Punishment for Pregnancy?

12.29.09 Why laws need to get out of our bodies


Pregnancy has always been a political issue. Politicians, doctors, religious and now military leaders (historically, by the way, almost always men with strong religious ties) have tried to bring some discipline to the messy, complicated and dangerous subject of “what to do about pregnancy.” They’ve tried to organize, confine, litigate, punish and reward women for it. Abortion rights, stem cell research, infertility coverage, etc. As long as they can nail a law to it, they can control it, right?

I was furious last week when Major General Tony Cucolo, in charge of U.S. troops in Iraq, stated he’d punish soldiers who got pregnant and therefore became non-deployable. He said he couldn’t afford to lose any soldiers due to controllable circumstances and punishment would range from reprimand to court martial. A few days later, after women’s rights activists, journalists and several senators pitched a fit, he “took it back.” Though four female soldiers and three male soldiers under his supervision had already been punished, he backpedaled. New plan - he had no intention of punishing pregnant soldiers anymore. Oops. Sorry. My mistake.

It’s been a big year for reproductive politics. Back in March, Obama rescinded the funding ban on stem cell research. The current health care bill is all in knots partly due to abortion rights and funding. Here’s my question: At what point in history will it become clear that pregnancy almost always has uncontrollable elements that are immune to logic and laws, religious preferences and military tactics. Just ask women like Deirdre who wrote heartbroken about her second miscarriage; wondering how she could make sure it never happens again. Or ask Maria who’s been trying to get pregnant for years and though “nothing’s obviously wrong,” just can’t. Just ask women surprised by a pregnancy even though they took every pill. My answer – it happens. Seriously, none of us are that much in control.

Once sperm meets egg, it’s a crapshoot what happens next. Cell by cell, moment by moment, change happens and quickly. It’s not something you can nail down with words and paper. There’s magic to it and sometimes tragedy that all the laws, wishing, hoping and praying can’t change. That’s why stem cells are so exciting – because of the promise and magic they contain. That’s why many celebrate Christmas – because a baby came from heaven through no earthly means (virgin conception but a physical birth?) and forever after blessed us with grace (and magic).

When you get right down to it, no matter how many people are involved in the matter, pregnancy will always be a deeply personal experience that’s ultimately between the woman and her baby. No matter how much support, punishment, pressure, joy or control other people involved in her life apply, the pregnancy belongs to the woman and her baby. It’s their bodies, their lives and their futures at stake. Since the woman is the only one of the two capable of making choices, she gets the deciding vote regarding what happens to them. Go ahead. Make some rules. They’re not going to change anything except women’s safety.

Why then do people in so many cultures and countries, feel the need to dictate how women make pregnancy decisions? Because, they’re afraid of what they can’t control – essentially women themselves. They don’t trust us to do what’s best for our selves and our children. They argue that without strict laws, women will get too many abortions, intentionally avoid getting pregnant or in the case of our recent military concerns, intentionally get pregnant. Seriously, gentlemen, if pregnancy were meant to happen only by your dictates, you’d be the ones getting pregnant. Since you’re not, how about if you step out.

Women don’t get abortions for kicks and giggles. They’re physically and psychologically painful. They get one because they need one. No matter how much contraception you use, sometimes you get pregnant anyway. Intentional pregnancies happen even when it’s inconvenient or inconsiderate. Even if you’re in the military.

Through science, medicine, education and evolution of women’s rights, we’ve taken as much control as we’re allowed of our reproductive lives. And yet, it’s still somewhat uncontrollable. Pregnancy is ultimately a woman thing and most women have enough sense and sensibility to know what to do. Once a guy’s half of the baby leaves his body, that baby is ultimately ours until we deliver. Most of the time we’ll share. Very few want to go through any stage of pregnancy alone. But guys, let go of your control issues about pregnancy. Trust us. We’re women. We know what we’re doing. We’ll take it from here.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to labornurse@fitpregnancy.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.