Category Archives: Life
Pregnancy in our culture has become an endless list of no’s. I actually think if it was at all practical, “experts” would have pregnant women stay home for 9 months completely focused on eating a carefully balanced diet, taking leisurely walks around the block, cleansing their environment of all “chemicals,” and basking in serene thoughts about the miracle of life.
I call bullshit.
I work in environmental health; my job is to analyze risks and probabilities. I could go on for hours (and sometimes do) about how poorly risks and statistics are reported to the public, especially when it comes to health issues. An increased risk might mean nothing or it might mean a lot, but very rarely are we given the context to make that judgement call properly. As a result, people often exert a lot of energy worrying about small risks while blatantly ignoring the huge ones.
As a rule, we fear the unfamiliar more than the familiar: the vaccine more than the trip to the clinic, the radiation from our cell phone more than the neighbourhood pool, the ‘artificial chemicals’ in our moisturizer more than the bacteria in our spinach. In all of those cases the familiar risks we take every day without second thought are the real killers. By magnitudes. The other things are worthy of some attention (maybe), but on an individual basis far less likely to hurt us.
When it comes to pregnancy, we’ve taken this to a whole new level, blowing up small risks into outright bans and sometimes inventing risks that don’t even exist in any meaningful way. The problem is that you can always find one person for whom <insert risk here> seemed to cause something bad to happen and as long as that person exists (or doesn’t, that’s optional) we are all told “why would you take the risk?”
Well no one yet has told me that I shouldn’t get into a car while pregnant and it’s probably the largest risk I’ll take (the lifetime risk of dying in a motor accident in the US has been estimated at 1 in 83). We don’t demand that sacrifice because as a society we’ve decided cars are a risk worth taking in exchange for the convenience they provide.
Here are some commonly heard pregnancy no-no’s, followed by some questioning thoughts. You’ll notice I become fond of hyperbole when I’m all riled up so try not to take this too literally.* This isn’t at all meant to be medical advice for pregnant women – just a few thoughts to mull over and hopefully balance all the fears we’re force fed most of the time.
You have to keep track of a long list of banned foods and avoid them like the plague. THEY ARE THE PLAGUE!
There are very few foods that actually present any extra danger to a pregnant woman – it basically comes down to avoiding listeriosis. It’s the only food-borne infection that really can harm your baby. Luckily, listeriosis is quite rare, enough so that outbreaks make the news (yearly incidence in the US is 3 cases per million population). It is often linked to unpasteurized cheese and lunch meats, so it’s reasonable to avoid those things (but also reasonable not to).
But everything else – the sushi, the raw egg, whatever else you hear about – is of no greater danger to you or the baby while you are pregnant than it was before. And if you pull the short straw and do get sick? Well it’ll suck, but the baby is a very efficient parasite and really won’t give a damn (morning sickness should prove that without a doubt).
You have to be physically really careful or you’ll hurt the baby! No lifting anything, no running, no twisting, no lying on your stomach.
Your baby is in a sealed bag of fluid, within an organ that is attached to you. Do you worry about your organs coming loose when you run or twist? I hope not. So if you’re not doing anything that hurts – a good all-around policy – baby will happily come along for the ride. That being said, John you should definitely still keep doing most of the cleaning around the house.
Pregnant women are also told to avoid anything hot – saunas, baths, India etc. under the belief that the baby will get too hot. But again, let’s remember the baby is in a pool of amniotic fluid inside an organ. Your internal body temperature is highly controlled and you’ll start feeling too hot and move well before the baby even thinks to wake up for another round of spin-around-the-belly. Again, keeping yourself comfortable is a good gauge. Now whether you want to hang out in hot places is another question; heat has become my nemesis in pregnancy and makes my limbs feel like lead.
Oh dear god, no lying on your back! The blood flow, think of the blood flow!
The worry is that the weight of your uterus when lying on your back can block a major artery (the vena cava) from carrying blood to your lower body and harm the baby. Sounds terrifying! But do you think there would be 7 billion humans on earth if simply lying on your back for a minute could harm a developing baby? The thing is, you’re using that blood too. It’s a MAJOR ARTERY. If it gets cut off, you’ll move because it won’t feel very good. Yeah, even in your sleep. We’re well designed like that.
Alcohol – Gasp! The fact that you’re even saying the WORD makes you a selfish monster!
The fear and judgement factor is through the roof here. Cognitive deficits, with fetal alcohol syndrome at the far end of the spectrum, are a real and worrisome outcome affecting children born to women who drink heavily during pregnancy. But as the guiding principle of toxicology says, the dose makes the poison. This hot-off-the-presses large meta-analysis of 34 of the highest quality studies done on the topic sums up the evidence on low to moderate alcohol consumption (defined as up to 6 drinks per week) as follows: “We detected no consistent evidence that mild or moderate prenatal alcohol exposure was associated with attention, cognition, language skills, and visual or motor development.” They in fact found that kids born to mothers who drank a little were doing slightly better on measures of cognition than those who fully abstained, but the mothers who drank a little also tended to be of higher socioeconomic status so those kids might be doing better because of other advantages than access to nice chardonnay.
Making the choice not to drink at all is clearly the easiest way to avoid any and all possible adverse effects of alcohol. But it isn’t the only reasonable choice. I carefully weighed my risks and made a conscious choice to have a little glass of wine on Friday nights because it’s delicious and makes me happy. I also still get into cars.
As living beings, we take risks all day, every day, and are trusted to make the best ones for us. That includes pregnant women and it’s time for society’s hyper-vigilant policing of pregnant women’s choices to end.
* But all of these have been confirmed to me by midwives – so I’m not just making them up.
You will never have a moment to yourself again.
I hear this a lot, from every parent. Even the ones I consider rational and chill, the ones who don’t peddle in the “your life is over” cliches that some parents throw around when they’ve given up trying to say anything meaningful. And if the rational and chill parents say it then it must be true.
But you don’t mean it literally… do you?
Here’s the thing – I really, really like moments to myself. They are some of my favourite moments of all. And the thought of never having another one makes me break out in hives.
Maybe this is sanity-preserving denial talking here, but I can’t actually imagine it to be entirely true.
Realities I believe:
1. Parenting is a very demanding job, especially while your kid is young and entirely dependent on you in order to stay alive. You need to be constantly alert to their needs – needs that are many and varied and confusing and occur at inconvenient time intervals.
2. Kids sleep. More than adults.
3. The kid in question also has a father with two capable hands, even if he does lack boobs.
Despite the total overwhelming-ness of truth 1, I would like to believe truths 2 and 3 still add up to some moments to myself. Moments when I can brush my teeth and my hair, when I can linger in the shower for an extra few minutes, when I can stick my face in my dogs adorable fur, when I can soak in some sun at the dog park. Moments when I can indulge in checking twitter and reading the next “22 things that will make you feel like you are understood” list.
But maybe this isn’t what you mean. Maybe you still have physical segments of time that are yours, albeit much smaller ones, but the true cost is a mental one. That even those moments you are brushing your hair you are thinking about your kid. What she might need and when.
This I can begin to understand.
In our household I tend to be the manager. Not the boss mind you, but the manager. The one who keeps track of shit. I try to explain how exhausting it is to John but it’s a difficult thing to communicate; it’s not a chore one can check off a list. It’s not a physical activity that occupies a specified time period. Perhaps this is what parents are trying to express when they say they have no moments to themselves; kids infiltrate your mind even more than your physical space and time. And at that point, the best babysitter or the furthest vacation will not allow you a true moment to yourself.
This might almost be more terrifying, but at least it’s a territory I somewhat grasp. Mental obsessing is well-beaten ground for me.
So parents – be honest. What do you really mean when you say you have no time to yourself?
I’m not sure how to talk about pregnancy. I’ve basically hit the same wall as I did with being engaged in talking about the wedding. You’re preparing for this big thing, and it kind of takes over your whole brain, but you don’t want to let the world in on that. Oh this being that is kicking around between my organs? I almost forgot it’s there! So you suppress your urge to talk about it and instead it spills out in moments of weakness, like when you’re in bed, telling your husband as he’s trying to go to sleep that Google says the fetus might be licking the inside of your uterus right now.
I don’t know how to talk about being pregnant, not only because I’m afraid of being boring and self-involved, but because I’m highly aware of how charged of a topic it is. For those who are, for those who wish to be, for those who don’t but still wonder. And yet I want women to be talking to each other about this stuff honestly – hopefully bonding over common ground while respecting our unique perspectives.
So here are some of my honest experiences of pregnancy from around the midway mark.
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I’ve always had this fear that once I was pregnant I was going to realize that it was all a horrible mistake and now I’m trapped with no way out. I used to have dreams of it. And I won’t lie, those thoughts did occur to me early on. But they were fleeting and I could recognize them as dripping with the anxiety I spray on every life change as soon as I spot it. I’ve learned over time to not give thoughts like that too much power.
Instead, I’ve been surprised to start feeling things for this creature. Like nurturing, caring types of feelings! It probably makes me sound like a cold-hearted soulless human being to admit that this has taken me by surprise, but I did say I’d be honest. I don’t let myself feel very easily. I let every possible “what-if” stand in the way of my feelings for as long as I possibly can. But apparently hormones are a potent form of mind control that can overpower my pathetic defenses (for good and bad).
Like apparently I now cry if I can’t find an ingredient in the fridge. Also if I feel mildly too hot, the TV remote is out of my reach, or someone stood in my way when I was getting onto the train. Yeah, I cry a lot now. I also like pickles and asked my husband to bring me ice cream in bed last night. I am a fucking living, breathing stereotype.
I’m still scared of the changes happening to my body. So far they have been minimal and gradual, but inevitably my body is morphing into a vessel. I’m scared of seeing my body take on an utterly unfamiliar shape. But even more so, I’m afraid of the permanent changes it might bring with it. Apparently women aren’t supposed to worry about these things because “the miracle of life” and whatnot. But just because making a baby is a worthy thing to do doesn’t make my body irrelevant. We are capable of more complex thoughts than that. I can love my kid and mourn over the physical sacrifices necessary to bring them into the world.
Bring her into the world.
I’m still working on saying her. Not all my defense mechanisms have collapsed yet.