Are pregnant women in top professions taking too many personal risks that endanger themselves and their unborn child ? Do we need saving from ourselves?
Dr Sam Decombel is a high-flying professional. A successful entrepreneur with two companies under her belt and a PhD in Genetics. A few months ago, Dr Decombel was invited to speak at a conference about science and entrepreneurship in Brussels. She gladly accepted the invite and knowing that she would be seven months pregnant by that point, requested that she travel by Eurostar. As the date drew closer, she was put in touch with the European Commission who would be paying for her travel. She explained to her new contact that she was seven months pregnant and received this response:
''Our colleagues from the European Commission are not very enthusiastic to take a risk for your health making you travel to Brussels at the late stage of your pregnancy''
She asked them to reconsider their decision with a carefully thought-out response, which they didn't bother to reply to.
She had been bumped because she had a bump. Thankfully Dr Sam wasn't about to take this lying down and she used Social Media to express her anger and frustration, and to demand an official response from the European Commission as to why they would revoke her invite despite her willingness to speak. You can read her response here
The whole incident underscores an ongoing cultural challenge women face in a variety of ways during their child-bearing years. The notion that a woman changes from the point of pregnancy is inherent in our society. Of course women do change during pregnancy, we change physically, the body we once knew changes beyond recognition and sometimes we have to adapt to fluctuating mental states - we are growing a human for god's sake! However, being pregnant does not make us lazy, it does not mean we should stop having any kind of social life, it does not mean we are incapable of doing our jobs and it certainly does not mean that we suddenly lose control of our ability to make our own decisions. The response by the European Commission belies a greater issue, that they believed Dr Decombel was incapable of making a decision about her own welfare. Was it that pregnancy had affected her ability to think rationally? Or do pregnant women need others to tell them when they are pushing themselves too far?
I am quite sure no malice was intended. The group of people who decided to revoke her invitation to speak, clearly thought making this journey whilst pregnant was risky. However, by taking that choice out of her hands they have incapacitated her, they have decided that she is incapable of considering what is risky for her and her baby and what isn't. It is particularly unfortunate that the response comes from a man, I am certainly not saying that only a man would react in this way, but having someone tell you what you are capable of whilst pregnant, when they have clearly never been pregnant themselves, is additionally problematic. Would the European Commission have revoked an invitation to speak if they had found out the speaker had a disability? I sincerely hope not.
Thankfully Dr Sam Decombel's story has set twitter on fire over the last few days as others rush to counteract these pregnancy stereotypes via a brilliant new hashtag #7monthsawesome where women are proudly stating what they achieved whilst pregnant. The hashtag is the antithesis to my campaign, Pregnant Then Screwed, a place for women to tell their painful stories of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
#7monthsawesome is a defiant response from women who are very aware of how systemic pregnancy discrimination really is. A collection of positive stories demonstrating how women are capable of incredible success and accomplishments whilst simultaneously creating new life.
The message is clear - stop making assumptions about pregnant women and do not underestimate us. We may be growing and carrying a new human being, but we are still fully capable of being awesome.