October 02, 2007

To drink or not to drink?

It occasionally happens, that because you are a journalist and you know people who are journalists, you get asked for contacts or to comment on a story. Last week that happened to me, when my old pal Julie who now works for the Herald on Sunday asked me to comment on a story about drinking while pregnant, as she didn't know any other pregnant women. I said yes, and answered her questions by email. The story is centred on a pregnant woman ordering a light beer in an Auckland bar, and being told off by the barman. I was asked what I thought of that, and if I had had a tipple or two while pregnant.

Here's the whole story, but in a nutshell, this is what I said:
Pregnant women who spoke to the Herald on Sunday were divided on the issue.
Journalist Kimberley Rothwell, 34, said morning sickness meant alcohol was the
last thing on her mind for the first three months. Now, at 22 weeks, she has an
occasional glass of white wine.
"I know women who have had the odd drink
during pregnancy and have had perfectly healthy babies, so I'm not going to
freak out about a splash of wine here and there."
"I would be angry if a bar
worker told me I couldn't have a light beer. It's none of his business."

I can count on one hand the half glasses of wine I've had, with meals, in the last few months. They have always been a little celebration for me - a kir at Logan Brown, a splash in Noosa, a dribble with fish and chips on moving out of Moffitt Street. I've never been a big drinker - possibly haven't been drunk in years - the last time I was tipsy was at the Qantas Awards the week before I found out I was pregnant, and was told not to worry about all the champagne, oysters, mussels and other dangerous goodies I quaffed that night.

And yet, I'm "disgusting" and "idiotic" according to a letter writer to the Herald, which my friend Julie forwarded me this morning. The writer says that if women can't control themselves for nine months they have to ask themselves what kind of mothers they will be, and that women claiming the right to choose if they drink or not is "bullshit".

I think the letter writer has a point, and I've often thought things like 'I don't need that piece of blue cheese, and if it's a risk of listeria I'll stay away from it'. But what are the risks here? This is from Babycenter.com:
Drinking endangers your growing baby in a number of ways: It increases the
risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. As little as one drink a day can
the odds for low birth weight and raise your child's risk for
problems with learning, speech, attention span, language, and hyperactivity.
some research has shown that expectant moms who have as little as one
drink per
week are more likely than nondrinkers to have children who later
aggressive and delinquent behavior.

Ok, but I'm not talking about a drink a day, or a week. I'm not even talking about a drink a fortnight. And how big are these risks? One in ten? One in a hundred? The letter writer says that drinking while pregnant should be illegal, that women should provide as pure an environment for their unborn children as possible. So should wearing high heels while pregnant be illegal, because you may fall and miscarry? Should driving or being near roads be illegal? Should smoking while pregnant be illegal? Should not eating properly during pregnancy be illegal? Should pregnant women forfeit rights to their own bodies, and stay locked up away from any risks in the name of a pure environment? If anything, I should be hauled over the coals for the amount of sugar I've been consuming, not alcohol.

And in the end, isn't it me as the child's parent who has to bear the consequences of anything that happens to my child?

I'm going to be a great mother - my kid's going to be a great kid, and will have the most important things of all; love, love, and love. Cheers to that.

PS I would be really interested to hear what others think on this subject - feel free to comment ...


rural reader said...

I find the kid gloves that modern mothers handle their children and pregnancy with far more terrifying than a moderate and logical approach to preggy-drinking such as yours.

Nikki (Mother of the Devil Child) said...

I agree with rural reader, I think the panic and anxiety that goes with an overly stressed mother during pregnancy has far more affect on the fetus than a small glass of wine every now and again.

And I think that the issues of aggressive and deliquent behaviour are also an anomoly again.

I do think it is dangerous for a pregnant woman to drink during pregnancy if she is unaware or ignorant of the effects on the fetus and that is why such a huge deal is made about alcohol and pregnancy. The other issue is that it is unknown at what point fetal alcohol kicks in. It can be as many as 5 drinks a night for 9 months, or as little as one glass of wine. And that's where I guess it is up to the mother to make an informed choice.

But linking to my top point, it is also dangerous to create unneeded anxiety and guilt by berating those like yourself Kimberley. The letter writer can feck off if she is individually calling you names. If she is however making a point about wider drinking in pregnancy then fine. But let's not single anyone out here. I just know how absolutely terrified I was when I found out I was pregnant at 4 months and had been living/drinking/working at a pub in Dunedin. Hannah is fine. No (unusually) aggressive behaviour or deliquincy issues. So much stress for nothing.

Eeeeeek. I've rambled on a whole blog post of my own. Sorry love! And you are most definitely going to be a great mum, with a relaxed kiddo too.

Kate M said...

Hi Kimberely!
I saw the article in the HonS and thought, good on you.
I think pregnant women worry about everything, esp with their first baby. Your comments were balanced and sensible, and what the majority of educated intelligent women might feel or think. Its not like you were talking about getting wasted. I know plenty of other great mums who have had the odd sip of wine here or there and their adorable babies are fine.
Its hard being on the other side of the story, and of criticism, but dont worry about it. It's the kind of thing that polarizes people anyway.
You are definitely not idiotic, but obviously, that person who wrote the letter didnt get the full pic of you.
Im enjoying your blogs by the way! Keep up the good work! :)
Did you know that your blogging feature ran in the Waikato Times last weekend? You practically still work here!

melissa said...

Kimberley, I am 100% behind you on your comments. I am strongly of the belief that small glasses of wine here and there are not harmful during pregnancy or breastfeeding. I spent the beginning of my pregnancy with Arlo in Korea, and when I told other women I was pregnant, they encouraged me to drink beer- they said it relieved morning sickness! (I didn't end up doing that, but I did have the odd small glass of wine later through both pregnancies.) But my poibnt is, different cultures have different ideas about pregnancy anyway, and what pregnant women apparently should and shouldn't eat always seems to be changing.

Something that I absolutely hated about being pregnant was the heavy weight of other people's judgements/paranoias on me. And sadly, that can continue throughout parenting. I was told that i was being irresponsible for having homebirths, and again for letting my baby suck a dummy.

I believe that such judgements on both pregnant women and mothers are another way in which our society seeks to control women.

I really applaud you for being brave enough to share your moderate, sensible approach to the questions you were asked.

Sarah Lee said...

I'd like to see the barman go nine-months without a drink!

I've rarely had a drink in my pregnancies and thankfully this took no will-power (as I normally love an evening glass of red). When I'm pregnant I feel the most balanced, healthiest being on the planet. A switch goes off somewhere and I eat all the right foods, only want herbal tea and don't even think of alcohol. I just WISH I could be so kind on my body in normal circumstances!

I'm currently an unbalanced fruit cake, drinking a glass or two every night and OD'ing on sugar.

Good on you for being so honest and open. The occasional glass at a special function later on in pregnancy surely can't be all that harmful - I recall in my very latter stages being offered a glass by several friends and strangers alike in the hope of 'getting things moving'!