• Fri, Jan 24 - 11:00 am ET

According To Pregnancy Books, Only White Women Get Pregnant

I work as a doula. Although I love my job, I can’t help but be bothered by how the world seems to think that only white women care about childbirth. The literature of unmedicated childbirth often co-opts experiences of women of color to serve as an inspiring example of unmedicated birth, while also leaving people of color out of the general discussion and advocacy related to pregnancy and birth.  But this kind of systemic racism isn’t limited to the “natural” birth movement: It’s happening everywhere in the “mainstream” pregnancy world, too.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but women of color are seriously missing from the imagery of anything that has to do with being pregnant, giving birth to a child, or parenting a newborn. Every cover of every pregnancy book? A white woman. Every baby book? A white baby. Don’t believe me? Here, look. This is the result of a Google image search for pregnancy book:

pregnancy-books-white-women

When I searched for pregnancy book on Amazon, there was one ambiguously brunette woman out of the first thirty-two books that came up. Here on Barnes and Noble’s Pregnancy & Childbirth page, there’s one woman of color depicted in the first thirty books (and she’s a drawing, on the cover of a book with two other white people). Here are the covers of some of the pregnancy/newborn books I own as a doula (except for about five of them which got lost in my recent move and some that live in my doula bag.) And these are like, the hippie, liberal birth books!

birth-books

See a theme developing here? Now obviously, the biological processes of being pregnant and giving birth are the same, no matter what your race or ethnicity. But I think the racism that’s evident in birth imagery is worthy of comment and worthy of calling out.

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  • Bethany Ramos

    This was a great post, Carrie! I’m also so fascinated by your work as a doula and think your opinion really counts on this topic.

  • Samantha Escobar

    This is one of those times where I’m not remotely surprised, but still really, really sad.

  • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

    It is racism, and you are right for saying so. I had so so many baby books when I was pregnant, and TBH I never noticed and I think a lot of women don’t. But I would never hesitate to buy a book because of what race the woman on the cover was. Back then we didn’t have no fancy internet and I collected baby books like crazy. Thank you for this piece Carrie

  • simoneutecht

    As a woman of color you said it perfectly. Thank you.

  • Aimee Beff

    Oh man, those are some depressing statistics. We’re still at a point in society where “person” is taken to mean “white straight cis man” and “woman” is “white straight cis woman” and if we have narratives about people who deviate from that “standard” by being gay/POC/trans/etc. then that narrative is mostly required to revolve around their other-ness. It’s well past time to derail this Bullshit Train, because representation matters hugely.

    • Atti Ann

      This is about race. Why bring SEXUALITY/gender identity into it? Race is its one can of worms, and that is the focus here.

    • Aimee Beff

      You’re right. I think it is important to discuss making room for people of different sexuality and gender identity in reproductive politics, but this is neither the time nor place for that, and I apologize for my whitesplaining. I’m sorry.

    • Marly Pierre-Louis

      I disagree and I think you were right to bring it Aimee. For some of us, race, gender, sexuality, class are not neatly packaged boxes. They are linked and intersectional. It makes perfect sense to me to include sexuality and gender in a discussion of race and childbirth.

    • Aimee Beff

      I definitely agree that these issues intersect and need to be part of the discussion! I just think that as a white woman it isn’t my place to carve out of the already unfairly small space afforded to WOC for their discussions.

  • Julia Sonenshein

    Really fantastic reporting, Carrie.

  • http://ichasekids.com/ Litterboxjen

    This book supports your premise by having a white woman on the cover, but I know that inside the pages women and families of many different nationalities are shown: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/im-pregnant-revised/9781553631460-item.html?ikwid=i%27m+pregnant!&ikwsec=Home&gcs_requestid=0COCr3pWnl7wCFUhS5wodDVQAAA

  • JLH1986

    I worked at a bookstore last year around Christmas. We ordered “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in many different versions (more cartoon like drawing, more artistic, traditional and one where Santa and the family were African-American). The Africa American “Twas the Night Before Christmas” though identical in story (no remakes!) didn’t sell a single copy in 8 weeks. Whereas we repeatedly ran out of the other books. When that was the only “Twas” book left, customers would wait list themselves for other books instead of buying that book. Racism…alive and well everywhere.

  • Terry Teague SF

    Are there non-whites who write pregnancy books?
    Are there non-whites who are pregnant that are signed with modeling agencies?
    How many non-whites are in the market to purchase pregnancy books?
    Maybe one of the problem is passive bigotry, but maybe another problem is that is how the market has formed.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Are there people of color who get pregnant or want to learn about pregnancy? I think there’s a market.

    • Terry Teague SF

      we should write a book Julia

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Sign me up!

    • jack_sprat2

      This echoes a common lament heard in the 1970′s. Black people wanted to know why there were no commercial hair preparations for “our” hair. The lack was referenced, over and over again, in a wide variety of venues. Many was the time when I found myself literally screaming at some TV talking head, telling them to seize the supposed opportunity their own damn selves. If there’s money to be made, then why in Sam Hill would you want some WHITE man to make it, fools?!

      See a business opportunity. Complain about how someone else doesn’t capitalize on it. Shee-eesh! I had hoped that such learned helplessness had died out with Russell Simmons. Apparently not.

    • afrokhaleesi

      Well it’s not always as easy as just “do it yourselves.” You have to have the resources. You have to have the funding. You have to have the backers. You have to have the knowledge. You can’t just get up one day, decide you want to create a commercial to air on national television, and have at it. Somebody has to accept that commercial. Somebody has to back it. Somebody has to provide the money for you to fund the filming, production, and payment of everybody involved in the production of said commercial. Guess who tends to be in charge of said things? Majority? White people. Guess who isn’t as willing to allow us to put our stuff out there? Yep. There are plenty of Black creators who are trying to get their stuff out there, but there are a lot of old white men with an unwillingness to veer from the status quo.

      Furthermore, if you yourself aren’t Black, it might do you well to not try and suggest how we handle our business, when you clearly don’t have very much knowledge on why we do or don’t do the things we do, or have the things we have/don’t have.

    • Are you nuts

      I wondered the same thing about authors. If I wrote a book about pregnancy, I would probably choose a white woman who is about 30 with brown hair to be on the cover, because that’s what I look like. Narcissistic, I guess, but not unnatural.

  • Sarah

    I am a doula in the Midwest and currently have a black client hoping for a vbac after two cesareans. I was horrified at the lack of information/discussion her doctor had provided her with compared to what I know for a fact was given to other white clients also attempting vbacs and going to that particular ob practice. it was very depressing to realize she was obviously just being given lip service about “yes you can try for a vbac!” but no practical info.

  • Zettai

    This is so appreciated. I recall a study (maybe Mommyish posted it, not sure) where it said that people were given 3 ads, one with a white person, one with a tattooed person, and one with a black person. The majority of people wanted to buy the product the white person (non-tatted) was selling.

    So you could say, they put white babies on baby books so they will be sold. But at the same time, it’s like you said–baby books will ALWAYS be sold, because there’s ALWAYS a market for them! For all of you authors and publishers, is it too much to ask to “risk” a handful of sales by putting a baby with a different skin tone on the cover?

    Sadly, the answer is yes.

  • CW

    These are English language books. I would expect pregnancy books written in Spanish to be much more likely to have a Latina on the cover. And when I look at the woman on the cover of “QuĂ© Puedes Esperar Cuando Estás Esperando” she does have dark hair, eyes, and caramel-colored skin.

  • AP

    I’ve worked with an incredibly diverse group of kids and families over the years, and I have an inkling that white, middle-class parents consume this literature at far higher numbers than any other demographic. For example, I have told countless upper middle-class white parents that their 9 month old should not be leaning headfirst in the deep end of the pool, or throwing toys at people, or sticking their fingers into fans, or sneaking into staff areas to play with chemcials and razor blades- only to have the upper middle class white parent say confrontationally, “Why not? It’s part of our parenting philosophy to let the child lead and explore and creativity and curiosity! We don’t want to stifle development!”

    I have never, not once, had an African-American, Asian-American, Indian-American, Hispanic-American, multi-racial, or immigrant parent from a wide variety of continents, of any income bracket, or Caucasian parent of lower-middle class or lower argue with me. Often, every demographic except upper middle class white parents would immediately stop and correct their child from doing something dangerous, and apologize to me profusely for their child’s transgression, even if it was an expected, developmentally appropriate behavior, like running away from Mom giggling or throwing a stray ball.

    It’s not a lack of diversity for non-upper-middle-class whites; it’s that upper-middle class whites are pregnant with the “sucker born every minute.”

    • lala

      Do you think it is a matter of too much college/not enough high school… a lack of street smarts leading these upper middle class to believe in all these crazy theories.. too smart for their own good in a way (but not smart in the areas where you need to succeed in life). This definitely makes sense and I agree with above poster!

    • AP

      I think it’s exactly that…all book smarts and no street smarts/common sense. But oddly, I’ve also worked with the children of the exceptionally educated (MDs and PhDs) and they parented more like the “everyone else” demographic than their own. It’s really interesting and I’d love to see a sociologist or a social psychologist study it more in depth, since all I have is anecdotal evidence.

    • jack_sprat2

      Gwyneth. No more need be said.

    • koolchicken

      My husband is an MD and we’ve talked about me going to college once our son is in school. I planned at least a Masters, though probably a PhD in nursing. And you know what’s funny, I often feel like the odd woman out in my supposed social class.

      I’m constantly being told that I’m crazy, that my son will grow to rebel against my rules and outrageous “controlling” environment. Well forgive me. If my son becomes a lunatic and out of control teen/adult It’s not because I insisted on him respecting others and their belongings. That I didn’t give in to demands for candy and toys at the register, or let him dictate every meal I cooked- meals I insisted we eat as a family. That I will make him do chores and schoolwork- for no pay!

      Oh, and did I mention my kid is 14 months. Yes that’s right, I’ve been told my baby will become a freak (yes someone used that word) because I believe in raising him with both love AND rules. Apparently it’s unrealistic to expect my child will listen to me as he grows up. “Downgrading” my social class has long seemed like an upgrade to me, so I think you’re on to something.

    • Allie

      Your theory is in itself incredibly racist. Regardless of your own background, you’ve bought into the “noble savage” idea.

  • asherwishfulthinking

    Pull the stick out of your ass. youre the one with the racism problems. who cares what color the baby is, pregnancy is pregnancy.

    • Rebecca R

      I agree, it’s the same way with greeting cards, magazine covers, commercials, etc., so I don’t see why anyone is surprised. In this instance, at least, I don’t see why it matters what skin color the woman/baby on the cover is.

    • afrokhaleesi

      Have you ever had a hard time finding yourself represented in something? I won’t assume you’re white but white people don’t have a hard time going into a card shop and seeing themselves represented in all sorts of situations. If you’ve always had that experience, of course representation won’t seem like such a huge deal to you.

    • Rebecca R

      I’m Hispanic and Native American, so no, I don’t find myself represented in greeting cards. I’m not saying that representation doesn’t matter, only that what SHOULD matter in this case is that information concerning prenatal health is made available to pregnant women in any form.

  • Aja

    “Maybe What To Expect When You’re Expecting would sell a fraction of the copies it usually does if they put an Asian woman on the cover. But I’m betting that wouldn’t be the case, because the market for pregnancy books is never ever going to die .”

    Great post, but I think this is where it goes wrong. The market for pregnancy books is never going to die, but if you end up being the one or two pregnancy books with a person of color on the cover competing with all of the other pregnancy books that have a white person on the cover, the reality is you end up being at a disadvantage, and publishers know this.

    I once set up an advertising campaign for a sewing school on Facebook and set up two of the exact same ad, except one featured a little white girl and the other featured a little black girl of the same age. They were in the exact same position, you couldn’t even see their faces because they were bent over the sewing machine, yet the ad with the white girl had a click-through rate so far above and beyond the other ad that at some point we stopped running the second.

    I could write a whole book on this but I will say that as a whole white people are conditioned to expect to see themselves represented, and if they don’t will assume that the product is for “other people.” As people of color, we don’t expect to see ourselves represented, so we’re much more likely to choose a book with a white person on the front than vice versa. I could give a million more examples, but the fact is marketers know the colorism that exists and because their goal is to sell products they will cater to it.

  • Maddie

    It’s not the book companies, it’s the stock photo companies. The reality is that the majority of the book covers and website images and etc are purchased stock photography. Most of these publishers and website probably cannot afford to hire model and stage photoshoots for every photo needed. That would not be cost effective. For some strange reason, the majority of photos to purchase are white people. As a graphic designer, I purchase a lot of photos for commercial work, and it’s very difficult to find ‘diverse’ imagery or even photos of a group of women that include multiple ethnicities.

  • Buffy

    I could not have cared less what kind of women were on the covers of pregnancy/ baby books I bought then. All I saw were beautiful pregnant looking bellies and sweet babies^^
    Really strange that there’s no variety of skin colour!
    It must be horrible to feel “left out” when you look at all the pictures and everything’s just about white women. :(
    I’ll have to take a look at the books I still own– I bought a lot of american/ english books.

    • Buffy

      Okay, now I know I lied.. I just got two english books:
      Baby Massage by Heath&Bainbridge and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
      On both covers are white women, but inside there are other pictures.
      I know it doesn’t change a thing but I just wanted to know what kind of publishers I supported with my money….

  • jack_sprat2

    Whose books are they, anyway? Feel free to publish your own. It’s profoundly simple to do these days, you know. Get busy.

  • Marly Pierre-Louis

    So necessary! Thanks!

  • Ashley

    While I totally agree with what you are saying, I disagree with the point that parents of color need resources that display different races than white. Pregnancy is pregnancy, and I would not forgo a book because it had a picture of someone with a different race on the cover.

    • canaduck

      Sigh. That’s not what it’s about. Representation matters and the idea that white people are the default human is dangerous and alienating. The dearth of non-white women and babies on books about pregnancy is just one small example of a cultural bias.

  • TA

    Write a book yourself then. It’s not racism.

  • http://www.doularaejb.wordpress.com Rae Johnson-Bundy

    I became a Doula this summer. When I was looking for a logo to promote my business, I had a hard time. I’d like to include ALL women of color in my post and blogs. This is very difficult to do. Thanks for your insight on this matter. :)