Pregnancy is a constant battle between trying to do the right thing and retaining a modicum of common sense and perspective. It is a condition that panders to the fears and small dramatics of those pre-disposed to hysteria, hypochondria, paranoia and low-level insanity. As I have been periodically guilty of all these things to a greater or lesser degree (usually greater) I am at greater risk than most of losing the plot entirely. Luckily, I seem to be hanging on in there, possibly because when I’m about to careen over the edge of crazy Mr Oh slaps me across the face (metaphorically) and puts me on the naughty chair until I regain composure (only kind of metaphorically).
Mr Oh has had to ban me from Googling every single thing I eat, drink and do in advance to see if it’s safe for the baby. It surprises me though how the most bizarre stuff seems to have reams of information already available. You can Google everything from ‘Will eating fish make my baby a better swimmer?’ to ‘Does wearing the colour pink during pregnancy lead to birth defects’ and be guaranteed that someone has both asked and answered the question before.
Where there is a risk that something might not be good for an unborn child, the general approach of the internet is not to say ‘that’s ridiculous’ or even ‘while there’s absolutely no evidence to prove that eating Percy Pigs when pregnant will make your baby ugly, if you’re concerned about it, you may wish to abstain from the delicious treats until after the birth’. Rather they say ‘Yes, it is absolutely possibly that eating Percy Pigs in pregnancy may indeed be linked to an increased incidence of ugliness in babies. While there is not yet any scientific evidence - or any evidence at all - supporting this admittedly random hypothesis you should not eat any Percy Pigs when pregnant...just in case. If you ignore this warning and your baby does indeed turn out ugly, it will be your fault and the child should be taken away from you”.
There are some things that you probably shouldn’t eat/do when pregnant. Take class A drugs for example. Nobody wants their baby to be born addicted to crack-cocaine. Smoking is another thing that is probably not a great pastime to be at when pregnant and it makes me very uncomfortable seeing heavily pregnant women standing outside the maternity hospital puffing away. This said, I think people generally need to lighten up a bit - for some women who would have smoked heavily before pregnancy, giving up entirely may be practically impossible. They may occasionally cave and have one or two cigarettes. It’s not great but there are far worse things that women do during pregnancy that are judged much less harshly by society. Stress, for example.
One of the worst things you can do to your baby is be stressed. The stress hormone is passed to your baby through the umbilical cord and no one really knows the harmful effects that consistently increased stress levels have on a baby in the womb. I don’t imagine it’s good, though, considering the hugely destructive effect stress has on fully grown adults. If having a cigarette occasionally or a glass of wine reduces stress in the mother, there is a good chance that there is a net benefit to the unborn of this action. Also, overwork and lack of sleep. There were a few weeks last month where I was doing 10-12 hour days most nights in work. It really wasn’t good for me and I was exhausted and drained which can’t be an optimal pro-creating environment but because it wasn’t stigmatized as ‘something bad mothers do’, no one really said anything to me except in a kind of congratulatory way e.g. ‘look at you working so hard even though you’re pregnant, aren’t you great’....when all I could think was ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I need to go home, lie down and eat Percy Pigs’.
Alcohol is probably the most cointreauversial pregnancy related issue around and one that very few people (apart from the French) are capable of having a sensible approach to. My doctor warned me about the dangers of getting wasted but seemed unconcerned by everything else. American websites are positively militant in their approach ‘No alcohol...no way...not even a cherry liqueur bon-bon...BAD MOTHER!!...the shame’. I imagine that having a glass of wine while obviously pregnant in an American restaurant may well carry with it the risk of public stoning. Even in Ireland, I hate to say, I’m at the stage where I’m reluctant to have a glass of wine in case people give me dirty looks, or worse...say something! God forbid - I’d be mortified. Luckily though, Irish people are so terrified of mistakenly assuming that someone is pregnant when they may just be a bit pudgy that I reckon you’d have to be crowning in the pub before they’d suggest that you might want to put down the pint.
The French apparently drink wine in moderation all throughout pregnancy without any negative effects (other than being born French). My approach is that I will drink a glass of wine or two when I feel like it and when the wine is suitably expensive. I don’t risk public humiliation for plonk.
The list of things you shouldn’t consume doesn’t stop there. Soft mould-ripened unpasteurized cheeses are apparently out because of risk of listeria but there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about this. I heard from the people in the cheesemonger (experts surely?) that pasteurised or unpasteurised is irrelevant and what is important is the age of the cheese. Anything under 9 months could carry listeria. Anything over that will be safe. This means that most soft cheese are risky but that stilton is back in the running (hooray!). Also anything you buy in Tesco is safe because it’s generally been whipped to within an inch of its life by a processing machine and listeria couldn’t survive near it. But the key thing about cheese is that, if it’s hot, listeria is killed so bring on the deep-fried brie!
Salami is another baddie, and actually any cold deli meats because they are uncooked and could also carry listeria and other things. The listeria thing would also apply to all salads, fruit, raw veg, deli items that you hadn’t washed yourself or that weren’t served hot. By this rationale, pregnant women should not eat any store bought or restaurant/deli-made sandwiches or salads. You could risk it....but you’d be a bad mother for putting your baby in danger.
You’re also a bad mother if you drink herbal tea which hasn’t been clinically proven as safe. Even camomile may have a negative effect on baby. All regular tea or coffee and soft drinks are very bad because of the caffeine. Raw fruit juice also may harbour listeria.
Salmon, tuna and swordfish contain mercury. Liver is totally out in all its forms because of harmful levels of vitamin A which can cause birth defects. All forms of paté, whether made with liver or not, also on the listeria risk-list (unless hot). Shellfish - bad. Any raw meat/fish - bad. Homemade mayonaise or mousses made with raw egg - bad. Soft-serve or homemade ice-cream - bad. Eggs that aren’t hardboiled - bad. All salad - bad. Anything with processed sugar - bad. All meat that’s not welldone - bad.
This basically reduces the pregnant woman diet to boiled rice, steamed broccoli and hot water. It’s unpleasant and also, I think unnecessary.
I had a craving for sushi on Friday (actually my craving was for raw salmon smothered in soft blue cheese). We went to Yamamori Japanese restaurant and I explained to the waiter that I couldn’t eat raw fish but still wanted sushi so could he recommend anything. He said I could have a California roll (cooked crab and avocado) sushi. Although this was ‘technically’ still on the no-go list because the ingredients were cold I decided to order one. He then told me - somewhat hesitantly in case I freaked out - that all the pregnant Japanese women in the restaurant had no problem eating raw fish sushi. I sighed.
I know this to be the case. In the same way that French women drink lots of wine while eating cold brie and American women eat salad in restaurants but would rather be consumed alive by ants than touch wine....Japanese women eat raw fish. None of this illicit activity effects their babies in any measurable or quantifiable way. Listeria is incredibly rare and I’m convinced that the stress of being obsessed with everything you eat is more likely to make your baby neurotic in later life...but once I know that eating raw fish could be dangerous, I can’t risk it because then I’d be a bad mother and it would be my fault if anything happened. I should never have Googled any of this in the first place.
There are other things that bad mothers do. They sleep on their backs. Apparently this squishes some artery which deprives your baby of nutrients. Most mornings I wake up on my back and silently panic for ten minutes until the baby kicks and tells me that despite my evil unconscious back-sleeping habit, he’s still ok in there. Bad mothers also use mobile phones which can cause ADHD in babies. I reckon that my baby already has ADHD (inherited from Mr Oh who is incapable of sitting still) but have moved the phone its usual position (under my pillow - oops!) to a drawer. Bad mothers have hot baths and showers (overheating can cause birth defects). Bad mothers have contact with reptiles (I’ve had our pet cobra put down). Bad mothers eat junk food. Find me a woman who did not eat an unusual number of Big Macs/chicken nuggets/cheese nachos during the first three months of morning sickness when nothing else would stay down and I’ll show you a woman with selective memory - or one who didn’t really have morning sickness at all. Bad mothers drink tap water (we’re a San Pellegrino household).
So I’ve decided to get a grip and take a less stringent approach to what I eat. No liver. No smoking. No getting drunk. No raw shellfish, fish or meat. No raw egg. No cold, young, mold-ripened cheese (doesn’t sound particularly appealing when you put it like that anyway). I’m undecided about crack-cocaine.
On the pro-active side I will endeavor to go to yoga twice a week, drink lots of sparkling mineral water, work normal hours, not get stressed, get lots of sleep, try to eat in quality establishments where the food is unlikely to be coated in e-coli, and drink at least two glasses of wine a week....in public.