Hey America, Pregnancy: You're Doing it Wrong

I've debated writing this post for a while, because really -- who wants to be the poster-child for "irresponsible pregnancy?" But, you know me, I can't resist a can of worms. And I think it needs to be said. So, here goes: You know all that stuff you're not supposed to do while you're pregnant? I do pretty much all of it. And mostly, I think you should too. Because the English-speaking world has a fundamentally flawed way of looking at pregnancy.

I turned up pregnant a month after the husband and I got married. So, of course, I immediately consulted the internet. I learned that I wasn't to run or hike or jump up and down, I had to be sure to eat a lot of fish while being very careful not to consume any fish. I was to have no alcohol, no soft cheese, no caffeine, no tap water, no cured meats, no sushi, no hot tubs or hot baths. I was to do no painting, no gardening, no microwaving, no housecleaning, and no pet care. I probably shouldn't talk on the phone or use a computer. I needed to get all the recommended prenatal ultrasound and doppler testing, but be sure to avoid bombarding my baby with sound waves.

And, of course, no feeling stressed. It's not good for the baby.

But all that just didn't seem to me like it could possibly be right. Pregnancy is a natural thing that happens to women, often many times, and it's been happening throughout time and all over the world and how could it possibly be that fragile and burdensome?

Thank goodness my first call was to my very reasonable family practice doctor who told me that being pregnant was not a disease. He had some expertise in the field of fetal alcohol syndrome, and helped me to understand how very rare it is (a woman who consumes 18 drinks PER DAY has a 30-33% chance of giving birth to a baby with FAS). He explained that the safest place a baby could possibly be was inside its mother. He said I should feel free to continue to live life like a normal human being. So that's what I did. And that's what I've done through all six of my previous pregnancies, and what I'm currently doing during pregnancy number seven.

Because here's the thing: all that unscientific fear-mongering just serves to degrade a culture of openness to life. How can a woman be expected to avoid all of those things for all of her fertile years? The answer is she couldn't. So if my view of pregnancy is that it's something that's dangerous to mothers and babies, then I'd have to treat fertility as a disease to be cured. I'd have to "plan parenthood" so as to make very, very certain I didn't ever accidentally ride a roller coaster when I might unknowingly be pregnant. Or have a glass of wine. Or eat a bologna sandwich. I might have to abort a perfectly good baby just in case.

But for me, my fertility and pregnancies (and breastfeeding and newborns and children) are all a part of my normal life. I didn't step out of real life and into a sterility bubble to carefully breed two children. I embrace both my fertility and my real life at the same time. Because my fertility and my real life are the same thing.

So when I'm pregnant, I make very few if any changes to my normal routine:

  • I continue to drink 1-2 alcoholic drinks per week (but recent studies and all of history and most of Europe suggest that up to 7 drinks per week is completely acceptable).
  • I continue my normal routine of exercising: running up until the last month or two of pregnancy, then walking instead.
  • I continue to eat in a moderate and healthy way, and limit my weight gain to avoid feeling overweight and miserable during and after pregnancy. This has been a great benefit to both my physical and mental well-being.
  • I go on roller coasters and water slides even into my third trimester, brazenly daring the teenaged minimum wage theme park employees to accuse me of being pregnant.
  • I drink caffeine.
  • I take hot baths.
  • I eat sushi and brie and prosciutto because they are yummy and because they have never yet given me food poisoning, pregnant or not.
  • I don't smoke or take drugs, but I also don't do those things when I'm not pregnant.

I have been fortunate enough to never lose a baby to miscarriage and to have given birth to six children without disabilities or special needs. But I do not attribute that fact to anything I do or do not do during pregnancy. It just is what it is, as they say. Plenty of women do everything just right and still lose a baby. To point fingers and try to figure out what they did to cause their miscarriage seems unhelpful and just plain mean. Tragedies happen, and we don't always get to know why.

And the thing is, most of this pregnancy advice seems to me to come, not from actual scientific research, but rather from theme park lawyers, internet conspiracy theorists, and Victorian novelists whose heroines will insist on going horseback riding against the wishes of their husbands and can be counted upon to miscarry and learn an important lesson about docility.

I don't think any of those three are better sources of lifestyle advice than the whole of human history in which, for many women, pregnancy was the rule rather than the exception for 20-30 years of their lives. And they didn't have time to sit around letting Google freak them out about it. They knew that pregnancy was just a natural part of life.

That's how I view it as well. I have now been pregnant or nursing for over twelve years straight. And, for me, it mostly hasn't felt like a sacrifice or a burden. It hasn't felt like something other than real life, like a season of illness or misfortune to be weathered until better times return. And I think being able to have a glass of wine with the husband or go on a roller coaster with my kids has been a big part of that.


And hey, it's Sunday so you get to see what I look like pregnant today and what I wore to Mass:

Dress and Belt: Old Navy; Shoes: Zappos; Necklace: Personalized Creations; Earrings: a gift; Bump: 26 weeks!
And, if you're wondering about that big accessory in the background . . . why yes that is our new BIG van (and my first new car ever!). Thanks to the fine folks who like Catholic All Year on Facebook and responded to my cry for help, we test drove the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford E350, and Nissan NV.
I think any of the three would have worked for our family. But, I felt like the Mercedes was a combination of too spartan on the inside and too fancy (or at least too fancy a name) on the outside. I just somehow don't feel qualified to be driving around in a Mercedes. Even a decidedly unsexy one. The Ford seemed very utilitarian, so it certainly would have gotten the job done, but then we drove the Nissan and IT felt just right.
While the other two had a rather industrial feel, the Nissan NV really seems like a consumer vehicle. It's got things like a usb port, gps, a back-up camera, and little slide-out cupholders underneath each of the seats. And this one wasn't white (hallelujah!) so we went ahead and bought the thing.

It's going to take some getting used to, but I'm really very happy with it. Twelve seats! Imagine the possibilities. Now we just need to figure out if we're keeping our old 2002 Chevy Venture, too, and if the new one will fit in the garage, and how we're going to get three cars back up to LA. Jack's pretty good at Project Gotham Racing on Grandad's Xbox, but I'm not sure how well that would translate into real life driving skills.

Thanks to the good ladies at Fine Linen and Purple for hosting yet another What I Wore Sunday. Head on over to check out what everyone else wore to Mass today!