lilacsigil says

    Ugh, I get enough of this public body-shaming just by daring to be fat in public. I can only imagine how much worse it would be if the busybodies could justify it by “thinking of the children.”

  21. Dom Camus says

    Don’t advise pregnant women unless you’re a doctor

    And if you are a doctor, still don’t advise pregnant women except in the specific case where you are seeing them as part of your job and the advice you are giving is relevant and appropriate to the context in which you are interacting with them.

    I don’t know what it’s like in the US, but here in the UK I’d advise all pregnant women to wear ear protection when near medical staff to defend against the constant barrage of unsolicited, dogmatic advice.

  22. Elee says

    Bear in mind, that I can speak only for my experience in Germany (and to some part for Soviet Union). I have often heard people in my family and at work say, that Germany is becoming a child-hating society. For example: It is easier to find a landlord who accepts a petholder than a family with little children (which is both said to be quite difficult). It is practically impossible for a woman to go back to full time work once she had a child, not only because there a no jobs with convenient working hours (my experience is that only an office-job has these), but also because not every area provides full-time childcare, most of these are parttime and if you are lucky enough to have your child enrolled in a kindergarten that has the possibility to extend these hours, you have to fight other parents nail and tooth for a place and you have to pay an extra fee. Politicians begin to promote additional taxes/statutory insurances directed only at childless population (I know only that there is a difference in nursing care insurance, but remember vaguely there were also others. Personally I think it is stupid. Give me a job that pays enough to support a single parent with child without bordering on the social welfare minimum and I’ll be happy to oblige.) In most of places I lived neighbors were often griping about families with children (because they were loud; because they were constantly running the stairs up and down, because the clothesline were always full…) These might be a part of an explanation to what mana and sbg told. To put it bluntly: My own freedom and comfort matters more then societal needs or your wish of a child. And you daring to show up in public pregnant reminds me that I’ll have to pay for it, financially or otherwise.

  23. The Other Patrick says

    Elee: A friend of mine did her master’s thesis on families and part-time jobs in the Netherlands, and up to this day I’m amazed at how different Germany treats this topic. Basically, if you want to get a child, you should be prepared to stop working – unless you’re a teacher, which is part of the reason I’m becoming a teacher, in case I father a child, I’d be glad to stay home.

    It often seems to me you’re either 100% in the mother’s brigade or 100% against it.Ugh.

  24. The Other Patrick says

    Oh, and thanks for the post and this discussion, as it seems no matter how “far” I think I am, I still have ways to go, and this was at least partly a blind spot for me. Now I find myself thinking about it and hopefully becoming better. Thanks.

  25. says

    Re: Germany. That’s surprising to me. I thought all countries were obsessed with replicating their citizens.

    I actually thought I was fairly hostile to the idea of pregnancy and babies before I read this thread. I think we fetishize motherhood, parenthood and babies in a way that promotes pumping out loads of babies with little concern for their quality of life. I think people frequently have kids not because they’re really thought it over, but because “it’s what you do, isn’t it?” and that appalls me. And I think the US often rewards irresponsible, self-centered parents and asks childfree people and responsible parents to pick up their slack, and that’s all sick.

    I also think if the species went extinct, these things happen and it would probably be the best thing we could do for the rest of the planet, and so I often shock people who assume I’ll agree when they point out the importance of preventing extinction by keeping up birth rates.

    But how on EARTH could any of that translate into having specific negative feelings about the pregnancy of a stranger, whose life situation is completely unknown to me? I seriously can’t fathom it.

  26. SunlessNick says

    But, perhaps touching on what Sam L. mentioned, couldn’t a lot of this apply to other social interactions? Especially with regard to other people whom others may deem ‘voiceless’ – the underprivileged, people of color, people with disabilities, so many others that inspire others to campaign on their behalf, for their own good.

    I notice it a lot with mental illness.

  27. says

    I notice it a lot with mental illness.

    Oh, good point. If you know or suspect someone has a specific disorder, you can start to think of your interactions with them as interactions with a [diagnosis here] rather than interactions with a person. I admit I’ve fallen into this trap myself.

    In fact, you can even do this with yourself. A diagnosis can be such a huge relief that you start to see it in everything you do and every experience you’ve had, but it’s not the whole of you, or even the whole of your personality. (Unless you have a full-blown personality disorder, which is kind of the point of those very tragic and untreatable diagnoses.)

  28. sbg says

    If you know or suspect someone has a specific disorder, you can start to think of your interactions with them as interactions with a [diagnosis here] rather than interactions with a person. I admit I’ve fallen into this trap myself.

    Or those illnesses which are both neurological and physiological or have yet to be fully understood by anyone – fibromyalgia or CFS or various forms of depression have severe physical symptoms people often dismiss as “it’s all in your head, why can’t you get over it?”

    As if it’s the easiest thing in the world.

  29. amymccabe says

    I never even thought that my big pregnant belly (when it gets big as I’m not far along and not showing yet) would be perceived beyond the tummy-grabbing stranger that I’ve been warned about.

    Sadly I think a lot of people look for/are relieved to find reasons to dehumanize other people. It makes things less complicated to be dealing with a disorder, a color, a gender or a pregnancy than it is to deal with a whole-very complicated-person. And it also gives people the ability to treat others as sub-human which sadly so many people do to so many others.

    Specifically in regards to pregnant women, it also seems so strange to me that people will act so oddly towards pregnant women like it is a huge anomaly. Women get pregnant all the time. We have mothers, so we all were born out of one! But it is fetishized and mystified and medicalized. Humanity has been having women get pregnant long before humans were human. Yes, when it is YOU that is pregnant it is exciting and it is great to get a book and learn what’s going on (just like any major bodily changes) but otherwise…what’s the big deal with everyone?

  30. says

    Jennifer: Not that humans on a whole are in danger of going extinct…

    Nah, not from declining birth rates, anyway. And yet that has been offered to be as a reason why I should celebrate other people having babies. It’s like some people think life is a team sport, and we win something if we outnumber the rats.

    Sadly I think a lot of people look for/are relieved to find reasons to dehumanize other people. It makes things less complicated to be dealing with a disorder, a color, a gender or a pregnancy than it is to deal with a whole-very complicated-person. And it also gives people the ability to treat others as sub-human which sadly so many people do to so many others.

    This is really insightful. It IS easier to wrap your mind around one label that applies to a person rather than the whole person. Some people just don’t bother to think, but even the best critical thinker sometimes gets overwhelmed and reaches for a shortcut.

  31. Elee says

    Oh, Germany is as obsessed with replicating :-) as any other country, it is just the way we are handling it that is totally stupid. Instead of opening additional child care facilities we pump money into campaigns with cutesy baby-fotos and promoting yet another un-reality show with pregnant celebs. I don’t know for sure of course, but I think there are more singles who would like to have children, but not wanting to deal with difficulties of choosing the right partner, who is not only someone who makes one happy, but also a good parent. Though I agree that there are a lot of couples who aren’t aware that having children is not only cute baby-smiles, but also hard work and responsibility. The worst reason for getting married I’ve ever heard in line of work was “there was nothing an TV that weekend”, the marriage lasted all of eight days. (the most baffling thing is, I am pretty sure she wasn’t joking). Someone like this having children? Even if their physical needs are met, I don’t believe the children wouldn’t suffer the emotional emptiness and lack of possibilities.

    Other Patrick: Yepp, that pretty much sums it up. It also means that you usually need double income, if you want to have a semblance of autonomy, or be able to dictate your conditions at work.

  32. scarlett says

    Elee, in Australia, we have a ‘baby bonus’ which is, I think, $5k/baby you have. The idea is to encourage people to become parents and up the birth rate. And of course no-one with a grain of sense or responsibility – you know, the kind of people we WANT having children – has a baby just for the $5k so from what I hear anecdotally, the tiny increase in births over the last few years can be attribubted to people like teenage girls who want the cash for a holiday but mummy and daddy won’t pony up. (And yes, I realise most teenage girls have more sense than that.)

    And as a side note, adoptive parents are excluded. Given that our standards for adoptive parents are among the highest/strictest in the world, you’d think that idealling that makes them the people you WANT having kids, but no bonus for them.

  33. Jack says

    Jennifer Kesler said:
    Even better and more analogous to my original point:

    People of Color are not “crazy” when they say you are behaving in a racist manner – they are simply observing that which your privilege shields you from having to recognize.

    That’s actually sort of the opposite of what I was going for, since that that kind of reproach itself is a judgmental attitude.

  34. lilacsigil says

    And of course no-one with a grain of sense or responsibility – you know, the kind of people we WANT having children

    Y HELO THAR eugenics! The baby bonus is available to adoptive parents and has been since 2004.

    What kind of people do you think we should *want* to have children? White people? Rich people? Educated people? Older women? And what evidence do you have to teenage girls getting pregnant because they want a holiday when “mummy and daddy” could pay for one instead? $5000 doesn’t go very far for a holiday, let alone a baby. Your entire comment reeks of the kind of entitlement and control over pregnant women that the original post is arguing against.

  35. Elee says

    scarlett, we have a monthly bonus of about 180 Euro per child, until it has completed its education, which is I think a much better approach. The whole discussion got me thinking, how demeaning it actually is to offer a monetary bonus for having children, be it a monthly payment or a one-time. The government buys itself a clear conscience “Duh, it isn’t working, but we have done something” and the practice reminds me uncomfortably of other things, because the essence of it is: You need more children/future workers? Buy them. Jenn, of course not everyone wants to have children, and ultimately it is an individual choice. But I think there are enough people out there, who want, but aren’t because like Patrick said there is no middle ground for them. And children aren’t everything in life.
    Oh and don’t get me started on all the ridiculous obstacles if you want to adopt or have an in-vitro, but are either in a same-sex-relationship or single or don’t have a steady income.

  36. says

    @lilacsigil: Maybe I missed something, but going by the bit you quoted, I assumed Scarlett meant the kind of people we want having babies are those who can think a bit further ahead than “Whoohoo, $5000!” so that every child might be a wanted child rather than a means to an end.

    Additionally, I thought Scarlett’s example specifically indicted a theoretical rich girl whose rich (probably white) parents could fork over $5k, but won’t. I don’t see that as suggesting rich white people are automatically better parents than anyone else?

    Also: “5000 doesn’t go very far for a holiday, let alone a baby.”

    Wow, privilege much? Most people in the US can’t afford to spend anything like $5k on a vacation, and the Aussie and US dollar are never that far apart on spending power. If $5k is your idea of a piddling little crap vacation, you are so much more fortunate than the vast majority of people. By suggesting that every vacation that costs less than $5k was crap, you’re raining on a lot of people’s parades.

  37. says

    I don’t know, I’m with lilacsgirl, Scarlett’s comment was creepy and eugenics-y. It might debatable if someone didn’t say something like that in every discussion on this issue. How can any argument about strangers deciding who is and isn’t a suitable parent NOT go to a eugenics place?

    The fact is, we shouldn’t be saying judgmental things about or to women re: their status as incubators whether it’s based on age, income or choices about brie and wine.

    If it’s not your body, it’s not your business, and this (likely 100% imaginary) teenager who had the baby just for 5k is none of your business unless it’s you.

  38. AmyMcCabe says

    I’m not very aware of ways other nations handle (or don’t) the costs raising a child. Here in the U.S. for middle class families we might get some tax credits (I’ll find out about that first-hand soon) but that is about all. The Federal government laws state that you can have up to 12 weeks off and can’t lose your job or benefits if you work full time, but I seem to hear of people losing them anyway. If you need bedrest for a good part of your pregnancy, your job probably won’t be there when you’re able to work again. Some states have additional laws protecting jobs and benefits, so don’t. Paid maternity leave is rare.

    This is still a barrier to women who want to maintain a career in the US. And once the baby is born, childcare can be very problematic and very expensive. Searching around, most places cost between $700 to $1000 a month. Have two or three kids and it might be cheaper to give up your career.

  39. says

    I agree Scarlett’s strawperson was a problematic choice, and if that’s what you all are reacting to, okay. But:

    How can any argument about strangers deciding who is and isn’t a suitable parent NOT go to a eugenics place?

    Well, easily, when you talk about a judge not awarding custody to the parent who’s been molesting the kids in a divorce case. I mean, there is at least one example where “strangers deciding who is and isn’t a suitable parent” is really helpful to society (by helping free kids from abuse) and has nothing to do with eugenics (because it’s based on past action, not supposed predictors of behavior).

    But what if someone currently childless was diagnosed as a sociopath? Meaning (just so we don’t trip on semantics) someone with absolutely no conscience or empathy, who sees other people as items to be used and abused, who enjoys inflicting pain, and whose condition cannot be treated by modern medicine. They are absolutely incapable of unconditional love – in fact, the carrot dangling of conditional love is one of their favorite strategies for dehumanizing their children.

    That’s an extreme example, and probably one we can agree on. Sociopaths are probably the only group of people you can say, by definition, cannot be good parents. If we could accurately screen and diagnose every adult and then sterilize the ones who are sociopaths, probably no one but other sociopaths would have a problem with it.

    It gets trickier when you get into other mental illnesses, age groups, income groups, etc. It’s often problematic because people base their assessments on assumptions – i.e., that it costs $X to give a kid a good start in life, or that depressed people can’t be good parents (which is simply not true). But the state *does* have to decide between the rights of children and their parents in some cases, and it doesn’t always have to be a creepy eugenics discussion.

  40. lilacsigil says

    @Jennifer – I should say that a $5K holiday is for Scarlett’s straw-woman. I don’t think any of my holidays have cost $500, let alone $5K!

    The discussion in Australia has very much focused around who *should* have babies and who shouldn’t, which is why Scarlett’s comment is creepy. The debate here has very much focused around class, age and race – teenagers shouldn’t get the baby bonus, poor people shouldn’t, Aboriginal people shouldn’t – so setting up a teenager as a “bad example” is really buying into that eugenics-flavoured debate.

    The idea of “unworthy” mothers has already led to the rule that all women who are receiving welfare payments get the bonus as an income supplement over six months, rather than a bonus. Sounds good, but the lack of choice means that if a woman needs that money to, say, buy a pram, or escape a bad living situation, it’s too bad. And this applies *only* to women receiving welfare payments, based on apocryphal stories like the one that Scarlett tells, and on the idea that partners might try to take the money. It’s for their own good, you see. Women who are not on welfare – apart from the baby bonus, and parental payments, and tax breaks like all nice middle-class people get – are obviously responsible parents.

    This went down so well with the public that the next step was to “quarantine” welfare payments for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, meaning that they have most of their welfare payments linked to rent (on property which is contentious in itself) or to the overpriced rort-ridden dumps that call themselves community stores (want to buy a banana? That’s $5, thanks!) That also went down well with voters, so now they’re looking at extending it to parents, disabled people and Aboriginal people everywhere.

    You can see why Scarlett’s comments about the people we “want” to have babies hit a nerve. It was a shock to see on a feminist blog.

  41. scarlett says

    Sorry, could have explained myself better.

    When the baby bonus was first brought in, I remember thinking that no-one in their right mind would have a baby solely because the government was giving them $5K to. In monetary terms alone, that about covers nappies for a year and that’s it, let alone other costs like time, career and personal freedoms. I can’t imagine many people thinking ‘yeah, I don’t have the time, money or selflessness to have a baby, but hey, five grand and I’m in!’ I’d take a stab and say the vast, vast majority of people who took up the bonus weren’t actually affected by it in their decision to have a baby and it *was* just a bonus, but I think offering a lump sum of cash per baby will always be problematic, because you *will* get people who can’t see beyond that $5K. And yes, I would much rather an older single woman who’s actally THOUGHT about what she can offer a child having one that a young married in-debt couple who see it as a way of paying off their VISA. I don’t think there’s any corrolation between age/colour/sexuality/gender/class etc and the ability to be a good parent, but I do think offering lump sums of cash for babies is only going to encourage the people who can’t see beyond that lump sum, and I think anyone who lacks that common sense and far-sightedness isn’t going to make the best of parents.

  42. says

    The discussion in Australia has very much focused around who *should* have babies and who shouldn’t, which is why Scarlett’s comment is creepy.

    You can see why Scarlett’s comments about the people we “want” to have babies hit a nerve. It was a shock to see on a feminist blog.

    Well, yes, now that you’ve explained the Australian context to which I wasn’t privvy, I can see that. Without that context, all that bothered me about Scarlett’s comment was that her strawperson was a woman. The first strawperson who leapt to mind for me was the sociopathic man who forces his female partner to get pregnant so he can get $5k to take his mistress somewhere nice. I happen to agree that monetary rewards for having children are a bad idea, generally, including the dependent deduction we have in the US. I believe there are better ways to ease the financial burdens parents face (daycare at workplaces alone could probably save more money AND solve more problems than any tax credit/deduction/bonus) without running even a slight risk of tempting someone to have a child they don’t want. Or to force pregnancy on another for that purpose.

    Scarlett has offered some clarification in another comment, and I’ll leave any discussion of that to you and her.

  43. Scarlett says

    Re: smoking. I have no idea if the theory that it’s better for a woman to cut down then go through the stress and trauma of withdrawal by going cold turkey has any truth to it – don’t know many smokers, let alone pregnant women smokers – but I was talking to a friend who recently had a baby. She’s been on a fairly strict begetarian diet for a good fifteen years – not quite vegan, but she doesn’t eat eggs or cheese and not much in the way of other dairy. Her doctor told her that it was far safer for her to take bucketloads of supplements then start introducing food that was utterly foreign to her body ‘cos it could have made her violently sick which was far worse for the baby than a lack of certain nutrients in their natural forms. One of the things that came up was how critical people had been about her diet, that she was selfish for not eating meat for the baby’s sake, but it made sense to me. I mean, exactly how *good for the baby* was it when the mum is sick as a dog?

  44. Anemone says

    I had an elderly relative who tried to quit smoking once. She started getting chest pains and her doctor told her to go back to smoking again, but to cut it down to smaller amounts. After all, the point of quitting is to get better, not to die. I think this was before patches were available, and I think you could use a patch to counter reactions like that today. The patch would still expose a pregnant woman’s baby to nicotine, which might affect brain development. But if you have no choice, you have no choice. What can you do? Once you’re pregnant, you just have to do your best.

  45. amymccabe says

    Indeed. When you’re a pregnant smoker, much like many aspects of your pregnancy, what you and your doctor determine is the best course of action for YOU probably will be.

    I’ve gotten flak from some family about my Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Generally it is either in the “How dare you not eat a healthy balanced meal!” (Um…because I literally can’t) and “How dare you be taking any kind of medicine while pregnant!” (Because without anti-nausea medicine, I would not be eating at all & I’d probably be hospitalized.) I’ve been working with my doctor on this, someone who has specialized knowledge dealing with these kinds of things. What makes a random person think they know better?

  46. preggo says

    Thank god for this article. Some people really just need to shut up! Im 35 weeks….and never been so annoyed and fed up to the point of not wanting to go out in public just to avoid people. I dont give a shit. Are you the one having this baby? Did i ask for your opinion or advice? No. So shut your mouth.

  47. Bast says

    As a woman who is currently pregnant with twins after having had 7 miscarriages, I so know how this feels.
    Except our “friendly advice giver” is a glorified bed-pan cleaner at one of the cities major hospitals and a family member.
    At the beginning of this pregnancy, due to the fact that we’ve had so many miscarriages, our perinatalogist put me on about 5 different drugs in order to maintain the pregnancy. This silly little toe-rag troglodyte because of her “vast medical knowledge” (she’s just been accepted into a nursing degree, hasn’t attended any classes yet though) decided to inform me that all these drugs were detrimental to the baby, and I needed to stop taking them yesterday, if not sooner.
    She also tried telling us (and still does) that even though I’m on bedrest under Drs orders, that it’s ok for me to get up and do housework.
    Seriously, someone needs to tell these well meaning morons that the advice they are dispensing is redundant at best, and in many cases dangerous.
    After all, if I had not been educated well enough to know that a Perinatalogist has had 10 years of education and she’s had none, I probably would have taken her advice, and wouldn’t be pregnant now.

  48. says

    Just so you all know, the Baby Bonus in AU is now means tested.

    I also used to get the glares – though I used to get them at work. I had the misfortune of working in a pub with nightclub in a country town in NSW. I worked there from the time my middle girl (now 5) was around a year old, until a year after my baby girl (now 2 years old) was born. I put up with the smoking, carrying crates full of stuff because noone could restock the bar for me, abuse from co-workers (I even got called a “breeder” by one sneering co-worker. She admitted that she hates children, but we all think it more likely that she hated everyone), and also got told by some customers that I should be “at home with my feet up”.
    For the most part, though, I worked with great people, and the regs all knew me well enough to know that I knew what I was doing.
    I have a saying, which I continually say to people. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. Advice from strangers is often wrong. It almost never is relevant to you. People will always judge you, no matter what you do for a living, whether you have children or not, what you look like, or how you dress.
    Wear metaphorical blinkers. Turn a blind eye.
    and most of all, ignore the Idiots, though that most likely means you’ll be ignoring almost everyone ;)

  49. says

    “In fact, you can even do this with yourself. A diagnosis can be such a huge relief that you start to see it in everything you do and every experience you’ve had, but it’s not the whole of you, or even the whole of your personality. (Unless you have a full-blown personality disorder, which is kind of the point of those very tragic and untreatable diagnoses.)”

    I’d thank you kindly to not engage in such ableism. The bigger diagnoses do actually affect everything a person does. It doesn’t (necessarily) rule the person’s behaviour, but it does affect everything in small ways. And whether or not we like it, living with a disorder all your life will affect the development of your personality, so taking away the diagnosis (as if we could) would drastically change a person’s personality. It’s very much intertwined.

    Either way. You condescending view of these “tragic, untreatable, full-blown personality disorders” is not at all welcome. I have one of those, thank you very much, and while I live my life very differently from your average neuro-typical person, my life is by no means tragic. Tougher than most in certain circumstances, yes, but tragic? Hardly.

    Full-blown, untreatable, personality disorders may well be no more noticeable to you than another person’s diabetes, so before you label us tragic and deserving of such pity, try and actually come talk to us first, mkay?

  50. says

    *raises hand* Daughter of a diagnosed NPD here. Wasn’t being condescending at all. It is tragic that these disorders are untreatable – particularly for children of parents with PDs.

    So, next time you assume someone is ignorant and condescending, actually come talk to us first, mkay?

  51. AB says

    Thanks for posting this! I got so sick of (not only people touching me when I was pregnant) but the unsolicited advice I got from almost everyone. I really wanted to tell them to STFU but I didn’t.

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