Seventeen short essays explore nonstereotypical experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-raising, including the choice to be child-free.
In January 2014, the Sea Change Program (“a nonprofit organization committed to a world that upholds the dignity and humanity of all people as they move through their reproductive lives”) advertised on Twitter and Facebook for personal stories about stigmatized reproductive experiences. (The editors note that their first submissions were all “from ciswomen,” but after further outreach, “we are glad to have included experiences from straight, queer, trans, and intersex people.”) Because stigmas thrive in an atmosphere of silence, the editors aim to publish stories that usually go untold, even to family and friends. The personal essays discuss topics that include egg donation, remaining childless, open adoption, abortion, and parenting while trans. The stories are often wrenching, whether it’s the panic of a young girl (as young as 13) discovering she’s pregnant or grief over being unable to conceive. In “If,” a particularly well-written and moving essay by Susan Ito, her life-threatening pre-eclampsia requires abortion of a wanted baby. In a heartbreaking image, after the injection, she puts her hands on her stomach, where not long ago, she’d felt her baby kick: He “jumped against my hand once. He leaped through the space into the darkness and then was gone. All gone.” Questions of identity plague several writers, like the young woman whose baby was adopted; she asks, “[B]ut am I really a mother?” Other common experiences include dealing with uncaring or quickly absent birth fathers and family members who may be unsupportive: “My aunt asked me why I had been gardening the day of the miscarriage, as though my pulling weeds had somehow caused the babies to dislodge.” Most contributions are from the well-educated and accomplished, mirroring the editors’ circles of book club, Facebook, and Twitter friends, but several are from those who’ve faced poverty and prejudice.
By telling the untold, these essays illuminate and help normalize reproductive experiences outside the norm.