Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Tue May 29th, 2007 at 03:04:05 PM EST
Zoe Williams takes the pregnancy fear-mongers to task in the Guardian today over their hysteria about the supposed various nasties that women can inflict on their unborn child.
It reminded me of Izzy's response to a comment in yesterday's Salon de News
Men are allowed to make their own medical decisions and women are not, even when it's a matter of life or death. It's that simple.
This alone -- that women aren't allowed to control their bodies or fates -- makes the system unequal, or "macho" if you will, regardless of who is enforcing it and for what reason (religion in this case)
Zoe herself comes to similar conclusions. the whole article is instructive in the propagation of scare stories, but with that ever-present background of attempting to control women's behaviour. As evidenced by the US warnings to pre-pregnant women to behave "properly".
Throughout your life, you are given bits of advice, by experts, by newspapers, by people who have done it themselves and know what they are talking about and by people who have no idea what they are talking about. And you filter it for whether it makes sense and whether it dovetails nicely with what you have already decided to do.
Then you get pregnant and a number of factors change: first, the advice is much more patronising, and much more militant. Take last Friday's announcement that, instead of allowing themselves the odd glass of wine, as previously recommended, from now on pregnant women should drink nothing at all. Not based on any new research, by the way, just "to be on the safe side".
Despite having got yourself into a spot of bother, pregnant women, you are still in the possession of adult judgment, and you are still allowed to use it. If the official advice sounds stringent to the point of insanity, examine it more closely - you aren't just a selfish person, looking for loopholes for your own sorry enjoyment.
Try to remember, when the advice turns out to be nonsense, that not everyone has evil motives: some people will give you bad advice because they are stupid or ill-informed. Others will give you bad advice because, without even realising it, they have a yen to bring the business of procreation under closer central control. They just don't trust you. But then, why should they? You are an absurd shape and you keep crying.
Her article details the probable reality that lies behind the various warnings. And the difference between the "official" warning and scientific understandings are quite marked.
I've always wondered about this since I read that there is simply no basis for the warnings about the number of units w're supposed todrink each week. It's just an accepted finger-in-the-air figure that "seems" reasonable.
Many of our mothers drank during pregnancy, and while this may not be very scientific, the lack of alcohol-related brain damage in our generation should militate against blank credulity when you are told not to touch a drop.......
but from the point of view of the pregnant woman, presented with no bona fide evidence for foetal harm at low drinking levels, the response is, of course, "Sod that."
Abstinence messages never work. Everybody knows they don't work, and I would go one further and say that social conservatives never intend them to work - they intend, rather, with their stringency, to effect a severance between the state and the individual. Don't come crying to us if it all goes wrong. We have already warned you to be perfect.
Listeria has been my particular bugbear ever since a midwife - that is, a trained prenatal professional who, unless I develop complications, represents the highest medical authority I can expect to deal with throughout my pregnancy - told me that I could get listeriosis, thereby brain-damaging my foetus, without knowing about it. Now, listeriosis is an incredibly serious disease, with extremely serious symptoms, taken extremely seriously by epidemiologists nationwide. Get it without noticing it? If I got listeriosis, the national papers would know about it. It would be the third outbreak that has occurred in this country in the past 20 years. My beloved, C, said: "Well, she was just erring on the side of caution." This is a common line. But the distinction between "caution" and "misinformation" could not be more important - when it is blurred, as it so often is, the upshot is that pregnant women either become neurotic, or lose faith in the medical profession altogether.
Most interesting of all is this: toxoplasmosis can be screened for during pregnancy, and can also treated in the womb, which is not the case for Down's syndrome. This is your classic authoritarian sleight of hand - with a scattergun delivery of partly accurate, partly misrepresented and partly plain wrong information, all our attention is focused on our individual responsibilities, which we will probably, through a combination of waywardness and stupidity, fail to fulfil anyway. Yet, statistically, it would be a better investment for our unborn children if we were to eat whatever we liked and spent our time and energy pressuring MPs for better prenatal screening and better standards of hygiene in medical institutions.
At the beginning of this year, a Danish study published findings on this subject: 1,200 women were surveyed, which is more than double the sample of the next largest study. The adjustments for confounding factors were comprehensive, and the conclusion was that no significant differences occurred between the caffeine drinkers and the decaff drinkers, in the birthweight of their babies or the frequency of preterm delivery: even among women who drank more than seven cups of coffee a day.
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