When pregnancy does not lead to a child
When pregnancy is entangled with childbearing, my child is also their child; in miscarriage, my loss is my own.
Image: Black, white and grey line drawing of the author (by the author) with my arm over my head lying in bed partially under bedcovers (from the graphic novel part of The Pregnancy ≠ Childbearing Project, p. 125).
Women suffer the of loss of a pregnancy in a way that can never ‘be expected.’ To this extent, we are more often than not compelled to ‘move on,’ to function and serve the social and political demands of our gender. The Pregnancy ≠ Childbearing Project is an effort to make suspicious and subvert the markers of pregnant embodiment in an effort to speak for what has remained ‘unspoken’ in the brute force of pregnancy loss. The privation of pregnancy loss has been a site exploited, rendered negligible and meaningless, because, I would argue, there is no translation for the fact that, despite all the labor and subjection, there is no child.
All pregnancy is paradoxical and yet is an exceptional state of embodiment; it has been misunderstood by the model of selfhood and self-knowledge that only can speak of meaningful pregnancy as either wanted or unwanted. I would argue that pregnancy has been domesticated with this wanted/unwanted dichotomy. With my own narrative as an allegory,[i] I found myself in a condition of existential subjection so that once pregnant whenever I had been pregnant, there was no ‘escaping’ the paradox and the exception. I also found that I could not ‘get over it’ and try again when I could no longer sustain the pregnancy; what I’ve since accounted for through analyzing ableism[ii] and honoring the griefwork[iii] that follows unspeakable loss.
Another sign of this domestication is in the silent response to miscarriage. No one knows what to say. In miscarriage, I can no longer identify myself as pregnant, I cannot identify myself as mother, I cannot identify my grief as it relates to death in an ordinary sense, and I can no longer have any expectation. This is silence that transfers into the everyday interpretation of miscarriage and adds another dimension of oppression and labor to the work of pregnant embodiment. Phenomenologically, I speak to these facets of this exceptional situation of pregnancy as one that is ‘in between’ and, unfortunately, nowhere, whether a pregnancy is wanted or unwanted, complete or incomplete, or produces a healthy child in the end.[iv]
As long as the meaning of pregnant embodiment is easily conjoined with ‘having a baby,’ it erases the place of this loss – and not that it is a loss to be contained; rather, this loss may be better recognized as a non-relational, non-economic yet intelligible phenomenon. Without this liberation of the meaning of pregnancy from its everyday expectations, miscarriage will remain contentless; it will remain a phenomenon of incompleteness and failure that does not register meaning in a worlded sense. Here, with this project, I hope to have opened the possibility that all pregnancy can resemble this ‘failure’ in the expectation, bring with it the possibility of miscarriage in a meaningful way. The intent of the project is to found a revised (feminist and phenomenological) point of solidarity amongst women and in resistance to all the ways in which ‘pro-life’-oriented discourses misogynistically overwrite and undermine the meaning of pregnant embodiment from conception to birth – as if the only significance for pregnancy lies in a fully de-maternalized, ‘productive’ outcome: “a baby to be born.”
[i] This is Part Two of the Project: “An Interlude on Philosophical Allegory.”
[ii] See my forthcoming book, Addressing Ableism: Philosophical Meditations through Disability Studies (Lexington Books).
[iii] This is in reference to Part Four of the Project: “Griefwork: How Do You Get Over What You Cannot Get Over?”
[iv] This is the thesis of Part Three of the Project: “A Phenomenological Reading of Miscarriage.”
The Pregnancy ≠ Childbearing Project is part of the RLI focus on Gender
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