The politics of getting pregnant in Trump's America
In the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, my best friend told me something deeply personal: "We're not sure if we're having another baby," she said. "We're going to wait and see what happens."
Specifically, she was waiting anxiously to see if Donald Trump would win.
Other friends shared similar sentiments during the vitriolic election season. "I hear you," I said, as footage of Trump and the words "grab 'em by the pussy" flashed across my TV screen. "These are scary times."
The truth was, my partner and I were also thinking about having another baby. And while I shared my friends' trepidations, a voice inside of me whispered: "I am ready now. Do I really have to wait?" My biology concurred, as did my partner. A week after Election Day, I threw up in the toilet. I was pregnant.
Anxiety is a normal part of parenthood. When you assume responsibility for a child's life, there comes a deep and relentless sense of vulnerability. Over the past few years, though, the emerging sociopolitical landscape — a climate of polarization and uncertainty — has heightened anxiety for both parents and non-parents across America. The American Psychological Association has recorded an increase in national anxiety among Republicans and Democrats alike; their surveys point to "election stress" and "current political climate" as significant factors. It is hardly a surprise, then, that in such conditions, people feel discouraged about starting or growing their families. Why bring children into a world that makes you despair?
This sentiment isn't just anecdotal, it is quantifiable. A recent study found that demand for long-term birth control — like IUDs and implants — rose more than 20 percent in the month after the 2016 election. While the researchers suggest one reason for the rise could be a growing concern about accessibility to birth control, I would venture to guess that anxiety about what the future would be like for kids and parents may have also have played a role here.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, the future seemed big and bright. Barack Obama was president, and hope was a natural byproduct of the "yes we can" era. For me, a white middle-class person, hope was also easy enough to take for granted. I did not follow the news obsessively because I trusted that the system, including its checks and balances, was reasonably on track. I trusted the nation's highest office was occupied by a person with dignity, values, and moral conscience. There was a strong sense that much of the world nodded in approval. Believing our country to be stable and fairly united afforded me the luxury of turning inward, towards the transformation of motherhood; a privilege for which I was — and still am — very grateful.
But now, everything feels different. Sometimes it even feels hopeless. Our country no longer welcomes immigrants in with open arms or aims to uplift families; if you work hard, there is no guarantee you will be able to pay your bills, afford health care, or climb up in the socioeconomic ranks. True, Trump cannot be blamed entirely for these injustices, but his policies inarguably further economic inequality; threaten the rights of women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community; promote xenophobia; and ignore the catastrophic impact of climate change. Hate crimes and the raging suicide and opioid epidemics have increased sharply under his regime.
After I found out I was pregnant, anxiety quickly dampened my excitement as I fretted about the future. The growing curve of my belly represented a vivid divide between the peacefulness of my inner sanctum and the toxic, fear-based culture churning on the outside. I struggled to reconcile this odd feeling of nurturing innocence during a time of turmoil, hate, and mistrust. I found myself alternating between both sides of the divide: either humming softly and turning in tenderly towards my baby — or baring my teeth and growling at the news reel like a mama wolf protecting her pup. I thought about how mothers all around the world give birth in much more extreme conditions, and the strength and courage they live by every day, and this humbled me. But in a way, I was in no hurry for my baby to come out.
On Inauguration Day, I was three months pregnant. I lay alone on the couch, curled into a ball, watching the transfer of powers on TV. While mourning the loss of the nation's first female president, I also prepared for a future of guaranteed patriarchy. I wondered: What would it mean for our two little girls to grow up during the Trump era?
My baby was estimated for arrival on the same day as a solar eclipse — one of the darkest days of the year — which felt fitting somehow. On that day, I remember the moon smudging out the sun. For a few eerie moments, darkness took over. When my baby chose a different day to be born, the sun was reassuringly high in the sky, and I felt grateful and ready for her to come out.
My baby is 17 months old now. Under Trump, American women face some dire prospects: soaring economic inequalities, rising health-care prices, rocketing educational costs and debts, along with attempts to roll back reproductive rights.
And yet, despite it all, I remain hopeful.
Every day, I watch my baby grow more independent, more fully integrated, more alive in this complicated world. When we visit the bunny rabbits at the local farm and her pudgy arms and legs dance excitedly, or she pretend-reads Goodnight Gorilla in her sister's lap, I can't help but smile. As a mother navigating the troubled waters of our times, I strive to remain optimistic for the sake of my daughters. I believe it's my job to uphold the same values of hope, love, and truth that our children unconsciously espouse. What I have come to understand, and feel ever so deeply, is that children are always a blessing — and good reminder not to succumb to the current climate of fear.