15 June 2007

100th posting: what lies beneath

Welcome to my 100th post! I can barely believe that just over one year ago I started my interviews with pregnant women from all walks of life in Melbourne and around Australia for The Baby Bump Project. Now, more than 200 interviews later, I'm in the process of writing up my PhD research and embarking on the journey to make The Baby Bump Project into a book.

When I started this research, I had no idea how my life would change as complete strangers invited me into the most intimate moments of their lives, sharing their stories of bringing forth new life. And new life there is. 40 new babies born to 40 remarkable women. I can't thank you enough. As I have spent countless hours transcribing hundreds of hours of interviews from the shockingly horrible first few halting conversations to the interviews that are so arresting the hairs on my forearm stand on end, I can honestly say that I have become a 'listener'. I've always been more of a 'listener' than someone always waiting to talk, however, this project has taught be to become a real listener.

Although my pregnant women (and I call them 'my pregnant women' as a term of endearment) each have a unique bodily history to share (before, during and after pregnancy), I have been able to recognise alot of myself in the stories I've heard, not because I've had the experience of being a mother, but because as women (and I apologise for universalising the 'sisterhood') we all to some degree have a particular (and slightly peculiar) obsession with our stomachs.

Women who have the power to love their bodies in all of their feminine glory are blessed with a confidence that many women in this world never allow themselves to feel. As Eve Ensler writes in The Good Body, 'the tools of my self-victimisation have been made readily available'. The magazines and the blonde, flat stomach-ed ideal seems to always be waiting at eye-level in the supermarket or on the television. The desire for the perfect body in and out of motherhood is an arresting, unsettling and unachievable proposition in our world that is so preoccuppied with flab, diet books, the obesity 'crisis', and celebrity. I can't help but wonder, will women forever be prisoners of their bodies (self-imposed or otherwise), distracting our intelligence with daily surveillance of slight imperfection, no matter how much exercise, cosmetic surgery, or dieting we may punish ourselves with?

As women, we are in a constant dialogue with our stomachs. In pregnancy, bellies take on a new meaning; I am yet to meet one woman who was not both awed and frightened of the transformation of her stomach in pregnancy.

Our stomachs are our most serious committed relationship. A woman's pregnant belly protrudes through her clothes, sometimes her confidence, and even her ability to be a little invisible sometimes.

Yet, on the other hand, women have never felt so attached to their stomachs in the same way they do when they are pregnant. The jab of a tiny foot in the small hours of the morning is worth a thousand battles looking sideways in the mirror at that little pouch of skin that sits on the top of your waistband.

I have learned from my interviews that, despite the Hollywood nuclear reactor pumping out standardised images of motherhood, in pregnancy, women do not have to be afraid of their fullness or afraid to be seen. I think to myself, why do we spend so long trying to get rid of the best part about us? Our soft bellies are the carriers of the future.

Now that should make some of us take our stomachs seriously.

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The Baby Bump Project by Meredith Nash is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.