SAN DIEGO — A few weeks ago I was cruising a mall parking lot in search of a spot while my two children, strapped into car seats behind me, fought over an old receipt one of them had found on the floor. It was a Saturday morning and there, close to our Payless Shoes destination, were three choice parking spots outlined in bright pink and labeled "Expectant Mother Parking."
"What's that?" my 7-year-old daughter asked. I had no idea. Then she started whining about all the driving. My 5-year-old son - whose sneakers we were out to buy - yelled, "Can we park already?"
My already-born children and I were relegated to the back of the lot, where the rest of the non-pregnant shoppers must go. I had to drag my whining daughter and rambunctious son (with a penchant for darting into traffic) through a crowded Target and into Payless.
Expectant Mother Parking, New Mother Parking, Stork Parking - since when did pregnancy become a disability?
When I was pregnant, I had to move through my life in the same way I did before pregnancy. Even if I was feeling unwell, exhausted, or uncomfortable in a general my-body-is-swollen kind of way, I went to the grocery store, to the mall to get shoes, to the playground with my toddler. I worked. And from time to time, like everyone else, I drove around looking for a decent parking spot.
Sure, it was a bother, but I never expected special treatment. And unless a woman is legitimately disabled by her pregnancy, she shouldn't either. Less than 100 years ago, women were working in fields until hours before delivery. I'm not suggesting that's the standard by which we judge a woman's threshold for discomfort, but certainly walking from the back lot into a store to get baby wipes is far from inhumane. Yet nationwide, a trend toward special parking for expectant mothers is taking hold - at Target, Babies R Us, supermarkets, and malls.
Here in San Diego the Westfield Company - which owns 65 malls in the US - is rolling out a new "customer experience initiative" that includes family-friendly features like playgrounds and expectant mother parking. The pink spots probably are part of a larger program to reward a particular customer base for spending money at Westfield's centers. After all, it does make pregnant women, most of them first-timers, deliriously happy.
Lisa Earle McLeod, a mother of two who writes a column for Lifetime Magazine about the ways women stress out, asks, why not give a pregnant woman a break? She's likely to spend more money on diapers if they're easier to lug to the car - and, besides, other than preferential parking, society doesn't give her much coddling these days. "With hospital stays barely long enough to have the baby and maternity leave that puts you back at work faster than you can say 'sleepless nights', a close-up parking spot is the least of what we can give her," she says.
But treating a pregnant woman as if she's too delicate for what's expected of everyone else - like the obese, the elderly, Vietnam vets who have difficulty walking but aren't legally disabled, and parents with screaming toddlers in tow - brings back misplaced notions of a fragile mother and fragility of women in general.
Why put women who choose to have children on a pedestal? You only need to look back to the 1950s to see that pedestal got us nowhere - we were too delicate, too sensitive, and too emotional for a host of things like corporate leadership, medical school, politics, control over our reproductive rights. But we aren't weak and we don't need special parking.
And don't the pink parking spaces take away from spaces reserved for the legitimately handicapped? At the very least, these spots make light of disability.
As hard as pregnancy is, it's not a disability. It's a normal human condition. As women, we do ourselves a disservice every time we park in a pink spot. And we make a mockery of what it means to be truly disabled.
• Eilene Zimmerman is a freelance writer living in San Diego.