Offspring’s eternal

I’m a little late commenting on the recent Washington Post article on new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control that all women who are capable of conceiving, regardless of intent to bear children, should consider themselves — and be considered by their healthcare providers — as “pre-pregnant.”

Think about it: girls who have reached menarche (age 12 in this country, but could be as young as 9), women who have chosen not to have children, and pre-menopausal women who have no intention of having another child should all be considered “pre-pregnant.”

The CDC’s guidelines are basically sound — don’t smoke; eat a balanced diet that provides enough essential nutrients (be sure to mind your folic acid for a healthy, healthy potential blastocyst!); and actively treat and manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. The report admirably points out that “affordability of health care . . . and improved access to preconception care is needed” for further reduction of infant mortality rates in the US. The CDC also says that these recommendations aren’t limited to those with two X chromosomes, but should be part of conscious planning by couples before pregnancy and education about maintaining a healthy pregnancy.

The Washington Post article alters the intent of the guidelines, omitting the male half of any reproductive equation. (The Post neglects to mention that the guidelines are sound for women and men of any age, not just possible moms-to-be.)

In essence, the article reduces all women of childbearing age to nothing more than the sum of their reproductive organs and potential to procreate. The demeaning, paternalistic “pre-pregnant” label assumes that the natural state of a woman is pregnancy and fails to take into account women’s capacity for making intelligent choices relating to their reproduction. And the article fails to address those women who don’t have access to contraception (and just as bad, received abstinence-only “sex education” as teens), who can’t afford to go to a doctor when sick (let alone make a “reproductive life plan” and get even basic prenatal care), and whose pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted.

As for myself, being a walking incubator means that I should not drink alcohol, ever, period. I should also steer clear of soft cheeses, sushi, oysters, rare meat, unpasteurized cider, herbal tea, caffeine, and any fish that might contain unhealthy levels of mercury. (Never mind that it is far easier to tell half the population to reduce their consumption of fish than it is to regulate fossil fuel emissions that taint seafood in the first place.) I certainly can’t go near my cat’s litterbox anymore, according to the Washington Post; maybe I should just get rid of my pet altogether to eliminate any risk of damaging a pre-embryo.

Oh, and I’d better stop taking Wellbutrin, which carries with it an increased risk of congenital cardiac malformation. Although I’ve managed my hypertension for 25 years with a low dosage of atenolol, a beta-blocker, I should probably switch to another drug that’s less effective or carries side effects I don’t want: because it is linked with reduced fetal growth, atenolol is not recommended by physicians for women who are planning to become pregnant. Guess I should also stop taking ibuprofin when I have a headache and pseudoephedrine when I have a cold. You know, for kids!

What worries me is that given the current political climate, the “pre-pregnant” concept conveniently complements the administration’s and several states’ restrictions on access to contraception and legal, safe abortion. Instead of providing healthcare to people who can’t afford it, the government puts the onus on each woman to keep her breeder status at peak performance. The notion of “pre-pregnancy” further institutionalizes economic inequality (employers could ostensibly bar women from jobs with a risk of exposure to fetus-unfriendly materials — for their own good). And it bolsters the religious right’s belief that a woman’s health and autonomy are worth less than that of her unborn child. Margaret Atwood’s terrifying depiction of a society in which women are incapable of contributing anything greater than their offspring is starting to look less and less like fiction.

6 Responses to “Offspring’s eternal”

  1. Ezra says:

    Visit Ezra


  2. 2fs says:

    Visit 2fs

    I find it offensive that the government can conceptualize women only as baby-machines, and totally overlook their function as sex objects. Thank you, thank you - I’ll be here all week.

  3. Terri says:

    Visit Terri

    This is a highly articulate post with which I completely and whole-heartedly agree, as you might expect. When she was pregnant and now that she’s a mother, my sister has told me stories of the presumptuous way that total strangers have treated her that show their complete lack of respect for her as an intelligent human being with a right to privacy and to living her own life and making her own decisions for herself and her child. It’s disturbing and insulting. Almost nobody asks this much of men as fathers or potential fathers (though last I heard they play a pretty big role in the whole deal), but women have to answer to the planet.

  4. Paula says:

    Visit Paula

    In essence, the article reduces all women of childbearing age to nothing more than the sum of their reproductive organs and potential to procreateI can see how, if that were the case, that would be upsetting, but I don’t think the CDC is suggesting that women are just a buncha baby machines. These are general guidelines for self-care, and a way to get women to think long-term about their health. Most women at least entertain the idea of having children at some point in their lives, so this is helpful information for those folks, so that today’s 25-year-old isn’t slapping her forehead at 35, saying, “Damn! I should have stopped smoking 10 years ago.” And look at the names on the report: half of them are women. I don’t get a paternalistic vibe, more a…midwife-y one. I wonder if there is something else that’s bothering you about this–are you reading an implicit criticism of childlessness here? Cuz it seems to me that anyone who is not planning on having children can just ignore this advice. I hope that wasn’t too personal.

  5. 2fs says:

    Visit 2fs

    I think it’s both the source - this administration has been anything but woman-friendly - and the tone. If it had been “Here are some suggestions for living a healthy life - and here are some suggestions that apply specifically to women who are or are thinking of becoming pregnant,” that would be one thing. Plus, some of the suggestions are just unrealistic: no alcohol ever? no changing the cat-litter ever? And cynical me thinks that no report would ever tell men to change their whole lives around in such control-freak detail, even if there was risk. It’d be more like “here are the facts.”

  6. Editrix says:

    Visit Editrix

    Paula, I guess I wasn’t adequately clear about why I felt so strongly about this new federally sanctioned label. Thankfully, Jeff put what I was trying to get at in terms that were more concise and cogent.

    I certainly respect your viewpoint, and I’m glad you took the time to share it.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>