the pregnancy project
Gender and Pregnancy Practices

The Baby in the Body: Gender and Pregnancy Practices in the Contemporary United States

Home | Research activities | Papers | Resources | About me

Prepared for Anthropology/Sociology 332: Anthropology of Sex and Gender, taught by Dr. Molly Mullin, Albion College, Fall 2003.

Introduce my dissertation project, tentatively titled, The Baby in the Body: Pregnancy Practices as Kin and Person Making in the Contemporary United States: Purpose and methods
Talk briefly about Helena Ragones work on surrogate motherhood (assigned reading for class)
Connect back with my study and close with two examples from my research

Outline: Introduce my project
Project focused on pregnant women, in particular first-time expectant mothers
Purpose to examine how pregnant women become mothers and fetuses become persons and in particular, babies social recognition of these roles and relationships how relationships, in effect, make particular kinds of persons how relationships are not what you are, but what you do project examines pregnancy practices, such as eating/feeding, exercise/fitness, shopping, and what I call belly talk
Fieldwork in and around Ann Arbor a particularly interesting community to do research on pregnancy: number of young families, also active birth communities (medical and alternative)
Participant-observation at appointments with obstetricians and certified nurse-midwives who practice in local hospitals, also with direct-entry or traditional/lay midwives who attend home births ultrasound technicians childbirth education classes (including Lamaze and 3 other methods)
Also, attended baby showers, went shopping at BabiesRUs engaged in countless informal conversations with practitioners and parents-to-be, including just waiting on line at a local ice cream shop as many entry points as possible that might allow glimpses into pregnant womens experiences in everyday life one of the advantages and challenges of fieldwork at home: everything becomes data, including now my own experiences as a pregnant woman
Repeated, in-depth interviews with a core group of 15 pregnant women/couples all volunteers who were interested in having anthropologist document their pregnancies all might be described as middle-class most (but not all) college-educated professionals

Outline: Ragone on surrogate mothers
Major argument that surrogate motherhood and other such forms of what are called new reproductive technologies though one might expect them to radically rearrange traditional ideas about family, parenthood, and motherhood actually reaffirm them
Ragone describing how people involved in surrogate arrangements do cultural work of fitting new ways of making family into old ways of understanding what a family is
How women talk about their decisions to become surrogate mothers engaging in what really is paid work, but couch it in terms of labors of love and celebrations of their womanly capacities to bear and birth a child
Especially interested in the cultural work involved in naturalizing the roles of the surrogate and adoptive mothers separating pregnancy from motherhood

Outline: Connect to my project
Interesting comparison with my project for pregnant women in my study, their role and relationship might be considered already natural
Even for these women, however, being pregnant in itself does not make a mother recognition of cultural work involved in making a pregnant woman a mother also in making a fetus a baby
One way that women in my study accomplished this cultural work was through what I call belly talk
Briefly describe two examples then have a conversation about your questions and comments

I use the term belly talk to refer to speech and communications directed to an expected child in utero by expectant parties, such as parents and/or others interested in establishing relationships with or relating to the expected child. These parties also might include other children as siblings or other adults as relatives or neighbors of the expected child. In addition to talking and reading aloud, belly talk also includes playing music for and touching the pregnant womans belly and by extension, the expected child in utero. Equally important, the belly can talk back as expectant parents might interpret fetal kicks and other movements as communications from inside the womb.

So, are you bonding with the baby?

I try. Its funny because sometimes I dont forget that he or she is there, but its just, like, I dont feel it. So, I try to make a distinct effort to talk to him or her everyday. I heard I read somewhere that by 16 weeks, their hearing is [developing] As a mother, tell him or her stories or just talk to them because they can bond with your voice. Im, like, how do they know that? But I also figure it cant hurt

Here, Bridget, who was 18 weeks pregnant at the time, regards belly talk as a way for the baby to bond to her. However, I suggest that belly talk also bonds Bridget to the baby by identifying, defining, and thus creating a partner in the communication situation. If Bridget is a mother telling a story or just talking, then to whom does she speak? She refers to it, he or she, and them the collective he and she. Through her belly talk, she enacts a relationship between parent and child.

At 19 weeks pregnant, Dana tells me, Its still not like a baby to me yet. She further elaborates:

Its a little thing inside, thats all. When I first got pregnant, it was, I think, a little pea, and then a bean, and then a peanut [because] my brother would ask me, Well, how big is it? So, I would say, Its about the size of a pea, its the size of a bean, the size of a peanut. Then from peanut to now then I kind of didnt think about it a lot when I was waiting for the amnio and all that. I dont think of it as human.

Although Dana minimizes the realness of the baby through her choice of metaphors (pea, bean, peanut), she tells me that she also refers to the little thing inside by a name that she has given it. She tells me, I call it Thumper, actually, because it feels like a rabbit, a small rabbit thumping. Again, this might be an attempt to minimize the babys realness for her, but the image of a small rabbit thumping is an evocative and sentimental one that also naturalizes the little thing inside.

In fact, comparing the baby to the adorable and anthropomorphized cartoon character Thumper the best friend of Bambi in the classic Disney movie seems to indicate attachment to the baby because I also know that Dana feels strong emotional bonds to animals, as demonstrated in her relationship with her cats. During my first visit to her home, it seemed as if the carpet-covered play structure for the cats dominated the living room. She talks to them and expressed her concern to me about how they will adjust to the presence of the new baby when she arrives.

Dana tells me also that she talks to Thumper in fact, she became teary-eyed while recalling to me what she says, which includes comments on Thumpers activities. Thus, I see her belly talk as an act of care in that, at the very least, establishes a relationship of care between Dana and Thumper.