stephanie jones

Exposing a Fertile Stereotype – a narrative

In classism, families, feminist work, justice, personal narratives, sexism, social class, stephanie jones on March 7, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Exposing a Fertile Stereotype

I know what they say about poor girls.
Tryin to get pregnant to keep a boy around.
Havin babies to get a welfare check.
Trappin men by tellin’em they’re on the pill when they’re not.
Hell, I was even in a hospital not too long ago when a receptionist started talkin about the poor girls around town who were taught by their parents to have “no morals” and to start pumpin out those babies as soon as possible to get more money comin’ in.
Of course that woman didn’t know she was talkin to a poor girl inside the woman’s body who had health insurance and classy lookin clothes on. She assumed I was like her – middle class or whatever – and hatin on folks without insurance or with Medicaid or looking for some kind of supposed free ride.
But you know what assumptions do, and they did it right there in the hospital when I was fumin mad about what she was sayin and she just kept on sayin it. Even followed me out to the waiting room to tell me she was raisin her girl different. She was the ass because she wouldn’t shut her mouth and didn’t know what she was talking about, and I was the ass because I was the very kind of girl she was talking about.
Even though she didn’t know what she was talkin about.
I don’t even recognize what people say about poor girls though.
Trying to get pregnant?
All my life I’ve been with girls and women doing everything they could to avoid pregnancy. Well, almost everything, since most of them still had sex. So, I’ll put it this way, the girls and women I knew who were having sex were doing everything they could to not get pregnant. And they talked about it all the time.
This pill.
That pill.
This condom.
That condom.
Pull out.
Watch the calendar.
Count days from your period.
Know your options if it happens.
Let me be clear here. The girls and women in my family think kids are just as adorable as the next person does. We just knew the costs.
Mostly we knew about financial costs like being out of work because you’re sick while you’re pregnant then being out of work because you’re in the hospital havin the baby then being out of work because you’re recovering then being out of work because your kid is sick then being out of work because the babysitter didn’t show up then being out of work because you’re just too damn exhausted to get your ass out of bed on time to go to work.
One day off work could mean the light bill isn’t paid.
Two days could mean rent is short.
Three days? Don’t even go there.
We knew the financial costs because every woman we knew suffered those. We didn’t know anyone who was salaried or got paid personal days, paid maternity leave, paid vacation.
We didn’t know a woman who didn’t worry too much about going in an hour or so late when a kid was sick.
We only knew women who clocked in and clocked out and was only paid for the work their bodies did during the minutes between those two times.
We only knew women who busted their asses on the restaurant floor, behind a bar, on the factory line, cleaning someone else’s house, over the café grill, watching someone else’s kids, poking cash register keys, dry cleaning clothes.
We watched our women come home off the bus, out of a friend’s car, out of a relative’s car, out of a borrowed car, out of a barely-gonna-make-it-but-it’s-my-own car and they were tired. Pooped. Exhausted. And they knew and we knew that still when the check came in or the tips were added up it wasn’t going to quite cover what it needed to cover.
It wasn’t gonna cover the grocery bill after all the bills were paid, it wasn’t gonna cover the field trip money expected at school, it wasn’t gonna cover the new shoes little Sammy needed after his toes burst out the front, it wasn’t gonna cover the drive-in movie she promised the kids on the weekend, it wasn’t gonna cover bus fare or gas or the small payment she gave to her friend who drove every day.
It never quite covered.
Something was always left uncovered.
Poor girls are exposed all the time to the harsh and judging world and their exposures are spat out of people’s mouths, “Look at her, now why on earth would you dress like that?” “What’s she doing with a boy that age? She’s just trying to be like her welfare queen mama.” “Don’t even think about dating her. She’s a gold digger if I’ve ever seen one.”
You’ve heard more of this spewing than me of course, because most of the time I was excluded company when these things were being said.
But my world of you-better-not-get-pregnant-girl and please-god-it’s-me-poorgirl-please-don’t-let-me-get-pregnant and oh-my-god-what-am-I-gonna-do-now weebled from side to side when I realized that some girls tried to get pregnant.
Rich girls though.
And I’d never heard you-know-those-rich-girls-only-tryin-to-get-pregnant one time ever in my life.
And girls that weren’t so rich, but had more money than I’d ever known, were doing it too.
Yep. I was stunned when I found out that those girls I never knew tried to get pregnant.
Shocked I’m tellin ya.
Shakin my head and blowin through my nose I tried to get a handle on this new world I was discovering.
Not only did some girls (or, women, by the time I knew them) plan to get pregnant, they made it a full-time job to figure out how to get pregnant.
They should just talk to some of the girls I knew who seemed to know the secret even when they were tryin everything to avoid it.
But these girls are se-ri-ous. Fertility books, visits to the doctor, prenatal vitamins months before they even thought they would try to conceive, halting their alcohol habits, curbing their caffeine in-takes, thermometers, sex on certain days, calling in their spouses when the temperature was just right, doing all kinds of yoga positions immediately following sex, reading more books, seeing more doctors, getting shots, paying thousands and thousands of dollars to try to get pregnant.
I mean damn.
This world was so foreign to me.
“You mean you do all this to get pregnant?”
And they think the poor girls are tryin to get pregnant.
But poor girls are so strapped by their finances we can’t imagine a pregnancy, the furniture needed, time away from work, the long-term financial costs, the exhaustion after a double shift, the food, the bottles, the formula, the childcare.
Other girls, to my amazement, seem to have the pleasure and luxury of focusing on the “joy” of pregnancy the “joy” of nursing the “joy” of child-rearing the “joy” of becoming a mother who has the time and resources to make a room for the newcomer to buy all the necessities (plus) for the baby to take time off work to recuperate to visit the doctor without worrying about the bills to take the baby to a pediatrician who works in a colorful, spacious, inviting office in the suburbs rather than wait in long lines at the cold, damp, gray local health clinic to see the one pediatrician who comes each month.
I know what they say about poor girls.
But I think they got it wrong.
I’m 37 years old now and, after giving birth to an unplanned beautiful baby girl who is now seven years old and the love of my life, I’m still trying to avoid pregnancy.
It’s in me.
The fear.
The anxiety.
I have insurance now.
A salary.
Time off when I need it.
And the room for a new baby in the family.
But I know the costs.
And I still feel exposed.

  1. Loved this narrative, Steph. As a middle class woman, I’ve always thought it ironic- the years of trying not to get pregnant followed by the years of obsessing about getting pregnant. Lilly and I actually had a discussion about teenage pregnancy in the car this morning on our way to work/school. She wondered what ages included the ever fascinating category of “teenagers” (in her mind, a loop hole between being a kid and being a grown up) and when/if teenagers could have babies.

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