Archive for January 3rd, 2011

The Pregnancy Police

I was typing the other day with my ear half cocked to the radio in the background when the subject of ‘pregnancy police’ came up. You know, those caring tut-tutters who give women the stink eye for eating soft cheese or standing to close to a vicious Merlot while pregnant. As I listened, it occurred to me that there has to be something about women and motherhood that allows other people to so harshly judge them for simply being. Do the collective we care so much about somebody else’s unborn fetus that we feel we can freely scowl at the person for making a choice of which we disapprove?  Or is it that we use the onboard fetus to revel in our judgements?

If a woman rides a horse, swims, drinks coffee or has a glass of wine while pregnant, surely that is up to her, no?

It’s not only pregnancy that brings forth the police. If  woman choses a C-section over vaginal delivery, if she decides breast-feeding is not how she choses to feed her child, if she decides to terminate her pregnancy, all of these private individual choices seem to be up for public debate and in most cases public scorn.

As soon as a woman enters into the realm of motherhood it seems to me she must throw up her guard and above all else be perceived to be doing ‘her best’ at all times. To not do so allows others take pot shots at her character. A father may be feckless or domineering, ineffective, disinterested or a host of other things but we never seem to judge them as harshly as we do mothers. Woe betide the mother who does not stake her child’s interest ahead of her own.

Pregnant women do not revert to childlike simplicity, they have needs, wants, desires, habits, furies, and all the rest of it. They might very well read all the right books and eat all the right foods and gobble folic acid and attend pre natal classes, but even if they don’t, who the heck are we to judge them?

I’m as guilty of this as the next person. Over the holidays I saw a heavily pregnant woman with another small child in a buggy puffing away outside the Dundrum Shopping Centre. I felt a sneer curl my lip as I passed her by, but it was short-lived. Two minutes later I could have kicked my own arse.

How dare I! I didn’t know the first thing about her, but there I was, strutting along like a puffed up pigeon, condemning her, judging her, weighing up her character based on a two second glance.

Well lah-di-dah Arlene, I thought,  ain’t you great? Ain’t you so very special? Hold on there while I hold the mirror of supreme worthiness up against your own face. Didn’t you leave Jordan with her Granny as a baby on occasion so that you could go out and have a wild good time taking who knows what drinking who knows either? How responsible was that? Oh you were perfectly put back together before her return, but because your poor choices went unseen that means they didn’t exist?

Didn’t you smoke while pregnant all those years ago? Oh it might not have been as frowned upon then as now, but you knew it was hardly going to do either of you any bloomin’ good. Still you puffed merrily away, menthol you see, much safer*. Did you breastfeed? Only for two weeks until the real breast milk came through, then you switched to formula. Where’s your badge of awesomeness, it might need some polishing. Let’s not even talk about what you ate while pregnant, oh no, let’s not go there.

Ugh. What a stupid selfish fool I was in my youth  I stomped through the centre, thinking. I confess at that moment amongst the shoppers and holiday makers I felt like a heel, a hypocritical heel. A lucky, jammy, hypocritical heel. We, all of us, have made choices in our lives that there by the grace of the universe could have gone horribly wrong.

Pregnant women make choices, will I eat this delicious brie? Will I have crab? Will I smoke Consulate? Will a glass of wine cause FAS? What about two? This seat belt is uncomfortable, perhaps I won’t wear it. Cycling**, can I do it or not?

That is their right. We may not approve of the choices other people make, but we ought not use that to berate them or sneer at them from a perilous lofty perch. Pregnant women are people. Individual people. Maybe that is what we should remember when we first notice a tell-tale bump.

* I was told this back in 1990!

**  I was lectured regularly for my habit of cycling to the beach and swimming in the sea during the last days of my pregnancy- July, very hot- the notion being that I would ‘upset the babby’ by being physically active, a notion quickly disproved when the 8 pound Jordan arrived on time into the world, perfect and screaming blue murder.

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