As last week's debate over pregnant women drinking showed, people love to rant about what pregnant women should and shouldn’t do.
There is a sense that when you’re pregnant you stop being a person and become a giant "waddling womb". Your body is no longer your own. People you’ve never met before come up and pat you on the stomach. Others lecture you on what you should and shouldn’t be doing. You need to rest. You need to eat lots of fruit. Or avoid fruit altogether.
Much of this advice is patronising because it fails to recognise the fact that the majority of women can judge for themselves. They know their own bodies and what’s right and what’s reckless. They don’t take risks just for the hell of it.
I was quite old when I got pregnant (even if it's the new 30, 40 is still old). It took me a long time and I had to get some help along the way. So I was already a super cautious pregnant person. If I didn't feel my baby move for a few minutes I’d start weeping. If I got indigestion I’d get my partner to whizz me to A&E. I thought if I walked too briskly my baby might flop out on the pavement. I wasn't very rational at the time
People forget that pregnant women are already pretty worried about what’s going on inside their own bodies. They already feel quite alienated from themselves. When you suddenly have a little person growing inside you the last thing you need is more pressure and paranoia being piled on.
I always felt too awful to go jogging, but I know plenty of women who carried on life relatively normally while pregnant. Some of them had the odd glass of wine. They exercised. They went on holiday. Some of them ate sushi. I even know women who’ve eaten runny French cheese. Everyone was okay in the end.
I’m not saying it’s okay for prospective mums to get drunk. Drinking more than the recommended amount can have serious consequences for the child. But it’s the sheer mass of things that are frowned upon and the fact that it takes up so much of the public discourse.
There’s food, types of exercise, stress, even clothing that isn’t deemed as right. This continues while you’re breastfeeding, but then the whole things stops and you can basically do whatever the heck you want (although the discourse switches to what you feed your child instead).
We see the same patronising attitude when we debate why more pregnant women aren’t offered seats on public transport. These women aren’t passive morons with no will of their own. They’re pregnant. If they want a seat then they’ll ask for one. And if they’re tucking into some non-pasteurised cheese on a cracker then that’s their look out too.
We need to acknowledge that most women are not hell-bent on damaging their child. Or so unhappy they’re oblivious to the consequences of their behaviour. Women need to be given more credit. More often than not they’ll make the right decision.
And they certainly don’t need a big pointy, ranty finger being wagged in their face to make them take their responsibility seriously.