Pregnant Pause?

Striking numbers of expectant mothers—professional, educated, and informed—are deciding that there’s nothing wrong with the occasional drink of alcohol. New studies suggest that they may be right, but the medical establishment is hardly convinced. So are these moms-to-be valiantly pushing back against political correctness gone awry, or are they simply part of a new generation of entitled narcissists, unwilling to sacrifice even for the health of their babies?

By Alyssa Giacobbe | Boston Magazine |

Many women told me that they drank during pregnancy not to relax or be social, but simply to remember their carefree days prior to deciding to become a mother. For pregnant women, danger is everywhere: mercury in canned tuna, salmonella in peanut butter, listeria in soft cheese, disfigurement and mental retardation in a glass of wine. Nothing, they’re told, is safe. Which apparently demands flawless behavior—being perfect pregnant people. It’s enough to drive a girl to drink.

In fact, some moms-to-be say the decision to drink was just one small step in pushing back against the overwhelming sense that they are very probably doing something wrong at any given moment of motherhood. “I feel like the ban on drinking promotes this idea that our job as mothers is to make sure that our babies are ‘pure,’” says Arlington mom Jennifer Feller, “that they never, ever have contact with a germ, a toxin, a speck of honey before the age of one. It’s not that I ignored all of this, but it’s an approach to pregnancy that prepares parents for the overbearing, helicopter style of parenting we’re realizing is actually hurting our kids.”

Before her first glass of wine while pregnant, Sarah Pike, a Newburyport resident, decided on a level of drinking she and her husband both felt comfortable with: one to three glasses of wine over a one-week period, and not more than one in a single evening. “If something happened and maybe was related to wine consumption, I had to go into that glass of wine knowing that I had made my decision based on the risks and non-risks,” Pike says. “My midwife actually told me I could have a bologna sandwich every once in a while. I’m pretty certain there are worse things in bologna than a glass of red wine.” Pike, now a mother of two boys, says that more than a desire to enjoy the alcohol itself, she found she simply missed the act of holding a glass of wine. “A little bit went so far for me in feeling I hadn’t lost myself completely,” she says.

Still, many parents argue that parenting is about sacrifice, that you never really are quite the same again—indeed, that’s one reason many people opt to have kids (and many, myself included, may opt not to). The current generation of moms may be the most educated and informed ever, but these women also embody the narcissism that’s pervasive in this ambitious, driven era. According to a study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, clinical narcissism among college students—defined by heightened feelings of entitlement, decreased morality, and a dog-eat-dog mentality—increased by 30 percent from 1982 to 2006, when two out of every three measured high for the disorder.

“Hearing women say, ‘I want to (fill-in-the-blank) to be my true self again’ is not language we heard a generation ago,” says Jean Twenge, author of the recent The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant and coauthor of The Narcissism Epidemic, which argues that we live in a culture that not only tolerates, but also encourages, me-first behavior. Twenge points to the highly competitive nature of pregnancy and parenting as a manifestation of narcissism. “We have this new idea that we need to be true to ourselves and not waver from that—we use phrases like ‘Never compromise’ and ‘Believe in yourself,’” she says. “Everything is personalized, customized. There’s the idea that ‘We’re all unique,’ that ‘The rules don’t apply to me.’ And that is a problem for women when they’re pregnant and transitioning to parenthood. You are the same person, but there are some things you have to do differently than you used to. And one of those things is not drink.”

Upon returning home from Lucky’s after the O’Doul’s incident a few years ago, Kara Baskin started to wonder if the women at the other table had actually been right. “I realized that sitting there with my bottle of O’Doul’s, I had felt like a badass, like I was being rebellious,” she says. “Did I really want to be a badass? I ended up going home and berating myself.” Because it wasn’t just the taste of the beer that appealed to Baskin. At that point in her pregnancy, with only a few weeks to go, she’d found the freedom of that sip intoxicating. “It tasted like a memory, like a different part of my life that I might not ever get back to,” she says. She hadn’t missed alcohol. She had missed being Kara. Because, of course, she wasn’t anymore, and as far as she knew, might never be again.

  • Luke B.

    I work at Luckys Lounge and we don’t serve O’Douls and haven’t in the 3 years I’ve worked here…just sayin’.

  • Kris

    Hmmm. I think a sniff of cocaine would relax me once in a while when I’m pregnant. It would remind me of my fun, carefree days. I’m sure just one snort a couple of times during my pregnancy would be perfectly safe.

    Try inserting “cocaine” instead of alcohol and lets see if we feel the same way. Alcohol is more dangerous to the development of the baby than cocaine.

  • Jane

    Honestly, I don’t care how educated these women are. Drinking while pregnant is wrong. Would you put alcohol in a baby’s bottle? Of course not! So why the heck would you drink while pregnant?! If you can’t refrain from a little booze for 9 months to reduce the risk of birth defects in your unborn child, you are truly selfish and don’t deserve to be a mother. You’re not even supposed to eat cold cuts or drink caffeine while pregnant for goodness’ sake, so why would it be OK to drink alcohol? Just goes to show how selfish this society has gotten. It’s all about ‘me, me, me’ these days. Notice how many women in this article who drank during their pregnancy are justifying it by saying that they do it to relieve stress brought on by pregnancy? Are you kidding me? Isn’t that what alcoholics do when they’re stressed out instead of dealing with it? They drink! How do you think other women have dealt with the stress of pregnancy over the years and haven’t drank? Give me a break. Why even risk the chance that it could harm your unborn child? It amazes me that in this society women get more crap for not breastfeeding their baby than drinking while pregnant. It’s despicable.

    • Jess

      Actually, it’s perfectly acceptable to have 200 mg or less of caffeine a day.

  • Heather

    This article is about more than just drinking during pregnancy. It’s about how society constantly and incessantly judges mothers. And how that really needs to stop.

  • Karen

    Well, Heather should we also not judge women who use heroin while pregnant? Don’t be ridiculous. You SHOULD be judged for putting your unborn child’s health at risk. It’s wrong, plain and simple, not to mention selfish.

  • Virginia Bourget

    I am very sad to read this article and I am sure the writer did not mean harm. I have to point out, however, that alcohol is a known teratogen. That means that it damages developing fetuses, just like Thalidomide. It is more harmful that cocaine to developing babies and this is true accross all species that have been studied. A few studies have suggested otherwise, as compared to 100s or more that have clearly demonstrated that alcohol affected newborns suffer neurological and other health consequences that are lifelong. How could someone decide to take a chance on that? More importantly, why would they? Alcohol is not a required part of the diet.

  • Patrick

    This article is incredibly irresponsible. The writer mentions that “lately we’ve seen study after study” suggest drinking up to 5 drinks might not hurt your infant? No citation, no reference, no facts. The editorial staff and writer should stick to reflecting on their mother in a fluff piece rather that putting infants at risk.

  • http://twitter.com/billyboylston Billy Boylston

    Dr. Riley who was on Nightside with Dan Rea is so right to affirm no drinking or smoking during pregnacy. This should be just common sense knowing what we know about these 2 legal/taxed possibilities and the righ of the unborn should exceed the desires of the mother (in all ways!) I do want to correct a couple of callers to the radio show that there is not absolute confirmed data on alcohol use leading to intelligence an challenged child and especially not a connection to autism and aspergers. Nightside, even in a previous program posting casually links ASD with mental illness. Asperger’s and Autism are dev neuro disorders and NOT mental illness. Prospective parents, please watch your new child the first 2 years for symptoms of potential autism. More info? Visit autismspeaks.org

  • JS

    It is interesting. In Britain, midwives and doctors often prescribe guinnas during pregnancy (a dark stout). The rates of defects etc are the same or better as the US.

    When you are looking at studies they must be carried out in a way that truly demonstrates a definitive answer. In the medical community that means a double blind study after several preliminary studies. Any of the studies dealing with alcohol are not these- they are only antedotal. There are a lot of faults with this. (It is like chemo – not target therapies of late but traditional chemo- has never been tested in a double blind study. It has all been “antedotal” and/compared to people on radiation and such. If you are looking at data, only non-Hodgeson [sp] Lymphoma has shown a true response and “cure” using chemo. The result from chemo may show a short term reduction in cancer growth but it never cures and it always destroys the body. My point is that in our society we don’t question our doctors and we jump on the band wagon that says, in this case, don’t drink alcohol AT ALL while pregnant.

    However, despite that warning, sugar is consumed (a drug we are addicted and it has harmful effects) , we eat GMO and pesticide laden food, we drink water that has a huge amount of toxins in it (despite tap OR bottle). We drink milk that is full of hormones and let’s not talk about BPA found in plastics and canned goods.

    I work with students who possess various challenges (please-only medical community can say retardation. Respect that everyone is a person first.). Those who possess FAS or other birth defects, come from mothers who had real problems-binge drinking and drugs. I also work with others who have birth defects that are genetic and rare and are not caused because the woman drank a glass of wine or two over her pregnancy.

    In the US especially, there is an all-or-nothing mentality. I believe self control in American society is lacking. Think about Big Gulps. Who needs one- no one. If doctors publically said pregnant women can have 2 glasses of wine or beer a week- women may take that as they can have two large bottles of beer or two huge glasses of wine. Better yet, they may save it up for an upcoming party… Leading to binge drinking.

    I do not endorse alcohol during pregnancy. That is not what I am saying. It comes down to knowledge and understanding the issue. Many of the responses demonstrate that there is very little willingness to look at all sides and really understand the issue. Many of you took it as if she was stating that alcohol was okay-she didn’t. Rather, she presented what limited facts were out there along with antedotes that show both sides of thinking. She is simply getting others to think about the issue.