30 November 2007

Pregnancy goes porn?

Apparently Marie Claire isn't the only magazine making waves with a naked pregnant woman on its cover; 'hot' pregnant women are featured this month in men's mag Maxim under the title of 'Hottest Pregnant Women, Ever'

Featuring the likes of Christina Aguilera, Halle Berry and Heidi Klum, the editors at Maxim unsurprisingly find ways to objectify the pregnant bodies of famous women. Of Halle Berry they write:

"Descriptions like "over 40" and "with child" aren´t usually things we associate with looking hot, but Halle pulls off both better than anyone we´ve seen. Plus, we admire the guts it must have taken to walk into the maternity store and say, "Give me a big stack of the lowest-cut dresses you have."

It's no surprise that pregnant women are increasingly positioned as 'hot' or 'sexy'. A pregnant body is a clearly sexed body, despite historical associations of motherhood with the 'Virgin' Mary. In fact, pregnancy porn is a big business and its own genre of sexual fetish. A simple Google search will deliver various iterations of big bellies represented as equally as sexy as the big breasts that epitomise mainstream porn. In fact, Lisa Rinna was the first celebrity to do a naked pregnant photo shoot for Playboy magazine in September 1998. Rinna, formerly of the hit television show Melrose Place, chose a pornographic magazine rather than a lifestyle magazine to make her pregnant debut. However, as Rebecca Huntley (2000:350) argues, ‘Despite assertions of sexiness, Rinna’s pictures are not constructed as masturbation material, rather maternal material.’

Feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey has famously argued that women have historically been ‘looked at’ as passive objects whilst men are the voyeuristic, active subjects (1989). What I find fascinating is that the pregnant women in these 'hottest' spreads either in Maxim or Marie Claire do not appear to be passive objects as they looks directly into the camera and appear to enjoy the position of being looked at. However, their glamorous appearances perhaps suggest remnants of an internalised male gaze that dictates how women should ‘appear’. It is also possible that the 'hottest' pregnant women features reflect an internalised female gaze as women also scrutinise their bodies equally or even more so than men (for example, the appearance of Christina and Britney both naked and pregnant on mainstream women's magazine covers and not in men's magazines).

29 November 2007

Christina bares her drrrrty (not so secret) secret

Geez. Just when I thought the world of pregnancy was becoming stagnant, my eyes fell upon these photos of Christina Aguilera as the latest celebrity to 'do a Demi' and pose semi-nude and pregnant on the cover of a mainstream women's magazine. Appearing on the January 2008 cover of Marie Claire, Christina reveals all about her surprise pregnancy and how she attempted to do a world tour whilst keeping her body from betraying her secret. She says:

"And so, I had gone off the Pill to prepare my body, because I didn't know how much time it would take. You've heard it takes some time. Except with Power Egg and Super Sperm here ... I'm like, Oh, my God, can you believe it just happened?"
I find the sheer number of celebrities 'doing a Demi' endlessly fascinating. I should probably devote a whole post about what it all means..but not today. I will say that that the public (and sexy) pregnancy has been well and truly cemented in popular culture and I definitely think the exposure of pregnant bodies is here to stay. I think we know why Christina decided to stay mum (pun intended!) on the topic given her explosive, um..to say the least, baby bump debut for the magazine (which no doubt is paying her a hefty sum for the exclusive scoop).

28 November 2007

Beverly Hills, baby.

So I've been in LA for the past two days. My purpose in being here was to be interviewed for this Canadian documentary called 'Celebrity Babies' airing some time next year. Been staying in Beverly Hills in some pretty fabulous digs and I have to admit, on more than one occasion I was secretly hoping to run in to Nicole Richie in the Beverly Centre. We did the shoot last night and the crew was great and I got to talk about a few of my favourite things: pregnancy, celebrity, and Britney Spears.

But alas, as my time here has been short and after one too many 'I'm in LA' celebration drinks with a good mate, I'm on my way back to Chicago with no celebrity sightings. However, I did hear through the grapevine that Britney ran three stop signs yesterday on Rodeo. Where am I when all of the good stuff happens?

Anyway.. Nicole Richie appeared on Access Hollywood last night talking to Billy Bush about her pregnancy and how it has made her feel closer to her parents, particularly her biological mother with whom she has been estranged from some time. When asked about whether she and Joel will be getting married as well, Richie said she needed to wait for that..too many things happening in one year. I found this particularly intriguing as I've been doing some research for this article I'm writing about pregnant brides. At some stage last year, I distinctly remember Nicole saying she didn't want to be 'fat' and pregnant on her wedding day. Speaking of, if any of you out there were pregnant at your wedding..please email me!


26 November 2007

Black market for midwives

I was stunned to read today in the Chicago Tribune that midwifery is outlawed in 10 states in America. Missouri is the only state where midwifery is considered a felony, but the other nine states have actually banned the practice (including Illinois from where I hail). However, there is still a thriving network (or black market) of practicing midwives in Missouri who operate through word of mouth. At least 1,000 women in Missouri give birth at home each year which is a clear sign that women are resisting and taking control of their own births. Similarly, in Illinois at least 800 babies are born each year at home (that's 2-3 babies every day!)

As most of you may already know, childbirth is still considred a medical emergency in most American states. Ricki Lake's doco, The Business of Being Born, and the forthcoming full-length feature film, Pregnant in America, could not have come at a more opportune time. Whilst 40 states do permit midwives to practice (mostly under the supervision of a doctor in a hospital), it is homebirth that has sparked the most intense debate. Missouri is now on the brink of deciding whether to overturn its ban on midwifery after a state lawmaker's wife was aided by a midwife in her pregnancy and has pushed (no pun intended!) to make midwifery legal.

I won't go into the pros and cons of homebirth here. However, this is an interesting irony:
A good samaritan who helps a woman deliver a baby in a taxi cab or in a lift is not subject to prosecution. A trained midwife, on the other hand, who helps a woman give birth at home is.

Even more surprising, there is a fantastic homebirth story in a very unlikely place: Vogue

Titled 'Mother Knows Best' (pp.304-17, 406) the author recounts her experience of homebirth in New York in the November issue with the same midwife featured in Ricki Lake's documentary, Cara Muhlhahn. Great to see a positive representation of homebirth in a mainstream fashion magazine (of all places!)

Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/services/newspaper/printedition/sunday/chi-midwives_bdnov25,0,1653801.story

Check out the Midwives Alliance of North America for more info on safe homebirth and to find a certified midwife in your area: www.mana.org

25 November 2007

First Response 'rapid' pregnancy test: what is the point?

I saw an ad for First Reponse's new 'Early Result' Pregnancy Test the other day on TV. I was intrigued. According to the ad, you can find out if you are pregnant '5 days earlier' than you normally would (i.e. before you are due to have your period). So, intrigued as I was, I decided to go to the manufacturer's website to find out how this test really works. The early detection test is more sensitive to pregnancy hormones in your urine than 'normal' pregnancy test (and most women have enough of the pregnancy hormones at least 4 days before their period is due). However, and this is why I think the 'early detection is totally futile', in the instruction manual online in a section about how to read the results, the manufacturer says this if the result is 'negative':
"You may not be pregnant, or it may be too early to tell. If you do not get your period within 7 days, you should retest with another FIRST RESPONSE® Early Result Pregnancy Test. It is possible that you miscalculated the length of your cycle or your urine may not have had enough pregnancy hormone for the FIRST RESPONSE® Test to give a positive result. If you retest and again no hCG is found, and your period still has not started, you should call your doctor."
Okay. So what is the point of spending money on an 'early detection' test if, logically, there is a good chance it is too early to tell if you are pregnant and you have to spend more money to test at a later time? How is knowing that your pregnant 4-5 days earlier in the month going to change anything?
Just another way to get women to spend more money on products they don't really need. And you know what else really annoys me? First Response also sells ovulation kits so women can test when they are ovulating 'to increase your chance of becoming pregnant'. However, why is it that the onus is always on women to spend money on fertility (and even more on infertility)? Why are women always induced to monitor fertility when 40% of the time infertility is attributed to the male? Where are the over-the-counter sperm tests?

Nicole's baby weight drama

Even though everyone seems to think that Nicole Richie is happy to be gaining weight and 'indulging her cravings' in pregnancy, it seems that Richie is less than pleased with all of the weight she has packed on. According to one source, she has hired celebrity personal trainer, Harley Pasternak, to work with her immediately following the birth. A source close to Nicole says:

"Nicole feels huge right now. Her breasts are enormous and she finds it difficult to get comfortable. The change to her body has been drastic and it's been hard for Nicole to accept. She looks in the mirror and doesn't even recognise the person staring back at her."

Apparently, Joel Madden is distressed that Nicole has made plans to lose her baby weight so quickly, urging her to wait until at least March before she starts a diet/exercise regimen. Nicole would like to get start training 2 weeks from the birth.

I haven't read this story anywhere else so I hesitate to accept it as 'truth', however, it surprises me that more stories like this haven't been written up until now considering Nicole has a history of disordered eating (as far as we have been able to tell given her weight fluctuations). As I said in the last post, everyone has written about her so positively especially surrounding food and weight gain, it only makes sense that someone who has (allegedly) been anorexic would be a bit freaked out with the prospect of gaining weight and obsess about losing the weight as well. It will be interesting to see what Nicole does post-birth; if she loses the weight immediately will the media treat her like a hero and a 'yummy mummy' or will she be labeled a selfish, 'bad' mother for caring too much about her appearance?

Source: http://people.monstersandcritics.com/news/article_1376114.php/Nicole_Richies_baby_weight_battle

23 November 2007

Nicole Richie indulges her 'cravings'

So I'm back to being American for the next month...and what better way to celebrate my renewed American-ness than a post about Nicole Richie 'indulging her cravings'.

According to the Daily Mail, Nicole Richie was spotted in New York eating pizza. I won't go into what I think about pregnancy 'cravings' as I've already written about that before: http://babybumpproject.blogspot.com/2007/10/more-more-more-milla-j-are-cravings.html
However, I do find it interesting that Nicole is constantly praised for eating, considering her shocking thinness pre-pregnancy. Nicole, at 7 months pregnant, is described 'blooming' and not 'fat'. If the same story had been written about Britney Spears, undoubtedly, the tone of the story would have been 'Look at Britney eating pizza. She's a fat pig'. Richie, on the other hand, is represented as the 'good' mother looking after the health of her baby.

20 November 2007

Leaving on a jet plane

Today I'm off to the US to do some research in Chicago, attend a conference in D.C. and to be interviewed for a 6-part Canadian documentary on celebrity babies in LA. I have a list of maternity shops to go to and a bunch of people to interview so the next month will be full of photographs and observations from the mother land.

I can't wait to be able to buy Us and People without paying Air Freight and getting them two weeks late!

Lack of sleep = slower weight loss

In a study of over 900 women, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that mums who got less than five hours of sleep a day when their babies were 6 months old were three times more likely to be carrying 11 extra pounds at the child's first birthday than those who get seven hours. The bottom line –- those extra two hours of sleep could make all the difference.

The study also found that mothers who slept fewer hours at one year postpartum than they did at six months postpartum had twice the risk of substantial weight retention. Other studies have shown that persistent sleep deprivation causes hormonal changes that may stimulate appetite.

The researchers think just 2 extra hours of sleep is as important as a healthy diet and exercise.

An interesting dilemma but not one that seems overly complicated. Clearly, partners need to be more involved in sharing the domestic workload because women still do exceedingly more childcare (e.g. waking up in the night) in most of the developed world.

Source: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,312174,00.html

17 November 2007

Mums behaving badly

Sushi Das has written a great piece for The Age today about 'mums behaving badly' or how pregnant women are navigating all of the rules and regulations of being pregnant, the constant cultural surveillance of motherhood and the spaces (perhaps small) of resistance available to women who don't conform (especially when it comes to controversial topics like drinking and alcohol).

Read it here:

Keri Russell's marathon labour and quick weight loss

Keri Russell, formerly of Felicity, revealed on The View that she was in labour for 38 hours in June with her son River Russell Deary.

"It was intense... It was a long time. But it all worked out okay," she said.

Keri also talked about snapping back into a size zero without actually exercising:

"I would love to say I worked out every day. But it's truly genetics. You have what you have, and then you work hard or you don't. And I... It was genetics. "I didn't – because I didn't have a babysitter until two weeks ago. It was like walking through the park. And I have to say, breast-feeding, you burn so many calories, and I'm still doing it."

Watch the interview here:

15 November 2007

Isla Fisher back in shape in 3 weeks

Apparently, all a result of breastfeeding.....

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/showbiz/showbiznews.html?in_article_id=493545&in_page_id=1773

Alcohol in pregnancy: the saga continues

I finally feel vindicated in all my posts about risk culture and alcohol during pregnancy. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, medical experts are in a furore over the latest recommendations that pregnant women abstain from drinking completely during pregnancy. The 'zero tolerance' policy, as it has come to be known in other countries, has caused quite a bit of unrest among pregnant women who are scared to death that their babies will be damaged for life after consuming one drink.

I probably shouldn't say 'I told you so'..but...I TOLD YOU SO.

The president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Christine Tippett, says:

"Specialists practising in obstetrics and gynaecology in Canada have had requests from women to terminate their pregnancy because they're concerned they may have harmed their foetuses through alcohol exposure early in their pregnancy."

How ridiculous is this? Why is it that doctors are surprised that women are so freaked out in light of all of these 'rules' about alcohol they think that one drink is going to cause fetal alcohol syndrome?

I think it's great to encourage women to have healthy pregnancies; I think it's paternalistic and just wrong to monitor pregnant women so closely and scare them so much that they do not feel responsible enough or too guilty to continue with a pregnancy because they've had a few drinks.

Dr. Tippett continues:

"It's extremely unlikely that a small amount of alcohol or a single case of binge drinking is going to be harmful to the foetus … We need to establish what is a safe level rather than saying you shouldn't drink at all, because that does engender a great deal of anxiety."

Some of the women in my study were so distressed about drinking, especially early in pregnancy (when many of them did not actually know they were pregnant), they went into hyper-vigilance mode when it came to food, drink and exercise for the rest of the pregnancy because they felt so guilty about drinking in the first few weeks. New British research has revealed that binge drinking (more than 5 drinks) is actually NOT consistently harmful to fetuses.

"When pregnant women report isolated episodes of binge drinking in the absence of a consistently high daily alcohol intake ... the evidence of risk seems minimal," the researchers wrote in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, published today.

This may be a comfort to women who drank early on in pregnancy without knowing they were pregnant but only highlights the absolute inconsistency in research findings on this topic. If one group of doctors is telling women not to drink at all, others say no more than one drink per day, and then another group says an occasional binge is okay, what are women to do?

Pregnancy is hard enough as it is...perhaps more research should be done before women stop having babies altogether because they are too afraid to breathe, or walk outside, or come into contact with cheese or be in the presence of alcohol, lest they harm their unborn.

What do you think?

Sources: http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/zerotolerance-alcohol-code-may-cause-panic/2007/11/14/1194766770310.html

Sneak preview: Ricki Lake's 'The Business of Being Born'

I am so disappointed I will miss the opportuntiy to see this film because I'm off to the US next week. If you are in Melbourne and are interested in home birth, book your place now!

Presented by Maternity Coalition Victoria
in association with the La Trobe University School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University School of Nursing and Midwifery and the Mother and Child Health Research Centre.

A documentary film by Ricki Lake, directed by Abby Epstein

Followed by panel/audience discussion on

The Relevance of the film to ‘future directions’ for Victorian maternity care

Thursday 6th December 2007
7pm for a 7:30 sharp start
Screening is approx 1 ½ hours, followed by the discussion panel

La Trobe University, Bundoora
Western Lecture Theatre (WLT) 1.
Parking available in Car park 2,
number 86 tram from the City

Cost: $10 single, $15 family. Payable at the door

RSVP BOBB.melbourne@maternitycoalition.org.au

Light refreshments provided on entry.
Babes in arms welcome.

Sources: http://www.thebusinessofbeingborn.com/

baby weight + ballerina = no good

I seem to spend an inordinate time discussing pregnant celebrity weight loss and weight gain on this blog. Then I saw a fantastic article in the Globe and Mail about the pressure to lose baby weight for professional ballet dancers. Of course! Why in the world hasn't anyone discussed this before?

Two ballerinas from a Toronto dance company discuss the business of being a pregnant and a ballerina:
"Being a ballerina is all about fighting your body, fighting the effects of time. It's about being preternaturally young and beautiful. You have these 20-year-olds nipping at your heels all the time. And being pregnant is about surrender to your body. You're going to gain 40 pounds. You have to deal with it. You have to accept it."

This is such an fascinating body narrative; to be ballet dancers, women are constantly in the pursuit of perfection, almost to excess. In a sense, to be a ballerina is to engage in a sort of feminine protest against the meanings and the shape of a typically feminine body (curves, breasts). As Bordo argues in obsessively pursuing slenderness and hollowness, women come to embody the 'masculine' values of the public sphere (e.g. a body that is always controlled, contained). The ballerina embodied this intersection in almost a 'battle' between male and female sides of self.

On the other hand, pregnancy is a time of constant, uncontrollable bodily change and is a bodily state striking in its inscription of extreme femininity. Self-management in pregnancy becomes more elusive, the more hotly it is pursued. Whereas a ballerina posseses a body in defiant protest of conventionally feminine body shapes, pregnant bodies not only resist cultural norms of slenderness, they constantly threaten to erupt and challenge normative femininity. As a ballerina's body is coded as a rebellion against the maternal, domestic femininity; pregnancy is the embodiment of reproduction and the maternal.

Pregnancy for a ballerina is a major career decision. "It's pretty traumatic. You worry if you will get your body back. It is your instrument for your art." The dancers in the interview reveal that that they purposely had to wait until the 'end' of their careers to fall pregnant (age 37 or 38) essentially because the 'damage' done is irreversible.

"The end of the [ballet] career happens to coincide with the end of your reproductive career. By the time you are 40, most people have finished their classical ballet careers, and most women are not having babies past 40. It's a decision all ballerinas have to make."

And we thought being a celebrity was hard work.

12 November 2007

Fetal programming: making women scared one tin of tuna at a time

I seriously feel for any woman who has been pregnant recently, is pregnant now or is considering it for the future. As we all know, the list of pregnancy 'rules' has expanded ten-fold in the last five years. Don't eat fish. Don't drink alcohol. Do exercise, but don't get too hot. Don't sleep on your back... Ah the joys of living in a 'risk' society.

To make matters worse, the Los Angeles Times discusses the dangers of 'fetal programming' or put more simply, all the ways a pregnant woman can cause irreparable, lifetime damage to her baby just by breathing. Now, researchers are arguing pregnant women do not just have to be worried about what they put into their bodies; subtle changes in the environment can also affect pregnancy outcomes.

"Mounting scientific evidence suggests that fetuses are surprisingly susceptible to outside influences, such as food, environmental chemicals and pollutants, infections, even stress. Under this theory -- called fetal programming -- babies are born not just with traits dictated by their parents' genes, such as brown eyes and olive skin. They may be born with a tendency to develop asthma, diabetes or other illnesses based on what their mothers ate and were exposed to during pregnancy".

As if you weren't sufficiently freaked out, some scientists are also saying that exposure to supposedly 'harmless' doses of certain substances can still affect the fetus if the ingestion or exposure to a particular substance occurs at particular stages of fetal development. So basically, eating one too many tins of tuna at one particular point in the pregnancy may cause irreparable fetal damage. Even emotional trauma or stress during the pregnancy can 'perturb' fetal programming.

How does a pregnant women navigate pregnancy under this pressure? The author of the article seems to contend that based on the evidence, pregnant women should be empowered with information. I agree with this view in theory; however this is an overly simplistic means to achieving a healthy end. The women who are most able to absorb this sort of information (or get it at all) are women who are educated, financially secure and statistically 'older'. If you don't have a good health provider, have never read a book about pregnancy in your life or live in an unsupportive domestic environment, the chances that you would be able to maintain an awareness of all of these 'risks' and act on them responsibly are slim at best. Most women have to seek this sort of information out themselves; obstetric appointments (for those women that have them) are appallingly short. Unless you have private care, there is not alot of time for questions. Whilst the onus is inevitably placed on pregnant women to protect a fetus, some responsibility should also be attributed to doctors and other prenatal healthcare providers in providing ALL pregnant women with the tools to have a safe pregnancy.

Source: http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-he-fetal12nov12,0,2140947.story?page=1&coll=la-home-middleright

Jennie Garth: happy to shed her baby weight

Former 90210 star, Jennie Garth reveals in Us Weekly that her recent foray on Dancing with the Stars has allowed her to drop her baby weight faster than just diet and normal exercise. She says:
"When I decided to do [Dancing with the Stars], I did pilates three days a week and cardio twice. I hated it, but it helped. Once I started dancing, things changed faster than when I was just working out."

Like Trista Sutter a few posts ago, Garth is even more pleased that after dropping 10 pounds, she can fit into her skinny jeans:

"My jeans were a 29 when I started, and I'm wearing a 27 now," she explains. "It's great to be able to go to the back of my closet and get the clothes I wore [prebaby]."

*Sigh* It never ceases to amaze me how depressed I feel when I read things like this. Why does something like 2 inches have to be the defining feature of a woman's social value or the make or break factor for her self-esteem?

Garth's husband, Peter Facinelli apparently is happier with his wife when she is thin as well:

'It's like I got a new car!'" she tells Us. "He can't keep his hands off me. To the point that it's like, enough!"

Are you kidding me? Well, I believe it was the 'old' car that pushed out three babies and I find it really unnerving that this sort of comment is written off with a laugh like 'Oh haha! Isn't it hilarious that my husband thought I was fat and decidedly unsexy post-pregnancy but now that I'm thin, I'm once again worthy of his love!'

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

09 November 2007

Inconceivable dilemma: Helena Bonham Carter and the myth of the 'older' mother

Actress Helena Bonham Carter discusses her struggles with infertility in the Sydney Morning Herald, a topic of conversation that most celebrity mothers tend to keep under wraps lest they damage their image of 'good' motherhood. Let's face it. Women who are infertile or who have difficulty falling pregnant are positioned culturally as 'failures' and in particular, 'older' women (especially over 40) are constantly represented as being 'selfish' for bringing a child into the world in a uterus nearing its use-by date.
For instance, in an article about pre-conception diets for 'older' mothers today, the author uses similarly negative language to explain how women of a certain age can better their chances of becoming mothers:

"Women are most fertile between 17 and 25. Over the age of 35, one woman in three will have trouble getting pregnant. It's not always the woman's fault – in 40 per cent of cases the finger can be pointed at the male. There are various reason why a woman finds it harder to conceive in these later years – there may be a structural problem with the reproductive organs, like blocked fallopian tubes, or a disease of the uterus like fibroids or endometriosis. Most cases, though, are due to a failure of ovulation – eggs just don't ripen and release when they're supposed to. This is usually because of a hormonal imbalance – at an older age, the body isn't producing enough sex hormones at the right time and in the right amounts to ovulate successfully."

As you can see from the words I've highlighted, the language of failure is invoked in talking about certain women's inability to fall pregnant. This is almost always tied to insufficient biology; as a woman ages her reproductive capacities are seen to degenerate. She is no longer valued as a 'producer' as the quote above suggests. This is in spite of the fact that 40% of causes of infertility are due to issues with the woman and 40% of causes are due to issues with a male. Yet, in an article of this nature, men's problematic reproductive capacities are never discussed. The quality of a woman's eggs are always the most important site for criticism.

Helena Bonham Carter,currently 8 months pregnant with her second child, utilised Clomid to jump start her fertility after trying for many months without a pregnancy at the age of 41. She says:

"I had a terrible reaction to it," she says. "Many people think it is the only thing that's going to make them ovulate but as it turned out I was ovulating anyway. It stressed me out beyond belief. Hormonally, I was all over the shop and I got really low emotionally. Lots of people don't have that reaction but on the internet I found a Clomid club, with people who react to the stuff discussing it online."

Fortunately, Carter fell pregnant before she had to take the next excruciating steps into IVF. I find it interesting that a number of countries including the Netherlands are trying to enforce preconception care particularly because so many 'older' women are having babies. This is seen as a way to stem the birth of babies with genetic 'defects'. Although there is good research suggesting a healthy lifestyle is beneficial in pregnancy for a number of reasons, the idea that 'older' women can only produce 'damaged' good lest they eat x number of servings of green vegetables, cut out all caffeine and lose heaps of weight is problematic. As I've said before, government have complained for ages that too many 'young' women in their late teens and early twenties are having babies out of wedlock and are too irresponsible to look after children. Yet, now that women are having babies when they are ready, they are threatened with the prospect of birthing deficient children and for being castigated as selfish for holding off on motherhood.

08 November 2007

Off and running?: pregnancy and exercise debates

If you hadn't noticed, I love Paula Radcliffe. As a distance runner myself, Paula has always been one of my very favourite female elite athletes. Now, given her recent New York marathon win, Paula has put pregnancy and exercise back in the headlines. As many pregnant women reading this know, being ‘fit’ is no longer perceived as being incompatible with motherhood and in fact, debates surrounding exercise engages women in a never-ending cycle of bodywork and self-surveillance. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) state that:

Becoming active and exercising at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week can benefit your health…Regular activity also helps keep you fit during pregnancy and may improve your ability to cope with the pain of labor. This will make it easier for you to get back in shape after the baby is born.

This commonsense approach has been increasingly endorsed by medical professionals after numerous studies investigating the benefits or risks involved in participating in strenuous exercise whilst pregnant. Even though the most recent medical research positions daily exercise as being a necessary component of a ‘healthy’ pregnancy and recommended daily amounts of exercise are closely aligned with those recommended for periods of non-pregnancy, the exercise in pregnancy debate is long-standing. In the existing literature, exercise during pregnancy pregnancy has not generally been associated with miscarriage although the research is largely inconsistent. In one of the largest studies of the link between exercise and pregnancy to date comprising a cohort of almost 93,000 Danish women revealed that certain types of exercise, particularly those marked as ‘high-impact’ were associated with miscarriage.

However, the recommendations are not as easily translated in consideration of the various activities women participate in during daily life. In many cases, a regimented physical exercise programme is much less likely to occur in pregnancy given the multiple demands and competing expectations of pregnant women’s behaviour. As the guidelines for pregnancy exercise have shifted and a number of clinical studies have demonstrated the positive benefits of moderate exercise, such public biomedical exhortations imply that pregnant women should exercise in order to have a healthy pregnancy. Fitness in pregnancy is situated within notions of 'risk', particularly with regard to how pregnant women use their bodies such that ‘fitness’ is increasingly becoming a part of a successful performance of pregnancy. In pregnancy, the attainment and maintenance of a ‘fit, risk-free, flexible, and responsible body’ is the mark of a ‘good’ mother.

Paula Radcliffe has been positioned as both an inspiration for new mums trying to 'bounce back' and also a detriment to mums who feel they could never live up to the training regimen Paula maintained throughout her pregnancy. However, I was pleased to see a great article in the New York Times today discussing the relative safety of running through pregnancy (albeit with some caution). For so long, women have been told that they cannot exercise vigorously in pregnancy for fear of raising their core temperature too high. However, given that pregnant women's blood volume increases at least 20% during pregnancy, some research has shown that this increase is what allows pregnant women to exercise safely and that body temperature should not be as much of a concern. The major concerns with exercising these days in pregnancy are questions of comfort as opposed to capability. Most importantly, numerous studies have shown that exercising in pregnancy is associated with a more positive body sense of self and body image.

In my study,my pregnant informants’ cited three primary motivations for exercising in pregnancy. First, a number of my informants cited body image, feelings of fatness and pressure to lose weight postnatally. The second motivation involves exercise as positively affecting psychological and physical well-being. Thirdly, my pregnant informants cited the need to be ‘fit’ for birth as a primary motivation for exercise. Often women cited a combination of the above three reasons.
How much did you exercise during pregnancy? I'm writing a chapter for my book on this very topic now, so I would love to hear from you.

05 November 2007

New dads are stressed out too

A new Australian study of expectant dads has shown that 18.6% of men show high levels of psychological distress during their partner's pregnancy. Whereas it is widely known that many women experience PND upon giving birth, men tend to feel anxiety during the pregnancy. The men in the study felt a loss of control, struggled with financial responsibilities and worried about being protectors. Many also grieved the loss of their independence and the prospect of having to share their partner's attention with a third person.

I would have to agree. In my study, most of the male partners I interviewed felt a great deal of pressure to provide for and support their pregnant partners. Many men also felt very detached from the pregnancy at least until the first ultrasound when they could actually 'see' that the pregnancy was 'real' or until they could feel some movement. I found it interesting that although many of the men I spoke to were anxious about fatherhood, they were not so anxious that they felt the need to read books about the pregnancy or parenting. I think a number of men were in such denial that their lives were about to change significantly, they sort of pretended the pregnancy didn't exist until they actually had to confront the prospect of fatherhood right before the due date.

Source: http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22701670-2,00.html

Paula Radcliffe wins NYC marathon

New mum Paula Radcliffe won the NYC marathon for the second time yesterday. Radcliffe has now won all seven of the marathons she has finished in her career - only at the 2004 Olympics in Athens did she drop out. She led for the entire race and says her daughter was her source of inspiration:

"I just kept repeating to myself 'I love you Isla' to keep my rhythm going."
Paula ran throughout her pregnancy last year, right up until the day Isla was born. She resumed training 12 days after the birth. Paula is one of the first elite athletes to train seriously through pregnancy. For the first five months, she ran twice a day, 75 minutes in the morning and 30 to 45 minutes in the evening. Then she cut back, running an hour in the morning and riding a stationary bike at night. She even did training regimens like hill repeats — repeatedly running up hills to build strength and endurance. She was closely monitored by her doctor.

02 November 2007

Mothers on the run: Paula Radcliffe proves herself

Paula Radcliffe has confirmed after a marathon break of 2 years since the birth of her first child, she will compete in the New York Marathon on 4 Nov. As I've posted before extensively, female athletes constantly have to prove themselves upon having children that they can be mothers and elite sportswomen without having to compromise. Only yesterday Lisa Leslie, the great American female basketballer returned to the court after a relatively short hiatus since birth and is back on track to play this season. Paula Radcliffe has been scrutinised with an eagle eye by sports commentators who argue that the woman who has recorded the five fastest marathon times in history with six victories from seven marathon starts, including the 2004 New York race will have an unremarkable 'comeback'.

I find it bizarre that so many people (men mostly) think women are disabled when they have children. If anything, pregnancy makes female athletes stronger because their bodies have time to rest for nine whole months as a result of significantly tapering training. Paula Radcliffe is one of the most remarkable female athletes of this generation. She probably places enough pressure on herself and she is no idiot; if she didn't think she was in peak physical condition to compete at one of the most competitive marathons in the world, she wouldn't be there.

The Guardian has a great article today featuring interviews with famous female runners talking about how their bodies changed for the better after baby. Finally, women athletes are allowed to speak and are not being spoken for: http://sport.guardian.co.uk/athletics/story/0,,2203931,00.html

01 November 2007

The baby is out of the bag (or shall I say Cavalli?)

J.Lo is pregnant. We knew this already.

But fashion designer Roberto Cavalli has actually uttered the words to People:

"Well Jennifer Lopez, at this moment, she requests something very special because she is waiting for the baby. It is so complicated because every week she is getting bigger."

What is it with fashion designers spilling the beans? Someone at Escada gave up the ghost when Naomi Watts wore a yellow dress o that Oscars that 'set off her most precious asset' and now J.Lo has been outed as well.

Perhaps celebs should save their cash and start shopping at Target to avoid the spread of their baby secrets through the loose lipped ingenues of high fashion.

Source: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20155838,00.html
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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.