30 December 2007

'Mandatory' HIV testing during pregnancy

New Jersey has recently made it law that all pregnant women must be tested for HIV with the hope of making the test as 'routine as ultrasound' (and you all know what I think about ultrasound already). The testing is 'mandatory' as it is in a number of states and will be active in six months. Illinois and New York already require HIV testing for newborns. According to the new law, women will only be permitted to refuse testing on the basis of religious reasons. “Early detection is the key,” Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Bergen County who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “This measure is a huge step forward in terms of protecting all babies while helping to educate mothers.”

I have a huge problem with this new scheme. No one wants to see babies infected with HIV (or mothers for that fact), however, this new bill seriously impacts upon pregnant women's autonomy and is tantamount to the same issues of fetal rights American women have been experiencing since Roe v. Wade. Whilst testing is referred to as the best step in preventing the spread of maternal-fetal HIV transmission, American lawmakers have not fully thought out the implications of testing and treatment. In essence, this method of umbrella testing is incomplete treatment. Once women have the information that they are HIV positive for example, what happens next? Is the New Jersey state government going to spring for retroviral drugs? If the baby is born with HIV as well will the medical costs be covered?

Women who are forced to be tested will not necessarily seek out treatment on their own and cannot be forced to be treated for the disease or to take special precautions against transmitting the disease during pregnancy to the fetus. So what is the point of mandatory testing? In fact, forced testing, like forced treatment, is medical intervention without consent. A study in Michigan (where testing is also mandatory) examining the effects of the new law found that "fewer than half of the women felt very comfortable refusing testing, and one in five did not feel at all comfortable refusing HIV testing." Women who were unemployed, had fewer contacts with the health care system, and were younger were still less comfortable refusing the test. In Arkansas, which also has an opt-out testing program that doesn't require written consent, another study found that "16% of women tested did not even know that they had been tested for HIV." This is a serious problem for all women let alone minority groups, women who do not speak English and poor women with limited access to quality medical care.

I am not necessarily disputing the public health benefit in diagnosing the mother, but in the possibility of preventing infection outright in the fetus. But establishing a right for the fetus to have the mother tested is very scary. "Testing during pregnancy, labor or right after birth, tests the woman's status, not the baby's, and thus should only be done with her informed consent - it shouldn't be mandatory," observes Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU in North Carolina. "We would far prefer legislative efforts to increase access to comprehensive prenatal care - including HIV testing - during pregnancy, at a time when the woman can make informed decisions about her health, can choose to take certain medications during pregnancy, and can arrange ahead of time to have a C-section to reduce the risk of transmission." And the New Jersey bill, ACLU chapter executive director Deborah Jacobs, argues, "needlessly sacrifices the rights of women and parents" and "deprives women of their moral authority to make decisions for themselves and for children."

If such programs are to be introduced, continuing medical care, including highly active antiretroviral therapy, must be provided and pregnant women must have reasonable alternatives to compulsory testing and treatment.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/27/nyregion/27hiv.html?ref=nyregion

26 December 2007

Pregnant with Christmas cheer

What better way to celebrate Christmas than with another (semi) naked and pregnant celebrity?

Yulia Volkova of the controversial Russian girl group, Tatu, poses with Lena Katina clad only in a bra and undies for the Russian version of Maxim.

"We have many girls are using pregnancy as an excuse to look worse — as if it were a disease," Volkova told Maxim. "A pregnant girl can be sexual!"

How's that for a stocking stuffer?

Source: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=339969

22 December 2007

Maternity fashion advice for Jamie-Lynn

Apparently the doyenne of fashionable American maternity wear, Liz Lange had this to say to People about Jamie Lynn and dressing up her bump:

"She's a young girl, so I would want to keep [her look] innocent."

Um. Right. She's clearly had sex and she's pregnant. What part of 'innocent' should she be trying to pull off?

"I think little cute dresses and jeans with tight-fitting tee shirts. ... She's 16, and I'd like to see her look her age. Britney was into cowboy boots with little dresses. That was her style. I'd like to see Jamie Lynn go a little plainer. [No] belly baring for her!"

I find these comments so bizarre, especially coming from a woman that made the pregnant belly the centrepiece of a maternity outfit. Lange's comments are almost shockingly incongruous with the veritably oppressive cultural enticements for pregnant women to dress like walking sex. I mean pregnancy is the most 'sexed' state of being a woman can embody in her lifetime. A pregnant belly is visible evidence that you have had sex. Just because Jamie Lynn is sixteen why is there still a sentiment that someone should be trying to protect her from the big, bad world of sex when she's already been a happy customer long enough to get knocked up? 'Looking her age' suggests that Jamie Lynn should be trying to re-capture the virginal status that is so often attributed to 'respectable' young women. The comment about 'no belly baring' similarly suggests that the exposure of her sixteen year old body would be too sexual, even though she is telling everyone she has had sex just by virtue of being pregnant!

21 December 2007

Moral panic surrounding JL Spears

Well, from last glance, there are no less than 1,542 news items devoted to the Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy 'shock' today. After a good 24 hours of critical thinking time, I am pretty appalled by the world's reaction (and even my own) to this young woman's pregnancy. This morning as I ate my toast, every breakfast show devoted at least two segments to 'How To Talk To Your Kids About Sex' as if the appearance of a pregnant 16 year old would induce thousands of 'innocent' teenagers to drop their drawers, find a partner, and start having illegitimate children as if teen pregnancy is a new phenomenon. Last year alone, there were 800,000 babies born to teen mothers in America.

Jamie Lynn is just more famous and a very rich version of the average pregnant teen. I take umbrage that the media has positioned this woman as a 'bad role model' as if she signed up for being a 'good role model' simply by virtue of playing a popular character on a wholesome kids show. The fact that Spears has been sort of forced to say this baby was made irresponsibly and that she didn't make the right decision is very sad for the baby who undoubtedly will grow up one day and find out that he/she was a 'mistake'.

Then I came across a number of news articles that were really shocking. As she is technically underage and her pregnancy legally considered a result of 'statutory rape' the internet rumour mill is buzzing with suggestions that her 18yr old boyfriend could be charged despite the fact that the sex they have clearly been engaging in is most likely consensual. Whether or not these charges are actionable remains to be seen, however, the very suggestion that Spears is a 'victim' of a predatory 'older' man is absolutely ridiculous. There is a thriving moral panic surrounding chastity and virginity when it comes to young women and I find it really hypocritical that allegations of rape are thrown around when it comes to a young woman but when young men engage in sex with older women (as in all of those cases with young boys and their female teachers) everyone cheers him on for the 'stud' that he supposedly is. Similarly, as much as mother Lynn Spears has had a rocky relationship with Britney and the press, the suggestion that Jamie Lynn's pregnancy is the direct result of her 'bad' parenting is unfair. Why doesn't Dad get slammed for failing to preach the virtues of chastity?

Whilst undeniably everyone agrees that becoming a parent at sixteen is less than ideal, we all have to keep in mind that these young celebrities are living in a pretty fast paced world filled with sex, drugs, a whole heap of money and a lot of rock n' roll. Jamie Lynn may be 16, but she's not stupid and surely knows how to take care of herself. If she feels old enough to be in a committed relationship with her boyfriend (who she met at Church!) who are we to say that she will be the epitome of 'bad mother'.

The best thing to come out of this strange situation? At least all of Jamie-Lynn's bad press is giving Britney a much-deserved break.

Source: http://www.forbes.com/2007/12/19/viacom-jamie-spears-face-markets-cx_er_1219markets01.html

20 December 2007

A new generation of Spears calamity

Just when I thought the world of pregnancy was getting a bit dull, as I walked in the door from my 12km run this morning, my ears perked up with the news that Jamie Lynn Spears, our Brit's 16 year old sister, is knocked up. The father is her 19 year old boyfriend. Spears told People:

"It was a shock for both of us, so unexpected," Jamie Lynn told OK!, according to the Associated Press. "I was in complete and total shock and so was he."

Ya think?

Holy cow. Hasn't anyone in this godforsaken country heard of birth control? I mean 16! SIXTEEN!! Apparently, Brit Jr. is 12 weeks pregnant and she told her parents right before Thanksgiving. One wonders what will happen to her hit show Zoey 101. As I've said in response to Juno, teen pregnancy has never been a paradigm for emulation. Not that Jamie Lynn should be ashamed, but why would you go and blab to Ok! magazine considering all of the crap Britney has gone through with regard to motherhood? On the other hand, if Jamie Lynn is really happy about being pregnant, it's pretty crap that every news agency is slamming her for being irresponsible.

In other news...wait for it...Lily Allen is pregnant.The 22-year-old "Smile" singer has been dating the Chemical Brothers' Ed Simons, 37, since September. "As the pregnancy is at a very, very early stage, the couple ask that you respect their privacy," her rep said in a statement. "The couple will be making no further comment but they are obviously both thrilled by the news."

19 December 2007

J.Lo goes underground from fear of 'fat'

Apparently, J.Lo is 'freaking out' over her pregnancy weight gain. Due to give birth in early spring, a 'source' says:

"She is huge and freaking out. Her face has become really puffy from retaining a lot of water."
So worried about losing her looks, the actress/singer has decided to put her career on hold and 'do a Victoria Beckham', hiding out at home until the baby is born. Beckham, as you may know, is notorious for having caesars at 8 months to stem weight gain and to give herself more time to 'bounce back'.

When I read this, I realised something. When was the last time we heard about or saw pictures of Nicole Richie, Halle Berry or Christina Aguilera*, all of whom are due to give birth in the near future?

Whereas hundreds of news items were devoted to the pregnancies of these women (including J.Lo) for many weeks, as each woman waddles closer to her due date, her appearances in public becoming increasingly few and far between. Why?

As seemingly comfortable we are with the visibly pregnant belly and as marketable as pregnancy is for a number of celebrities, the appearance of a 'monstrous' pregnant stomach is still anathema to the heterosexual appeal these women typically embody when they are not pregnant. Despite a culture that loves a good pregnancy or celebrity wedding story, the 8-9 months pregnant celeb is not fodder for 'sexy' cover photos. As in the feminist philosophical tradition, the heavily pregnant woman is abject, swollen, 'leaky', monstrous, and even 'grotesque' as she transitions into motherhood.

As Christina (we're clearly on a first name basis by now) and Halle Berry were happy to be photographed with a cute little protuberance, a heavily pregnant belly is more inconvenient than irresistible. It is no wonder that J.Lo is afraid of monstrousity given her career as a Latina icon with an amazing arse; now she is allegedly pregnant with twins (double the weight gain in half the time). Pregnancy is a time when the taut, tight idealised feminine body is challenged; many of these celebrity women are surely anxious about having/being a body that is seemingly uncontrollable and 'chaotic'. Cultural standards of female beauty are particularly daunting for any woman that is not pregnant; now we know that these same standards apply to pregnant women and are even more vociferously enforced post-baby.

*obviously Christina is on the cover of Marie Claire this month, but the photo shoot was done months ago when her body was more contained.

Garcelle Beavais-Nilon: too exhausted to workout

Finally, a celebrity mum admits that mothering is a hard gig. Mum to two-month old twins, actress/model Garcelle Beavais-Nilon tells People all she wants for Christmas is sleep. After a caesar birth, Beavais-Nilon has waited until just recently to start a post-baby fitness regimen. She says:

"I had a C-section so we had to wait six weeks." She credits getting in peak condition for a nude Playboy layout published in August (which she shot in the early stages of her pregnancy) for helping her body bounce back so quickly. "I think that really helped me lose my weight, because I was in great shape before that."

"I'm going to go back to Pilates," she vows. "That is what I like to do, but right now I'm too tired to do anything!"
Whilst we are under no false impressions that celebrities have a job to do when it comes to slimming and perfection post-baby, it's good to see that Garcelle can admit that motherhood is hard and exercise isn't necessarily her priority. I wonder how many weeks pregnant she was in the Playboy shoot?

J.Love: Fat or pregnant?

Is anyone else offended by this whole Jennifer Love Hewitt 'fat' or 'pregnant' saga? Hewitt was recently attacked in the tabloids for being 'plus-sized' after a few photos of her frolicking in a bikini surfaced. Highlighting her alleged 'cellulite' and a possible 'baby bump', Hewitt was forced to defend her size 2 figure on her official website:
"What I should be doing is celebrating some of the best days of my life and my engagement to the man of my dreams, instead of having to deal with photographers taking invasive pictures of me from bad angles," she wrote. "I know what I look like, and so do my friends and family. And like all women out there should, I love my body."

In the last two days, rumours of 'fatness' have been attributed to pregnancy and representatives of the actress have been vehemently denying any hint of a bun in the oven. It's a pretty sad state of affairs when a little 'bloating', a few dimples or a particularly puffy face all lead to 'accusations' of pregnancy. The poor girl just got engaged. If she is indeed pregnant, let's let her tell us when she's ready. The guerilla tactics of American tabloid media outlets have turned pregnancy, once a happy and positive time, to a scenario in which female celebrities must 'defend' themselves against 'accusations' as if fertility (or fatness?) was a crime.

18 December 2007

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: knocked up and naked

And yet again, another celebrity shamelessly jumps on the naked and pregnant bandwagon. It is unclear why Melissa Joan Hart has done this photo shoot and I wasn't able to find any info about whether this will appear in a magazine..but apparently, she's in a race with Christina to see who can sex up pregnancy the best.

17 December 2007

Women are sexist too?

I recently bought the new issue of Marie Claire featuring that cover photo of Christina Aguilera naked and pregnant. Given that every news agency picked up on the story weeks before the actual issue was released, I can't say that article was surprising or in any way different from the countless pregnant cover stories that have been churned out in the past decade. However, this did occur to me.

In November, I wrote about Maxim's Hottest Pregnant Women, Ever feature as just another avenue for men's magazines to objectify women's bodies. Yet, as I reflect on the avalanche of women's magazines doing exactly the same thing, although perhaps less overt, I'm finding it harder to believe that the public sexualisation of pregnant bodies is forward-thinking or progressive. When it comes down to it, a pregnant naked body on a women's mag is a money-maker. Marie Claire isn't interested in promoting safe motherhood; they are jumping on the bandwagon that men's magazines have already cashed in on starting with the forefather, Playboy. Women want to look at other women's bodies and pregnancy is no different. We call men sexist pigs for expounding the value of a Brazilian wax or size FFF breasts. Yet, when a women's magazine puts a naked Britney or Christina on the cover, we (as women) fail to recognise that it is the women's body on the cover that is the focus, not her mind. Back in November, Us magazine launched a poll asking readers who looked 'hotter' in their pregnant photo shoot. This is no different from Maxim's poll of the hottest pregnant women. As women (and feminists, at that) we are not infallible. In fact, we are also complicit in the objectification of women's bodies.

Source: http://www.usmagazine.com/Us_Poll_Who_Has_the_Hotter_Pregnancy_Cover_Christina_or_Britney

Juno: teen pregnancy is the new black?

I'm like a fish to water when it comes to pregnancy. Thus, when I read about Juno a few months back, I knew I had to see it..and I did yesterday. Juno is a surprisingly delightful comedy about an unplanned teenage pregnancy and particularly poignant given the recent statistics suggesting a 3% rise in American teenage pregnancy.

Juno is a 16 year old girl who unwittingly finds herself pregnant after her one and only shot with the boy of her high school dreams. A quick-wit with a razor sharp tongue, Juno is not a girl who is a 'victim' of her pregnancy as so many 'young' mothers are represented in popular culture. Rather, the story takes a few interesting twists and turns as Juno unhesitatingly begins her search to find a home for her unborn child.

There are a lot of reasons why it is easy to love Juno. Juno is a fearless heroine who sees pregnancy as literally a 'bump' in the road and not the end of her life. She finds humour in the nuances of pregnancy but she is also 'human' in a way that Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up never seemed to be able to convey. When it comes down to it, Juno is still only sixteen; she is painfully aware of her classmates staring at her belly, of the whispers down the hallway, and of the looks of disappointment she encounters in her town.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of reasons why Juno and Knocked Up, both in dealing with the issue of unplanned pregnancy, cannot seem to get it right for me. In both films, the female protagonists spend only a fleeting moment considering the 'A' word. Seth Rogan in Knocked Up can't even say the word when Allison considers abortion. Juno actually visits a clinic, Women Now (as she says, because she's a woman and she needs a 'hasty abortion'..now), but can't go through with it after seeing a highschool classmate half-heartedly chanting 'Every baby deserves to be born'. After all, Juno wouldn't be much of a movie if the main character decided on termination. The spectacle of teen pregnancy is literally pregnant with openings for jokes and that Juno is so strangely at ease with both being pregnant and giving her baby up, it makes for some seriously compelling viewing.

However, as much as I would like to give the film the benefit of the doubt for presenting a new and fresh perspective on teen pregnancy (always positioned as the worst experience any young girl might encounter), the lived experience of teen pregnancy is quite often a much more difficult road to traverse than what we see in the film. After all, these are teenagers were are talking about. Of the 3% rise in teen pregnancy last year, 95% of those pregnancies were to young women between 15-19 years old. This is a serious problem. Only last night, MTV's True Life followed a pregnant 18 yr old fighting for custody of the unborn baby with her deadbeat boyfriend. Unable to finish high school with literally 1 cent in her bank account, the one-hour docu-drama was as compelling as it was horrifying and sad. Whilst this young woman had a supportive mother, the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy were terrifying in that this particular young women didn't think she could get pregnant because her boyfriend told her she couldn't...and she believed him. This is surely a scenario that is not uncommon. The last ten minutes of the show featured her in the delivery room, literally screaming and in tears. It was real and raw and scary. The hairs on my arm were standing up as I watched this scene; Juno did not make me feel like that.

Don't get me wrong; I love a light-hearted comedy. However, women's bodies are becoming the fodder for jokes at a time when women's bodies (especially in pregnancy and birth) are at the most risk than ever before. These movies, as funny as they are, actually represent a roll-back of reproductive rights in the United States. For so long, the most popular American comedic films revolved around what I call 'gross-out' humour or young male stupidity along the lines of Jackass. Now, women's bodies are the punchline. Juno is a brilliant piece of fantasy; teen pregnancy is not easily resolved. Most young women do not have the luxury of rolling easily back into their lives with supportive parents and a boyfriend that inexplicably appears as the hapless hero despite being an equal contributor to the central focus of the film.

Katherine Heigl recently declared that she thought the premise of Knocked Up was 'sexist'. She was harangued online for seeming ungrateful for a role that clearly has made her star rise exponentially. However, she has a point. No matter how you phrase it, the female characters in movies like Knocked Up and Juno, are ultimately positioned as inferior for having failed at motherhood, pregnancy or the expectations of female beauty and selflessness that popular culture demands of them. In both films, birth is depicted as either absolutely repulsive (KU) or invisible (Juno). This sends a clear message that as 'funny' as a pregnant body is, actually getting a baby out into the world is too horrific, too ugly and too 'unfeminine' for the average joe to actually watch. We would rather pay $10 to see characters shot and maimed, women raped and abused or horrific scenes of war than the birth of child. We are perfectly happy to show women's naked bodies when they are plastered on billboards, in magazines and on TV, but when it comes to motherhood, the picture gets a bit blurry.

Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20071215.wschneller1215/BNStory/Entertainment/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20071215.wschneller1215

15 December 2007

Lesbians deserve to be mothers

VICTORIA is to make surrogacy available to infertile couples and ease restrictions on access to fertility treatment for lesbians and single women.

Looks like the shift in Australian government is making way for sweeping changes in state government as well. Lesbians will no longer have to be declared 'infertile' and drive across state borders in order to access IVF. Questions still remain as to whether gay couples will be able to adopt children but this is a huge step in Victorian health policy and a clear admission that gay women deserve to be mothers too.

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/state-overhauls-baby-laws/2007/12/14/1197568264930.html

Re-educate your pelvic floor? Move to France

Well, the French should be commended for more than just having good wine and a healthy taste for smelly cheeses...they are funding perineal 're-education' for postnatal mums. Perineal re-education? That's right. Classes to strengthen the pelvic floor. For many women, this is a particular poignant reminder of childbirth as weakened pelvic floor muscles can lead to leaking from a stretched birth canal. American doctors tell women to do Kegel exercises; the French fund 10 sessions with a specialist. According to the New York Times:

"France spent $3,464 per person on health care in 2004, compared with $6,096 in the United States, according to the World Health Organization. Yet Frenchmen live on average two years longer than American men do, and Frenchwomen live four years longer. The infant mortality rate in France is 43 percent lower than in the United States."

What a fantastic idea! I have heard countless stories from women in my study who have experienced embarassing instances of leaking. Moreover, this is one of the reasons many women want to have elective caesars; the fear of perineal trauma. Surely, this would be a great way to look after women post-natally and take care of one of the niggling issues of birth that is rarely talked about.

I think writer Pamela Druckerman sums it up the best:
"This American has certainly been converted. Do I want the government in my crotch? Of course I do. "

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/13/opinion/13druckerman.html?_r=1&ei=5070&oref=slogin

Why pregnant women don't tip over

According to the New York Times, researchers from Harvard and the University of Texas, women have evolved a stronger, more flexible spine in order to accommodate pregnancy. Katherine K. Whitcome, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard and the lead author of the paper, saysthe lumbar, or lower back, curve in women extends across three vertebrae, as opposed to just two in men. And the connecting points between vertebrae are relatively larger in women, and shaped differently in ways that make the stack more stable and less prone to the bones shifting out of alignment or breaking. Without this adaptation, pregnancy would be alot more painful. Even more interesting, this particular adaptation is no present in chimps so it must have something to do with walking upright.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/12/science/12cnd-pregnant.html?em&ex=1197781200&en=9ee163509360e953&ei=5087

14 December 2007

At Your Cervix: a documentary about pelvic exams

That's right, pelvic exams. We've all had them. I think every woman can attest to the discomfort, pain and relative humiliation of cold steel and stirrups that comprise a trip to the gynecologist. A new documentary is revealing the experience of pelvic exams as disempowering for women and how the medical system needs to change:

"At Your Cervix breaks the silence around the unethical methods used by medical and nursing schools to teach students how to perform pelvic exams; the most egregious being on unconsenting, anaesthetized women. At the same time, the film highlights the Gynecological Teaching Associate (GTA) Program in New York City. Fuelled by the spirit of women’s health activism, the GTA program began over 30 years ago and it has been shown to be the most effective way to teach exams and is also the most ethical and empowering to women"

You can watch the trailer for the doco here: http://www.atyourcervixmovie.com/

This looks really exciting and the filmmakers are in need of donations for editing and costs of production. Donate in the name of your favourite feminist friend for Christmas!

Who needs a mother when mechanical hands can look after your baby?

"Behold the Zaky Infact Pillow. "Zaky -- It's Like Leaving a Part of You with Your Baby." It's $38.95 at the Pregnancy Store."If you’ve ever wished for a “hand” to leave behind so that your baby would feel as if you’ve never left the room, your prayers have been answered with the Zaky.
I don't know if anyone else finds this sort of disembodied motherhood disturbing but apparently the manufacturer of the 'Zaky' thinks that a pair of hands that cradle your baby is equivalent to skin-to-skin contact with mum.
"The Zaky is also great when you have to leave your baby with someone else -- at your baby’s daycare facility, when he stays with a babysitter, or goes to visit his grandparents. The Zaky will provide a constant and familiar support giving your baby a sense of security. The Zaky also assists the caregivers on positioning your baby and your baby will feel and smell mom. "
This is the more disturbing part...women can 'scent' the hands so they smell like a human being. What's next? A pair of mechanical breasts that replace a mother's own?

12 December 2007

Sam Taylor-Wood shows off her post-baby body

Artist Sam Taylor-Wood, 40, poses in the latest 'Body' issue of Harper's Bazaar along with a batch of other celebrity women to talk about their relationships with their bodies.
She says the best thing about her body is "the fact it has coped with and fought two different cancers and produced two beautiful children".

11 December 2007

Celebrating body hatred: The 'Mummy Makeover'

A recent survey in Britain among new mothers found that one in four was considering cosmetic surgery to restore their pre-pregnancy figure. Three-quarters said they were shocked by the effect of pregnancy on their bodies, and almost all said they were repelled when they saw their stretch marks, flabby stomachs and sagging breasts.
Well, folks. Hating your post-baby body has official gone transnational. Thanks to the 'Mummy Makeover' cosmetic surgery packages (liposuction, tummy tuck, breast augmentation) sweeping the US and Australia, British women are hopping on the nip/tuck bandwagon.

I find it extremely discomfiting that cosmetic surgery procedures are treated as mundane or routine as a manicure or hair cut. As Jennifer Cognard-Black argues in Ms Magazine, 'choice' is often used in reference to women and cosmetic surgery as a way of sidetracking the more significant underlying issues.

"The word "choice" obviously plays on reproductive-rights connotations, so that consumers will trust that they are maintaining autonomy over their bodies. Yet one choice goes completely unmentioned: The choice not to consider cosmetic surgery at all."

Sure, having a 'flabby' belly post-baby is no walk in the park and who can blame women for feeling as though their self-image has taken a huge hit?! But, since when is it okay to tell women that they should pay alot of money to have the fat sucked out of their thighs just because they gave birth?
Recent media stories suggesting plastic surgery and 'Mummy Makeovers' are the new feminist aesthetic is more problematic than perhaps I'm willing to discuss. In light of the plethora of makeover shows, the constant barrage of celebrity body 'enhancement' stories in the tabloids, and the thriving weight loss industry in America it is no wonder that new mums think that if they only lose a few extra kilos or just get their thighs a bit thinner or have perkier breasts, they will be happy. In my opinion, the 'Mummy Makeover' is the latest capitalist salve for antenatal depression that often goes undiagnosed during pregnancy and continues postnatally. Losing weight and looking good don't go very far if you still have a baby that wont stop crying or a husband that can't seem to do his share. Cosmetic surgery for women has become normalised. It is NOT 'normal' to cut up your body. The desire for homogeneity, for all women to look the same, slim hips, smooth skin and no 'fat', is a blatant attempt to de-individualise women and we should all be angry and not complicit.

09 December 2007

Pregnancy and obesity: moral panic?

"Obesity is one of the "greatest threats" to women of childbearing age in the UK, experts have warned. A new report showed that more than half of women who die in pregnancy or shortly after birth are overweight or obese.
These women are putting themselves and their babies at risk of complications that could lead to death, the study warned."

The Guardian reports (again) that obese women are in essence, selfish for 1) getting pregnant 2) even attempting to give birth. Whilst there are plenty of medical studies reporting the risks inherent in obesity for both pregnant and non-pregnant women alike, I find it particularly troubling that no one bothers to report the immense health risks implicit in both the British and American maternity systems. Sure, being overweight can complicate your birth...but so can over-monitoring, unnecessary medical intervention, 'elective' caesarean and induction. Overweight women have unnecessarily been dealt the bad hand when it comes to prenatal care. It is hard enough for overweight pregnant women to find a doctor or midwife that will look after them without suggesting that they lose weight before the birth. Moreover, the idea that obese women are knowingly putting their unborn children in danger by even wanting to become mothers is offensive. In addition, what the reports fail to mention in their vague soundbites is that the 'obese' women who are at most risk are refugee and immigrant or poor women who have little access to quality maternity care. This little bit of information completely changes the timbre of the original report.

Of course women who have poor health care are going to be more at risk; obesity only compounds the risk. Obesity, on its own, does not necessarily produce a higher maternal mortality rates. If you look at the maternal morality rates among Anglo-Celtic and African-American women in the US, the disparity is astounding and the difference really comes down to prenatal health care (not the amount of weight gained). There are plenty of 'healthy' fat people in this world. Obesity is not necessarily a cause of maternal mortality; fatness is inconvenient for doctors and big women are and always will be a problem for hospitals that do not have the facilities to look after these 'special' cases.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uklatest/story/0,,-7124334,00.html

08 December 2007

Teenage pregnancy rises for the first time in 15 years

Sometimes I'm embarassed to be American.

New stats shows that teenage pregnancy has risen for the first time in 15 years thanks to George W.'s brilliant idea to cut funding for sex education programs in American schools only to replace them with 'abstinence only' programs. Under pressure from various evangelical organisations, George W. has successfully spent $176 million per year on abstinence education, allowing 435,000 babies to be born last year to mothers between the ages of 15-19.

Not only does the birth of a child compromise the ability of a young woman's ability to finish school, the cuts made to sex education funding in American high schools put millions of young Americans at risk of contracting STD's, including HIV and completely undermine the work of hundreds of women's organisations that worked tirelessly throughout the 90s to get the teenage pregnancy rate down to some of its lowest levels in American history. According to the Guttmacher Institute, one in three American teenagers receives no education about birth control. This is a statistic that should take your breath away.

I've raised a number of discussions in this blog about delayed childbearing and how in a number of ways, women having babies at 35 or 40 positively influences motherhood. Establishing a career, getting an education and becoming financially independent are just a few of the many factors that make women better mothers. We cannot rely on parents to teach young Americans about sex. All of the studies show that the most successful sex education happens in schools. The cuts to funding invariably affect poor and minority young women in America who are without the resources that middle-class, white Americans have a better chance of getting hold of. The president of Planned Parenthood says it best:

"The United States is facing a teen-pregnancy health-care crisis, and the national policy of abstinence-only programs just isn't working," said Cecile Richard, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "It is time for everyone who cares about teenagers to start focusing on the common-sense solutions that will help solve this problem."

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2223667,00.html

07 December 2007

Pregnancy is apparently a 'medical condition'

"Mom-to-be Nicole Ritchie has been granted a leave of absence from her court-mandated anti-drinking program, her rep confirms to People. The program suggested the Simple Life star take a leave because they were worried for her safety, according to her rep. "They offer that option to anyone with a medical condition of any kind," the rep says. "She is not receiving special treatment.""

They are worried about her 'safety'? Interesting.

1) Why is pregnancy considered a medical condition? I thought we were sitting comfortably in an era where pregnancy is sexy and glamourous and definitely not a condition to be hidden or represented as 'clinical' in popular culture.

2) How does being pregnant hinder Nicole from going to counselling or sitting in a class room for drug/alcohol education? Wouldn't you think that have a mother-to-be with a demonstrated history of drug/alcohol abuse and who has served time in jail would benefit from some preventive measures to keep her from re-indulging in old habits?

Source: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20164577,00.html

06 December 2007

Celebrity yummy mummies

Hmm...Isn't this a coincidence? Sounds alot like my research which has been heavily publicised in three countries......

WOMEN are increasingly concerned about their shape and weight during pregnancy, partly due to the media's focus on celebrity yummy mummies, experts say. Psychologist Beth Shelton from Swinburne University said there seems to be “strong, unwritten social rules” about how much weight is acceptable to gain, where that weight goes and how long it takes to lose it after the baby is born.

This particular researcher only followed 13 women (which they don't mention in any of the articles)....I did more than 200 interviews with 40 women.


Pregnant and naked, just like Christina

Well it didn't take long for a a newspaper to try and get pregnant women to reprise Christina's pregnant spread (which hits newsstands 16 December). The Sun interviews each of the women pictured about their pregnant bodies, gaining weight and how they feel about Aguilera's centrefold.
I have to say that the amount of press Christina's magazine cover has generated is not surprising but it's a bit of a shame. When the magazine comes out, there will be no joy...everyone has seen all of the photos everyday for the last week. I would have much preferred to walk into a shop, see the magazine cover, get all excited and purchase it immediately, if not sooner. I will still purchase the mag but pregnant and naked is a little overdone these days.

05 December 2007

Cate Blanchett and her 'bump'

As we have known for awhile now, actress Cate Blanchett is pregnant. Photographed at the premiere of her new movie, I'm Not Here, Blanchett's bump is finally visible in this body-hugging dress coupled with sky-high stillettos. According to The Daily Mail, Blanchett's outward fertility coupled with her sexy footwear was unseemly:
"The five inch heels appeared to be more suited to the Manolo loving Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica-Parker) of Sex and the City, rather than a expectant mother."
I find this comment so bizarre. The global media is obsessed with pregnant women. The 'yummy mummy' is an identity that has linked sex and motherhood inextricably. We have seen pictures of Katie Price bearing her belly in mini-skirts and platform shoes, pregnant women of all sorts wearing tightly fitting tops that reveal a blooming belly and a whole range of hipster maternity jeans and fancy maternity lingerie that allow pregnant women to still feel sexy and glamorous in pregnancy. This is nothing new; yet, Cate Blanchett wearing a pair of stilettos is still somehow a confronting image for this particular journalist. What is it about stilettos that is so 'un-mother'? After all, pregnancy is the most visible representation of a sexed body that a woman can ever have. Being visibly pregnant is a firm indication that a woman has had sex. As stilettos are famous for their association with raunchy bedroom antics, porn and anything else even remotely titillating, the idea that a pregnant woman wearing them is somehow antithetical to imagery of an 'expectant mother' is probably correct on some level historically but totally detached from the culture of popular media that celebrates sexy pregnant women (Hello, Maxim?!)
The Daily Mail itself is a 'newspaper' (if you can call it that) that prides itself on dishing on pregnant women, commenting on maternity fashion and criticising pregnant celebrities when they don't look glamorous enough.

Older mums a 'risky' trend: a problem of biology or society?

Seriously (how many posts have I started with a *sigh* and a 'seriously' lately?) why do American obstetricians make it so difficult for women to be pregnant and give birth safely these days?

Women who are 'young' (in teens/20s) are consistently represented as welfare queens and 'bad' mothers. Celebrities are increasingly the only representation of motherhood accessible to everyday women in popular culture. And now, as always, 'older' mothers are copping flak for selfishly wanting to fall pregnant and actual give birth vaginally when they are over 40. I find this particular issue incredibly disturbing. According to the Los Angeles Times, pregnancies to women over 40 has increased threefold in California as a result of middle-class women's access to fertility treatments. In the words of one fertility specialist:

"Women begin to have fertility problems about 10 to 15 years before they experience menopause, Rodi said. The average age of menopause is 50 to 52, but it can range from 40 to 60. Women have no way of knowing for sure at what point in the spectrum they'll fall"

I'm not denying the statistical risks associated with later childbearing. A range of studies have shown that certain complications are more likely to arise when women give birth later in life. However, I find it particularly offensive that all of these articles being fired off in the media about 'older' mothers are generally not related to the welfare or well-being of 'older' mothers pre and postnatally. Rather, these articles position women over 40 as taking a gamble on bodies that, according to biomedicine, are no longer reproductively valuable. The whole industry (and yes, it is an industry) of infertility is reliant upon women who are told that as soon as they hit the age of 35, the egg factory will be invariably shutting up shop. As the quote above suggests, women must be aware of their fertility from the moment they begin to menstruate and are encouraged to have children early in life so as to circumvent any unforeseen 'problems' later on, as a sort of reproductive 'insurance' policy. The overriding message is that if you wait too long, you can find yourself with a 'barren womb' and it is nobody's fault but your own.

I think it's interesting that nowhere in the LA Times article does anyone specifically address (as I have said many times before) the specific cultural/economic/historical shifts that have provided women with positive opportunities to be active in the public, to have fulfilling careers and to not be resigned to the domestic if they don't want to be. As I have found in my own research with pregnant women over 40, these women have spent half of their lifetimes establishing their own identities, independence and a career. By the time they are 40, having a child seems right despite the associated 'risks'. Why fault women for finally making themselves happy? I thought we had evolved past the women-as-baby-making-machines metaphor that has so deeply embedded itself in American biomedical directives. In fact, the reason why women are 'waiting' so much longer as the media suggests is implicitly tied to working. New Canadian research shows women over 40 are often more likely to forego maternity leave because they have made huge investments in their professional lives; many of these women do not even take the majority of the materity leave to which they are entitled because they are so fearful of the real consequences of taking time off and losing a corporate edge.

Adrienne ten Cate, a senior researcher with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, has found that the more educated, well-compensated and high-ranking the woman, the less maternity leave she takes. "There's a U-curve, where women in low-level positions can't afford to take time off," she says, "and women at the high end return early for fear of forgoing promotions, wage increases and other opportunities."

Perhaps if the culture of working changed and women were not at the nexus of the work/life balance, delayed childbearing would not be such an issue. The truth is most workplaces are still extremely unsupportive of motherhood and women have to constantly negotiate the demands of motherhood and working without an infrastructure for support. Billable hours, long working days and women performing 'like men' are staid features of the American workplace.

Sources: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-oldmoms3dec03,0,6600732.story?coll=la-home-local

04 December 2007

Pushed (or all of the reasons why having a baby in America is scary)

Well it has been a few days since my last post and please excuse, I've been in Washington DC for the American Anthropological Association Conference to present a paper 'From Bump to Baby: Gazing at the Fetus in 4D' as part of a panel on 'Technologies of Surveillance'. Now that I'm back in Chicago, here are some thoughts:

Firstly, I had the (dis)pleasure of reading 'Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care' by Jennifer Block over the last two days. This is a well-researched and thoroughly read-able piece which is definitely worth the time, but be prepared to be absolutely shocked and appalled (I definitely was!) at the state of the current American maternity system. I can tell you, as someone who does not have any children, the thought of having a baby in America today is so incredibly scary as I sat on the plane reading about 'elective' caesareans, the blackmarket for midwives, VBAC, and the absolutely ludicrous recommendations against homebirth by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), my mouth was actually agape as I read true stories of women in America who have had every ounce of 'choice' taken away from them in a hospital.
Perhaps I have been lulled into a fall sense of security or even idealism in studying the Australian maternity system (which is not perfect by any means). However, the Australian system relies heavily on midwives, women have the choice to give birth at home or in a family birth clinic and of course, there is universal health care. Although the caesarean rate is still extremely high in Australia as it is in America, in my own research the constant use of fetal monitors, giving birth in the lithotomy position (on your back) against gravity, and being at the mercy of doctors who will induce you at the drop of a hat, are oppressive medical rituals that the Australian system has mostly evolved past.
Even more shocking for me was Block's mention that American women's rights groups have not taken any significant action with regard to pregnancy rights, particularly when it comes to VBAC. Block notes the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Women's Health Network, and even Planned Parenthood have not been willingly to fight for women to have vaginal births after caesar, for example; the same organisations which have fought for birth control have been staunch in their refusal to address the idea that women are being coerced into major abdominal surgery mostly because of insurance issues (pp.260-1)
As Block argues, the state of pre and postnatal care in America is edging on public health crisis. A woman who has not done extensive research, is confident in her choices, and has people in her life to support her, and is not white or middle-class has very little chance of achieving the birth that she wants without significant medical intervention.
Has anyone else read this book? What are your thoughts? Did your experience of birth become medicalised without your consent?
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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.