Throughout “Waiting,” the narrator’s gender and social class make an already painful situation worse. While describing her experience of losing multiple pregnancies, the narrator repeatedly draws attention to how others overlook her pain because she’s a working-class woman, implying that the situation might be different were she wealthy or if her hospital knew how to serve female patients. In this way, Cate Kennedy calls attention to the fact that while miscarriage is difficult for everyone touched by it, the pain is not equally distributed; the most vulnerable people suffer more than others.
The clearest indication that the narrator’s gender hurts her is that her hospital is incompetent at providing miscarriage care—specifically, it seems, because the male staff struggle to empathize with women. While the hospital is perfectly equipped to handle the physical side of miscarriage, miscarriage is also devastating to emotional health. Despite this, the male staff make no effort to acknowledge the narrator’s grief or even her humanity. Instead of offering comfort, they awkwardly avoid looking at her, fail to provide her honest information, and treat her coldly, even while she’s learning the horrible news that her pregnancy is no longer viable. Rather than helping to care for her emotionally, they make her suffering worse. In fact, the only indication that the hospital acknowledges grief at all is the narrator’s brief reference to a pamphlet that she receives, presumably after each miscarriage. Beyond being a terribly impersonal way to help someone through emotional suffering, the pamphlet also appears woefully inadequate. It has vague instructions to “giv[e] yourself permission to grieve,” but it doesn’t answer the narrator’s most pressing question: what effect miscarriage might have on her husband, Pete, and how to help him process his suffering. That the pamphlet never takes into account the effects of miscarriage on a person’s partner shows the hospital’s narrow perspective: they apparently consider miscarriage to be exclusively a female problem. And perhaps because of their discomfort with female pain, they fail to provide adequate emotional care, which makes an already devastating experience exponentially worse.
Similarly, the narrator has a worse experience of miscarriage because she’s working-class rather than wealthy. Throughout the story, the narrator offers a number of clues about her financial situation: Pete is a farmer who seems to operate on tight margins, for instance, and the narrator’s grandfather worked in the mines, so it seems that the family has been blue-collar for generations. Presumably because of their tight finances, the narrator goes to a public hospital for her prenatal care. (Public hospitals are cheaper than private hospitals, but they have a reputation for offering a lower standard of care.) And this hospital does appear somewhat substandard; there are long wait times for her appointment, for instance, and the staff seem to be rushing to see as many patients as possible. This rush means that they don’t treat the narrator like a human being or give her time to grieve. In the story’s opening, the narrator sardonically acknowledges how being working-class means that she’s treated worse than others. While flipping past a magazine spread of a celebrity begging for privacy, the narrator scoffs: “If you sincerely want the world to leave you alone until it forgets all about you, come and live at my place.” This celebrity makes buckets of money off of people playing close attention to her, while the narrator has the opposite experience: even the doctors that she pays to care about her don’t give her much attention, and she doesn’t have the money for a better hospital. From the narrator’s perspective, the public scrutiny that celebrities face seems a small price to pay for a better life.
While “Waiting” offers no remedies for the classist and sexist society that it portrays, the story clearly shows how gender and class make the narrator’s suffering worse. For someone like the narrator, who desperately wants to carry a pregnancy to term, miscarriage will always be painful—but her experience doesn’t have to be as bad as the story portrays. It’s easy to imagine a hospital treating female patients with kindness and empathy and offering resources (beyond a mere pamphlet) to help them process their grief. But such a hospital would likely be expensive, framing compassionate care as a luxury that working-class women can’t afford. Because of that, women like the narrator must suffer twofold: grieving their lost pregnancy, and suffering through inhumane care during one of the most painful moments of their lives.
Gender, Class, and Hardship ThemeTracker
Gender, Class, and Hardship Quotes in Waiting
The horoscope page lying limp in my hands tells me everything will align for me at a time I least expect it, so I flip over to the page that’s about cakes and slices ideal for school lunches, then back again [...]
Give us some privacy, says the caption, and I think, Lady, if you want privacy, stop cashing the cheques. Stop posing there with your manicured hand on your skinny hip. If you sincerely want the world to leave you alone until it forgets all about you, come and live at my place.
This careful professional detachment while they’re gazing at the human map of you, the intimate, failed, faltering misstep, in ghostly black and white. White cloud coursing grainily over a black landmass, some cyclone gathering its bleary force offshore.
She moved the transducer and gazed at the screen and then her hand came out and squeezed my leg and she looked at me and said, I’m so sorry, I can’t see a heartbeat.
Her hand there for comfort. Warmth and pulse flowing between us, skin to skin.
It’s funny, in the pamphlets they hand you they talk about giving yourself permission to grieve and taking time for yourself, but they never talk much about your partner. I’m not pretending I know what it’s like for him, but I look at his face and I can see that he’s worn down as it is, almost to the point of slippage, like a stripped screw.
I’ve watched him out there some mornings, stooping down, looking at the stalks, wondering where the point of non-recovery is, where it comes and what you do once you’ve decided. So this time I spared him. Kept the news of those two blue lines on the test to myself. I look at the calendar and think of him out there on the tractor sowing that wheat, ten weeks ago to the day.