Consuming alcohol when pregnant – this might be the hardest post I’ve ever composed, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. Here’s my conclusion: because it’s a subject I feel very strongly about – but perhaps not in the way you may imagine. Having written the post in my usual way but finding myself entirely unhappy with it, I’m now starting afresh…
I once wrote a post titled ‘Should You Get Married?’ which looks at some really critical questions you should ask yourself before making that lifelong (hopefully!) commitment. The most important thing you should agree on, I said, is the big stuff – your values must align if you’re to have any hope of succeeding as a couple. I can’t begin to fathom how you’d maintain a relationship otherwise. I’d suggest it would be impossible.
So imagine, as an example, that you and your partner disagree about how much alcohol is safe to consume during pregnancy. Bit of a biggie, huh? But – of course – something you’d need to resolve. Particularly if you were already carrying said partner’s baby. It’s not something you could just agree to disagree on; you would have to accept that his (or her) feelings came from a place of deep concern – even if you felt they were unwarranted.
I’m not going to lie – I enjoy a tipple. Even – or perhaps especially – after beating my demons, I do enjoy a glass of wine occasionally.
Of course, with children comes change: we must be responsible – if not for our own sake’s then for theirs. So when I fell pregnant with Pixie I hardly touched a drop. I think I had a sip on two separate occasions, at family weddings I attended. And that was it.
When I was breastfeeding I found it quite frustrating that still I wasn’t able to drink even a nominal amount without expressing – according to many guidelines. But I was more frustrated at the contradictory information I found when researching the subject – so much so that I delved and delved until I was finally satisfied I’d found the truth. And then I wrote about it.
That post has become one of my most successful to date.
I established that the guidelines about alcohol and breastfeeding are often misleading in terms of research and facts and giving responsibility to parents. I’m now pregnant for the second time, so what do I now feel about alcohol during pregnancy?
Well, the bottom line is that it’s not necessary and it’s not beneficial to your baby. However, there’s a lot of disagreement – even among the experts – about how much is deemed ‘acceptable’ should you choose to have the odd glass of wine. Ultimately, the guidelines state that it’s best to abstain completely to negate any and all potential risk. Sound advice; but of course in practice some women do choose to have a small amount on special occasions. And I happen to be one of them.
So that’s my big confession and the reason this post is tough to pen – because I know many people feel passionately that drinking even the tiniest drop of alcohol is plain wrong.
So I’m essentially opening myself up to criticism from people I like to think have respected me to date. That makes me nervous, even if I don’t feel I’m doing anything inherently bad.
And for the record, I’d never willingly put my babies at risk – I genuinely don’t believe a rare, nominal few sips of alcohol is harmful after the first trimester, particularly with a meal. That said, I absolutely respect those who choose to abstain entirely, and I absolutely accept it’s the safest option if you prefer to err on the side of caution. I appreciate that many women simply prefer not to take even the smallest chance, and that’s fine – admirable in fact.
But back to the matter at hand. There are some people we are willing to accept disapproval from, no matter how uncomfortable, because it may be a situation that affects them equally – such as the example I provided between a husband and wife.
Here’s my second confession: there’s no issue between my husband and me – he fully supports me and my views in this regard.
So why am I talking about this controversial subject today? My intention was to set a scene in which this type of conflict or disparity of attitudes is acceptable and understandable – in order to illustrate the very great contrast when it is absolutely not…
How would you react to meddling from, say, a friend or relative? Perhaps not really their place – buuuuut, maybe you could still accept it if handled sensitively and for the right reasons. What if it was a perfect stranger judging you in entirely inappropriate circumstances and intruding on a private dinner in order to do so?
We recently had a short break with family in Center Parcs, and one particular evening hubby and I enjoyed a date night. We booked a table at Strada and as a treat with dinner, we ordered two small glasses of red wine.
When I wrote the first draft of this post, I included this next part. I subsequently removed it because there’s such a thing as making too many excuses, which can ring hollow. However I’m adding it back in because actually, it adds context and without this information it leaves room for inaccurate presumptions…
I feel quite sure that if my husband had simply ordered a single large glass of wine, rather than two small ones, this issue would never have arisen. It would have stood in front of him and I’d have enjoyed the occasional sip and nobody would have taken any notice.
So why, then, did he order two small glasses instead?
Very simply, he was being chivalrous, and a little indecisive. They were different reds, and he wanted to ensure that my few tastes were enjoyable. He ordered a small glass of two we thought I’d like, allowing me to try both. And then, other than the occasional sip of my preferred Merlot, he finished them. After a short while I moved ‘my’ glass in front of him due to the extreme discomfort we both felt, and we were finally able to relax a little.
Not that I should have to justify myself to anybody outside of my marriage, I will clarify my intention that night nonetheless: I planned to drink no more than half of my small glass – and very probably less – with my meal.
This is not a regular occurrence, and was one of the few occasions I’ve touched alcohol during my pregnancy. I’m generally quite healthy and I’m conscious of taking care of my baby: I’m a good mum. There are plenty of others who are less responsible, of course – and midwives and GPs are there to support those families.
But I wouldn’t judge a woman who decides to have a few sips of wine with dinner on a special occasion, as I did – I don’t personally consider it a problem. (I put my hands up to the fact that I
may probably would be guilty of judging a pregnant lady consuming much more than that…)
At the time of placing our order, the waiter raised his eyebrows at us in disapproval. Shocked, I smiled and told him I only intended having a few sips of wine, and that my husband would finish the rest.
The waiter responded with: ‘I’m not worried about you or you – I’m worried about the baby.’
I was horrified. And humiliated. And ashamed.
I felt chastised and that my competence as a parent had been called into question – on holiday and during my off-duty evening (as much as one can be off-duty whilst heavily pregnant) – by a perfect stranger. The waiter knew nothing about me or my circumstances. He had no idea as to whether I drink heavily or rarely. And he didn’t think to care about any of that – even after I answered his disapproving look with what I felt was far more information than he deserved.
I left later that evening wondering if I’d allowed my own selfish whims to colour my judgement. I doubt I’ll touch another drop before this baby arrives because what I said earlier is true: alcohol is not necessary. So in truth, I was indulging my own desire and this experience has made me want to demonstrate stronger willpower.
When I recounted the experience to my brother, he made a very good point:
No matter how much I chose to drink in that restaurant (literally about three sips in the end because I was so mortified) – even if I’d been quaffing an entire bottle, it was certainly not a waiter’s job to pass comment. His job was to serve us that evening, and make us feel welcome – the very opposite of what he achieved.
Finally, after getting feedback from others, finally I felt something else: indignant.
If I were to be gracious and give the waiter the benefit of the doubt I suppose I could say I forced him to be complicit in something he fundamentally disagreed with.
Still, what did he hope to accomplish? I wonder whether he anticipated changing my ways for the better had I been the irresponsible woman he took me for?
I asked many of you how much alcohol is too much during pregnancy, and the response was interesting. The result was different on Facebook and Twitter, but essentially the consensus seems split between not drinking at all, or keeping it to special occasions, as I do.
The overwhelming attitude, though, was that the majority seemed not to judge a woman who would drink a small amount – even if they wouldn’t choose to do so themselves.
What do you think?