"I spoke to her in my mind, not with my lips": pregnancy, nausea, and fetal personhood in Manila city, the Philippines
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 01:02 authored by Daniel Alexander Tranter
Historically, the Philippine Catholic Church has been a vocal opponent of any state legislation which attempts to provide broader access to contraceptives and family planning methods for the Filipino population. This position is predicated on the assertion that personhood begins at the moment of conception and that any act preventing that person from being born ought to be considered murder. The position of the Church is commonly understood as the defining feature of a shared ideology of fetal personhood in the Philippines, yet it has not been based on any substantial body of work on everyday Filipino beliefs concerning fetal personhood. Based on participant observation and in-depth semi-structured interviews during three months of fieldwork among working class families in Manila City, this thesis examines the ways that Manileñan women actually experience pregnancy and their relation to the unborn child. Borrowing from existing scholarship on the subject in other regions of the Philippines, this thesis makes a distinction between 'fixed' and 'processual' notions of fetal personhood, the former pertaining to those Catholic and secular biomedical positions which hold that personhood begins at a given moment or fixed point of the development of a fetus. Conversely, processual notions of fetal personhood hold that personhood is gained incrementally over time. However, the emphasis of this thesis is on women's experience of a relationality between their own behaviour and that of the fetus. For Manileñas, the 'symptoms' of first trimester pregnancy (nausea and vomiting for example) or 'lihi' in Tagalog are not experienced as arbitrary physiological and hormonal changes. Instead they are taken as evidence of the growth, movement, intention, personality, gender, and agency of the developing child. For Manileñan women, these factors are all indications of a person who is coming into being, one that is responsive also to their own behaviour. The thesis focuses on early pregnancy, women's experience of the nausea, smells and cravings of this period, and follows it through into an account of the way in which the inter-relationship between woman and fetus carries over in situations of extremity, such as premarital pregnancy, to allow the possibility of women seeing their fetus as responsive even to their existential dilemma.