Pregnancy is one of those rare moments when your body is not your own, and everyone expects you to be ok with it. And only a pretty marginal section of the population can truly understand what I’m talking about. Not only am I playing host to a growing human being who, much like a [very cute] parasite, is making himself cozy and freeloading on my resources, but people also want to tell me exactly what I need to do for the well-being of the baby (though they are wise enough to disguise this a genuine care for me as well). I really don’t mind these things and find them comical most of the time. But as any pregnant woman in the modern age is well aware, there’s entirely too much paranoia surrounding what’s actually the most normal thing in the world.
Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time. Obviously. But visit any message board on babycenter.com or pregnanyinfo.net and it’s full of crazy-ass women telling other, more suspecting women what terrible people they are for wanting to eat a turkey sandwich (according to many doctors, deli meat should be avoided during pregnancy due to the miniscule risk of listeria. My guess is that you’d have a better chance of contracting mad cow disease from your cat than actually risk ingesting listeria, and I tend to ignore fear-mongering, especially in the pregnant and vulnerable). I do get it, though. Even though pregnancy is as old as the human race itself, it’s only become a predominantly low-risk condition within the past century. Death during childbirth was common before the advent of modern medicine, and infant mortality rates are much lower than they were even 30 years ago. Our technology has enabled us to recognize potential problems before they become dangerous and monitor high-risk pregnancies with significant success. That said, sometimes knowledge is the opposite of power.
Take the case of alcohol during pregnancy, for example. My grandparents likely washed down every dinner with a martini and a cigarette, and I’d be shocked if this practice changed while my grandmother was pregnant with her children. In fact, when I was expecting Atticus, Brian’s mom gave me a book on prenatal care that was published at some time in the 1970’s. Along with advice to eat well and exercise, there were also suggestions to keep cocktails and nicotine to a minimum of 2-3 per day. Fast-forward to today and women are expected to not only abstain from cigarettes and alcohol, but also deli meat, soft cheeses, smoked meat, sugar substitutes, large fish, caffeine, aspirin and ibuprofen, cold medicine, and even herbal teas. Some doctors even suggest that pregnant women avoid hot baths and showers, bumpy car rides, and third-trimester travel. These are good steps to take in general, but a glass of wine after a stressful day will not cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in my unborn child unless I intend to follow it with two or three more and then repeat that practice every single day. A cup of green tea will not cause preterm labor, and I can move that chair from one side of the room to the other without killing myself or my baby.
I think things have gone too far in the name of “safety.”
Our bodies are incredible. We managed to evolve from tree-dwelling pseudo-gorillas to upright, logical beings, and I can guarantee our early ancestors weren’t guilting each other into avoiding unripened bananas for the sake of their unborn babies. Women once gave birth in caves without the assistance of doctors and learned to care for their young offspring based on instinct alone. Our cushy modern existence, while it definitely has its benefits, can also be dangerous for two major reasons:
1. Our bodies’ natural defenses are being weakened due to excessive sterilization, medical intervention, and practices that are actually intended to make life easier. Recent research at CalTech University has shown a link between autism and something called immune dysregulation. In the most basic sense, our immune systems are so well-protected by our modern, sterile society, that when faced with a case of infection, it is unable to balance between its role in attacking inflammation caused by infection and the passive calm that occurs when infection is no longer present. In autistic individuals, the brain is in a constant state of inflammation, even when infection is not present, and scientists believe it begins in the womb. When a pregnant woman faces infection, her immune system struggles to fight inflammation effectively, and this struggle is then passed on to the fetus’ developing brain permanently. The most interesting part of this study, in my eyes, is the suggestion that this occurs only in the developed world (read: one in which medical intervention and sterilization is too common). While there’s still much research to be done before any real cause of autism is established, it should also be noted that auto-immune diseases in general are virtually nonexistent in developing countries. It’s something to consider regarding the benefits of modern medicine.
2. Women are abandoning their best judgement in the face of "professional" opinions. It seems like every day there’s a new study, a new recall, and new line of evidence suggesting that relatively harmless things in our everyday life could kill our children (in or out of the womb). Hell, a mountain lion could climb over my back fence and attack Atticus in his sandbox, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to build a concrete wall to keep them out. So it stands to reason that the cesarean section you want me to have because I’ve been in labor for 12 hours and “look tired” isn’t going to happen either, unless this baby is in severe distress or you recognize a definite medical necessity for said procedure. I get that your medical license is on the line in the rare case that something tragic happens and insurance comes to collect a settlement in your name, but my body is more important than your job. So back off. Ceserean rates have increased from 4.5% in 1965 to 32.8% in 2010, but research shows that complications justifying the need for this procedure have not increased significantly in that time. So it stands to reason that doctors are taking a “better safe than sorry” approach to labor and delivery. And women are implicitly trusting that doctors know best. Typically, they do. But in the case of childbirth, the woman knows what’s happening with her body and her baby pretty damn well, too, and her voice deserves to be heard.
Most mothers have the well-being of their children on the forefront of their minds at all times. And avoiding extremes in either direction can make for a much happier and healthier pregnancy. So enjoy your coffee in moderation, try to get some exercise, and take the time to ignore the pushy people who want to control every aspect of your life and body simply because your sharing it with a tiny human; most of us really do know what we’re doing. I promise. Besides, any kid of mine better get used to a little rebellion anyway…we like to bend the rules in the Mennes household simply because we can.