The Daily Mail is kindly requesting that, next time you review your list of Women We All Should Hate, you add model Miranda Kerr. It is, on the face of it, a perfectly reasonable request. She’s really, really mind-blowingly annoying.
In an interview for Harper’s Bazaar, Kerr claimed she chose not to have an epidural when giving birth to her son because she did not want “a drugged-up baby”:
Miranda explained: ‘I had made a decision I wanted to do it naturally. So I was kind of upset when the doctor said I had to be induced because there wasn’t enough liquid around the baby.
‘She was like, “most people who get induced have the epidural. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t”. And I’m like, “I made a plan. I am determined to do this without pain medication.’
Concerned about the negative implications it might have on her son, whose father is Orlando Bloom, she told the glossy: ‘I wanted to give him the best possible start in life I could.’
If you are reading this and you, regardless of whether or not you were induced, succumbed to the temptations of an epidural, I hope you are feeling suitably crap when comparing yourself to Miranda. It’s not enough that you’re not a gorgeous model. Nor even that the father of your baby is not Orlando Bloom. You are weak. You couldn’t take the pain (not that it would in fact have made any difference to your baby. You wimped out and therefore you suck).
Of course, I’ve never had an epidural in my life. I’m proper hardcore, me. And besides, if a “drugged-up baby” is what you want, there are far more effective ways of getting one than having a medical procedure that does not involve any of the medication entering the bloodstream of the infant. You could, for instance, take SSRIs throughout pregnancy; that’s unlikely to cause harm, but it’s not 100% risk-free. Imagine how bad you’d feel if you did that and something did go wrong! I don’t even need to imagine – that’s what I actually did!
I took SSRIs during both my pregnancies and neither of my children have had 100% healthy infancies. My eldest suffered hearing and speech problems, while my youngest had difficulties breathing. Obviously I have moments when I ask myself whether this is all my fault, and if not, whether something even worse, something that is all my fault, lies in wait. But it is pointless wondering; I made the choice to manage depression during pregnancy in a particular way, and I can’t go back on it. Besides, I don’t know what might have happened had I made a different decision.
The type of depression I suffered while pregnant was never, I believe, life-threatening. Perhaps if it had been – or if I had known for sure that, without medication, it would have been – that would make my decision to take SSRIs feel less uncomfortable. But still, there is a limit to how much guilt I feel. Pregnant women remain functioning, thinking, feeling human beings. They need to be able to take decisions on how to manage their own lives and their own pain, regardless of whether it is physical or mental. The fetishisation of the brave, noble mother-to-be, willing to go through agonies to protect her future child, is powerful, but it’s also deeply harmful. Women such as Miranda Kerr may present themselves as heroic, but the rest of us need to be able to ask for help, and to get it.
It’s worth setting this fetishisation of self-sacrificing motherhood before it’s even started against the prosecution of Bei Bei Shuai, the woman in Indiana currently being charged with feticide and murder following the death of her baby girl, born shortly after Bei Bei attempted suicide with rat poisoning. In a world in which women who die to save those not yet born are elevated to saintly status, while those who pointlessly refuse pain relief during labour are permitted to annoy the hell out of the rest of us, Bei Bei has failed on an epic scale. Unable to cope not with a physical disease, not with labour, but with simply being alive, Bei Bei sought to kill herself and, surprisingly enough, lacked the superhuman strength required to prioritise the wellbeing of the fetus she was carrying. According to those prosecuting her, she should not have been permitted to act as she did; other people can attempt suicide – it is not illegal in the state of Indiana – just not pregnant women.
I cannot imagine the level of unhappiness a person is experiencing when he or she attempts suicide. Nor can I imagine the level of cruelty it takes to prosecute a person for doing so while pregnant (and thereby threaten them with up to 45 years in prison [Bei Bei is 35]). The prosecution has been linked to various moves by anti-choicers to reinforce the idea of personhood for fetuses, moves which limit the rights of pregnant woman to make the same choices as those who are not pregnant. I cannot, however, believe that most people who oppose abortion would support this. It is too horrific and vindictive on a personal level, while on a broader scale it compromises the status of all pregnant women as free human beings (denying us even the freedom to be desperately, suicidally unhappy – and what a pitiful freedom that is).
It is easy to be annoyed at women who project an image of a perfect, self-sacrificing pregnancy and labour, easier still to feel guilt and frustration at ourselves for not measuring up. Nevertheless, if women such as Bei Bei deserve to be punished, then so too do women like me. So too does anyone who’s ever been pregnant and unhappy and tried to ease their own pain. Or perhaps none of us deserve to be held to account for being human. Perhaps one day, if anti-choice extremists and Daily Mail writers alike took a genuine interest in what “real” women feel, we wouldn’t be in this situation.