We live in a culture that has an overwhelmingly negative attitude toward women’s bodies. Although American culture obsessively sexualizes the female body, it also treats normal female bodily functions as diseases requiring special treatment. Store shelves are filled with clinical “feminine hygiene products”, and pharmacies are packed with “treatments” for menopause. It is no wonder, then, that pregnant women are taught to look for “symptoms” of their “conditions”.
American popular culture is stuck in a twisted paradox. Women who choose not to have children are considered to be abnormal, freakish, or selfish, but women who voluntarily choose to give birth are told that they automatically become asexual, unattractive, and defective as soon as pregnancy befalls them. Worse, our culture insists that all women should become mothers, while also failing to encourage those who do. Pregnancy (and children) are treated as pitfalls and curses, from conception onward: and the phrase “symptoms of pregnancy” is just another indication of our paradoxical, sexist attitudes as a culture.
The word “symptom” comes from a Greek word meaning “accident, misfortune, that which befalls”: certainly an unhealthy attitude toward a choice that, with proper support, can be the most joyous event of a person’s life. Women who choose to become mothers owe it to themselves and their unborn babies to approach pregnancy as a joyful transformation– not a horrible disease to be endured. Pregnancy should be considered a time of grace and beauty, not agony.
Our oppressive attitudes toward labor pregnant women and their children become even more intense during childbirth. Most childbirth processes are highly medicalized, to the point that giving birth has become a medical procedure– while, in reality, having a baby is a gift to the world, to oneself, and to the perfect person being born. Although grateful, I was disgusted by the “get well” flowers and balloons that littered my “recovery” room after I had the honor of giving birth to my beautiful daughter. I was not sick, nor was she a disease that required hospitalization for treatment.
Women who have experienced painful deliveries or difficult pregnancies often argue that pregnancy does have symptoms, and that childbirth is a medical emergency. As someone who experienced pregnancy nausea, moderate labor pain, and prolonged postpartum bleeding, I understand that the process of creating a human being is not always a painless or care-free act: it is, by default, a major stress on the body. But being physically stressful is not the same thing as being a disease in need of treatment.
Just as digesting food, having sex, jogging, or going for a walk may not always be comfortable, pregnancy and childbirth are not always physically easy or pleasurable. However, the difficulty of a task does not indicate that it is unhealthy or defective: it simply indicates that the human body is adjusting to a new role– and there is no role more beautiful and miraculous than the role of becoming a mother.
Pregnancy and childbirth will always have complications, but these are by definition not the norm. A woman who is pregnant, giving birth, or regaining her strength after childbirth may need the assistance of a professional in the event of a complication, but she is not suffering from a disease with “symptoms”, nor does she generally require doctors, medicines, or special equipment to accomplish the tak of giving birth. Children are miracles, not diseases, and a healthy attitude toward pregnancy will encourage the rejection of this terminology.