Moms Don’t Need More Reasons to Feel Responsible for All the Bad

It’s no secret that when you’re pregnant there is an insane amount of pressure around what you put in your body. The list of foods you’re not supposed to eat can be as long as you want it to be depending on your anxiety level at any given moment, and making the perfect choice 100% of the time isn’t helped by your carousel of exhaustion, irritablity and endless hunger (when you’re not sickeningly nauseous, of course).

All of this despite the fact that many of the foods pregnant women are told to avoid come with an incredibly low incidence rate. Listeria for example, the reason I avoided all deli meat until Eleanor was born and then immediately worked my way through an entire party platter until I wanted to vomit, has an incidence rate of less than 10 cases for every 3 million people according to the CDC. But the implications are so terrible, including miscarriage or seriously damage to cognitive functions, that many women decide it’s just not worth it (opting instead for a glutinous post-birth indulgence).

Then, there’s alcohol. There are so many competing arguments on moderate alcohol consumption (a glass or two a week… no one is advocating binge drinking!) and I remember feeling super conflicted about the few glasses I had during pregnancy. Even though I knew it was more than likely completely harmless, the stigma was so strong that I still felt guilty… but damn it if I wasn’t going to celebrate the purchase of our first home with a glass of champagne! 

I just read about a new report issued by the American Acadamy of Pediatrics that advocates complete abstention from alcohol for pregnant women, even while citing the incredibly low incidence rates for moderate alcohol consumption. And I get it. Yes, the only way to completely eliminate your risk of alcohol related disorders is not to drink any alcohol. But a woman is already going to blame herself for any health issue her child has, whether it was preventable or not, so throw us a freaking bone and acknowledge that in most cases a couple glasses of wine is completely harmless and she’s not being a selfish monster by treating herself once in a blue moon.

When I was pregnant I stopped eating soft boiled eggs. These are on the ‘don’t eat’ list because, like any undercooked item (good by ahi tuna poki lunches…), there’s a small risk of salmonella. So, every morning I would eat my second favorite breakfast: oatmeal with a banana and walnuts. Risk free and yummy. Until one day, well into my third trimester, I go to the market and see a recall of my walnuts for possible salmonella contamination! I first called my doctor to make sure I couldn’t have had a mild case that affected my baby without causing symptoms in me (turns out you have to have an incredibly intense poisoning from salmonella, so bad that it enters your blood stream, in order to put your baby at risk), and then I cried a silent tear for all the soft boiled eggs that had gone uneaten under the false pretense of ensuring a salmonella-free pregnancy.

I walked away from that experience with a new outlook: the constant stress and anxiety that comes from trying to eat perfectly throughout pregnancy was far more of a risk to my overall health, and therefore my baby’s health, than the one in a million chance of contracting a serious food related illness. I didn’t start eating a Russian roulette of risky foods, but if I was going to get salmonella poisoning from a fucking walnut then you better believe that I was going to have a mile-high mortadella sandwich in the final weeks of my pregnancy.

Best. Sandwich. Ever.

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