The Chemical Pregnancy: Technology, Mothering, and the Making of a Reproductive Experience

Sallie Han

Abstract


This paper examines the significance of the chemical pregnancy as a new reproductiveexperience in the United States today. Early pregnancy testing initiallydetects the presence of hcg, the so-called pregnancy hormone, but later testing thengives negative results or there are other signs that the pregnancy is not developing.What a woman might have described as a “late” period becomes recognized as anearly miscarriage or a chemical pregnancy. Building on feminist scholarship inanthropology, sociology, and science and technology studies, the chemical pregnancyis discussed in terms of the contradictions and complications of technology, reproduction,and mothering. The chemical pregnancy initially comes into view as anatural, not-new experience that technology apparently has rendered knowable.Yet, on closer examination, it is evident that the chemical pregnancy is a cultural“fix” for the uncertainties that women face at an historical moment when there islittle tolerance for the ambiguities and ambivalences that surround pregnancies.The chemical pregnancy is discussed as an experience of and metaphor for disruptedreproduction and disrupted mothering. The opportunities that reproductive technologiesseem to offer are not always available or accessible; at the same time, theybecome new responsibilities for mothers.

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We are grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for its ongoing support of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement.