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On pregnancy judgement

Day 259/365 ~ Shyness is Nice and Shyness Can Stop You from Doing All the Things in Life You'd Like To [Explored!]

One of the things that really annoys me about how pregnancy is portrayed in the media is the amount of conflicting advice and judging that goes on about mother’s and mothers-to-be’s behaviour. Actually one of the things that really bothers me about get off my internets (which I’ve actually kind of grown to like, and have got into the habit of checking once a month or so) is all the judgement heaped onto mothers. Actually not so much the posts themselves, which do usually just draw attention to some mommy blogger giving completely ridiculous medical advice based on nothing whatsoever, but the comments underneath them.

While I’m sure many of people that are the subject of people’s slagging are supremely annoying, I basically don’t think comments accusing people of nearly killing their children for probably not great but hardly lifethreating things like spraypainting stuff in their vicinity or letting them run round in just nappies are acceptable. I remember one post about someone thinking ultrasounds were unnecessary and choosing not to take all the ones they’re offered. Now I don’t share this person’s belief that ultrasounds cause deafness (which I think it was) but neither do I think missing some is playing russian roulette with your baby’s life. On the NHS we just get two scans, at 12 and 20 weeks, unless there are indications that something might be wrong. While of course more would be nice, people have babies and as far as I’m aware there is no marked difference in child mortality/illness compared to other European countries where they have loads more scans. Anyway, not the point.

The point is that there is so much conflicting advice about what you should and shouldn’t do, and so much pressure to get it right, when there is no agreed definition whatsoever of right. I challenge anyone to have a clear position on every eventuality of parenthood. I certainly wouldn’t claim to have anything but a vague idea of what I’m doing. Just the other day I had to make a decision whether to have the whooping cough vaccination. I was given a leaflet which strongly urged me to, but this leaflet also told me that the vaccine has not been licenced for pregnant women, although it appears to have been given to enough people for them to state that there is no evidence of any side effects in either the UK or US (which sort of makes me wonder what the point of licencing is?). Neither the nurse nor the midwife were able to give details and both stressed that while the official advice was to have it, this was not their advice to me individually and the decision was ultimately mine. Now I could have gone away and made a doctors appointment to ask them or found some research on this vaccine. But of course I didn’t, I just signed the disclaimer and had the vaccine because the risk of whooping cough death seemed both more likely and more serious than some undefined side effect that is preventing/delaying the licencing. But someone else might not have. And I really wouldn’t want to judge them.

Thankfully, I haven’t been on the receiving end of much judgement in real life. Most of the people that surround me are aware of the ludicrousness of vilifying parents (or mothers, actually) on the basis of vague or made up evidence, and if anything the most commonly given advice I’ve got is to not worry too much.

But I did get a bit of judgement last weekend at the wedding. I was speaking to another pregnant woman and we were taking about how our diets have changed. She was saying how she ate ‘a few more’ carbs (being Candaian and conforming to stereotype of North Americans being scared of carbs), but loads of protein and berries and other superfoods. I said I mainly just eat my normal healthy diet, plus loads of chocolate and cake*. She did not look impressed.

The funny thing was though that this same person was on the receiving end of some fairly major judgement from Dave and I because of her alcohol consumption. She had a large glass of wine the night before the wedding and two glasses of wine plus two glasses of champagne at the wedding itself. We overheard her saying that a doctor friend had told her that as long as she wasn’t getting drunk it was fine. Ehm, yes. I’m pretty glad I wasn’t actually in that conversation or I would have had difficulty hiding my disapproval from my face. Alcohol and smoking are the two things where I will sort of let myself judge a little bit because the evidence is so strong and consistent and has been around for decades.

It’s difficult to stop yourself from making these judgements, at least in the comfort of your own head, much as you try not to. But I think as a minimum you should not go round publicly accusing people of endangering their babies life, unless they actually are.

* This is true. I was putting on weight so slowly/not at all at the start, and I figured that as long as I was getting my nutrients, I might as well take advantage of being able to eat delicious things with impunity, since I’ll probably never be in that position again. It’s going to be some adjustment post birth.

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  • Roisin 31 October 2012, 10:11 am

    This is a really interesting post, Franca. I read GOMI too and while they’re pretty harsh on everyone I agree that there seems to be a special level of ire reserved for mommy bloggers. And to some extent I can actually understand that because some (not all) of the bloggers they’re discussing are pretty sickening in how sanctimonious they are. I think the GOMI argument is “if you put it on the internet people will judge it” and I think that’s fair, even though it is unpleasant. But like you say, the interesting and often distressing bit is in the comments underneath the posts where people really let rip – and often in a totally intemperate way. It is harsh, and often very unfair and, like you say, I think it’s reflective of a wider attitude towards pregnant women and mothers. I often wonder if pregnancy wasn’t so visible would people be so outspoken in their opinions – I think the very visibility of a pregnant woman leads some people to think that it’s then public property, or something.

    Anyway I’m not being very coherent here, but I just wanted to say that your post, as ever, was very thoughtful and thought-provoking!
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  • Laura 1 November 2012, 5:06 am

    I think that pregnancy and parenting are so personal and make you feel so vulnerable– because the stakes are (or at least feel) so high– that people perceive their own choices as what is objectively best and perceive choices they rejected as objectivly bad. I feel like more nebulous or personal the choice (discipline strategies, exposure to popular culture, involvement in adult activities, education preferences, etc.) the more extrememe the reaction.

  • SACRAMENTO 1 November 2012, 11:06 am

    You are so wise, Franca. and you will both be great sensible parents.
    We all leant and tryied our best, and it is only when you see your children becomen adults that you admire realised that you did a good job.
    My only advise is hug and kiss your child as much as possible.
    Wishing you only the best
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  • Sara 1 November 2012, 1:35 pm

    One of my friends went through hell when she was pregnant with her son. Everyone was telling her what to do, and arguing with her about her decisions. When she gave birth, she would not let anyone see the baby unless they had a certain shot (I can’t remember what it was now), or they had to wait 2 or 3 months. So many people went nuts in her family, demanding to see the baby. I feel that it is the mother’s decision in this situation. This post is 90% of the reason why I am scared of having a baby right now. What is right and what is wrong, and what decisions you make can set people off. I commend you lady!
    Sara recently posted..The Witching HourMy Profile

  • Jen 1 November 2012, 4:51 pm

    Try and relax, get the information you need and do what you think is right for you. No matter what you do, and no matter what happens, other people will judge, second-guess you, and offer unsolicited advice. Try and ignore it unless it piques your interest, and then look into it on your own time and terms.

    I hate to tell you this, but it gets worse after the baby is born, when people seem to feel free to offer all kinds of advice without any provocation whatsoever (perfect strangers even!). I found it helpful to prepare some stock answers to questions or advice, things like “that’s interesting, I’m glad it worked for you” that are kind of neutral and noncommittal but don’t seem to be a brush-off. I also make it a firm policy to try and help out other parents in concrete ways when they look like they need it (helping them getting on and off transit, distracting kids while they go through the check-out) and also saying supportive things when appropriate. Parents need to support each other more, and judge less, and I really try and practice support and stem my own judgements.

  • Sarah 6 November 2012, 9:17 am

    Hey Franca, love your blog, have been visiting for a long time 🙂 Totally agree with your post, I am a new mum, my wee boy is 6 months old now and I felt the same frustrations during my pregnancy as you have described. Things like the crazy list of food to avoid – the midwife telling me to always wash the salad leaves you buy ready bagged, and my de facto mother-in-law poo-pooing that advice and serving me up salad she refused to wash! I had kind of decided what I would and wouldn’t eat and drink but no one bothered to check with me, they would just give me what they thought I should have. I spent the whole pregnancy wishing I could avoid eating with other people.

    Like you I didn’t put much weight on at first (I was so nauseous for the first 16 weeks) but ended up putting on about 15kg mostly from eating sweet stuff to get me through the days at work! I tried really hard not to worry about loosing the weight afterwards (I decided to focus only on working out breastfeeding for the first 6 weeks) but the state of my body after the birth was such a shock to me. Don’t believe anyone who says you’ll be back to normal after 6 weeks, I don’t know where that comes from and it makes me really angry when I hear “specialists” trotting this out. Most people really do still look quite pregnant, with a really wobbly belly for quite a few weeks, but at least you can bend over again! I didn’t really start to feel normal (or like I had begun to adjust – to my body and new life) until we were through the newborn phase and routinely getting more than 3 hours sleep at a time (about 10 weeks for us!). I’m slowly loosing the weight and firming back up but the pressure for things to be just like before you had a baby – body and life-wise – is insidious and I have found it surprisingly hard to resist (on the plus side, lifting and holding a baby all the time and walking him everyday has been great exercise, I feel the fittest I’ve been in ages and no hated gymn needed).

    Jen is right about the advice getting worse after the baby is born. I just pretend to accept all advice (nod and smile) with absolutely no intention to take most of it. It’s so funny when I am out without the little one right with me (cos my partner is in a cafe or another shop with him in the front pack – I love this as he gets to feel a bit of what it was like to be pregnant and he loves it cos he gets heaps of positive attention, but no parenting advice, haha). I was buying some baby clothes and the shop assistant asked me when I was due – really opened my eyes to how people expect the baby to be with the mum, and if you’re by yourself buying baby stuff, the assumption is, if you still look a bit ‘fat’, that you’re pregnant! Made me laugh, but wow this is an interesting and eye-opening time.

    Sorry for the massive comment, good luck with the rest of your pregnancy and the birth. I’m sure you’ll meet the challenges of parenthood (and if/when you find yourself feeling completely useless, you wouldn’t be feeling that way if you weren’t making a huge effort to do ‘the right thing’).

    • Franca 6 November 2012, 6:02 pm

      Thanks for the mammoth comment! I had actually never heard the six week thing. I just thought that was the point at which you usually can start exercising again.

      • Sarah 7 November 2012, 12:22 am

        Yeah, exactly, it’s around then that the lochia stops, and in a lot of places that’s when your main maternity carer (be that your midwife, ob/gyn or whoever) gives you a final checkup and sends you on your merry way. Somehow that’s turned into ‘everything will be back to normal’ in places – I saw an obstetrician on prime time TV here in NZ trot this out and thought I would hate to be a patient of his!

  • Rebecca 12 November 2012, 2:04 am

    Jen above covered most of what I wanted to say! I’ve been really blown away by some of the “mommy wars” that I’ve encountered, and even surprised at myself for how I can’t help but compare myself and my child to others (privately, in my head). It took some adjusting for me to settle in and realize that aside from major things that are actually dangerous to the child, everyone has their own way of doing things and there is such a huge range of what’s acceptable, normal and healthy. I also was surprised by how uptight I was in the early months, and really sort of obsessive compulsive about doing things “perfectly.” There is no perfect, and I hope you are one of those relaxed mothers who realizes that and can just enjoy the crazy newborn days! (I’m hoping if we have a second child it will be much less stressful now that I know what to expect. I also had some postpartum depression and anxiety, so that was a part of it!)