Body PoliticsOpinionSex & Gender

Watch Your Mouth When it Comes To Pregnant Black women

February 27, 2023

On February 20, 2023, Robyn Rihanna Fenty celebrated 35 years of life. A mere 8 days prior, she performed at Super Bowl 57. At a press conference ahead of her performance, she said, “Representing for immigrants, representing for my country Barbados, representing for Black women everywhere… I just think that’s really important, (it’s) key for people to see the possibilities, and I’m honored to be doing this”. That night, Rihanna made history three times over. As the first Barbadian woman to grace the Super Bowl stage, she was also the wealthiest and first known-to-be-pregnant woman to perform on that platform. 

Celebrity birth announcements

Granted, it was not crystal clear that Rihanna was pregnant during her performance. In the past, entertainers like Beyoncé, Cardi B, and more recently Keke Palmer, announced their pregnancies in a very pronounced way. Even Rihanna’s first pregnancy announcement was very obvious — there was no second-guessing that bump. During her Super Bowl performance, while she occasionally rubbed her belly, the bump wasn’t as pronounced, making it unclear to spectators.

Nowadays, the tide has turned and discourse leans toward not assuming a person is pregnant unless they’ve explicitly shared that they are with child. There are many reasons for this, many of which have to do with how difficult and dangerous pregnancy (and the perception thereof) can be. 

Pregnancy is very much a life and death experience

In October 2022, via Healthline, Heather Grey wrote, “Women in this [the US] are more likely to be murdered while pregnant or shortly after giving birth than to die from the three leading obstetric causes of maternal death—including pregnancy-related high blood pressure, bleeding, or sepsis.” This violence against pregnant women is often the result of domestic violence. Chillingly, it is a documented fact that incidents of domestic violence spike during the Super Bowl. Black women often fall at the intersection of most social issues, knowing all too well the type of treatment they face in healthcare, when reporting domestic violence, and life in general. This only makes the statistics mentioned even more disturbing to note. 

In addition, in light of some of the recent laws around abortion, presuming a woman is pregnant could make getting abortion healthcare difficult and in some states criminal. When a person miscarries, a follow up procedure is performed by their doctor to ensure that nothing has stayed behind in the uterus that could threaten their patient’s life. CNN reported this happening to woman in Texas at the end of 2022. Now imagine, if women are subject to laws that don’t allow them to access medical care to protect the rights of a fetus, publicly assuming a woman is pregnant leaves her open to further investigation if she appears with a flatter stomach weeks later.

Pregnant women and the media

I grew up during a time when tabloids claimed any and every woman in Hollywood was expecting if she looked slightly “bloated” in a photograph. I also keenly remember the vitriol with which Beyoncé was treated leading up to her first pregnancy announcement, as depicted in her HBO documentary Life Is But A Dream. As a woman of “childbearing age”, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing my favorite Instagram friends disappear from their feeds only to crop up with a 1080 x 1080, black and white photograph of their newborn’s hand. 

If said friend looked a little rounder in the face, who is to say that they weren’t just putting on weight — and what about it? Granted, it is comic when the speculations are true after you’ve been vehemently defending that women can put on weight without the need to speculate about their reproductive systems. 

With International Women’s Day around the corner and Black History Month drawing to a close, I’d like to highlight that without Black women, life as we know it would not be what it is today. Black women deserve grace and protection – a society invested in their wellness. Simply put, specific to pregnancy,  in 2023, unless a woman confirms it, watch your mouth with the speculations; face your front and chop life.