a bird and a bottle

Does anyone else find this image disturbing?
November 28, 2006, 9:52 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, news


Does this image from today’s New York Times article about pre-pregnancy make anyone else a little uncomfortable? Why are the egg-warmer, er, I mean women’s hands outstretched like that? Whom or what is she resisting? And why is the fetus an egg? Does that make the woman just an egg-warmer? The illustration seems to take the whole women as incubators thing a little too literally, no?

Maybe this image bugs me in part because of the article in which it was featured. The Times reports that a new Centers for Disease Control study says that all women of reproductive age should be treated as “pre-pregnant.” (In truth, the study has been kicking around since the summer, but I guess there was a hole to fill in today’s Science section.)

This treatment of women as always one sperm wiggle away from pregnancy is necessary, says the report, because several American health problems, including obesity, nicotine addiction, lack of proper nutrition, and a host of others contribute to the United States’s high mortality rate (as compared to other First World nations). It makes sense to me that couples hoping to become pregnant would want to provide the best possible environment (bodily and otherwise) for the fetus. But it strikes me that this study (and the articles reporting on it) miss the point: the reason that American infant mortality rates and low birthweight rates are so high is not because American women are taking enough care of themselves, but because the American healthcare system isn’t taking good enough care of women.

Here’s what I mean:

(this is my writing, just indented because I couldn’t get the bullet points to work)

As the Times article notes, half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Because of this, many women don’t prepare for pregnancy in the ways that the government believes they should (quitting smoking, losing weight, taking Folic Acid and other vitamins). But what I would like to know is: how many of these women who did not plan their pregnancies became pregnant because of trouble gaining access to birth control (whether because socio-cultural, literal physical access, or financial obstacles)? How many of these women would have liked to have been on the birth control pill but could not be because their insurance does not cover it and the local clinic that used to provide birth control through Title X funding can’t keep its doors open because Title X funding has been stagnant for many years?

    If the government thinks that women’s health is so important, why is prenatal care covered for indigent women only through child health insurance plans that treat the fetus as the patient? Why does the federal government fund crisis pregnancy centers that try to prevent women from securing the birth control and other reproductive healthcare that they want?

    Really, I could go on and on. Why doesn’t the study warn men that they should stop smoking and drinking, as their alcohol use has been proven to cause fetal harm? If maternal and fetal health are of primary concern, why doesn’t the report suggest spending less to prosecute and incarcerate pregnant women and mothers who use drugs and more on treatment that can ensure their health and that of their fetuses and children?

    There are so many questions, but the CDC doesn’t care to provide any satisfying answers.


    7 Comments so far
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    At first I thought you were taking the Times illustration too literally. Now I think that the CDC is. It’s just shameful how politicized women’s health has become. But this article might also point to an opportunity: by focusing on pre-conception care, one is forced to switch the emphasis (at least in part) from the fetus to the mother. This would require, for example, government medical aid to the mother, as opposed to merely through the fetus – which would open to the door to a more comprehensive plan that could include (dare we say it?) birth control. In short, pre-conception care could be a blessing in disguise, or, like our beloved picture, a silver egg wrapped in an antiquated model of femininity.

    Comment by professorplum

    I think you’re right that there is an opportunity to focus on real issues in women’s health in this idea of pre-conception care. But I’m not sure that pre-conception care really allows us to switch our focus at all from the fetus to the mother. A woman still only gets care in relation to the fact that she may one day carry a fetus and that she therefore must do whatever seh can to make sure her womb will be as good an environment as possible for that fetus. An approach that is really concerned about women’s health would ensure that there is ample Title X funding so that women can get the reproductive healthcare they need, whether they are pre-pregnant, pregnant, never pregnant, infertile, etc., but would also provide full healthcare for women in an environment that is totally divorced from women’s ability to bear children. Does that make any sense? I might be talking myself in circles at this point….

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