I am a proud member of the Better World Books, Blackwell’s and Bookshop.org affiliate networks – ethical and independent online bookshops. Please note that this post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you – plus I only link to books I’ve read, reviewed and am sure you’ll enjoy!
Format Audiobook (via BorrowBox)
Publication Date 11th August 2020
Length 224 pages / 6 hours 50 minutes
Content Warnings Rape and sexual assault, miscarriage, abortion, trauma, postnatal depression, domestic abuse, misogyny, racism, discrimination, transphobia, homophobia.
What It’s About
The USA is perceived as one of the most powerful countries in the world, yet it also has one of the highest maternal death rates. And those rates, already high, skyrocket if you happen to be a woman of colour, a gay or trans parent, or a working-class mother. In Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women, Lyz Lenz pulls apart these grim statistics to reveal just how harmful our cultural myths of motherhood have become.
From diminishing access to safe abortion, to the policing of pregnant bodies and the stigma of postnatal depression, the intimate and private act of creating a child has been dragged into the public arena for politicians to debate and everyone else to gossip over, or have an opinion about. Belabored is a furiously feminist manifesto that, finally, puts pregnant people, their bodies, and their choices at the centre.
First Chapter Impressions
I stumbled across Belabored while browsing through BorrowBox for audiobooks available instantly. Any bold feminist read is sure to catch my eye , but with the focus on pregnancy, I was dubious about how relevant if would feel for me (having never been pregnant). However, Lyz Lenz more generally tackles how society seeks to control women’s bodies in every facet of life, and I found it informative from the start.
Alongside her myth-busting mission, the author’s writing style, which combines honesty and vulnerability with a healthy dose of wry humour and righteous anger, also made me warm to the book very quickly.
Final Page Reflections
For a very modern book, I was surprised at how much the past pervades each chapter, through reference to historical details. These details were a smart framework though, managing to show both how much, and how little, the treatment of pregnant bodies has changed over centuries. Quoting from historical texts, as well as more contemporary books and scientific studies, allows a multitude of voices to be included.
While useful, these nods to other perspectives often felt superficial and devoid of a personal touch. Perhaps some interviews would have opened up a space for pregnant people of different backgrounds to share their experiences directly with readers.
Diversity and Representation
Writing a book on pregnancy through an intersectional feminist approach seemed tricky to me – there are so many assumptions to fall into, such as heteronormativity and cisnormativity. So, I appreciated the author’s careful efforts to be inclusive and acknowledge that unique and compounded discrimination is faced by pregnant people who are queer, trans, BIPOC, low income, etc.
- The body
Beyond the Book
Belabored proves that, when it comes to the female body, knowledge is power.
One of the early chapters dispelled a lot of my own misconceptions about the hymen. Like most girls in their teen years, I absorbed the bewildering gossip about this piece of anatomy, used to indicate virginity in terms such as ‘popping the cherry’. Yet the hymen never completely covers the vaginal opening (otherwise how would menstruation happen?!?), it varies in size and shape between individual females, and it can be eroded by tampon use – all meaning that hymen rupture and bleeding do not necessarily happen when a female has sex for the first time.
If you’re reading Belabored as a book club pick or just looking to ponder the book in a little more depth, these questions should help get you started:
1. What did you think of the historical details included throughout the book? Did they help you connect the treatment of pregnant bodies today with inherited myths and cultural norms from the past?
2. Share one fact you took away from Belabored that you didn’t know before.
3. The book has an overall structure divided into trimesters of pregnancy. Was this a useful framework, or would you have chosen to structure the information in a different way?
“It’s easy to gaslight a woman. Just tell her what she needs to do to be a good woman, a good mother. Then give her a mirror.”~ Lyz Lenz, ‘Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women’
Read If You’re looking for a sarcastic and unapologetic feminist statement about the body and agency.
- Hardback (New)
- Free Delivery!
- Hardback (New)
- Free Delivery!
- Hardback (New)
- Support independent bookshops!
You may also like: Eve Was Shamed by Helena Kennedy.
Have you read Belabored? Do you have any other feminist non-fiction books to recommend? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!