Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A book by an author with the same initials as you
Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women, by Lyz Lenz
From the title, I expected the book to be a polemic. And it was, in part, but it was also part memoir, sharing some of her own most vulnerable moments around pregnancy, miscarriage, and motherhood.
The book examines many ways that our culture treats women as if our bodies aren't really ours, starting with the fetishizing of virginity. Lenz had a "purity" ring as a teen, as a reminder that her body was supposed to belong to her future husband. She describes an incident in college when she got drunk at a party, and wasn't sure afterwards if she'd been raped. She didn't tell her future husband about it, guessing (correctly, he made clear) that he wouldn't marry her if she didn't fit the virgin ideal.
We're all used to hearing the cultural message is that a good woman is a mother, but only the "right" kind of mother: married, middle-class, attentive but not a "helicopter parent," etc. The policing is particularly intense during pregnancy: total strangers will accost a pregnant woman if she has a glass of wine or a cigarette, or even just a cup of coffee. After Lenz had a miscarriage, her husband immediately blurted out that he wished she hadn't gone running.
In most cases, it's impossible to know that cause of any particular miscarriage. It's not unusual for a woman to blame herself, or get blamed by others: for exercising too much or not enough, for eating the wrong thing, for staying in a stressful job (even if that's the only way she has to support the coming baby).
Giving birth, too, can mean being denied control over basic things, like whether she gets any pain relief. This is partly tied up with religious views (labor pain as punishments for Eve's sins), and partly with the problem of medical personnel taking pain less seriously when the patient is a woman.
In a couple of ways, I feel like this book was written too soon. Too soon after what was clearly a painful divorce from the man who told her that her agonizing labor "wasn't that bad." And the book came out in 2020, before the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision made it possible to literally police pregnancies. Right now Alabama is debating a bill that would allow a murder charge for "causing" a miscarriage, including by putting herself "in harm's way" by (for instance) remaining in a relationship with an abusive partner. If there's ever a later edition of this book, there's going to be a lot more to say.