Social Media Pregnancies – Where to Draw the Line?

If you’re like me, chances are by the age of 28 that you’ve had a few female friends announce on Facebook that they’re pregnant by posting early sonograms, a progression of baby bump photos and enthusiastic updates for nine months. And let’s not forget about the eery 3-D sonograms showing a nearly full-term baby weeks away from being born.

It’s been almost a year since three fuzzy-looking sonograms from three different female friends appeared unsolicited on my Facebook NewsFeed within a week, generating a strong response from me that was somewhere between sincere congratulations and “This is too much to share on Facebook” and “I really don’t want to see her unborn fetus and into her uterus.” I hadn’t seen or spoken to two of these Facebook friends since college and the third woman I run into on occasion. So, if they were my closest friends posting pregnancy related updates, I know I would have a different reaction and be more accommodating and understanding.

But being a Women’s and Gender Studies graduate student, I couldn’t let it go and I turned the topic into an academic research paper months later. I still haven’t come across a lot of scholars, journalists or bloggers writing about how women are uniquely using Facebook and other social media technology (Twitter, Flickr, YouTube) to document and share their pregnancies and the implications this has for perceiving women’s bodies and fetal personhood. So, I was surprised to find this story buried in The Washington Post Style section on June 10.

The news article’s focus is mainly how more women feel comfortable documenting their pregnancies through social media as a way to share with extended family and friends and swap advice with other moms and moms-to-be. According to a 2010 study by software maker AVG, more than 30 percent of American mothers have posted their sonograms online. By the time they are age 2, 92 percent of American babies will have an online presence.

The Washington Post’s news article is an interesting trend piece but no one in the story talked about how using social media in this way reinforces fetal personhood in a very visible and public manner. Nor did anyone discuss how social media sites like Facebook can be seen as a technology through which we view women’s pregnant bodies, in a way that is similar to ultrasound technology, although different since it is social and not medical.

In our highly medicalized, American system of childbirth, we view women’s pregnant bodies and fetuses through ultrasounds, sonograms and fetal heart monitors without giving it a second thought. In the history of women’s childbearing, ultrasound technology and sonograms are a very recent medical and social development. A trained medical professional in a position of authority and power views the pregnant woman through ultrasound technology, interprets the ultrasound image and confers meaning on it regarding the fetus’ size, health and sex. The couple then shares the image with family and friends in a social ritual that allows them to reinforce the fetus’ individuality and personhood. The woman simply becomes a vessel for carrying and delivering a healthy fetus to term.

Add Facebook and other social media outlets, and the ritual is magnified. Not only are we viewing our pregnant Facebook friends’ bodies through their sonograms but also through their profiles, which are carefully maintained with certain information and photos. Lines of privacy are blurred since there isn’t a way to control who sees and who doesn’t see the sonogram. Endless opportunities exist for friends and family to comment on how the fetus or woman looks, to compare it with their own experiences or our cultural expectations of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. Not to mention the opportunities our online networks have to assign gender to the unborn child.

I don’t judge any woman who decides to document their pregnancy in this way. Ultimately, we individually choose how much or how little to share about ourselves online. Pregnancy is just a temporary state reflected in the constant flow of information on online social media. The presence and staying power of social media like Facebook and Twitter and its potential to add meaning to and change women’s daily, lived experiences is something that feminists need to be critical of and watchful.

Originally posted on

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  • CEK

    Related to your second paragraph – a male co-worker of mine recently “announced” that his wife was pregnant with their first by tacking up their sonogram outside his office (actually a number of guys on my floor have done this). I tried to explain to my other coworkers that this was strange to me – I know I would definitely not want my guy showing all his coworkers and bosses and anyone else who happened to be walking by a picture of my insides. I tried to explain how it seemed that he was sharing a very private thing in a very public way and that it bothered me. I don’t think people got my point, but this does relate to how sharing sonograms, etc online (or in the hallway at work) can work to show the fetus as completely separate, and not a part of, the woman carrying it. Of course, maybe in this case the wife was 100% okay with this, I haven’t asked so I don’t know, but it did strike me as odd.

  • Critter

    I can’t stand social media pregnancies, as you put it, for two reasons. 1) Like you said, it’s all about giving personhood status to a fetus. It’s great that you’re pregnant, but we don’t need to anthropomorphize a fetus. And 2) it’s incredibly insensitive to women who have had/are thinking about an abortion, having fertility issues, or dealing with a miscarriage.

    • Jasmine

      Sure this raises points that I never would have considered, but I also find this and some comments incredibly condescending and elitist. I’m expecting my second baby in January 2012 and have just started announcing it to family and friend . With our first child we were so excited that we posted ultrasound pics and pics of me showing off my belly. My husband even hung up a copy of the ultrasound over his desk. Why does being proud of parenthood have some sinister motive behind it? I”m staunchly pro choice and carefully timed and planned these pregnancies, why can’t I be proud of being a mom? I had my first child’s name picked out when I was 6 months pregnant and from then on we all referred to her as Baby Esme because to us she was very much real. I think fetal personhood in legislative form is a slippery slope, but why begrudge expectant parents the joy of trying to connect with their babies in utero?

      BTW Critter, who thinks this is insensitive to those who “are thinking about an abortion, having fertility issues, or dealing with a miscarriage” How am I supposed to know that? That seems like something someone would share with someone they are very close with and trust, not someone they went to high school with a decade ago.

    • davenj

      1. To be fair, folks who are certain they want to carry a pregnancy to term have essentially given that fetus personhood, barring medical complications. And, of course, that is their right, just as it is their right to terminate that pregnancy. Pro-choice means being pro this kind of choice, too.

      2. Why is it insensitive? Unless it directly targets those women, or strives to claim that it’s the only legitimate option, it’s not ABOUT those women.

    • Alec

      @ Critter.I can’t stand social media pregnancies, as you put it, for two reasons. 1) Like you said, it’s all about giving personhood status to a fetus. It’s great that you’re pregnant, but we don’t need to anthropomorphize a fetus. And 2) it’s incredibly insensitive to women who have had/are thinking about an abortion, having fertility issues, or dealing with a miscarriage.

      2. I’m single and will be for the foreseeable future. Is it insensitive of co-workers to discuss their anniversaries or gifts their husbands have given them? Should they be forced to remove wedding photos or images of family vacations from their desk. How about wedding bands, should they be left in cars?

      I think women are tougher than you give them credit for.

  • Krista

    I have three kids. I both considered my options in regard to carrying the pregnancies to term and assigned them a “personhood” as I carried them to term.

    Abortion on demand is, in my opinion, a right that all women should have the abililty to exercise should they, themselves, not anyone else, deem it the appropriate solution for their life, body, mind, etc.

    However, trying to devalue the unborn child is not going to make a pro-choice argument more worthy or more valid. Trying to prove that a woman is somehow dehumanized through pregnancy is just as weak.

    For a pregnant woman to assign her unborn child a “personhood” is totally normal. If the reinforcing of the notion that an unborn child has the potential to become a person (or already is) is so offensive to the pro-choice rally that one must seek to eradicate the “ritual” then it is my opinion that this author’s personal rationalization for the legalization and accessibility to abortion on demand is weak and delusional.

    I found this article to be much like the elite feminism I see in the academy, devoid of reality.

    • beckeck

      I have to agree with Krista on this one. “Assigning personhood” to a fetus is a pretty normal and wonderful thing when you are planning on carrying that fetus to term. And the idea that showing pictures of your sonogram is insensitive to people who get abortions and therefore people shouldn’t do it (because then it’s not prochoice/feminist??)… sounds very off to me. Am I offended by straight couples who hold hands or kiss in public? Sometimes I feel annoyed and I judge them, sure. And I think about how our society rewards them for showing love in a way that society punishes the me for showing love to a girlfriend. But I absolutely DON’T think that it’s heterosexist or offensive of them. I don’t think they should not hold hands in public just because it is sometimes dangerous for me to hold hands with my partner.

      Again, I just whole heartedly agree with Krista here– “If the reinforcing of the notion that an unborn child has the potential to become a person (or already is) is so offensive to the pro-choice rally that one must seek to eradicate the “ritual” then it is my opinion that this author’s personal rationalization for the legalization and accessibility to abortion on demand is weak and delusional.”

      the pro choice movement would be a hell of a lot stronger and MORE HUMAN if we accepted that a fetus MIGHT BE A LIFE. and WOMEN SHOULD STILL BE ABLE TO CHOOSE.

    • Napoleoninrags

      Thank you so much for this comment. It very much summed up my own feelings on this post which I was having a difficult time putting into words.

  • FuzzyFace

    None of my friends are doing this right now, so I cannot say how I would react. I found some of your comments interesting, though, especially about “the implications this has for perceiving women’s bodies and fetal personhood.” Speculation aside, has anybody actually checked to see if this is causing attitudes to change?

    And is it true among your social circle that “[t]he woman simply becomes a vessel for carrying and delivering a healthy fetus to term”? I’ve known a fair number of pregnant women and never seen this attitude. Is facebook causing this? Or do we simply travel in very different circles.

    Finally, I would take issue with the comment that “there isn’t a way to control who sees and who doesn’t see the sonogram.” Do you mean that you cannot control the people to whom your friends show it? Certainly anyone who chooses to post such a private item should know that Facebook privacy controls allow them to restrict whose feed it shows up in.

  • Mirandom

    Normally I don’t mind when my facebook friends talk about their pregnancies or babies. It’s a big part of their lives and I understand that. However, I had one fb friend who felt it was necessary to update everyone with how dilated her cervix was. I hid her so her statuses so they wouldn’t show up in my news feed. Whatever line there is between sharing and oversharing, I feel like she crossed it.

  • Adrienne

    There was a girl on my newsfeed that actually put pictures of her C-SECTION on FACEBOOK. I saw the album title with a picture of the baby, and continued to click through to see more cute pictures when all of a sudden I was like, “OH MY GOD THAT’S HER BELLY WITH A SLIT IN IT AND A BABY HALFWAY OUT!”

  • sex-toy-james

    I admire your spin abilities, but I’m not buying that people sharing their sonograms on Facebook is all about promoting the personhood of that fetus, and reducing the mother to an incubator. What if, and this is a crazy idea, people might be doing it because they’re excited about their upcoming child and want to share that with others. Isn’t it a pro-choice ideal that children will be born into happy families who are looking forward to having and raising that child. Excited happy people share things online. I never worry that sharing pictures of the cat online is somehow reducing me to the role of cat tender.
    On the other hand, changing your profile picture to your baby’s picture and then discussing risque topics, kinda creepy.

  • Matt

    If people are sharing pregnancy-related images, I don’t particularly have a problem with it in general as long as it is the person expressing joy (rather than to “make a statement,” which I think is rarely the case), but such joy if not expressed with discretion can excessively/obnoxiously draw attention to oneself.

    Sort of a thing I think with CEK’s example is… does the guys who put sonograms on their doors also have pictures of their family in such plain sight (I’m guessing no, but I could be wrong)? It would be a bit strange for a fetus to be elevated above (say) a child in terms of importance.

    By the way, my sister did the thing of “updating on FB about how dilated her cervix was.”

  • athenia

    I really don’t understand the concept of being upset about what people post on Facebook. You’ve friended this supposed friend. Defriend them if you don’t like what they put on their feed. Very simple.

    But at the same time, why is a sonogram TMI? Grant it, my friends don’t do that, but how is that any different than big belly photos? Pictures of the actual kid? Count down clocks? Pictures of objects about the size of your baby?

  • jillian

    ugh. not another one of these. ok. if a co-worker/friend/highschool classmate was posting pictures of their cats, their lego collection, their garden, their clothes or other purchases, complaining about their jobs, gushing about their jobs, complaining about their partners, gushing about their partners or any other random ass personal idea about their life on facebook, twitter, their cubicle wall, would we really care?

    why is it only when a woman (or man) gets excited about wanted children that something is sooooooo totally too personal or boring to share with others? should i not post pictures of my garden because someone is allergic to something im growing, or lives in an apartment and cant have a garden and im suddenly be insensitive?

    here’s an idea – follow wheaton’s law when it comes to whatever “unsolicited” stuff comes from the social media feed of your accepted friends list.

    • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      This is how I feel. I’ve had pregnant friends post sonograms (though not a bombardment of them) and ok, I get that a wanted pregnancy is exciting and a big change in their lives. As long as someone’s not using such images to tell me that pro-choice is wrong, or that I need to follow suit and have a baby myself, it really doesn’t bother me any more than pictures of pets, gardens, new haircuts, whatever.

      As far as more graphic stuff like dilated cervixes (thought FB forbade nudity/genitalia shots?), C-sections, etc. I personally wouldn’t be bothered, but I know not everyone feels this way. I mean, growing up we had photos of my brother’s C-section birth in the family album, and I recently had a Facebook friend who posted a series of photos of bruises and their subsequent healing after he was mugged one night. I imagine that some people may find images like that disturbing as well. I do believe Facebook has some sort of filter option so that certain people don’t see certain updates, though I’ve never bothered with it. But maybe you could request to friends that while you’re happy for them and their pregnancy, you don’t want to see certain things?

    • Jamie

      I think the article is comparing sonograms to like pictures of a colonoscopy and other things like that. Personally I think sonograms and ultrasounds are creepy. I would never post those things or show them to people. I would think that my engorged belly would be enough evidence. My friend is pregnant and she has assigned her little boy a personality, mostly passing her thoughts off as his. I just think it’s super weird. Although I have yet to experience pregnancy, I do think people should just hold off until the child is born, in case something wrong happens or the child does not meet expectations. Pregnancy is a common thing, pretty boring to me. But the child that results, extraordinary!

  • Keke

    Wow. I’ve always been of the opinion that women should be able to freely choose. If they decide not to have children, that’s okay, but if they decide to have them then that’s fine too. I don’t understand how it is somehow wrong for a woman to be excited by what is natural. There is nothing disgusting about a woman bearing children, (though I would definitely draw the line at posting c-sections and actual birth photos) and if a woman assigns personhood to her own fetus, that is her choice. That does not take away from a woman who decides not to undertake a full pregnancy.

    The problem I sometimes have with mainstream feminism is that it tends to reject anything considered conventional about womanhood, but the thing is, a woman has a RIGHT to choose. If I don’t want to see my friend’s ultrasound, I ignore it, just as if I don’t want to see their drunken forays in Cabo San Lucas I don’t have to engage in that either. As an expectant mother, when I read things like this, it makes me feel as if I’m engaging in something unnatural or disgusting, and that somehow my choice to have a child is infringing on someone else.

    By debating whether a woman’s pregnancy is appropriate conversation, is once again reducing a woman to a body, rather than a human being with dynamic choices and perspectives.

  • jillian

    Now that I got that out of my system, let’s look at this another way. What if one considers the ‘oversharing’ of the pregnant and lactating body a way of normalizing women’s bodies and experiences? Is an ‘I’m not sorry’ story oversharing? Is ‘born this way’ oversharing?

  • Mollie Murphy

    I have heard comments about how posting ultrasounds are too personal for facebook. I always just assumed “who cares if you should the inside of your body.” I wouldn’t care if someone saw a picture of my pancreas. However, this article made me look at things in a new light. Seeing how publicizing ultrasounds enforces fetal personhood can help to see that these pictures hurt the Pro-Choice movement. They take the woman out of the picture and display the ultrasound as a person. Very thought provoking and there needs to be more discussion on this topic!

  • Kate

    This is a great piece. Have you read Rayna Rapp? She writes about this – you should check out “Real-Time Fetus: The Role of the Sonogram in the Age of Monitored Reproduction,” pp. 608-622 in Beyond the Body Proper, eds. Lock and Farquhar – it’s right up your alley.

  • Kate

    Also, I posted my previous comment before I’d read through any of the others – and I really don’t think the author was being judgmental, but really just discussed the ways in which reproductive monitoring has combined with social media in a way that is changing the ways pregnant women and their loved ones REPRESENT and EXPERIENCE pregnancy. I feel like people just read the first paragraph and missed the rest….?

  • eljay

    “The couple then shares the image with family and friends in a social ritual that allows them to reinforce the fetus’ individuality and personhood. The woman simply becomes a vessel for carrying and delivering a healthy fetus to term.”

    Why does the sharing of information or images about a woman’s pregnancy render her role in the matter merely that of a vessel? This is an illogical leap in your argument. I also disagree that the purpose or effect of this sharing is necessarily to grant individuality to the fetus. In each of my pregnancies, the simple fact of growing a person was my reason to celebrate, and to share, and to talk about it. Not trying to invent personalities for them, or to trumpet their distinct little selves, but just to say ‘holy crap, this astonishing thing is happening! I am helping to do this astonishing thing!’

    And critter, well, I don’t know about anthropomorphizing a fetus. I mean, those images are of fetuses but in the end a fetus is a human baby. My son died before he was born and you’d better believe we are grieving a person, not the ‘products of conception.’ It needn’t follow that I am anti-choice because I think of him as a person who only lived inside me. In fact, the experience has made me even more committedly pro-choice than I was before. This is serious, heavy stuff, this making and ending of life, and we ought to have as much control and choice in the matter as we can.

    Just joining many others in saying that celebrating pregnancy is not going to harm the struggle for reproductive rights, that revelling in my pregnancies did not reduce me to a mindless container for their growth, and that it’s even okay to think of a fetus as a baby human. This stuff is not a threat to pragmatic, rights-based, respectful advocacy of reproductive rights.

  • Clacy

    The whole point of Facebook is to gush about things in your life that others may or may not care about. It’s fairly easy to control who sees what pictures you post, what notes you write, etc. It’s also fairly easy to control who your friends are. If you have friends who are not that close to you and you don’t really care about what they have to say, unfriend them. It’s that easy. I am 6 months pregnant and I do have fuzzy sonograms posted. I post them for my aunt and uncle who are several states away from. For my father. For my friends who, since they know me, are going to wonder where the micro-human came from.

    Talking about your pregnancy is a personal decision, but that means you do have the right to shout it from the roof tops and tell everyone you know. I’ve seen articles praising a woman for tweeting her abortion (which I’m totally OK with) but pregnancy should be hidden? Any personal information that anyone wants to share is their choice. Sharing your trauma, your decision making process, or your good news, is all equally valid. If sharing sonograms is too much, is talking about how sick your chemo made you too much? I don’t think so. It’s your life and your right to share it with whomever you like. If you, personally, don’t want
    to see it, then don’t look. It’s your feed. It’s information you chose from people you wanted to hear from, it’s not something that is being inflicted upon you against your will.

  • Rachel Piazza

    I think you bring up really interesting points. Reproductive technologies such as 3D sonograms do change the way we perceive women’s bodies and pregnancy in general. Add social media to that equation, and the social implications grow exponentially.

    I have many friends who do this, and I do enjoy seeing the images. The pictures often resemble one of the parents… it’s really quite neat! I certainly don’t think these women are consciously contributing to something negative (I know that’s not what you are suggesting)… they are genuinely excited and want to share that with their friends .

    However, I agree that these technologies serve to promote fetal personhood while detracting from the mother’s own personhood. I would also argue that they serve to bypass the “natural” boundary of the mother’s body. 3D sonograms and the public sharing of them give society unprecedented access to the inside of a woman’s womb… a scary concept given the current political climate where women’s bodies are under siege and too often subjected to government and social control.

    Thanks for writing about this very interesting topic!

  • Jennifer

    1. I think the emphasis of the warning implied by this article is on the “potential,” as stated in the last sentence: social media is a tool that *could be* used in such arguments. However, a hammer isn’t going to jump off the tool bench and slam you between the eyes, and it’s important to remember that social media are tools. If someone wanted to use social media to assign personhood (citizenship? a visa?) to a fetus, then they could, but that’s not the broad use.
    2. I think the primary issue in play is the still the phenomenon of mass social tourettes that has taken the world by storm with the advent of internet based social media (SM). Preteens, grandparents, teachers, congressmen (ahem, Weiner), doctors, etc are all of a sudden creating personal profiles that present a self-image in a democratic and yes I mean democratic, I see people at the library using Facebook for free, medium. I think it’s less that fetuses are in danger of being given voting rights, and more that neurotic, hormonal SM users are reaching the baby boom. Other TMI issues have come up with SM, like beaudoir messages, old frat party pictures haunting you during job fairs, etc.

  • F.Toth

    I don’t want to see anybody’s sonograms. Ever. I say this as someone who has been subjected to dozens of them. As a children’s librarian, I have had the experience, over and over again, of someone shoving the little chalk smudges into my face and expecting me to get emotional about it.

    I don’t want to see the result of someone’s sperm and someone else’s egg until it is born.

    And I feel that posting such things is highly insensitive to those struggling with fertility issues, who probably do not make such things public.

    I do see the need to assign your fetus personhood, because it helps the parent/s prepare for the care and the life change associated with a baby, even a subsequent one. I can see it for the parent/s. Not for anyone else.

    Pregnancy is a highly personal experience, unlike, say, weeding your garden.

    Here’s an idea: how about people only show sonograms to those who ask to see them?

    • KGirl

      You have just described how you feel, many women do not think of pregnancy as something “highly personal.” Many women are excited and scared, and they want to share their experiences with family and friends who can offer support and advice based on experience. Also, I think it is ridiculous to condemn these women who want to share as insensitive. Should I not post pictures of my graduation because it will hurt the feelings of people who dropped out of college? Should I not post pictures of my boyfriend because it will make some people feel lonely? I think true friends can be happy and excited for each other, even when they are struggling with related hardships.

    • Jasmine

      If people keep their fertility issues private , how the hell am I supposed to know if posting about my pregnancy on facebook is going to offend someone? Maybe I should take down my wedding pictures too in case a facebook friend is having marital problems. Sometimes I get sick of walking on egg shells for everyone.

  • kmcakes

    Suggesting that women should hide their ultrasounds because it reduces them to incubators and contributes to ideas of fetal personhood is not only ridiculous, but just another shaming mechanism. How is it different than any other shaming narratives that are used in our society to control women’s behaviors and undermine their autonomy? New mothers will be shamed for what they eat, how the feed their babies, where they breast feed if they choose to do so, how they give birth, and a myriad of other things. Feminists should be supporting pregnant women, not adding to the chorus of shamers by saying that sharing their pregnancies is undermining choice.

  • Alec

    There is a very simple solution to your acquaintances, they don’t sound like actual friends, filling your Facebook Newsfeed with information about their pregnancies that you’d rather not see, hide them. They will never know.

  • Wren

    So you’re trying to tell me that because I decided the fetus in my womb is a person that MUST be in on some prolife conspiracy to help put all fetuses up to that standard? I’m a bit offended. I’m giving the child I WANTED person-hood. Why? Because I’m hoping that she grows up to be a wonderful human being who actually brings something good into this world. I am excited for her, I have hopes and dreams for her, THAT is why this particular fetus has person-hood. Do I expect all women to feel that way when they become pregnant? No. And it’s not my place to tell them their wrong, just like it’s not YOUR place to tell me that a pregnant woman isn’t allowed to attach some kind of person-hood to the child she is expecting because it reinforces prolife ideas and that’s wrong.

  • Nay

    Are you kidding me? If a woman wants to express joy at her pregnancy by displaying her ultrasound pics, it is HER CHOICE! If she feels comfortable displaying her body like that then it is her CHOICE!

    You know in the old days they used to make pregnant women stay at home so society *gasp* wouldn’t have to look at them. You seem to have the same attitude. You seem to be dehumanizing women who are pregnant by suggesting that they hide themselves in shame. OMG, pregnant women are so dirty and icky. You think you’re so liberal and progressive but you are more conservative than you care to acknowledge.

    And to follow up on Critter’s example. ANYTHING you post could be “insensitive” to someone’s feelings. Father’s Day is coming up and my dad is dead. So does that mean that people who celebrate Father’s Day are insensitive jerks? Does that mean that people who post family pictures of their dads are insensitive to people like me? Of course not! I constantly post pictures of my pets on facebook. So I must be an insensitive jerk who doesn’t care about people who’ve lost their pets. I also have family pictures of my mom, sibling, cousins, etc on facebook. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have lost their mothers, siblings, or cousins. Does that mean I’m being insensitive to those people?

    There are much more important women’s issues to talk about, considering there are women dying of AIDS, working in sweatshops, being forced into human trafficking, or being affected by wars. Yet, you’re freaking about *OMG* *gASP!* FACEBOOK pics!!! This article is pure ivory tower elitist tripe.

    • Jasmine

      That was awesome! I was thinking the exact same thing.

    • Ev

      There is a distinct difference between using a sonogram as a tool for anti-choice propaganda and sharing sonograms with your friends and family. The first is “assigning personage” to a random, stock-footage fetus as a shock tactic. The second is a woman celebrating the choice she has made to have her child. Believing that fetuses should not have legal personhood does not mean any happily pregnant woman should feel guilt or hesitation to treat her fetus as her child. To infer otherwise is to call into doubt a woman’s sovereignty over her own body. I don’t want the government telling a woman her unwanted fetus is a baby, but I also don’t want to see women telling each other that their wanted fetuses can’t be considered babies because it hurts the pro-choice movement. That choice is up to the pregnant woman.

  • Caiti Kenney

    I agree with Krista, I think it is normal and healthy for a woman who wants a baby to assign their baby personhood, to sing to it, be proud of it, talk about it, get support from her community, online or elsewhere. I am hardline pro-choice and do not believe that fetuses should have legal personhood. But it is wrong to make pregnant women feel like their pregnant bodies are somehow obscene by showing disgust at sonograms, or that their emotional attachment to their fetuses is making some sort of anti-choice political statement. To take the reverse, I also wonder what this does to women going through miscarriages. If I were mourning a miscarried fetus, I wouldn’t want anyone implicating that sharing my loss is making a political statement about fetal personhood, and that therefore my mourning is anti-choice. For many, many women, pregnancy– wanted, not wanted, aborted, carried to full term, or miscarried– comes with a whole mess of emotions that are wrapped up with personifying the fetus. As feminists, we should welcome this complexity and not ostracize women based on how they relate to their fetuses. As a part of a pregnant woman’s body, she has the right to relate to her fetus however she pleases.

  • Emily Cohen

    This is an interesting thread to read, and I like the spectrum of response. Hm. There’s an uneasiness I often feel, in this anti-abortion climate, when trying to hold both/and around celebrating what choice looks like in utero. I can just add re: Critter’s 2nd point that “it’s incredibly insensitive to women who have had/are thinking about an abortion, having fertility issues, or dealing with a miscarriage”… Almost two years ago (has it been that long?!), an acquaintance from high school posted a photo of her sonogram as her profile photo in really close time proximity to when I got an abortion. Obviously my acquaintance didn’t know about my experience and wasn’t out to shame me — and I didn’t have that delusion — but the post was triggering for me. I have shared my ultrasound before and after set with some people in person, and one response is that my images of a wanted to-be-terminated pregnancy termination need to be kept private and silent and secret because they are threatening. (To whom, to what?) ..Whereas, when my sister e-mailed me the first sonogram images of my nephew, folks got excited and wanted to see that.

  • Joyanna Eisenberg

    I agree with the commenters who say that people post such pictures because they are excited, and are not trying to make a statement about the personhood of the fetus inside them.

    That being said, it makes me uncomfortable to see early pregnancies posted about — with or without sonogram pictures — because when I had my two miscarriages, I would not have wanted to share that with the world, and I always think “Oh now that she’s posted, I hope the pregnancy continues normally.” That is why I did not post about my viable pregnancy until I felt the chances were good that I would actually get a baby out of it. I personally also waited until after the screening was done, because if there had been an issue that I might have terminated for, I would not have wanted to share that with the world either.

    But women have the right to choose to share their pregnancies — and their sonogram pictures — with everyone, just as they have the right to choose what to do with those pregnancies. If it seems strange to share a picture of your insides, I understand that, but there are those who post X-Rays of broken bones, and I can’t imagine thinking “what a private thing to share!” Perhaps some people feel otherwise.

    As for men hanging sonograms on their cubicles, I feel about the same, although I do feel that he needs to have the mother’s permission before displaying it, because it IS a picture of the inside of her body, and because she may, like me, feel uncertain about the outcome of her (probably wanted) pregnancy. I do not feel he needs to ask his wife permission to hang up a photo of the child AFTER it’s born.

    So yes, women’s bodies belong to them. And I am often bewildered by people who post about their pregnancies the moment they get a positive test, because of the potential emotional consequences of making a pregnancy public so early. But it is THEIR choice to share what they wish to share, and for them, sonogram pictures are just images of something they are joyfully looking forward too. And maybe kinda cool too, if you like seeing what technology can do.

    Also, I don’t think people in the pro-choice camp will be swayed by sonogram pictures; to say so would be strengthening the argument of those who run crisis pregnancy centers (“If she could only see the sonogram, she’d see it’s a person”) and would be belittling the fact that the decision to abort is rarely based on a woman’s perception of the fetus, but is instead based on much more complex issues involving her own life and the future of any child she might birth should she carry the pregnancy to term.

  • Magoonski

    I think you’re just not getting the point. Social media is where people share their lives and try to feel self-important. Of course, every picture, thought and comment about their unborn is going to be posted.
    As for your own Facebook page…the only reason people mark their page as ‘public’ and have accepted friend requests from people they barely know is because they are seeking attention. Really, if you don’t want to see that stuff from people you don’t care about then only have your real friends and family on your account!

  • KGirl

    We anthropomorphize our dogs, cats, sometimes even our cars. As commented above, I think it is totally natural for a couple to anthropomorphize a soon-to-be-baby. I also think that it is really unfair to condemn people who are excited about an upcoming birth as insensitive for sharing information about their pregnancies online. I think it is possible to be excited for a friend who is pregnant even if you personally are dealing with infertility, miscarriage, or an abortion. People have different tolerances for sharing and receiving personal information. I had a friend who blogged her entire pregnancy in detail, and while that is not something I would do, I found her account fascinating. I am pro-choice, and I don’t believe that fetuses should be treated as people in law or policy, but I also don’t think the pro-choice should alienate the many women who are excited about having children by censusing them for wanting to share their experiences. Putting a sonogram up on Facebook does not mean I have reduced myself to a vessel.

  • Sarah

    Your idea that showing pictures of an unborn baby is TMI and therefore too personal for social media immediately reminded me of Victorian attitudes towards pregnant women – that it was too taboo and as such they should remain indoors in order not to offend.

    Having a scan is part of the FUN ritual of being pregnant with a very much wanted and loved “fetus”. In fact, medical experts claim that women who see their baby on ultrasound often experience better bonding – which is a *very good thing* when you want to have a baby. It’s also a great way to make it real for other family members.

    I was so happy and excited to see my “Seven week old embryo”, or as I liked to call him “my baby”, that I emailed a copy of it to all my friends. The fact is that I was just so damn happy to know he was there in my belly – as small and non-human as he was at that stage. :) It’s also completely normal to share such a happy and exciting piece of news – and I’d probably have put the pic’s up on facebook if I’d been using it at the time.

    You seem to be very worried about the idea of assigning a fetus or embryo “personhood”, but the fact is that for a woman wanting the baby she is having, that little bundle of cells IS, for some women, a person from the moment the pregnancy test is positive.

    Anti-choicers are just folks that are unable to make peace with the fact that to a woman who wants an abortion that thing growing inside her just isn’t a person. By forcing scans on women having an abortion it is just a way of forcing her to see that baby/embryo/fetus as a “person” like they did with their *wanted* baby.

    Telling pregnant couples not to post pictures of scans is just as offensive as forcing a woman to look at a scan when she wants an abortion IMO. Everyone just needs to learn to respect that some people want to have babies and others want abortions.

    By the way, if scan photo’s are TMI then how do you feel about The Feminist Breeder Live-Blogging the birth of her third baby?

  • Sara

    A couple of thoughts:

    – In this case, I think (and will comment on this more below) the sharing of sonograms/etc. are part of our culture’s way of socializing pregnancy, which is a huge event for a lot of people (not everyone, as someone else has already pointed out). I have a number of issues with our medical culture myself and have never carried a pregnancy to term, so I’m not sure how I would handle it, but I do think that the impulse to share big experiences is part of observing them as landmarks.

    – I agree, and hadn’t really considered before, that one consequence of social-media-sharing is a shift in our tech’s ability to endorse the idea that a fetus is a person. However, the shift is in the scope of that message, not the message itself (i.e., social media increases the rate/likelihood our exposure to the information, but not necessarily that we are exposed to it). I think it’s a worthwhile point, but I also agree with Krista’s comment inasmuch as pro-choice arguments that focus on invalidating the “fetus-as-a-person” stance have limits, even as someone who finds that particular stance a troubling, potentially dangerous, quite potent distraction. (I’ll leave it at that for now, though there’s more I could say.)

    -I disagree wholeheartedly with, and find actually quite inflammatory, the statement, “The woman simply becomes a vessel for carrying and delivering a healthy fetus to term.” Sharing photos with friends has become a way of socializing and developing identity (it was true before, but even more so since the advent of facebook, etc.) . The parent(s) who engage in sonogram sharing are as much creating their identities as parents as they are having a sort of “coming out” occasion for their upcoming child. The extent to which the situation (at least in my read/experience of the phenomenon) has to be stretched to fit this analysis renders it untenable, and the analysis ends up looking more dehumanizing towards pregnant people than the actual phenomenon does.

    -Finally, the post didn’t touch on the element which I find most troubling about sonogram-sharing and the 92%-of-babies-under-the-age-of-two statistic, which is, who is looking out for the privacy of babies? Are we really so prepared to rear children with no expectation of privacy from online photo-sharing and social media? Identity-sharing and creation have been changed by the information age, and I suppose it falls into the realm of parenting to an extent/age. However, I think this is where validity to the concern for privacy comes in. Whether viewing images is an choice (via defriending/filtering/media seclusion) is another matter, but the one person (or person-to-be in the case of a fetus, yes I get it) who does not have any say in the matter is the under-age-two child, who has at best a nascent understanding of what the heck is going on. We don’t really know how this media-exposure-from-birth-or-before lifestyle affects us as individuals or socially, and we won’t for some time.

  • emjb

    You could, if you liked, make an alternate argument, that acknowledging the reality of pregnancy as it happens (including FB posts about yes, dilation, but also achy backs, swollen feet, cravings, fatigue, to name a few things my pregnant FB friends post about) actually makes the woman more important, not less. It makes creating that baby something she is doing and experiencing, rather than it just showing up one day.

    The thing w/ FB is, if you really don’t want to talk to a woman about a very large event in her life, like pregnancy…maybe she isn’t someone you should follow.

    As for some sort of boost to the prolife movement, eh; pictures of in-utero fetuses have been around a *long* time. A woman considering an abortion is highly unlikely to post such pictures or mention her pregnancy on FB; she is also likely to be seeking an abortion very early in pregnancy, not when the fetus has actually started to look more human.

    And until pretty far in to the pregnancy, they really look very inhuman, not cute really at all; and even in late -term ultrasounds, the fetus is actually squashed and hard to make out. I usually had to Photoshop in little arrows and notes that say “this is the head” and such for many of them, because they were such blobby images.

  • Neil

    Personhood is a moral and legal social construct, but it is not entirely invented – it has biological underpinnings. A fetus is not a rock or a tree or a puppy, “anthropomorphise” is not a good word to use to describe assigning a fetus human characteristics – it probably actually has them.

    Newborn babies do not tend to have strong personalities, either, but in our society they are granted personhood. It is likely that a baby begins to develop some of its unique human characteristics while still in utero.

    In some societies and in the past, it was considered okay to expose an unwanted newborn after delivery. In other societies fully formed adults have been treated as non-persons for some purposes (such as US slavery, which treated slaves as non-persons in legal matters, but in some moral matters did not – for instance they were considered persons in the sense that they should be taught religion. One does not proselytize to mere livestock, or to a fetus.)

    To say that to be pro choice we must absolutely deny that a fetus can be a person is asking too much. A reasonable pro choice position in my opinion must contend that a fetus may be in some moral sense a person, but should be denied legal personhood to the extent that it is permitted to be aborted. This idea is generally accepted in our legal landscape today, as reflected by the fact restrictions on abortion are legal after viability.