Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Drinking for two

Ah, the New York Times takes on drinking and motherhood again. This time, though, it's in the form of a well-reasoned personal essay about drinking during pregnancy. The author, who I believe is a Times staffer, writes about her own decision to drink moderately during pregnancy -- something I should say that I totally agree with, having had the occasional half-glass of beer or wine in my third trimester. (And now having an occasional whole beer or glass of wine while breastfeeding, which, I might add, is totally sanctioned by LLL, though I always feel faintly rebellious when I do so.)

She notes that her desire to have a drink with dinner was strongest when she was eating out. And although the piece does deal with the fact that the general public looks askance at pregnant women who have a drink, she doesn't mention any uncomfortable instances with her own drinking in public. That's the very thing that kept me from having a beer at a restaurant while pregnant, though -- I just didn't want to deal with any nasty looks or muttered comments. I'd take a sip of Darren's and then push it back across the table.

When I was admitted to the hospital with pre-term labor a few days before Ess was born, one of the first questions the nurse asked was whether I drank during pregnancy. Panicked, I said, "Yes, I had about this much" -- thumb and index finger about three inches apart -- "beer last night."

"That's fine," the nurse said, and laughed. "I'm only interested if you had a fifth of vodka on a regular basis."

But of course that message -- that moderate drinking is probably just fine after the first trimester -- simply does not get transmitted to the public. I understand that public health messages by design are simple and clear; there is not room for complexity in just about any marketing campaign. That's why co-sleeping is universally discouraged, for example, because it's too difficult to explain concisely that it's safe if you're doing it correctly and you're not impaired. When I was griping about the AAP's advisory against co-sleeping a while ago, a friend who worked with teen moms mentioned that if it were reversed her clients would simply hear "it's ok to sleep with your baby" and snuggle up with the kid like the living teddy bear many of them wanted in the first place... quite possibly with disastrous consequences.

And then of course there's the American fear of litigation. So of course no one is going to say it's ok to have a glass of wine while you're pregnant -- what about the liability if something later happens to the baby? Who can you sue? I felt like a real dunce when I realized that all the warnings on kids' products -- like the prohibition against carrying the bouncy seat with the kid in it, or the one against putting the car seat anywhere but the floor -- are just about limiting liability, and have very little to do with how the average household actually uses the products.

All of it makes the work of parenting that much harder, I think, as you tease through the legal lingo and the conflicting medical studies to determine your own take on each issue. But I guess that's what adulthood... and parenthood... are all about: figuring out what makes sense for your family. And my family is definitely happier if I get a glass of porter every now and then.