Until it happened to one of my friends in college, I didn’t think much about pregnancy. Before then the most I did think about it was the two other times my mom was pregnant, and then I was just looking forward to having a new person in the family. After that I only had occasional contact with pregnant women. But in college, I was around my friend more often, so it gave me more chances to ponder it. And what I remember observing is that pregnancy is a really bizarre idea.
Most of the time when we encounter another person, we know we’re addressing one person. But when that person is pregnant, we have to throw out that assumption, because no: The person we are confronted with is in fact enveloping a whole other person.
Now, you could argue that pregnancy is not weird because it happens to millions of people every day and is necessary for the survival of our species. But I would reply that just because something is common and essential doesn’t mean it isn’t weird. Weirdness comes from taking one state of affairs to be normal that’s different in some fundamental way from the weird one. In this case the normal condition is having one person contained in one body. The weird one is having more than one person in a body.
I think that most people secretly know that pregnancy is weird, because with only some small changes, the idea of two people in one body can be used in a narrative for dramatic effect, usually to disturb the audience. For instance, when the extra person (or creature) is a murderous parasite or when it has a fully developed mind of its own, especially when it’s hostile.
As much as I would like to believe my emotions reflect the objective truth about life, I grudgingly admit it’s important to note that weirdness is completely subjective and relative. Something feels normal to you when you’re used to it and comfortable with it and maybe you take it for granted. With enough imagination and effort, you can probably get yourself to see anything as normal or as strange. For an easy example, if you pick any word in your native language and say it many times in a row, it’ll temporarily lose its meaning for you and seem like merely a strange clump of sounds. And if you’re exposed over and over to something that’s outside what you’re used to, over time it can feel normal.
This is especially important because sometimes people’s everyday lives will seem weird to you, but you have to treat them like they’re not. Take conjoined twins. Some people in real life share part of a body long term, and these people should be shown the same care and respect as every other person. It’s worth the effort to learn to see them as normal, or at least not the kind of strange that would lead you to mistreat or neglect them.
Along those lines I would like to point out that weird doesn’t always mean “bad.” Weirdness usually comes with some other quality. I see the strangeness of pregnancy as a funny type of weird–interesting and kind of surprising but harmless and even good. Those science fiction examples were a creepy weird–you might feel threatened by them. And sometimes the weirdness is wondrous, such as most things that happen in astronomy and theoretical physics. I think a little of that kind shows up in pregnancy too.
All of which is to say, happy Mother’s Day!
I wonder if thinkulum is the funny kind of weird or the creepy kind of weird. He tells all these weird things.
To be honest, I am not sure if it is more weird to view a growing baby as a pseudo-parasite, or as a clump of cells that goes through the motions of differentiating, properly aligning themselves to get through the numerous stages of becoming what they eventually become.
Definitely the creepy kind, or something worse. 😛
Yeah, I was thinking there must be other weird things about pregnancy, and growing a person from a self-directing cell is certainly one of them.
Interesting Mother’s Day thoughts. 🙂 Considering the fact that members of the animal kingdom also give birth, perhaps pregnancy is not quite as weird as, well, commonplace?
Pregnancy, for an author, means giving birth to a book.
Yes. A weird kind of commonplace. 🙂
And I agree about authorship. One day in grad school, one of my colleagues walked into class looking frazzled. He had just finished a paper, and he announced that he felt like he’d just given birth. 😀 I’ve thought about my own writing that way too, though it’s usually a gentler procedure.
I agree, Andy. I still find that pregnancy strikes me as utterly bizarre, and that’s after watching my wife go through it eight times over the past 15 1/2 years!
Guess who inspired the post. 😉