Do pregnant mothers really “risk public scorn” to get their roots touched up?
It has been more than 10 years since I was pregnant for the first time, and six since I was pregnant for the last time (seriously, the last time). I do recall that drinking was discouraged, along with the consumption of coffee, soft cheeses and sushi.
I remember a low rumbling in the background, particularly in my visits to the birthing center in New York City’s West Village where we did those pregnancy classes that one does only when one is pregnant for the first time, suggesting that some (crazy) people might avoid coloring their hair (which I did anyway) and pedicures (ditto). Avoiding antiperspirants and makeup never occurred to me, or, as far as I knew, to anyone around me.
Have things changed so much in just a few years? The journalist Marie C. Baca, writing for Salon, got her roots touched up this week amid, she felt, the “whispers of the other patrons.” She details “My Pregnancy Rebellion
” this way:
This is a world where having a baby can feel less like participating in an ancient biological process and more like taking on a high-stakes independent research project. The goal of said project? To produce the most intelligent, healthy and successful offspring possible, preferably one who will attend an Ivy League school. The women in this circle — highly ambitious and well-educated themselves — consume massive amounts of pregnancy and parenting literature long before they conceive, paying particular attention to creating the ideal womb environment for their future prodigies.
It’s a club whose membership comes with an ever-growing list of things to avoid for fear of harming the developing fetus. In addition to the usual suspects — alcohol, caffeine and soft cheeses, to name a few — there are nail salons, antiperspirants and all but the most natural (and expensive) makeup. And, of course, hair dye. The complete list would likely be several hundred items long.
There’s no denying that we live in a world of increasing paranoia, some justified (witness the struggle to figure out which parts of the baby “household chemical purge
” are necessary, and which worthy only of mockery) and some not. It’s hard even for professionals and researchers to tease out the impacts of our many individual chemical exposures, and as Ms. Baca writes, “when it comes to their pregnancy, many women take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach and avoid certain things altogether.”
But “safe,” when it affects the face we present to the world, has its own side effects.
More and more, when I see my peers wearing their sacrifices on their organic cotton sleeves and foundation-free faces, I see how pregnancy can mark the beginning of an identity loss that is never fully recovered. For me, and I suspect many other women as well, the pressure to strip a personal routine down to its barest incarnation seems to come with a parallel pressure to strip one’s concept of self to only one’s role as an expectant mother.
Now that — unlike the pressure to skip the deodorant — is a pressure I can remember feeling. A woman who is pregnant for the first time is omni-aware of the one certain truth of that pregnancy: the result (barring tragedy) will be a baby that requires a full-time, every-minute-of-every-day caring adult presence, with many, many years of finding a way to provide that care to follow. It’s a daunting moment for both parents, it’s just that only one sports the physical markers of the coming change for all to see.
Does the resulting pressure really come from the outside? Were Ms. Boca’s fellow Salon patrons really peering at her in judgement over their worn issues of Us Weekly? Maybe the Bay Area is indeed filled with what a twitter response to the piece called the “crunchy mom mafia,” and maybe not.
Either way, the primary place all of the important “mommy wars” and “rebellions” take place is in our own heads. We, men and women, have children hoping to do our very loving best by them, and what that means isn’t spelled out anywhere for all to see. The question isn’t really “Will I highlight my hair,” but “Will I make any sacrifice” and finally, “If someone else will do something that I perceive to be too much, what does that mean?”
Those aren’t easy questions to answer, even without your peers pursuing you over a pedicure. Are pregnant women who color their hair — or paint their toenails, or hire a baby nurse, or choose a stroller over a sling, or go back to work early — rebelling against their fellow parents, or against their own evolving deals?
What do you think? Have you felt pressure from the “mommy mafia”?