My friend had a baby earlier this summer and she told us she was pregnant around November. As soon as she told us, all the usual questions were asked. Do you want a boy or girl? What names do you have picked out? Has morning sickness started yet? There’s a pretty good list of questions that are fairly standard for women to ask when one of their friends gets pregnant, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “Why do we ask these questions?” Every pregnancy is different and some don’t even include the iconic pregnancy symptoms like shiny hair and morning sickness. Also, pregnancy comes with other symptoms than no one ever asks about. Have you ever asked your pregnant friend “how are the swollen ankles doing today?”

The reason why women only ask about certain aspects of pregnancy could be because they are culturally programed to think about pregnancy in certain ways. Danielle Bessett, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati, will present her research on this issue at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. At the meeting, she will present her paper entitled "Expecting Embodiment: Pregnancy Symptoms and the Cultural Mythologies of Pregnancy.”

In the paper, Bessett says that women are strongly influenced about how they perceive pregnancy by their friends and social entertainments and often the information is misguiding or straight up false. The research is based on a study she conducted with 64 women from the New York metropolitan area during 2004 to 2006.

Bessett says that her research shows “that we may underestimate the extent to which all of us hold understandings of pregnancy built incrementally through a succession of ephemeral encounters over our lifetimes and the extent to which those understandings affect us. It is important to recognize this phenomenon because it may result in different perspectives on what we can take for granted about pregnancy which may affect communication between women and their health care providers."

Many of the women she interviewed expressed concern over not experience the “typical” symptoms of pregnancy, such as morning sickness, and feared that something might be wrong with their fetus. Others experienced alarming symptoms that should have sent them to their doctors, but were instead explained away using knowledge that they just seemed to believe about pregnancy. In one instance, a woman experienced severe vomiting regularly, much more severe than typical morning sickness, but didn’t feel the need to see a doctor because she just thought that her baby didn’t like the food she was eating.

Most participants were interview three times. Once before birth, once after, and another time somewhere in between. The women were challenged to confront their views on pregnancy and where asked by Bessett where they learned their knowledge and if they had any source they found particularly true and why.

Source: American Sociological Association (ASA). "Cultural mythologies strongly influence women's expectations about being pregnant." ScienceDaily, 10 Aug. 2013. Web. 24 Aug. 2013.