When the Childfree Write About Mothers

August 9, 2006

Thank God the childfree movement hasn’t taken hold in Japan. If anything, there is a big breeding push by the government to mend its population crisis.

Right now there aren’t enough young people to take care of the old. I wrote this story for Wired News three years ago about how the Japanese were creating robots to help them care for the elderly. To further encourage women to have children — at least, according to this Salon Broadsheet column — Tokyo is now handing out pink and blue buttons that read “There is a baby in my belly” so that all pregnant women can secure seats on commuter trains.

For me, who had nausea so severe that I lost weight in the first trimester, I would have welcomed the buttons in our local San Francisco transit station. But for the childfree, including Salon writer Rebecca Traister, this is more like a ploy by the Japanese government to join Americans’ “current fetishization of pregnancy (and don’t forget pre-pregnacy!)”

There are several troubling things about this. First off is the treatment of women in the early months as invalids who need to be cosseted. After all, if a woman in her first trimester is too weak to stand through a commute, how will she do her job? Should she be exercising? It seems a short step backward to periods of confinement and bed rest.

This is why I don’t think non-mothers should write about pregnant women. This may sound pathetic to Traister, but to this day, I still pat myself on the back for braving the stinky crowds and putting in a full day’s worth of work in my condition. For about 10 weeks of my pregnancy, I puked everywhere: in the shower, on sidewalks, in the car. I am convinced if a man had even one of my symptoms, he would have stayed home and collected disability. (I needed the money for maternity leave because, well, in this country, we have no paid maternity leave.)

Also, my midwife recommended I not exercise because of my previous miscarriage. I was all about bed rest on my hours off from work. My pregnant self: “Please, cosset me all that you want!”

I understand that there are discomforts of early pregnancy — from nausea to exhaustion — that could make it uncomfortable to stand during a commute.

You have no freakin’ clue. Otherwise, you would not be writing this column.  

But nonpregnant people suffer from all kinds of physical discomforts and don’t wear signs that say “I have a migraine” or “I have allergies” or “I ate something bad last night” or “I didn’t get any sleep because I was up working” as they make their way to work. Sure pregnancy is a different situation. But is it actually a superior condition that merits special treatment we don’t afford others in similarly invisible stages of suffering?

Sorry, Rebecca. Round-the-clock puking due to morning sickness beats your allergies any day.  

If we say it is, then we’re saying that never should a woman be treated with more deference and respect than when she is carrying a fetus. And that is downright scary. The implication is that a woman’s comfort and good health are of less concern when she is not reproducing, and insignificant if she happens never to reproduce.

Huh? You get to go home, take an aspirin — we pregnant ladies aren’t allowed to take much — and kick up your heels because you have no kids. Embrace it! No one is judging you for it. (If anything, we envy you!) All we’re asking is for a little consideration in return.

Let’s face it: Pregnant women have special needs. A pregnancy and delivery is a major medical event in a woman’s life, not a simple, single bout of food poisoning. And, boy, do I wish we had a “fetishization” of mothers in this country.

Not only would we get paid maternity leaves or universal health care for our children, or subsidized childcare for those of us who return to work. The barriers for mothers don’t end with pregnancy: We can’t travel on a moment’s notice without childcare, we get dinged in pay — actually the pay gap between mothers and childfree women is greater than men and women, according to the Motherhood Manifesto — and, in most cases, moms are not promoted in the workforce because of the children.

I wish non-mothers would stop writing about what is best for parents. They sound ignorant like the war hawks who have had no military experience.