Earthy and Expecting: Smell the advice

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is a lot of conflicting information out there regarding all things pregnancy-related. Even my doctors have offered different advice on the same question.

It’s enough to drive even the most zen mom-to-be crazy.

When I first learned I was pregnant, my instinct was to read everything I could get my hands on about what was happening to my body, and how to make things go as smoothly as possible. Because of my voraciousness, my awareness of the discrepancies developed early:

This book says give up coffee. But wait, that study says a cup of coffee a day is fine. But wait, there’s also caffeine in chocolate and tea — are they counting that toward what is safe, or should that cup of coffee now be a half a cup of coffee? The nurse practitioner says give up caffeine completely, but the doctor says it’s ok in moderation …

Wait, I can take Tylenol but I can’t use moisturizer with retinol? My cousin can keep taking her antidepressant, but I can’t have echinacea tea (tea? decaf tea?!) during flu season?

I let myself delve into such maddening spirals for about a week before I thought, you know what? Enough. When there are medical studies that both prove and disprove the thing you’re worried most about, you have one option: trust yourself.

What’s in your cup? Right now, I’m into vanilla chai tea with soy milk or hot chocolate. Photo courtesy of Flickr user bokeh burger.

You are about to give birth to a human being. You are responsible for taking that human being home and keeping him or her alive. The question is not, how can I do this if I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong? The question is, how can I do this if I have to second-guess myself at every turn? If I have to vet and pick a book to consult every time the baby yawns or dirties a diaper?

When you reach into the refrigerator to pull out leftovers, do you look up food safety guidelines on your smart phone to determine if that pasta is still fit for human consumption? No. You smell it. You consider whether it looks the same as when you ate it the first time, or if there’s something weird about it now. And when in doubt, you play it safe and throw it away.

I suggest that pregnant women smell the advice, solicited or unsolicited, and throw away whatever reeks. Now more than ever is the time to trust yourself, not 1,000 Google search returns of articles titled “What Not to Eat While Pregnant.”

Capitalism wants us to believe that parenting is easier than ever before, with technology and apps and how-to books and products designed to streamline everything. But I’d argue that it’s harder than ever for women to trust ourselves when bombarded with such headlines, not to mention the opinions of everyone who notices our bellies and sidles up to coo (totally acceptable) and offer advice (not always wanted). If I just don’t know, I ask my doctor and/or one of the trusted mothers in my life. Hearing unsolicited advice can stress me out, but I could listen to my stepmom talk about being pregnant with my little brother all day.

What if there was no written literature on parenting, and all we had to go on was the asked-for, real-life advice of our doctors and the women in our families and immediate circles who’ve already had babies? Think about the days of healers and midwives, of shared, communal knowledge about pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood/parenting. Maybe that’s a little too earthy for some, but it’s called “knowing your source.” And I trust a known source better than a popular one any day.

Case in point: a Danish study came out in June saying that women could consume five to eight alcoholic beverages a week during pregnancy with no adverse effects on their fetuses.

Um, what?

It isn’t that I do or don’t believe this study. It’s that Thou Shalt Give Up All Alcoholic Beverages While Pregnant is pretty much Pregnancy Commandment Numero Uno, right? In fact, the CBS News article in which I learned about the study even links to the oft-repeated CDC statement urging pregnant women to avoid all alcohol, all the time, but won’t link directly to the study in question, only to the journal that published it (June issue of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Go ahead, try to find the “five to eight drinks a week is ok” part.)

Further, this:

“These findings can easily send a very dangerous message to pregnant women,” Dr. Bruce Goldman, director of Substance Abuse Services at the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., told HealthDay. “Women may underestimate and have difficulty acknowledging the frequency or quantity of alcohol consumed. Those suffering from alcoholism may attempt to rationalize that it is safe to drink moderately, something they may ultimately be unable to do,” he said.

I find that to be mildly insulting. Just tell us the truth. How are women supposed to trust ourselves if our doctors don’t trust us? Why does the tone of that paragraph suggest that women are presumed alcoholics until proven non-alcoholics, that our “attempts to rationalize” will lead to us hurting our babies? Could more individualized medical care and attention perhaps determine which women are most likely to “have difficulty acknowledging the frequency or quantity of alcohol consumed”?

I mean, I have a fetus inside of me, not an alcoholic waiting to burst free and binge-drink.

And I’m not dying for a martini, either. I just don’t like the idea of withholding medical information from women; if you can’t trust us with medical facts, how can you trust us to carry, deliver and raise children? All I’m saying is, while one glass of wine at a wedding reception (or, ahem, five to eight drinks a week throughout pregnancy) is apparently “safe” now, the insinuation that women can’t be trusted, coupled with the sheer volume of conflicting information out there about what’s safe and what isn’t, is definitely capable of causing psychological damage to expectant mothers.

Whatever’s in your glass, can we all “cheers” to that?

Stacia M. Fleegal

York Daily Record multiplatform journalist. Degrees in creative writing from Lycoming College and Spalding University, and a coupla books with my name on them. Central PA native who came home after floating around for a while, but always grounded by words and the places and people I remember.

2 Responses

  1. November 1, 2012

    [...] Thursday, I wrote about trusting your intuition as an expectant mother. That very day, I listened to mine and went to the hospital to talk to my doctor about some mild [...]

  2. January 31, 2013

    [...] into my pregnancy, I read that first-time mothers try to do everything by the book, and can often become overwhelmed at the amount of information, sometimes conflicting, about “what’s [...]

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