Let me tell you a story. When I fell pregnant, some 15 years ago now, I decided to do everything right.
I stopped drinking alcohol. I stopped eating soft cheeses and processed meats. I took folic acid. I drank milk. I didn’t much like the milk, but I drank it anyway.
I even began charting how many fruits and vegetables I ate. I was obsessed with being the ‘perfect pregnant woman’. I was doing it all for my baby. Well, sadly, that baby never came to be. I miscarried after just a few weeks. I had done everything right, but the baby was lost. And there was nothing I could have done to save it.
I fell pregnant again in just a couple of months, but this time everything felt different. I was positive that I was going to miscarry again. I was certain I’d never be blessed with a child. And so I threw away my charts of fruits and vegies. I had the odd glass of wine. I ate my cheese. I certainly didn’t bother with my cups of milk. What was the point? This baby was never going to make it.
To my overwhelming joy, I was completely wrong. My son was born in May 1999, a beautiful, healthy specimen of a child. I hadn’t been a perfect pregnant woman, but he was a perfect baby. I was thrilled beyond measure. And it led to a huge realisation…
Yes, it’s important to avoid risk factors when you’re pregnant. If you mainline heroin every night, or eat nothing but chips for nine months, or binge on alcohol, or smoke a pack a day, you are not giving your child the best chance to thrive. But these are extreme examples. Most of us mothers are sensible and do our best for our babies, whether they’re in our bellies or out in the world.
And our children will turn out just fine, or, tragically, they will not. Several friends of mine were the ‘perfect’ pregnant women and sadly they still gave birth to babies with problems. Others drank occasionally in pregnancy, or inhaled paint fumes while painting the bedroom, and their babies turned out to be absolutely healthy.
A judgement-free zone
I think it’s enormously unfair to put pressure on women to be ‘perfect’ while they’re pregnant. Quite frankly I think it’s enormously unfair to put pressure on women to be perfect at any time. But no-one is perfect and no-one has the right to hold another person up to standards that are simply impossible to meet.
Besides, we’re far less in control of our babies’ destinies than we would like to believe, especially when they’re still in utero. Have your antenatal checks, do your best with your health, be sensible and responsible, and the rest is in the lap of the gods.
And please, leave the judgement of mothers behind. It doesn’t help anyone. It wounds and it alienates. And we mums need all the support we can get.