By Melissa Petro published
The first trimester of my pregnancy, I was nauseous, exhausted, and emotional. To curb the nausea, I ate carbs almost exclusively and subsequently gained ten pounds. My softer shape made me self-conscious—but it was my future baby's health, more than my appearance, on my mind. I followed every recommendation, curbing my daily latte habit and forgoing soft cheese. I worried I would miscarry every time I sneezed. I certainly would not have wanted to spend those 12 weeks having sex for money, as I did for a while in grad school. No, I spent most of my first trimester asleep on the couch.
Of course, most pregnant individuals don't have the luxury that, as a middle-class freelance writer with a supportive partner, I can afford. Instead, most expectant mothers have to go to work—and sex work, I would argue, can be as safe and as decent a job as any. This is the argument being made by the Moonlite Bunny Ranch sex worker, Summer Sebastian, who recently announced that she's pregnant and that she plans to keep working until she's due. As a former call girl, currently 17-weeks pregnant, I applaud her. I know that many won't. But strangers' concerns and judgmental opinions reflect more on our outdated notions about pregnancy and the stigma against sex work than they do on Summer's choice.
Sebastian, who has been working at the Carson City, Nevada, licensed brothel since November 2014, says she plans to work for "as long as [she's] healthy" and her doctor tells her there are no problems. Sebastian is choosing to blog about the experience, she says, because she "want[s] to make a statement that supports the right of a woman to choose"—in this case, her right to choose the legally-sanctioned lifestyle that is best for her.
In a recent blog post, Sebastian says she knew two things when she and her partner unexpectedly found out she was pregnant: "One was that I needed to continue building financial security for my family, and the second was to continue on my personal path to education." She goes on to explain she is working to complete a master's degree in forensic pathology in order to become a medical examiner.
Predictably, comments on her blog and on provocative articles about her suggest the move is selfish and a bid for attention, and that she ought to "put the needs of the child first"—as if financial security while furthering her education isn't in the best interest of her and her kid. People criticize Sebastian for exposing herself to risks, including STIs, that could impact an unborn child. But sex work is legal where she lives in Nevada and strictly regulated. Employees are tested weekly for STIs, and condom use is mandatory.
Sebastian is taking precautions to make sure her future child is safe and healthy. And while it's true that many individuals in the sex trade do not have this opportunity (like those who were forced into the life or are living under the control of an abusive pimp) that doesn't mean they are unfit to be mothers—it means our laws don't protect people who sell sex. To better do so, experts argue in favor of Amnesty International's policy promoting the decriminalization of sex work as the best way to support and protect individuals across the sex work spectrum, including victims of sex trafficking. According to one study, legal sex workers like Sebastian report less violence and a heightened sense of security working in the brothel industry than plying their trade illegally in other venues. Fact is, sex work—with its flexible hours and good pay—is a job that makes sense for an expectant mother.
I suppose criticism is to be expected when a sex worker announces she's expecting. But why is a pregnant prostitute so taboo? Probably for the same reasons people were offended by the idea of a former hooker teaching their kids. In 2010, I lost my career as an elementary school teacher when it was discovered I was writing and sharing stories about my previous work as a stripper and call girl. I argued my former occupation in no way made me unfit to work with children. The fact that I was competent in my job as a teacher was never called into question. Even so, I was forced to resign from a career that I loved, as parents who had never met me clutched their pearls and clicked their tongues.
Similarly (and absurdly considering how babies are made ) some people just can't imagine a woman being both a mother and a whore. The idea that female sexuality and serious work, including the serious work of motherhood, are somehow incompatible is sadly outdated. In spite of society's squeamishness, sex during pregnancy is generally considered safe. And, as Sebastian points out, being pregnant increases your libido. It's true! Well into my second trimester, the nausea and fatigue has subsided, my burrito belly has become a bonafide baby bump, and I feel sexier than I have in years.
Sebastian says she doesn't know of any other sex workers who continued working while pregnant. I've met plenty. These days, I teach writing to nontraditional students, including women and girls with experiences in the sex trades. They are mostly mothers, mostly women of color, and many have unfairly lost custody of their children as a result of their current or former occupations. To be fair, many of these women would have made different decisions if they had more desirable options, and part of the work I do is creating avenues out of the sex industry—the sort of path it sounds like Sebastian is creating for herself. Still, many of these mothers choose sex work for now (and sometimes forever) as the best choice given the options they perceive as available to them.
It's the height of hypocrisy, when the US is ranked the worst developed country for maternal health and provides so few benefits and protections for pregnant women and mothers to condemn a woman, who is often poor, for making what is, in some cases, a difficult choice. Sex workers, like all working mommas, deserve our support.
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