On January 21, a series of marches around the world had attendance over 5 million. Protests against US President Donald Trump galvanized people into action; marchers ranged from brand new babes-in-arms to great-grandmothers who had fought the same issues in the 60s. Photos from protests around the world flooded social media: my own Facebook started in the morning with crowd scenes from across Australia, continued into the afternoon with photos from European protests (I live in Sweden), and in the evening, the pictures from the United States started to pour in. To many, these marches were a call to action for people everywhere…including those growing the next generation.
When you’re pregnant, it can seem impossible to do anything at all, let alone contribute to meaningful social action. Here is a list of things you can do that will help you jumpstart the revolution without compromising your physical safety.
1. Read Revolutionary Mothering and Rad Dad.
If you are already an activist and concerned about how your pregnancy might impact your ability to effect social change, these two books are the best place to start. Revolutionary Mothering is a beautiful collection of essays by revolutionary mothers (for multiple meanings of that word) — the collection provides a voice for queer mothers, mothers of colour, mothers living alternative lifestyles, mothers living in poverty, teenaged mothers, and puts forward the strangely surprising idea that the act of mothering outside of social norms is a revolutionary act in and of itself. Rad Dad is edited by the author of the zine by the same name, Tomas Moniz, and features essays about fatherhood and how to engage with activism when there seems to be no space in those communities for parents.
Reading these books can help you frame alternative ways to look at your activist contribution, and give you hope for what can be accomplished after you have a child.
2. Start a babysitting co-op with other parents.
One of the issues impacting parents the most is childcare. In the United States, there is no subsidized childcare, and mothers often return to work when their baby is only a few months old thanks to insubstantial parental leave policies. Daycare alone (for one child) can cost families around $24,000 a year (depending on location), and kids can be in it from as young as several weeks old until they’re old enough to start first grade. To save money and distribute childcare through the community instead of the capitalist system, consider working with other parents or soon-to-be parents to form a babysitting co-op. There are many guidelines available online for systems that might work best for you, including software that assists with scheduling. You can find other interested parents through pregnancy groups, meetups, or even something as simple as posting notices on bulletin boards in health food stores. This can feel complicated to set up but is a tangible action that can make a huge difference to your life and the lives of other parents in your community.
3. Go to protests…carefully.
Obviously, your participation in protests depends greatly on where you are, who you might surround yourself with, and the colour of your skin. If you have any reason to believe you will be personally targeted, or that the police in your area are particularly aggressive, it is more important for you to stay home. Seattle police during the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011, famously pepper-sprayed an elderly woman, a pregnant woman, and a blind woman with a cane. Stay to the edges of protests so you can duck out quickly. Bring friends; when I lived in Australia and went to marches, I could have had my visa revoked if I was arrested. I always went with people who would put themselves between me and police if things looked like they were getting nasty, so I could have time to get away. Wear tight shirts and signs that indicate your pregnant status, rather than loose clothing that hides your belly.
4. Write articles and letters.
If you have any skill at writing (even if you don’t), you can put it to use now. Write letters to your representatives and local politicians — most actual change is effected on lower levels than federal government, and protests against the federal government can become dilute and lose focus. Write articles for Medium, for blogs (yours or other people’s), or for magazines and newspapers (if you have that capacity). If you don’t know it, Mutha Magazine is an amazing online space for activist folks. Even conversing with people on social media can make a difference — I know of at least one person who successfully changes people’s minds on inflammatory topics through careful and measured conversation on Facebook. I don’t have the patience for that myself, though, so know your limits and be wary of getting into shouting matches. I have some other friends who do revolutionary comics: they cover the history of various social movements and make commentary on issues like gentrification, all through art.
5. Be present in activist spaces.
Une photo publiée par Paige K. Johnston (@missmuesli) le
Just being a pregnant body (or a parent) in activist spaces is very confronting, and reminds other revolutionaries that space needs to be made for pregnant and nursing people, and parents with older children. Remind your activist friends of the need for childcare at protests and meetings. Tell them meetings cannot start at 10 PM if they want to include alternative (parent) voices. Remind them that you need frequent breaks and access to bathrooms, that venues must be accessible to people with reduced mobility (this will benefit activists in wheelchairs as well as you in your third trimester), and that you cannot necessarily participate in events that require long walks or lots of standing. After your child is born, bring them to activist events and meetings: breastfeed, encourage community engagement in child rearing (like holding them when they start crying), show options for other potentially pregnant people. Be present, be visible, be heard. This is a revolutionary act.
6. Reinforce important messages.
If you believe in a person’s right to choose, refer to your “fetus” or “proto-human”, or whatever you’d like to call it, rather than your “unborn baby”. Use the term “pregnant people” rather than “pregnant women”, and use other languages to disrupt and challenge cissexist assumptions. If you identify as female and have a male partner, confront anyone making gender-based assumptions about parenting roles: your partner is not “babysitting”, you are not “the boss” by virtue of having a uterus. Consider using gender-neutral pronouns for your child. Be outspoken about the need for parental leave and subsidized daycare options for everyone, as low-income or marginalized people may not have the option to protest or form babysitting co-ops.
7. Turn gender-based parenting on its head.
If you have a male partner, there are many tasks he can perform that traditionally fall to the pregnant partner. He can start by actively involving himself in parenting through joining or starting parenting support, or doing research into things like child development, diaper and feeding options, and gender inequality in parenting…all topics which are usually left for women to do and then explain to men. Expect your partner to take on emotional labour of parenting: setting boundaries, comforting your child at night, and support work during labour and delivery. This is especially important if you are having a hospital birth, as medical professionals are often unwittingly very gendered in how they interact with parents; my male birth partner was treated differently from my female birth partner when I was in labour. Insist that he participate in planning for the baby: organizing a nursery or researching co-sleeping options, remembering/booking prenatal appointments, cooking meals to freeze for the weeks immediately after birth.
8. Learn and talk about different ways and methods of parenting. Be outspoken.
Especially if you are able-bodied, middle class, heterosexual, cis, and/or white — learn about minority birthing experiences. Learn about how women of colour are targeted by anti-choice activists and also have a history of being forcibly sterilized. Read about reproductive rights and consider donating to revolutionary birthing organizations — the Black Women Birthing Justice site has a list of allies and organizations doing good work in that area. Acknowledge and make space for people struggling to conceive or adoptive parents having a difficult time with identifying as “real” parents. Just as getting your own voice to be heard is revolutionary, making space for other voices to be heard is powerful. You matter. So do they. You can do this.