Viccy Adams is a creative writer and freelance researcher. She’s currently Lead Artist on Spreadsheets & Moxie, an ACE funded R&D project looking at professionalism for women in the Creative Arts. Her short fiction has been widely published in anthologies and online zines, and her creative non-fiction collection, There & Now: a writer’s perspective on life in South West China, was published by Cargo in 2015. She tweets @ViccyIsWriting and blogs www.viccyadams.com
This evening a car door opened fast and hit me. I walked on.
It only hit the back on my hand, didn’t even leave a graze on my knuckle. I heard the occupants (lightly drunk, a cheerful group) acknowledge they had misjudged their own force.
I heard a stranger reprimand them behind my back. It was cold and I don’t know why my bare hands were out of my pockets at that moment anyway. The pavements were weekend busy. It was a reasonable place for the car to have pulled in, next to the open Co-op and a bank machine.
I noticed that they were men – the faces of the group in the car, glanced at briefly. The voice of the angry stranger – because in that moment I was aware that I was a woman. A dangerous woman.
I’ve debated, without finding a decent answer, if and where and how and when my biological womanhood, my social womanhood and my other intersections of ethnicity, age, class, education and family have impacted my actions. And, equally important to me, how they have brought other people’s views on my behaviour and my license to please myself into question. But I’ve always thought of myself as a person more than as a woman.
But tonight I was a dangerous woman because I was aware that I was a woman in a very particular sense. Because of this I didn’t know how I would respond in that situation. I might have stopped and shouted at the stranger for interfering on my behalf. I might have slammed the door back in the face of the people trying to fumble their way out of the car. I might have stood still and cried.
A whole new angle of my identity – my personal and professional understanding of myself, and how the rest of society will view me – came to light last week. This change will colour me in with new crayons as time goes on. I’ve gained a dangerous label: Mother.
As I type this, I’m either four or five or six weeks pregnant. I’ve been coming to terms this year that infertility might be a permanent part of my narrative. Then just under a week ago that changed.
It’s so early: too early to be public. Too early to measure the spare room for a cot or rejoice too hard. Not too early to research maternity options as a self-employed freelancer and panic. But already my digestive system has changed. My clothes are uncomfortable. My emotions are heightened. My view of the future is impacted.
Before the car door hit me, I spent the afternoon re-jigging plans for a writing residency in an art gallery to reduce the likelihood of giving birth during a workshop. I’ve told more people I work with than I’ve told family members: my professional self is adapting faster than my private life.
What makes something dangerous is that it is unknown. Women are constantly – annoyingly, inaccurately, frustratingly – portrayed in film, literature, lyrics and the media as unknowable. Our supposedly mysterious bodies are either objects of desire or disgust. My newly pregnant body is neither: it is pragmatic. I am not ill, although my experience is going to be medicalised. I am in the process of what I am told is both a joyful miracle and terrifying.
I am in the process of growing a new organ. Eventually I will produce a new life, if this is not one of the one in four pregnancies that ends in miscarriage. This is not something that every woman wants to do or is able to do. Being pregnant is something only a biologically female body can do, but it is not a determination of womanhood.
If my hand had not been where it was. If I had been walking a fraction faster. If the car had pulled up a fraction sooner. If it had been cold enough for the pavement to be slippery under my boots then the car door would have opened with the speed of solid metal and the force of several male bodies and slammed into my unprotected stomach. At four – or five, or six – weeks pregnant, it would have been impossible to know for certain if the impact would have caused a miscarriage. If I would still be pregnant as I typed this. If I would have felt able to type this.
We don’t talk about the things that women’s bodies do. We don’t talk about the infinite variations in a menstrual cycle. We don’t talk about how contraception makes our bodies react. We don’t talk about the changes that happen during pregnancies and afterwards. These are all castigated to the ‘dangerous’ pile. Labelled as unclean, private, impolite, disgusting. Why do all sitcoms reference male masturbation, but the female orgasm is presented as elusive, difficult, unknowable?
I want to know what’s happening to me. I want other people to be able to acknowledge it without caveats. I want to be able to talk about increased discharge, light bleeding after sex, thrush, sore breasts and bloating without people recoiling in disgust because my body is active in a way that doesn’t suit their radar. The administrative side of pregnancy seems to be welcomed; booking appointments, changing dates, discussing maternity leave. But what open, public spaces are there to talk about fear, anger, worry and exhaustion without needling in the caveat that of course it’s all worth it. I want to be able to explore my mixed emotions without bracing myself against judgement. I want the impact of this pregnancy on my private self to be as easy to schedule in and discuss as it is turning out to be for my professional self. Most of all, I want to be able to setup outside of this whole situation, press pause and wait for my brain to catch up with my body: this body that has new demands and timelines that I am far from being able to understand or easily interpret myself. These reactions that do not seem to belong to me or to be under my control.
I felt like a dangerous woman because I realised I was thinking of myself as a woman more than a person, and I still don’t know what that means – either for myself or for my place in the world. I will still and always be everything I have been up until finding out that I am pregnant, but now I’m also something that is currently mysterious to me. Whatever happens with my pregnancy – whether I’m able to carry my pregnancy to term, what kind of person my child grows up to be – I have a changed view of myself. I have become a woman in my own eyes because my body has surprised me rather than let me down.
From tonight and for the rest of my life, I will carry the awareness of that moment when I joined hands with a social view I’ve always pushed against: the moment I saw myself as a dangerous woman. I don’t see this as something I can step back from; it is becoming a part of my body’s muscle memory as much as a concept in my mind. The permanent damage to my pelvic floor and the changes in the chemistry of my brain from the flooding hormones, the game of tetris my organs are starting to play, the expansion of my lung capacity. My fight-or-flight responses seem to be on High Caution now, and the strangest things are registering as being dangerous, both by my own instinct or because I have been told I should fear them. I have begun to step cautiously around the house after several instances of clumsy dizziness. I have paused before shifting furniture. Stared at the stocks of soft cheese and pâte in the fridge. Vomited after drinking Ribena. Burst into tears at an advert for canoes. If the unknown is dangerous then I am dangerous to myself. My mysterious body, my exotic and fetishized state of pregnancy. I look forward to de-mystifying myself as the weeks go on and I hope that one day a generation will grow up with an education that includes a medical and emotional understanding of their bodies and the processes of bodies that are different from theirs. My hope is that they will never find themselves to be dangerous woman because to be a woman will not automatically mean to be unknown.
Featured image: dreich weather 03 by byronv2 on Flickr, used under CC-BY-NC-2.0 license.