Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Can We Please Stop Surrounding Pregnancy With Anxiety?

Hello, everyone! As many of you know by now, I have a baby in my belly!! And while I don't want this blog to turn into "all things Baby," (because there are plenty of other interesting things to talk about) I do want to occasionally share my thoughts on various things I've been learning about pregnancy and parenting. These topics get to be sticky and controversial, and I always like to hear other viewpoints; if you do disagree with me and want to make a comment, I ask that you please be charitable and respectful. Though people should always be charitable and respectful when they comment :) Anyways, in honor of 14 weeks gestation today-Baby is approximately 12 weeks old-I want to talk about how we treat pregnancy. 
Don't mind my blue lips; I had just finished
eating cake when this picture was taken last night :)  

I don't know if y'all have noticed, but women love to help each other out and give advice. It's an admirable quality; the bond of sisterhood, where women desire to reach out in love. Where pregnancy is concerned, the desire to give advice escalates dramatically. Advice through articles, pointed side comments of "Well, my doctor said...", blogs, name it. And while some of this advice is positive, awesome, and beneficial, some of it tends to be more...negative. For example, here's some of what I have encountered: 

Don't eat tuna while pregnant. 
Don't drink coffee while pregnant. 
Don't drink herbal tea while pregnant.
Don't drink any amount of alcohol while pregnant, even though fetal alcohol syndrome is more likely to be caused by binge drinking.
Don't eat any kind of seafood while pregnant.
Don't eat cream cheese while pregnant. 
Don't drink any kind of tea while pregnant.
Don't consume dairy while pregnant or if you're trying to get pregnant.
Don't eat room-temperature apple crisp while pregnant. 
Don't eat lunch meat, unless it has been zapped in the microwave, while pregnant.
Don't lift that heavy box-even if you're not pregnant-because it will shred your uterus and cause you to have miscarriages later in life. 
And the list goes on....

Different women have heard different things from their healthcare providers (who, naturally, subscribe to slightly different schools of thought), varying information and studies abound across the internet, and people can also jump to incorrect conclusions about random advice that they hear, without actually doing the research behind it. Many times, pregnancy advice has been given to me from women who followed all of the "rules," but have still miscarried-and they don't want to do anything that could remotely cause a miscarriage, so they tell me not to eat or do certain things. 

Please, if you have lost a child to miscarriage, know that it was not your fault. I think the very fact that many women who followed all the "rules" have lost children to miscarriage shows us that unborn babies will, at times, die through miscarriage. It's a fact that I hammered into my mind early on in pregnancy, because if Baby dies, I don't want to unnecessarily dump loads of guilt-on top of grief-onto myself when I don't need or deserve it. In fact, according to the American Pregnancy Association, 
"The reason for miscarriage is varied, and most often the cause cannot be identified. During the first trimester, the most common cause of miscarriage is chromosomal abnormality-meaning that something is not correct with the baby's chromosomes. Most chromosomal abnormalities are the cause of a damaged egg or sperm cell, or are due to a problem at the time that the zygote went through the division process." 
It's easy to want to pin down a particular variable that we can control as the "cause" of a miscarriage, so that we can avoid miscarriages altogether, but this isn't the caseAs the American Pregnancy Association-and several other resources-point out, miscarriages are commonly caused by chromosomal abnormalities.I really appreciate how loving and kind so many women are, and I truly believe that pregnancy-advice-giving women have the best of intentions. Yet, I think we need to ask ourselves: 
What does a long list of restrictions-many of which are the fruit of fear or guilt-do for a pregnant woman? 
It can cause an unnecessary amount of stress and anxiety. Seriously, I cannot count how many times (before I ever got pregnant, even!) I would search the internet for "Is ____ safe while pregnant?" because I was curious and wanted to know for the future. Even in the very early days of my pregnancy, I did this a few times before I stopped myself. I cannot count how many times panicked women will hit social media, trying to gain peace of mind and reassurance from other women about what they just ate or what they want to eat. Whether we intend it or not, the restrictions, rumors, and well-intended advice is surrounding pregnancy with anxiety. Is all of this stress good for a woman or for her baby? Or how about for her home environment? Nope, nope, and nope. 

It can cause her common sense to be overshadowed by fear and hasty generalizations. I'm a fan of common sense, and I think common sense-coupled with prudence-is very important when you are a parent. In my experience of being pregnant thus far, I've found that common sense has helped me to treat my body and the baby well. If I can barely keep my eyes open and I'm at home, common sense dictates that I take a nap-that's good for me and Baby. Common sense dictates that I shouldn't slurp up raw quail eggs-that'd probably be bad for me and Baby. In the handbook that my midwife gave me, the list of "foods to avoid" in pregnancy was common sense stuff: Don't eat unwashed fruit. Don't eat undercooked meat. Don't drink too much coffee or tea. However, when people get all wound up, obsessing about a list of pregnancy restrictions, that common sense (and prudence that goes right along with it!) can be overshadowed. We start living in fear, and we're afraid that we will become a negative statistic (but, as I discussed a long time ago, living in fear of becoming statistics is not the way to live). 

We take our fears and paste them everywhere. Suddenly, one person's bad experience after drinking coffee has turned into a universal rule of "Don't drink any coffee while pregnant." Instead of trying to rationally use our common sense, we cling to the negative experiences of others, holding them in front of your eyes as cautionary tales of what will inevitably happen if we eat the same food or do the same activity. Right. Folks, hasty generalizations are not a logically sound or rational way to live, no matter if you're pregnant or not. 

It can cause women to settle for rumors instead of doing their own research. There are problems when myself (or other women) hold what one women tells us in the grocery store line as the Gospel Truth without even looking into it ourselves. So many times, we hear one woman say "don't do ____ during pregnancy" and we train ourselves to automatically believe it. And then we spread the word to all of our pregnant friends, and the obsessive fear continues to grow. Just do factual research, try to examine all sides of the issue, and then let each woman make her own decisions. 

It can cause women to forget that pregnancy is a normal part of life and that focusing on being overall healthy women, no matter if we're pregnant or not, will do us all loads of good. Years before all of the different "rules" came out, women were bringing healthy babies into this world. Pioneer women, hard at work on the prairies, brought babies into the world. Women isolated in the mountains of Austria brought babies into the world. In parts of the world where there is bad hygiene and few resources, women are still bringing healthy babies into the world. 
Shocking news right here: Having babies has been a perfectly normal activity for thousands of years. 
Having a huge list of "rules" and "restrictions" for pregnant women in the modern world can create this idea that pregnancy is a weird, super-fragile state (I really started thinking more about this idea when I read Kendra's awesome post on a pregnant lifestyle, which I recommend reading).  I recognize that living a healthy lifestyle is important, though I am not the greenest, most eco-friendly woman you'll meet (I don't eat organic food, get obsessed about checking my cleaning supplies for random chemicals, and I don't try to recycle or compost every single thing). Binging on caffeine is not good for a person who wants to be healthy. Retaining one's sanity, by allowing oneself to eat dessert, drink tea, and coffee is perfectly fine, pregnant or not pregnant. It's actually very European (see books like French Women Don't Get Fat for proof. For a little more on coffee & tea, see note at the bottom of this post). If we get caught up in the list of "rules" and are filled with anxiety, we can forget that a normal, healthy, stress-free lifestyle is what's really helpful for ourselves and the baby. 

In all honesty, the months of this pregnancy-even though I'm not far into it yet-have been so blessed and peaceful. I'm benefiting from the fact that I'm not racked with anxiety and obsession over food. My life has looked pretty much the same as it did before I was pregnant, except that I'm eating more popcorn (it's good for pregnancy), taking more naps, buying and eating spinach more often, and finding myself more fatigued or struck with nausea. Instead of having to bid my favorite foods and snacks goodbye while dealing with morning sickness, I'm just continuing to be my usual self, with morning sickness and Baby added. God gives me plenty of good crosses without me needing to add a bunch of food-deprivations/mortifications on top, but that's a post for another day :)  

Please, please encourage women to make informed decisions (note: informed-so, backed with solid research based in truth, not fear!) and don't swamp them with lists of restrictions that are, many times, fear based and/or inaccurate and/or individualized. Furthermore, please don't turn these fearful restrictions into universal "rules" that we think every woman should follow. Let's surround pregnancy with informed peace and confidence, not with fearful obsessions and anxiety. 

***On Coffee and tea: If you actually read the facts, you'll find that the FDA recommends no more than 400 mg caffeine a day for the average adult, but prefers people consume less. Coincidentally, tons of pregnancy articles state that 200 mg of caffeine is a good limit for a pregnant woman. So really, you can safely continue your coffee or tea-drinking, as long as you keep things in moderation. Instead of drinking 3 or 4 cups a day, limit it to 1 or 2-that kind of thing. My midwife recommended that I drink only one caffeinated beverage a day, but I've read that some other health care providers think a couple cups is fine. Personally, the only area where I initially exerted extra caution was herbal teas, since herbal teas can do interesting things to a person. For example, red raspberry leaf tea will often cause contractions, so after I asked her about it, my midwife told me not to drink it till the end of pregnancy. Other than that, I have free reign in the realm of herbal and non-herbal teas. In fact, I just polished off a lovely mug of caffeinated English Breakfast Tea! 


  1. You make some good points, AnneMarie. A lot of concerns are blown way out of proportion. This is a good reminder to choose your healthcare provider carefully and avoid asking questions of "Dr. Google." :-)

    1. Thank you so much, Shannon! I like the way you phrase that-I think it is so easy to fall into the trap of automatically asking "Dr. Google" everything that comes to our minds, which can just further confusion and concerns that pregnant women may have.

  2. This is so interesting! I appreciated your thoughts! I probably sympathize with both'll never understand the caution used by pregnant mommas unless you've had a miscarriage -- trust me, you're willing to take every precaution and always error in the conservative side. Not necessarily always out of fear but to give your baby the best chance possible. A few sacrifices for nine months (for me personally, that includes coffee) is totally worth it.

    However, I also agree with you that Google had totally created an endless amount of overwhelming information on pregnancy and that makes it much easier to fear or obsess! And you're right that potency is a healthy, normal experience that woman have gone through in much less ideal circumstances years ago. :) although women though are somewhat more fragile, I'd say, from our amount of hormonal disturbances in the environment, chemicals, foods,etc. So in some ways we actually are less healthy than our prairie ancestors. Just my two cents!

    And CONGRATULATIONS! You look adorable!

    1. Laura, thank you so much for sharing your insights-I am sad for you & your husband's loss. I cannot imagine the pain and heartbreak of having your child die through miscarriage.

      I really find it fascinating what you say about how we're "less healthy" than our prairie ancestors (you have a much greater medical background and knowledge than I do! I like hearing your medical-related words of wisdom!). That's actually something that I've been wondering about lately, because I've noticed that talking to women in their 70s and 80s about pregnancy vs. talking to women my age about pregnancy is a bit different. The older women I've talked to, who went through pregnancy years ago, seem to have been less sick & worried in their healthy pregnancies. I think it'd be really interesting to read a study on this, though since there are so many variable factors, I doubt it'd be possible to do a thorough study.

      Thank you so much, again, for your insights, your openness, and your congratulations :) We're pretty excited!

    2. I agree, it would be really interesting to see a study! I think just from what I see today compared to in the past, we are more sedentary, eat more processed food, and encounter more environmental hazards (birth control hormones and other medications found in our water and other crazy stuff!!). Thus we are generally less healthy when it comes to our reproductive systems and a bit more fragile hormonally. Yet we do have better medical care so I suppose it all evens out! :)

      I'll announce eventually on our blog but we're expecting #2. :) Definitely nervous but rejoicing with every milestone and in love already! :)

    3. Oh, we are definitely more sedentary! Those are really good observations. For Christmas, my MIL actually gave me a cookbook that is very much into embracing the older way of looking at food (less processed, good fats, etc.), and I'm really excited to read about that whole area more.

      WOW!!! Laura, thanks for telling me-congratulations!!!!!! You, your husband, and the little one are in my prayers!!!!! What a huge and immense blessing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!That is just so extremely wonderfully epic!!!!!!! :) :) :) :)