It’s hard being pregnant. I’m almost 10 weeks in and the first-trimester frack0ver is in full force. I have all the verve and animus of a wet noodle. This nausea that some optimistic jerk originally labeled ”morning sickness” lasts most of the day with occasional oasis moments which give me just enough strength to prepare a meal or play with Isabel. It’s a sucky, suck-fest of suck.
And it gets me thinking about the issue of abortion again, not because I’m going to have one, but because thinking, sleeping and vegging on the couch while Isabel watches Dora the Explorer’s Quinceañera Party are my new pastimes right now. (Who knew Dora was like crack for toddlers?) .
Being pregnant makes me feel like my body is not in my control. The foods and drinks that used to give me immense pleasure such as coffee, bacon, certain vegetables and fruits are now revolting. My olfactory sense, which guides me through meal preparation and which lifts my spirit with the scent of rain, sea, brewing coffee and my husband´s soap, is now a source of torture. I´m Borges´ Funes, except with smell instead of memory. There are no soft scents; rather every single one is intense and bracing. My body is getting larger and its already large. I´m gaining weight and I´m already overweight. I can´t go on a diet or exercise too vigorously because it will harm the baby.
This is normal pregnancy, which every expecting woman goes through, even the Blessed Virgin, I’m sure. And while Mary and I both have this odd habit of prenatal travel, at least mine is on a heated BC ferry with free wifi access and not a donkey–could you imagine how many pee stops a donkey riding pregnant woman would have to make between Nazareth and Bethlehem?
Pregnancy in ideal circumstances –anticipated and desired by a married couple open to life– feels like laying in a river-bed while the river pushes rocks, stones, sand and everything over and through you. Pregnancy acts upon you, re-aligning everything, shifting your center of gravity, drawing things in and expelling things out in ways impossible to plan for or expect. Unplanned or unexpected pregnancy magnifies this sense of passivity where it can feel like a catastrophic loss of agency. You have no control over what is now re-orienting everything in your life. Even as a married Catholic woman who knows that sex and babies go together, the feeling of passivity is sometimes keen and painful.
I am all too aware of the obsession with “body autonomy” in the feminist cause. According to feminists, the patriarchy saw the female body as something to be placed under the authority of husbands or fathers. Women were always an object, never a subject, a passive terrain to be fertilized by male agency, not a human being capable of making decisions. Feminists believed it wrong for a woman to “be defined by her biology”. “Biology” rather had to submit to the woman’s will. Pregnancy, and that state of passivity it brings about, is a direct challenge to that “control”, a reason why it must be circumscribed by hyper control mechanisms: contraception, to prevent it from happening without super-explicit signed and notarized and consent, abortion as a failsafe when contraception fails and as a second-line of defense in cases of rape. These layers supposedly ensure that women have complete control even of their own passivity.
Truly, humans are embodied beings, thus everyone, both men and women, is “defined by biology”. If a man breaks both legs, no matter how much he wants to dance or play soccer, he simply is not able to do so. The feminist’s desire to not be “defined by biology” seems to be an echo of a much older heresy, Gnosticism, the belief that the body and the flesh are “prisons” which entrap the “spirit” and from which the spirit must be liberated. Thus the pregnant woman and the new mother is encouraged to not allow biological motherhood to frame her in any way. She must work outside the home even though her maternal instinct calls her there. She must lose all of her pregnancy weight so she can fit into the same clothes as before. She must be a yummy mummy. She must be able to travel, to go to parties and do all the things she used to before motherhood. The biological imperatives attendant on motherhood must be surpressed for a “higher” role such as earning a salary or the pursuit of her own pleasure.
Into a woman’s passive pregnant state, that dark, frightening place where solid ground is shifting, unformed and unpredictable the devil whispers “take back control” “undo this thing”. Control is the temptation, a way to halt the biological vortex and drive it back. The pro-abortion feminist is Dr. Faustus, seeking to bend nature itself to her will, to suspend her laws, and reverse time. With a magic pill she can sever the cause and effect law with which nature links sex and the generation of human life.
And like in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus there is a price to be paid once the contract is signed. Divine homeostasis. To drive against the body sickens it. Breast cancer rates and infertility have increased exponentially since contraception and abortion became widespread. Post-abortive women experience both physical and emotional trauma, nightmares, depression and thoughts of suicide. Similarly, the culture becomes sickened when its people are all on the Faustian payroll, seeking to alter and control the Natural Law inscribed on our bones and members.
To be Catholic is not to run from passivity, or from the body. Catholicism praises a certain active passivity. All are called to wait on God and submit to His will, to submit to all states in life, and at the same time we are called to act in accordance with those states. We are called to be aware of choices and consequences while being docile in circumstances beyond our control. To neither flee from suffering nor to be resigned to it. Here we avoid the Faustian traps laid out for us, and our passivity is turned into glory. We become more ourselves, freed when we let go.