In Oklahoma, this month, Jamie Lynn Russell, 33, died in agony from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy in jail. Police, who were called to a hospital where Russell sought help for severe abdominal pain, charged her with drug possession after finding two prescription pills that did not belong to her.
Guardian report on ‘criminalisation of pregnancy’ in US institutions
When I turned up in tears at an unfamiliar doctor’s surgery, convinced (correctly, it turned out) that I was experiencing the start of a miscarriage, I have no idea what was in my bag. Probably the usual – money, phone, lipgloss, Prozac, half-eaten tubes of Fruit Pastilles. I leave stuff in there for months. There may even have been the remnants of my pre-pregnant life – Alka Seltzer, the odd cigarette butt, those stupid RU21 pills that were meant to prevent hangovers but never did. I didn’t live a pure life before I conceived, and I sort of muddled through afterwards. I’m relatively organised, on the grand scale of things, but clean-living would be an exaggeration. I don’t consider my body to have been the “perfect” environment for a fetus, just as I don’t consider my brain to be the “perfect” guardian for my body. It’s impossible to be perfect, no matter how high the stakes. Thankfully no one who treated me during my miscarriage was interested in this. A pregnancy cannot be a test of personal morality and restraint. If it was that easy to be balanced and pure without the stress of being pregnant, we’d all be balanced and pure all the time. I took SSRIs after the 15th week of all my pregnancies, and I worried. And then I worried about worrying. Worrying is bad for the fetus, apparently, so then I worried about it a little bit more. And then one pregnancy was a total failure, and the following two produced wonderful, complex, fully alive human beings, and I hadn’t done anything that was different. I’m not that powerful. My influence is not that great.
In a report published on Tuesday, researchers from the US organisation National Advocates for Pregnant Women found evidence of what they claim is the “criminalisation of pregnancy” across US institutions:
[R]esearchers […] identified 413 criminal and civil cases across 44 states involving the arrests, detentions and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s liberty between 1973 and 2005. NAWP said that it is aware of a further 250 cases since 2005. Both figures are likely to be underestimates, it said.[…] It found a wide range of cases in which pregnant women were arrested and detained not only if they ended a pregnancy or expressed an intention to end a pregnancy, but also after suffering unintentional pregnancy loss.
I find all this terrifying, and I don’t even live in the US, and I’m not even pregnant. But then again, where does it end? Will pre-pregnancy become a condition subject, if not to legislation, then to constant censure and disapproval? Perhaps it already is. After all, anyone capable of conceiving has tremendous power over the next generation, or so it seems to some.
I’ve often wished pregnant women were as powerful as the unpleasant binding together medical and moral rhetoric suggest. If avoiding a miscarriage were easy, I’d have done it, and so would billions of other women. If causing a miscarriage were a simple task, there’d be no need for abortion rights battles. Just eat some Brie, drink a few strong coffees, have a fag. It doesn’t work like that. One of the most upsetting things about trying to “hold onto” a pregnancy is that there’s very little active holding you can do. It’s just waiting. As for all the things women do which “lead to” disorders suffered by those who make it out of the potential chamber of horrors that is the womb, so often the pathway is unclear and speculative, even if the guilt is real.
Today’s Huffington Post includes a piece entitled The Beautiful and Efficient Anatomy of Pregnancy, in which Alexander Tsiaras, founder of a company called the VisualMD, shares images of fetal development plus his own vision of what pregnancy is – a miracle, obviously, but also the starting point of conditions such as metabolic syndrome:
Seeing overweight pregnant women with metabolic syndrome is not uncommon. Suddenly, our cherished image of the untainted and pristine embryo in the womb has to be redefined. More and more research is pointing to the fact that embryos are responding to the higher levels of sugars and insulin in the fetal environment; fetal beta cells are respond, making these babies more prone to metabolic disorders themselves as they grow up. In my earlier days, I marveled at the symbiotic relationship that the developing child and mother shared. I saw only unbridled potential… the mother as a magnificent mobile heart/lung/immunology protector. Now I view pregnancy not as a perfectly loving mobile spa, but rather, as a fragile environment, one that must be kept healthy at all costs if a developing fetus is ever to be allowed to experience the delicate imperative of each of its genes.
Poor Alex – how the women, once perfect protectors, have let him down with their propensity to not be healthy “at all costs”. Yet how strange of him to come up with dehumanising metaphors to remind us of the value of human life. The welfare of the precious fetus hangs in the balance; the pregnant woman is no longer a person but a source of threat.
Not all women can become pregnant, and a mother is no less a mother for not having given birth. All the same, it never ceases to amaze me how little credit those who claim to value life give to those who play such a vital part in creating it. Pregnant women are viewed as faulty machines, and their fault lies in their propensity to remain human despite their higher calling. Perhaps one day, if enough control can be gained over the pregnant and pre-pregnant, we’ll be able to breed this humanity out of the next generation.