The Hidden Meaning in The Pregnancy Diary

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.

3 thoughts on “The Hidden Meaning in The Pregnancy Diary”

  1. I was fascinated by your post and text’s deconstruction of what is feminine. My post also included this, and it was interesting to see a different way that the characteristics of womanhood as society frames them can be subverted or, as you point out, in a way voided of automatic meaning.

  2. Jackie, your plan to use your thesis as a vehicle for exploring the ways that the female body is perceived by society is thought-provoking, and I am looking forward to your class presentation on Monday where I will be able to gain an even more in-depth understanding of where you are headed in your thesis process.
    I really appreciate the fact that you are working with “Diving Pool,” as it gives me the chance to gain further insight into this work that we first examined at the beginning of our thesis class, and I find it very interesting that the protagonist in this particular section perceives pregnancy as being cold or grotesque, rather than exciting. I wonder if this protagonist’s tendency to view the pregnant female body in a scientific, mechanic way is emblematic of how the pregnant female body is presented in other texts that you are reading. Moving forward, I think that it would definitely be helpful for you to develop a concrete definition of femininity and to conduct research about theories related to the ways in which the male gaze tends to dominate literature and cinema. Is there a particular time period you are thinking of focusing on in regards to your literary selections? Overall, great post!

  3. I’m really intrigued by the content of Yoko Ogawa’s _The Diving Pool_ and specifically what you’ve mentioned here about how the novel constructs femininity in its discussion of its relation to pregnancy. There’s certainly a lot to unpack in terms of the history of pregnancy being used to define feminity. I know you cite Freud’s theories on the uncanny but I wonder if some of his other work specifically relating to gender construction and family roles might be useful to add to this conversation. In the excerpt that you provided from your seminar readings, I was really interested in some of the grotesque descriptions for ex. pp 25 “something almost erotic about [a baby’s thighs’] defenseless” and on pp 26: “I wanted her to cry even harder and everything seemed perfectly arranged: no one would come to pick her up, I would be able to listen to my heart’s content, and she was too young to tell anyone afterward.” These moments in particular also complicate the mother-child relationship in interesting ways. I wonder if there might be broader theories or critical writings that you could look at, that discuss similar topics relating to mother-child relationships / motherhood more broadly and its relationship to femininity.

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