I was nearly five months pregnant. I had just learned we were having a daughter and meeting a new doctor in the rotating practice that I attended. He walked through the door, didn’t introduce himself, and said rather dryly to my husband and I, “Your placenta is low, so no sex and no lifting for the next six weeks.”
“Hi,” I said, extending my hand, “I’m Billie.”
That was when he finally shook my hand and told me his name. Then it was back to the business of scaring me when I asked what exactly he meant by “low.” He looked me up and down, asked me what my job was (great, I thought, now I’ve got to explain that I’m a writer, that’ll sound legitimate!), and then told me to follow his advice or it could be “bad.”
I explained to him that I wanted to have sex -- that six weeks was a long time. I asked was that really necessary, bargained him down four weeks for re-checking my placenta, and watched as he turned to my husband and said, “Hey, I know, I’ve got a wife, too!”
I thought to myself, Oh, don’t mind me, just the woman in the room carrying the fetus.
When still I prodded for scientific information he said, “You can Google it, it’s called Placenta Previa.” To add to the icing on his judgement cake, he also threw in, “Your fun is over now!” which, days later, I was still upset over.
After the leaving the office, somewhat shell shocked from this unexpected news, I did go home and Google it. I found out a whole host of things, like the fact that it was too early to be diagnosed, and that I didn’t actually have previa (where the placenta covers the cervix). I talked to my girlfriends who said that they had similar situations, but were never put on pelvic rest (that’s the nice term for “no sex”). I phoned my doula who told me I could still have orgasms, and I tried to get comfortable for what was sure to be a long four weeks.
In the meantime, I also got to thinking about what had just happened. I felt like because I was expressing a verbal desire to be sexual with my husband, I was being shamed. The whole thing made me uncomfortable. Why hadn’t this doctor given me any information on what was safe for me to do? Why had I been given the “little lady” treatment as though I knew nothing about my own body?
So I did what any pregnant writer would do -- I wrote about it, questioning why women are supposed to be these selfless, sexless creatures when we suddenly become moms. I was endlessly sick of being treated like a medical condition. Pregnancy, after all, is a naturally occurring phenomenon. What I didn’t know was that when BlogHer published my original piece I was inserting myself directly into the center of a very real mommy war.
Of course, the mommy wars were something I had thought about briefly when I made the decision to write about my pregnancy and motherhood in general, but the reality of it is another beast altogether. I had these rosy visions of feminized mothers finding their way to me and giving me support, but what I found instead was that a great many women are not only deeply insecure when it comes to listening to their bodies during pregnancy, but hell-bent on telling other women how wrong they are if they aren’t making the same decisions as them.
Through my experience of suggesting that 1) it’s OK to be pregnant, have a sex drive and expect your doctor to treat you like a person, and 2) considering what your own needs are whether you are a parent or not, I had threatened something fundamental in many mothers. One of those things was that we shouldn’t question doctors, especially if you are pregnant because you don’t have a degree, honey! The other was that we should be selfless, think of nothing but our children 100% of the time, and essentially give in to the fact that since we are parents now, that is all we will ever be.
What I also learned? That when you threaten this “unmovable” truths, women will attack you, viciously. I was told that my child “would never know love” and that I was “already a bad mother.” When the link was posted on another site, the comments got violent with one woman saying she wanted “cunt punch” me. I didn’t even know that was a thing, but since I was on pelvic rest, I was pretty sure that was off the table.
As I poured over the comments, I asked myself why these people were so angry to the point of violent language. I tried to tell myself that if I had stirred up so many strong feelings, as a writer, I must have been doing my job, but still I was internally and deeply bothered by the lack of understanding from a community of moms that I was only just joining.
I thought that there was supposed to be a measure of camaraderie among women. Here we are, having this universal experience of parenthood and this is what we have reduced ourselves to. Moms are an outspoken bunch, especially on the Internet, as well as being a diverse set, and yet all we can seem to find to represent ourselves is venom. Forget all conversation -- let’s cut right to insults. As far as feminism has come, I was getting the message, at least from one side, that it’s still somehow unacceptable to say, “Gee, I’m pregnant and I want to be spoken to like an adult, even about my own sex life.”
To these women, I was saying, “Hey, I don’t care if sex kills my baby, I’m getting laid! And when this sucker gets here, I’m not only going to be selfish but remiss in my duties. Cry away you little stinker -- I’m not here to serve you!” When what I as really saying was, “Why is refraining from sex medically necessary for me, and furthermore, this makes me think about my needs going forward as a parent.” That’s pretty open-ended.
So while these women want to waste countless key strokes on hating me, and defending their “style” of selfless parenting, I have to say: Screw this. There is no one right way to be a parent. There is no one right way to be pregnant, or sexual, or anything else. What there most certainly is, is a shame machine that moves forward at a break-neck pace. It’s that voice in your head that tells you if it’s different it’s wrong, and it seeks to divide women where they might be united.
Being caught up in a mommy war taught me a lot about the kind of parent I want to be. I certainly don’t want to raise my daughter to speak to other that women that way, or to write off one person’s feelings because they may be different from her own. My vision is a much kinder one where it’s okay to ask questions of (gasp!) doctors, to voice when you are uncomfortable with something, and to feel included, not like a pariah.
The world of women will not always be a welcoming place, though, as I learned with my first violent shove into the world of mommy blogging. But at least I know that even the mommy wars don’t have just two sides; there is another side, the one that I am on, where moms will seek to unite with one another across our differences and not participate in being blatantly exclusionary or just plain mean.
I hope you’ll join me.