Manufacturing Motherhood in the Pronatalist Nation

Manufacturing Motherhood in the Pronatalist Nation

“Know what keeps a community going strong? More babies.”

Or so says the billboard I pass on my commute to work. I must’ve driven by this sign a hundred times without ever paying much mind. I suppose this is a bad thing if you’re a billboard considering getting noticed is literally your only job. As I became more resolute in my decision to be childfree, the more the words on this advertisement stood out.

So just what is this advertisement trying to sell? Specifically, a brand new maternity ward at an area hospital. But in a more general sense, this billboard is pushing something else. It’s something that really shouldn’t even be up for sale: motherhood. And the method of choice? Pronatalism.

Pronatalism? What is the meaning of this word that even predictive text cannot compute?

It’s the idea that parenthood and raising children should be the central focus of every person’s adult life. Pronatalism is a strong social force and includes a collection of beliefs so embedded that they have come to be seen as “true.”

-Laura Carroll, The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World

Pronatalism: The Facade

Carroll’s book is aptly named. If you’ve never seen the movie The Matrix, there is a scene in which the character Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) offers a choice of two pills to Neo (Keanu Reeves).

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
―Morpheus to Neo

We’ve all been taking the blue pronatal vitamin our entire lives. The red pill is, as Laura Carroll describes, ‘The Baby Matrix. It unravels these beliefs and shows us why they no longer serve us – or why they were never true in the first place.”

We are inundated with positive stories about all things natal – from the phenomenon referred to as the pregnancy glow (acne) to the “miracle of birth” (an average of 4-8 hours of active labor). We have been taught to praise the omnipotent baby.

We hear about the unconditional love a mother has for her child, something we as childfree people are told we could never understand. However, the facts paint a different picture. Childhelp.org relays the statistic, “A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.” And one of the worst offenders? This very pronatalist nation- “The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect.”

And those perfect celebrity pregnancies we see gracing the cover of major magazines? A whopping 15-20% of all pregnancies result in miscarriages. If that number seems high to you, it’s not because the figures are exaggerated, it’s because people don’t talk about it. After all, most women wait until they are twelve weeks into their pregnancy before announcing it to friends and family. Why? That’s considered the first trimester, in which 80% of all miscarriages occur.

Pregnancy loss, child abuse, and anything less than a romanticised version of parenthood just doesn’t fit with the pronatalist dogma we continue to be fed.  Pronatalism is a facade that affects everyone. So, where do the childfree fit in in all of this?

The Effect of Pronatalism on the Childfree

We may make up a large part of the population but pronatalism would like to convince you otherwise.

…it’s often what we don’t see that points more powerfully to pronatalism at work. How often do we see shows where there are couples without children because they are happy that way? Or dialogue that makes it clear that this is the case and an integral part of the show’s story?… Instead, from all media directions, we get sent the message that “family,” meaning parenthood and children, is what’s in style.

-Laura Carroll, The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World

Essentially, we are invisible – even in a time when we have the most childless/childfree women ever recorded. According to Exponential Advertising Intelligence, “millennial moms represent 46% of total women in their age group.” So what about the other, unmentioned 54%, the greater percentage, of both childless and childfree women?

Pronatalism and Profit in the United States

The birth of a child is a turning point when they will realize new brand loyalties and begin to influence the relationships that their children have with brands.

Aha. Childless and childfree people are a corporation’s worst nightmare. Corporations use pronatalism to capitalize on birth. Why? Well for one, birth equals babies, babies equal adults, and adults equal consumers.

Corporations don’t just view births as an investment opportunity though. They look to pronatalism to profit at every stage, especially at birth. But how can you profit from birth in the United States when every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect1, there are more than 20,000 stillbirths each year, a rate worse than that of many other countries2, the first-day infant mortality rate (the number of babies that die on their first day of life) is a shocking 50% higher than all other industrialized countries combined3, and a staggering 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms?4.

And if that weren’t enough, the cost of delivering a baby in a hospital here in the United States (whether the child survives or not) is significantly higher than it is for other industrialized countries. Hospitals charge as much as $30,000 for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 per C-section, and an insured woman’s share averages $3,400 out-of-pocket5.

Okay, so hospitals make big bucks with each baby born. But wouldn’t the cost and risks associated with birth turn people off to having kids? How could you really turn a profit? It’s simple. You manufacture motherhood by simply ignoring the facts and creating a new narrative.

Pronatal Advertising

In this commercial for ClearBlue pregnancy tests, we watch the overjoyed reactions from men, women, and children who are about to become parents, grandparents, or siblings. What we don’t see are the negative reactions to positive pregnancy tests or the positive reactions to the negative ones, which isn’t a big surprise in this pronatalist nation.

You may reason that they’re trying to market to people who want to have children. But what about products that have literally nothing to do with children and yet still push pronatalist views?

In this Taco Bell commercial, you do actually get to see a couple without children. However, it’s not exactly a positive portrayal. The childless/childfree man is pressured into holding a baby by his significant other and friends and the punch line is his inability to make said baby the priority.

Even in this Enterprise commercial which depicts a single and childless woman and the pressures she faces from family to get married and have children, we see her lying to appease them.

If you don’t believe that pronatalism is at play, in advertising or anywhere else, I challenge you to do a google image search of the word “baby“.

I’m willing to bet over 99% of these pictures will represent the ideal happy, healthy, bouncing bundles of joy we’ve all come to know as children.

Exposing Pronatalism

Pronatalism paints an unrealistic and dangerous portrayal for people with, and without, children. It teaches all of us that parenting comes naturally, even instinctively. Many do not discover that this is not the case until after they have children, at which point it is too late. Pronatalism also wants to convince you that there is no other alternative. You either have kids now or you will in the near future. Pronatalism also preaches perfection but delivers something vastly different. Just what can we, as individuals, do about this illusion?

“Overcoming the pressures that come from the old natal mindset takes self-worth, a brave heart, and effective communication. It can be challenging, especially when you’re dealing with loved ones or others who so strongly see the world through a child-centric lens. Yet, as we move away from this lens, pressures will lessen, and so will the need to deal with them.”

-Laura Carroll, The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World

So unlike the pronatalist billboard I pass on my way to work, these things are what make a community strong – self-worth, bravery, communication. In her book, Carroll further highlights a four-part strategy to work toward a post-pronatal society. Whether you are childfree, a parent, or a parent-to be, we all can benefit from removing the veil of pronatalism. It is only then that we can make well-informed decisions regarding parenthood or non-parenthood.

Tell me, how do you see pronatalism at work in your community? How do you think you can change that?

Disclaimer: I was not paid to endorse The Baby Matrix, I do however get a small percentage from Amazon for purchases made through links in this post.

Footnotes:
  1. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/facts.html
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/05/16/stillbirth-is-more-common-than-you-think-and-were-doing-little-about-it/?utm_term=.9ba3a5112bb0
  3. http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1037361/statistics-about-babies-born-in-the-us
  4. http://postpartumprogress.org/the-facts-about-postpartum-depression/
  5. http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1037361/statistics-about-babies-born-in-the-us

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12 Comments

  1. I had no idea there was a term “pronatalism” for things I had noticed or felt before reading this. Im Childfree and always thought I was broken for thinking it was ridiculous to get so excited around babies, let alone I never craving one. I’m sure subliminal forces prompted me to feel broken, when all I am is “sure”. I’ve always known I never wanted children. I’m new to your blog and I want to thank you for touching on these subjects most will not. That Taco Bell commercial always cracked me up:)

    1. Jenn, thank you for your comment and welcome to the rinky-DINK life! I was pretty unfamiliar with the the term “pronatalism” until I read the book mentioned in this post. It was such an eye-opening experience for me to learn just how subtly influenced we are by ‘societal norms’. I’m happy I could share some of what I’ve learned with you! You’re definitely not broken 🙂

      1. Ditto! I still feel guilty for not having children, even after my husband’s vasectomy. I’m surrounded by gushing moms all day at work, and it just repulses me…

  2. Laura Carroll. author of The Baby Matrix here. Thank you, Brittany, for this excellent post on pronatalism. It truly does affect all of us, parents and not. It needs to be understood, and people need to see past it, through it, to truths about parenthood and reproduction. This is so critical to making one’s best decision about parenthood, and for the betterment of society! Here is an excerpt from the book: http://thebabymatrix.com/pdf/Baby_Matrix_web_throughCh2.pdf

    1. Laura, thank you for commenting. I agree, pronatalism needs to be discussed and better understood. Thank you for including an excerpt. I can’t say enough good things about your thought-provoking and well-written book!

  3. Isn’t it funny how you never really notice it until you’re on the outside, looking in? I never realised I didn’t want kids until my second date with my now husband, he said he didn’t want any and it had never dawned on me until that moment that I didn’t actually have to have kids. Over the last 10 years I have noticed more and more that advertising is geared towards families in a way that seems to completely ignore the fact that there are people out there who don’t have kids, always the (impossibly) perfect loving and patient parents staring lovingly at their offspring, no wonder there is so much pressure on new parents to instantly bond with and love their new baby! I think this is a really important conversation to be having, for both the childfree and parents, the illusion is unhealthy for everybody but it’s so ingrained into every facet of our culture that it’s going to be very hard to change. It starts with a conversation.

      1. There is a documentary that looks into the way advertisers market to children and to parents through their children called ‘Consuming kids: the commercialisation of childhood’, definitely worth a watch if you want to be more informed (or just want to loose your faith in humanity for a bit).

  4. Brilliant post Brittany. I had no idea that hospitals in the US charged up to $50,000 for a birth. To be almost 4K out of pocket if you’re insured is a lot. I wonder if they charge here (Ireland) – thank god I’ll never find out: giving birth is 100% not something I feel I missed out on.

    1. Thank you! I feel the same as you, birth is not something I feel I need to experience. Adding a high cost to it just furthers my resolve. A woman I know had a very premature baby who had to spend months in the NICU. Without insurance, her bill was over a quarter million dollars and even with insurance, it wasn’t affordable.

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