An impassioned and irreverent argument for dismantling our cultural narratives around pregnancy.
The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, a rate that is increasing, even as infant mortality rates decrease. Meanwhile, the right-wing assault on reproductive rights and bodily autonomy has also escalated. We can already glimpse a reality where embryos and fetuses have more rights than the people gestating them, and even women who aren’t pregnant are seen first and foremost as potential incubators.
In Belabored, journalist Lyz Lenz lays bare the misogynistic logic of U.S. cultural narratives about pregnancy, tracing them back to our murky, potent cultural soup of myths, from the religious to the historical. In the present she details, with her trademark blend of wit, snark, and raw intimacy, how sexist assumptions inform our expectations for pregnant people, whether we’re policing them, asking them to make sacrifices with dubious or disproven benefits, or putting them up on a pedestal in an “Earth mother” role. Throughout, she reflects on her own experiences of being seen as alternately a vessel or a goddess–but hardly ever as herself–while carrying each of her two children.
Belabored is an urgent call for us to embrace new narratives around pregnancy and the choice whether or not to have children, emphasizing wholeness and agency, and to reflect those values in our laws, medicine, and interactions with each other.
Local author alert: Lyz Lenz lives up the road from me. Well, up the interstate. Welcome to Iowa. And I read a lot of her articles in the Gazette and other media. I really liked her previous book God Land so was looking forward to her examination of pregnancy and motherhood in America.
Belabored is really well-written. Lenz uses a combination of memoir and reportage to chronicle the many ways the deck is stacked against pregnant people in America. She covers the whole gestation, starting from perceived virginity or sexual availability of women through pregnancy and then post-pregnancy (the “fourth trimester”) as well as pregnancy loss. Lenz covered the historical aspects really well. She also made a real effort to cover racial disparities – Black women in American suffer from many times higher rates of complications and poor outcomes than white women – and LGBTQ+ issues in pregnancy and parenthood, since cis women are not the only uterus-owners who might carry a pregnancy (Lenz acknowledges the lack of inclusive language around pregnancy and motherhood as well).
Lenz’s own memoir of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood is woven throughout this book, so the book is structured somewhat linearly around her own life. She’s given birth to two children, so writes from that experience, but also suffered a miscarriage and recounts how she is now working through the emotional fallout of a sexual assault in college. [Brief content warning: Lenz doesn’t pull her punches; if pregnancy loss, sexual assault, etc. are hard topics for you then make sure you take care of yourself while reading this book.] She tells her own story in a very powerful way. However, I thought that perhaps there could have been a stronger conclusion or presentation of issues facing pregnant people, parents, and etc to tie everything together. The research she did was very good, so her information is solid. (This might just be the scientist background talking.)
Belabored is out today!
Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via NetGalley.