Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s silence around her pregnancy is an act of resistance.
Though women in the United States enjoy much more freedom today in expressing their pregnancies than they used to, their behavior is still constrained by social expectations and stereotypes. The cultural mores surrounding pregnancy—for example that pregnant women ought to be health-conscious, self-sacrificing, retiring, and exceedingly careful—are perhaps nowhere more visible than when viewed through pop culture’s coverage of pregnant celebrities, who find themselves surveilled by the mainstream press and tabloids, their motherhood narrative crafted by media onlookers and held up under the microscope of the public eye.
The internationally renowned novelist has refused to write a narrative of pregnancy in the public eye, at all.
Celebrities like rapper M.I.A. and actress Mila Kunis, though, have recently offered performances of pregnancy that disrupt these expectations, and refuse to comply with popular wisdom. As I argued in my study of celebrity pregnancy M.I.A.’s “pregga swagga” on display at the 2009 Grammy awards, asserted the power of women: With it, she refused to perfo rm the wilting, fragile, incommodious feminine associated with late stage pregnancy, charging onto stage to deliver an energetic performance while nine months pregnant. Mila Kunis’ performances of pregnancy—from a fire-and-brimstone skit on the Jimmy Kimmel show, to an unassuming interview she gave to Ellen—all combined to deny the press an easy verdict on maternal style—narratives that often slate into two types: the docile good girl or the bad mom.
Now Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has taken this disruptive denial of narrative to glorious new heights: the internationally renowned novelist has refused to write a narrative of pregnancy in the public eye, at all. As she told an editor from the Financial Times over lunch at the end of June, “I have some friends who probably don’t know I was pregnant or that I had a baby.”