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Read the label before you judge

Posted Jun 18 2013 11:07pm
The longer I'm pregnant, the more I love my baby, and the more I hate strangers.

Let me explain...

It all started when a stranger rolled her eyes at me as I left the table at a restaurant. My crime? There was an empty bottle of beer at my place... A non-alcoholic beer. But the woman never bothered to read the label. She just judged.

And this got me thinking about how much unwarranted judgement pregnant women endure...

The million reasons why moms don't need a critic's corner...

A few weeks ago I sat in a prenatal yoga class in which each and every woman admitted to spending at least a good chunk of her pregnancy terrified that something might harm her baby, and doing all manner of extreme things to ensure her baby's safety.

If you've been pregnant, you probably know exactly what I mean. If you haven't, here's a taste of what expectant moms go through
Mothers give up coffee, green tea, black tea, iced tea, chamomile tea, licorice tea, brie cheese, blue cheese, feta cheese, goat cheese, deli meat, hot dogs, pate, wine, beer, cigarettes, sushi, canned tuna, swordfish, smoked salmon, raw oysters, poached eggs, alfalfa sprouts, pre-packaged deli salads, peanut butter, and tap water to protect their growing child.* 
Mothers are told to avoid hot tubs, saunas, and amusement park rides. They're told to give up gymnastics, basketball, horseback riding, surfing, scuba diving, waterskiing, downhill skiing, hockey, and other contact sports, as well as a variety of weight lifting moves and yoga poses.

Every week a new headline, email subject line, or text message from a relative unearths some new terror that might threaten the unborn child.

*Note: Some of those things, like peanut butter and cheese made from pasturized milk, are perfectly safe for mothers and babies, but old wives' tales prevail. The advice on others, like deli meat , is conflicting. It is also worth noting that no one tells a mother to stop driving, which is - statistically speaking - actually pretty risky... but I digress.
In addition to the laundry list of taboos, Mothers give up sleep long before baby is born, tossing and turning through the night because no position is comfortable for longer than an hour. They endure stuffy noses, swollen feet, and achy backs. They take prenatal vitamins. They go in for their checkups.

Mothers do all of this because want their babies to be healthy and happy, and they quietly sacrifice their own comfort to ensure that baby is healthy and happy.

Mothers also happen to be one of the most insecure groups of people on the planet. New expectant mothers make teenage girls look like a self-assured bunch of superstars. Pregnant women worry about everything.
  • Is my toenail polish going to give my baby two heads?
  • I had a margarita before I knew I was pregnant, is that going to stunt my child's mental development?
  • If I play tennis, will the bouncing hurt the baby?
  • There was blue cheese in my salad. Should I call my doctor?
  • If my heart rate goes up over 140 when I exercise, am I cutting off the baby's oxygen supply?

In short: New moms are already borderline neurotic. They do not need strangers piling on. They have enough anxiety to cover all the bases.

Now back to the judgement bit...

Evidence shows that the vast majority of moms are doing things by the book (and I say this as a demographer, who has spent a good deal of time studying fertility, infant mortality, and child health trends). Child health has never been better.  Infant mortality rates are at their lowest on record. Prenatal vitamin consumption is higher than ever.

Still, people (often complete strangers) butt in with half-baked "advice" that makes a mom feel like total garbage.

I only recently started to "look" pregnant, but I've already been chastised for running and I've been gasped-at for painting my living room. (I used low VOC paints and all of the windows were open. No one was in any danger. But why should I even have to defend myself?)

Last week a complete stranger walked up to me in a restaurant to berate me for drinking a piña colada.

He only backed off when I clarified that it was a VIRGIN colada.

I was stupified into a silence that is extremely rare for me. In hindsight, I wish I had said something like this
Dude. This isn't an episode of What Would You Do. First, if I were going to drink while pregnant, I'd do it at home with no audience so I wouldn't have to endure people like you. And second, and much more importantly, I GAVE UP ALCOHOL WHEN THE PEE-STICK SHOWED A PLUS SIGN so you can take your effing self-righteousness and shove it up your... Ahem...

This morning, while "taking baby out for a run" along the Potomac, I was feeling proud that I'm staying fit for baby. I may not race any 5Ks this year. I may shuffle through a 4 minute run / 1 minute walk routine and make frequent bathroom stops. But I'm staying fit for the kid as much as for my own sanity.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists  recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day during pregnancy  for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. The most current, peer-reviewed medical research shows that, in the absence of a serious condition like incompetent cervix, physical fitness makes babies HEALTHIER and makes labor and recovery easier.

Running may not be for everyone, but for me, a 45 minute run/walk is moderate physical activity. I even checked with my doc, who replied
"Keep it up! If you can do it, keep running through the whole pregnancy!"

Yet, despite the fact that I'm making a well-informed decision in conjunction with my doctor (and, not incidentally, in the baby's best interests), I got looks of horror when people saw my baby-belly as I was running.

One woman gasped an audible
"Oh my god. What are you doing?"
(I'm flipping you off, is what I'm doing, honey. Mind your own ignorant business!)

Seriously, do people think that pregnant women are that naive? Do they think we're brain dead?

Oh... I know!
They think they're "just trying to help!"

How to really be a helper...

To all the "helpers" out there: The person you're picking on is probably a completely competent mother-to-be, who is going for her prenatal checkups, eating her vegetables (even if spinach makes her gag), and taking a daily multivitamin.

Statistically speaking, chances are excellent that the mother you're "just trying to help" is already doing everything her doctor has told her to do, and in a few months she's going to give birth to a perfectly healthy child. (And if she doesn't, the problem might have been a congenital defect, and you're going to make her feel personally responsible for something that wasn't her fault.)

And more importantly, there are women who need more guidance. But you're probably never going to see the women who really and truly need help.

You're never going to give advice to a meth addict whose baby is going to born underweight, with a cleft palate, and neurodevelopmental problems. You're never going to give advice to an HIV-positive prostitute. You're never going to give advice to a woman in an abusive relationship who needs to find safety for her and her baby.

So here's a suggestion: Take your "good advice" and keep it in your good head, and direct that pent-up energy into things that actually matter. For example, you could
  • Write a letter to your representative in Congress to request better maternal and family leave policies.
  • Support policies that improve access to affordable healthcare.
  • Lobby for better screening for and treatment of postpartum depression.
  • Raise money to support free childbirth and parenting classes, offered at convenient times and locations.
  • Volunteer at a substance abuse clinic for expectant mothers.
  • Support universal sex, parenting, and childbirth education.

Stop picking on pregnant women.
They have enough to worry about without you butting in.
And there are plenty of problems that really do need your attention.

(My occasional non-alcoholic beer and run/walk habits are not a problem that needs your solution.)
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