I cannot believe I am saying this. I, who wrote two whole theses on the eroticisms of mothering; I, who am entranced by the sexual potential of breastfeeding and vaginal birth; I, who so strongly identify with the erotic maternal that I have asked lovers to call me Mummy—I feel excessively uncomfortable in my slowly swelling body. It’s not that I don’t like how I look. Unlike many pregnant people, I am not afraid of more weight on my thighs, or an increasing waistline. On the contrary, I think I look damn hot. I constantly eye up my reflection as I walk past shop windows. I purposely wear tight revealing clothing to show off my growing bump. However ever since I started showing I’ve been getting waves of what can best be described as a ‘yukky feeling’. I feel physically violated at least ten to fifteen times a day. It hits me in a wave, and it’s completely unpredictable. I’ll be standing in the supermarket line, or having a shower, when suddenly I’ll feel like someone has walked up to me in the street and shoved their fingers in my knickers.
When I first started noticing the baby moving inside me I was about 17 weeks pregnant. It felt like someone gently caressing me from within. It made my skin crawl. I’d never met this person, but here they were touching me intimately, without my consent. And from this point my discomfort got progressively worse. To the best of my knowledge I have no history of sexual assault. I’ve examined this closely over the last few weeks and I don’t believe that I’m experiencing a flashback or repressed memories of abuse (though it’s common for people with a rape or sexual assault history to be badly triggered either during pregnancy or even during the birth itself). Because the feelings started when I started showing, I have concluded that the violation is not an echo of the past, but rather a current event. I’m being violated right here, right now, every single day. First by my baby, and now by the general public.
A new friend pointed out that she’d felt something similar when she started going through puberty. “It was like my body had changed and I hadn’t caught up yet, but everyone else was noticing, and it made me uncomfortable.” This is probably the best comparison I’ve been able to come up with. I’ve also heard trans friends talk about their experiences of pregnancy with some similarities: for one, the hyperfemininity of pregnancy almost feeling like a betrayal to their gender identity, and for another, the horror of their pregnant bodies becoming public property, to be touched and discussed by friends and strangers alike. I’m not asking people to stop talking about my pregnancy, mind you. Ignoring my giant bump would be disappointing and also impossible, and it’s all I can talk about myself. But the problem is, every single person who encounters me now knows something intimate about me. They know what is happening deep inside my body. They have opinions about my body (which they often express freely). They feel as though they know my body, and often, unfortunately, they actually do—better than I currently know myself. My body is the topic of a discussion which is out of my control—everyone knows a secret about me that often I don’t even know, and it doesn’t feel good.
But it’s more than this. The yukky feeling is also sexual, like sexual violation, or an unwelcome sexual intimacy. And as I try and make sense of this, I find that I keep returning to my PhD thesis. My main argument focused on how society demands that the mother** become asexual, surrendering her body to the carrying and nurturing of her child. I fought fiercely against this absurd division of the sexual and the maternal, arguing that the two could (and should) be combined in a double-whammy of amazing hotness. However now I’m up the duff myself I’m starting to question whether I was right. Don’t get me wrong—I’m totally into the idea of fetishising my new body, but only when it’s on my terms. And I’m now realising that the division of the sexual and the maternal, at least in part, sometimes comes not from social pressures but from the pregnant person themselves. So far in my pregnancy I’ve had my moments of feeling slutty and downright horny, but overall I’ve felt protective of my body and insular in my sexuality. It’s possible this is just a temporary thing that will pass soon after the birth, which is one of the reasons I am not yet ready to declare my entire thesis incorrect. However I have to admit that I now understand that at times a pregnant person may, with good reason, want to limit or alter or put boundaries on their sexuality.
Perhaps I would feel differently about sex right now if I had a loving sexual partner to explore my new body with. But I don’t. I do still love sex, however, and I do still want to have it. With other people, preferably, and not just myself. I’m just caught in a bit of a conundrum. I don’t want my lovers to call me Mummy anymore. It’s too close to reality, and reality kills fantasy. I don’t want my child to be mentioned in the bedroom, but I do want my belly to be a part of my sexual play. I do want people to eye up my new belly, but I don’t want them to talk about what’s inside it. It’s all a bit of a headfuck. I don’t want to be scooped out of the ‘fuckable’ box and plonked down into the ‘unfuckable/virgin Mother Mary’ box. But at the same time I do. Confused? So am I. I’m pissed off that men still wolf whistle me in the street. It turns out that they wholeheartedly agree with my argument that a woman can be both sexual and maternal at the same time. But on the whole the queer community oddly backs up my original thesis that sex and motherhood don’t mix. With the people I actually want to fuck, I feel as though I’ve already been put high up on the ‘do not touch’ shelf. I’ve had shags since I’ve been pregnant, but I’ve also had cold shoulders, like that time on Tinder recently when a woman who had eagerly agreed to meet up for a fuck suddenly stopped replying once I told her that I was four months pregnant. But at least it’s a good way to weed out the bad sex. If someone can’t see the hot potential in a tight swollen belly and engorged breasts, then they’re probably not worth getting naked for.
* If you want to read the thesis you can download a copy for free from the UNSW Library website:
**I usually avoid using gendered language in this blog, to be inclusive of all the non-female-identifying people who also give birth, but here I need to talk specifically about the way that the female body is tied up in sexism and constrained by gendered social expectations and norms.