All week we’ve been subjected to press releases from Halle Berry’s publicist about the “naturally” occurring conception and how “surprised” Ms. Berry was to learn she was expecting, followed by a heavily-photographed public display of evening gown-clad belly cupping.
We’ve made no secret of our disdain for celebrities using motherhood as a public relations tool because it propagates a “just like us” public image that is both condescending and disingenuous. Don’t tell me you understand my life as a mother, Beyonce, when you have multiple full-time nannies, housekeeping staff and private chefs. (And stop feeling like you have to pretend that this significant staff doesn’t exist. You and your husband have extremely hectic work schedules — you *need* the help!)
But with this natural conception rhetoric that Ms. Berry is shilling, there seems to be something more insidious than a run-of-the-mill motherhood PR play. Is the “mommy career bump” not as significant if the baby bump isn’t au naturel?
Becoming pregnant in your mid-40’s by *any* means is a damn miracle. At 46, Ms. Berry is closer to receiving an AARP card in the mail than the advanced maternal age cut-off. Sure, it’s possible that she became unexpectedly pregnant without medical intervention, but it’s very, very unlikely. (And one would think that accidental pregnancy is an oversight a woman would be savvy enough to avoid by her mid-forties.) So why lie? What’s wrong with a simple public statement announcing the pregnancy sans intimate details about the conception? Or, if Ms. Berry feels strongly about being candid, what would be the problem with sharing that she utilized assisted reproductive technology (“ART”) to conceive a much-wished-for child?
The problem, I daresay, is us.
The general public isn’t just interested in pregnancy and motherhood; it’s fascinated with an idealized notion of all-consuming, self-sacrificing, natural motherhood. The rising popularity — trendiness, even — of attachment parenting, organic baby *everything*, long-term breastfeeding, homemade baby food, and family beds speaks to this fascination. And as the general public struggles to live up to these impossible standards of “perfect” motherhood, they look to public figures — including celebrities — for inspiration. They want to hear that childbirth can be “fun” (according to Holly Madison who claims to have laughed while pushing) and that changing diapers is “beautiful” (eye roll in your general direction, Beyonce). They do not, however, want reminders about certain realities of motherhood, which is why nannies are often conveniently cropped out of paparazzi photos and why (we suspect) ART is rarely part of the discussion. Sure, Giuliana Rancic was open about her struggles with infertility, only to find herself on the receiving end of ugly speculation about why she needed ART (anorexia) and that her eventual struggle with breast cancer was caused by fertility medicines that could have been avoided if she’d just been willing to eat some fried chicken, already.
Still, if public image enhancement was her goal, we see Ms. Berry as having missed an opportunity here. Millions of women struggle with infertility and she could have been a rare authentic voice in the conversation. Instead, she seems determined to keep up the charade of eternal youth in the form of a “natural”, “surprise” pregnancy. Count us amongst the growing chorus of naysayers who aren’t buying what she’s selling and wish she didn’t feel the need to sell her impending motherhood in the first place.