Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

Mind over Body: The Pregnant Professional

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

Mind over Body: The Pregnant Professional

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This article, based on interviews about pregnancy, birth, childraising, and career with 31 middle-class Anglo women, examines self- and body image as microcosmic mirrors of social relationships and worldview. All interviewees are professionals in positions of power and authority. They tend to see the body as an imperfect tool that the more perfect self should control. They tend to experience pregnancy and birth as unpleasant because they are so out-of-control, and to emphasize the separation of the self from the body and from the fetus growing inside that body. They demand pain-relieving drugs during labor and are generally pleased with obstetrical interventions in the birth process, as long as they feel that they are the ones making the decisions about which interventions to use and when. Their conscious choice to dissociate themselves from their biology is reflected in and encouraged by the medical management of birth and current directions in reproductive research, raising many questions about the future of American society and the role of women in its reproduction.

Because the human body is a focal point for so many issues that confront our society, including sexuality and reproduction, physical changes become heavily imbued with symbolic social significance. I have a longstanding research interest in how our technocratic society symbolically transforms the natural processes of pregnancy and birth, and in how that transformation affects women's own perceptions and experiences of these biological events (Davis-Floyd 1987, 1990, 1992, 1993). Nicole Sault (1994) has suggested that social relationships are mirrored in body image. Building on her work, I suggest that body image not only mirrors social relationships but also worldview. In this article, I examine that suggestion through the body images, social relationships, and worldviews of thirty-one professional, careeroriented women, especially as they deal with the physical changes of pregnancy and the symbolic aspects of motherhood in relation to their professional conceptions of self.

These thirty-one professionals hold a wide range of occupations. Three are mid-level managers for banks, and two for insurance companies, two head up fundraising for political campaigns, one is a museum curator, two realtors, two are physicians, three college professors, two regional sales managers, six managers or directors of large government agencies, one is a CPA, one a high-level manager for a major airline, and five own their own companies. Most of them make as much or more money than their husbands. My in-depth interviews with these women focused on the physical changes of pregnancy and the symbolic aspects of motherhood in relation to their conceptions of body and self.1 Later, as I sought to make sense of the pile of transcriptions before me, I began to see that certain fundamental notions about the nature of reality were mirrored in the words these women used to describe their thoughts and feelings about these issues, and the correlations between body image, social relations, and worldview began to emerge.

THE PROFESSIONAL/PERSONAL SPLIT

During the interviews, it quickly became apparent that these women live their lives in terms of a fundamental and clearcut distinction between the personal and professional realms. How these women primarily define themselves in relation to society at any given moment is usually a function of what realm they are in. In the professional realm they are their role: professor, division manager, CEO. secure in their professional identities, in the personal realm many of these women seem to actually be amused to define themselves as "John's wife," or "Suzie's mother," almost as if being John's wife or Suzie's mother was a sort of game that they played sometimes. Some perspective on this security of identity was provided by an older woman I spoke with recently, who had been Mrs. James Bowen since she was 20, and hated it. …

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