In my research, I am exploring the female body in ways that it is perceived by society, and how this can evoke grotesque and “uncanny” reactions. In Yoko Ogawa’s novel the Diving Pool, one of the novellas is titled The Pregnancy Diary. Within this novella, the protagonist keeps a meticulous record of her pregnant sister’s behavior. From the start of the novella, the reader gets a sense that the protagonist has a peculiar way of seeing anything to do with pregnancy and the female body. Her ways of noticing details and describing them is almost clinical, and it is the same when she describes her sister, as if she is not someone she is close to, but merely a scientific experiment she is curious to know the outcome of.
When the protagonist and her sister, who are both unnamed, were young, they would visit a maternity clinic called the “M Clinic,” because they were curious about what was inside. The protagonist describes what she sees inside the window not in terms of the excitement and joy of a pregnancy, but rather through a cold and calculating lens. She describes a stethoscope as “a thin, twisting tube, dull silver fittings, pear-shaped rubber bulb of the cuff made it look like a strange insect nestled among the other instruments.” (p. 60). The interesting insight provided by these few lines can be aimed at female bodies and pregnancy.
As pregnancy is an internal process, science has developed in order to understand the process. However, pregnancy is typically seen as something to be celebrated, the beginnings of a new life. The protagonist, however, sees this site, where pregnant women reside, as something cold and grotesque, evoking strange imagery that seems unsuitable to something that should bring excitement. Pregnancy is reduced to being a piece of medical equipment crouching on a cart and resembling an insect, something that is repulsive and something that should be avoided or killed. Although Ogawa does not outwardly say that pregnant female bodies are seen as strange creatures distorted by the science of nature, she implies it by telling the story of a pregnant woman through the eyes of a girl who sees the world in a cold and calculating way.
During this same instance, the two sisters were sometimes able to catch glimpses of the women on the third floor who had presumable just given birth. The rare sightings suggest that they are coveted and held prisoner, as if to be a form of scientific research that must be kept a firm hold of. They are described as wearing no make-up and bathrobes and having expressionless faces. The protagonist then wonders to herself “why they didn’t seem happier at the prospect of sleeping above an examination room full of such fascinating objects.” (p. 61). The pregnant women are described as essentially stripped of their “femaleness” by the lack of makeup and also the fact that they are now without a baby inside them. The baby is external and its own being now, creating the woman as an empty husk, relieved of her one duty on this earth. The are expressionless because they no longer have a purpose and no longer have an identity; they are neither mother, pregnant, nor woman.
Furthermore, the fact that the protagonist dismisses these ideas, she immediately thinks of the examination room and how she would be happy to be in the M Clinic, not to be pregnant, but because she loves the instruments that have aided in stripping those women who appear like apparitions of their identity as female.
I believe that Ogawa oppresses these meanings deliberately, but not so as to throw the reader off of them, but rather to inquire about it. Without challenging the reception of the pregnant female body, how is society to learn what it means to be a pregnant female, and how that identity changes over the entirety of the pregnancy. It is not simply a sequence of events in which the fetus grows and develops and the doctor performs routine tests. It is an identity that transforms woman into mother, and gives her the capacity to care for another being more than any other.