Object Lessons: Pregnancy Test

I received this book courtesy of the publisher, Bloomsbury.

I have never personally interacted with a pregnancy test, and yet – as Weingarten discusses here – I still know the basics of what one looks like. The appearance of the ‘wand’, and what it means on tv show when a woman is in a bathroom watching a little plastic stick, is ubiquitous in Western media. As with all Object Lessons, though, Weingarten shows just how complicated and not-straightforward this objet is.

This is another brilliant instalment in the Object Lessons series. The author goes through the history of pregnancy tests and the development of its most common appearance today. She also problematises the whole concept of pregnancy and how the simple yes/no really isn’t that simple, and challenges the idea of pregnancy testing at home being an unassailably good thing.

I loved that Weingarten took the idea of pregnancy testing back before the 20th century, in a brief tour of various cultures have sought to confirm what at least some women suspect before external confirmation. The discussion of the medicalisation of women’s experiences is something I’ve read around before, and continues here, as Weingarten points out the ways in which doctors etc present women’s bodies as ‘mysterious’ and needing external (usually male) deciphering. Coming into the 20th century, I had NO IDEA how early scientific testing happened – using mice, rabbits, frogs and toads (… the mammals not surviving the experience).

Then there’s the pregnancy test in media, from Murphy Brown on to The Handmaid’s Tale… and also what could arguably be called the weaponisation of the test: people forcibly or covertly tested for pregnancy, and then their subsequent experiences determined by the results. And the fact that yes/no doesn’t actually cover all the possibilities: that a chemical pregnancy might give a positive result; that miscarriages can happen really early on and without a test, you would never know you were pregnant anyway…

Weingarten, as with other Object Lesson writers, is coming at this topic both personally – having used pregnancy tests herself – and academically. She brings the two perspectives together thoughtfully, honestly, and engagingly.

Every time I read one of these, I come away with a better, and more nuanced, understanding of the world.

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