“It is assumed that our bodies will ‘know,’ even if we don’t, what pregnancy is like and what it is for; that we are, on some cellular level, wise, or even keen on the reproductive game.”
Anne Enright skeptically writes in Making Babies about the innate sense mother’s are presumed to have about pregnancy, bodies and parenting. If it were true that this sense exists, and I’ll say right now that I have only the slightest inkling of that inborn faculty, then why are there so many texts written about the subject? Why does the What to Expect conglomerate have its own movie? Why are there endless online discussion boards that contradict internally and whose sheer length render them useless? Aside from the obvious profit, I think the answer lies in a real need, one that combats the idea of a natural knowledge.
Before I go any further I want to assure everyone that I don’t deny the existence of a nurturing instinct. Lots of women find they know exactly what they’re doing as soon as that sneaky sperm weasels its way into the egg. I for one was astounded by the confidence with which I held my daughter on her first day in the world. But the notion that I should know my body, my daughter and what to do with both of them is laughable to me. It applies unimaginable pressure.
Despite my reticence towards mantras, I have one: “If cave-ladies can do it, so can I.” My relationship with the mantra is complicated, largely because of my tendency to over think it, rendering it useless. While it has occasionally helped with some of my more insurmountable anxieties, more often than not it leads to a series of questions. What did cave-ladies know about pregnancy and motherhood? At what point did a cave-lady even realize she was pregnant? Was it when the urge to push became undeniable? Terrifying. I imagine the infant mortality rate among cave-babies was significantly higher than it is among their twenty-first century counterparts. It likely took a lot of trial and error to successfully raise a child to fifteen and cave-mums would likely benefit from some warning regarding what to expect. While suggestions of what music to play to a fetus are useless to the average neanderthal, I’m sure they would have appreciated some instruction about labour and delivery.
As much as Heidi Murkoff’s patronizing tone annoys me, I needed her books. Although I forgot everything I’d read as soon as I felt Joanie’s wriggling, slimy body for the first time, I’m thankful that I am not a cave-person, and that I can refer to a vast library of resources for advice about baby sign language, poop taxonomy, and chapped nipples. I have no innate sense when it comes to the aforementioned topics and I challenge anyone who implies that I should.
Note: If you’re like me and you don’t feel like being placated by TLC (the channel not the girl group. If T-Boz, Chilli and Left-Eye want to placate me they’re welcome to) or Heidi Murkoff or Vicki Lovine, then I recommend Anne Enright’s Making Babies. Enright treats her readers like the intelligent, mature and thoughtful people that they are. Her book is an island of reality in a sea of schmaltz.