Too Posh to Push

Baby or Body: Are Media Images Turning Women Away From Pregnancy?

News | Anna Claessen | November 2006

In the crush of today’s beauty culture, many women are obsessed with looking good – and are therefore thinking twice about having a baby. After all, having a baby changes your body as well as your life, as we get reminded continuously in the media. And negative media images about getting pregnant are increasingly thought to contribute to young women’s negative view of pregnancy.

Hit TV series like Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls have all taken on the issue of pregnancy and not always in a good way.

In Grey’s Anatomy, Christina, a Korean who doesn’t "do" emotion, finds out she’s pregnant, and is going to have an abortion without telling the guy (who happens to be one of the doctors at the hospital). After talking to a pregnant woman, she changes her mind. But unfortunately she collapses and is diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy that has to be surgically terminated.

Message: Pregnancy is dangerous, even when you want it.

In Gilmore Girls, Lorelai, who had a baby at sixteen, now at 38 is afraid she is pregnant again. She talks to her daughter, who is her best friend, and her daughter points out that Lorelai is with the man she loves. So why should pregnancy be a bad thing?

But to Lorelai, it’s not that simple: "I love Luke, but now is not the time."

Message: There’s no good time.

In Sex and the City, Miranda, a single lawyer, gets pregnant by her former boyfriend Steve. She reacts very negatively to the news, "meet me on the corner of 23rd and I’m in hell," and wants an abortion.

No time to take care of a baby, which seems reasonable since she is a partner in a law firm:

"I barely had time to schedule this abortion," she says. After talking to her women friends, it turns out Samantha has had two abortions and Carrie one, this last at the age of 22 after a one-night-stand.

But her married friend Charlotte has been unable to have a baby in spite of years of trying. "It happened against all odds," Miranda reflects. In the end she has the baby and later gets back together with the father of the child.

Message: All women are scared and at best, the whole issue turns everybody’s lives upside down.

In most of these examples, "timing" comes up as an excuse for the bad reaction to pregnancy. It never seems like the right time to have a baby. Everyone seems to be looking for fairytales, for the right guy and the perfect circumstances.

So even if these women have finally found the love of their lives and both the woman and the man have stable jobs, decent incomes and a supportive family, they are still unsure. And when they finally decide they do want a baby, they probably won’t be able to have one. If you wait for the "right" time, you might end up being too old.

Whatever happens, it’s fraught with uncertainty and pain. In Desperate Housewives, Gabrielle gets pregnant after her husband replaces her birth control pills with a placebo. She freaks out. A former model whose life is all about beauty, she does not want to have the baby at all – until she feels it kick inside her tummy.

Gabrielle is not alone in thinking about the "look" factor when having a baby. Many women report not wanting to have babies because of the damage it will do to their bodies.

An American paper published in the June issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, a publication of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, found a "substantial increase (in C-sections) from 27.6 percent to 29.1 percent in 2004."

A study released in October by the UK polling organization Experian reported that  83% of women feel pressured to get back to pre-pregnancy perfection after the birth of a child and a quarter think they should manage it within 3 months, in spite of doctors’ view that it takes at least nine.

Our society’s obsession with thinness contributes to some women’s hatred of their pregnant bodies. It has taught women to long for a body that is long and lean, no matter what their natural shape, and eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are often the result.

So the latest trend is the caesarian section. Hollywood stars like Britney Spears, Madonna, Victoria Beckham, Claudia Schiffer and Elizabeth Hurley, are all reported to have delivered their babies by c-section – and a month early, to avoid stretch marks.

Not surprisingly, premature delivery is not always appropriate and can be harmful to the baby. Risks to the mother include infection, increased blood loss, respiratory complications and a longer hospital stay and recovery time. Risks to the baby include premature birth, breathing problems and fetal injury.

Publications like The Guardian and Time magazine have nicknamed the movement "Too Posh to Push," after former Spice Girl singer Victoria Beckham who has insisted she had her C-sections under doctors’ orders.

Yet it seems hardly surprising that women whose jobs rely on their looks – often regardless of profession – do such things.

Kelly Bild, a clinical psychologist explains that today’s women are under a huge amount of pressure to appear successful.

"We have to be good at our jobs, good wives and good at being pregnant," Bild wrote on the website Woman24. "So if you happen to be one of those women, who look awful during pregnancy, you feel like a failure. Which is ridiculous because how pregnancy affects your body is really the luck of the draw."

While Christina, Lorelai and Miranda are only characters, their scripted behavior in these enormously popular shows suggests that pregnancy has gotten a bad reputation, that it doesn’t seem to fit into the lives of modern women anymore.

The question is, what can be done about it?

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