To the powers-that-be at the Centers for Disease Control,
I am sure you had good intentions when you issued a new recommendation that women of childbearing age should completely avoid alcohol unless they are on birth control. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a debilitating and tragic disease that no one in their right mind would want to encourage. It’s a serious issue, and I think we can all agree there needs to be more education and support to help prevent it. I don’t take issue with your efforts to combat this terrible condition that no child should ever have to endure.
I do take issue with the infantilization of American women. Our government tells us repeatedly that we are not to be trusted with making our own decisions. Rather than presenting women with data and providing resources to help them make informed decisions about their own bodies and health, we are constantly assaulted with near-daily attacks making sweeping generalizations about what ALL women should or should not be doing. The prevailing wisdom seems to be, “The masses are too stupid to understand anything, so we better come up with some CYA. All or nothing is the only way to go.” I understand that you are trying to make a strong, clear recommendation to improve health outcomes for babies, but I think you are missing the forest for the trees.
I poked around on your website and found a suspicious lack of data on the effects of moderate drinking even before receiving a positive pregnancy test. It took my husband and me seven months to conceive our daughter. Personally, I continued to enjoy an occasional drink until I found out I was pregnant. I found the trying-to-conceive process stressful. I was filled with so much worry, uncertain that our dream of parenthood would ever come true. I felt like a failure staring at negative pregnancy tests month after month. I was already struggling with feelings of guilt that I wasn’t able to get pregnant as quickly as I felt I should. I tried to carry on with my life and manage my anxiety in healthy ways such as exercise, sleep, and yes, relaxing dinners with my husband and friends that included a nice glass of wine or beer. Several of my best friends are doctors who told me that there is no risk in light drinking before a positive pregnancy test and that excessive stress and anxiety are actually worse for your health.
But of course, I–an educated, employed, married, upper-middle-class, non-addicted white woman who tested for pregnancy before I even missed my period–am not the target for the information you have disseminated, am I? I will get to that in a minute.
When you ask the question “Is it worth it?” at the end of your subtle, guilt-trippy propaganda, what you are really saying is, “How could you be so selfish as to endanger your nonexistent baby with even a drop of alcohol? Your primary identity is tied to the possible baby you might never actually carry. You are nothing but a shell.” So now our government has resorted to dishing out the mommy guilt for women who aren’t even pregnant.
The arguments you present on this issue, in addition to completely talking down to women, also indicate inexcusably hetero-normative, discriminatory thinking. You assume your audience is women of childbearing age who actually want children in the future. What about women who never want to become pregnant? What about women who are not heterosexual? What about women who were born biologically male?
Let’s talk for a second about men and how their health is policed by our government (or perhaps, how it isn’t policed). First of all, I notice your recommendations again put the onus of birth control on the woman, as if men play no role in safe sex and preventing unwanted pregnancies.
There’s an infographic on the CDC fact sheet about “Six Risks of Drinking to Any Woman.” Three of the six risks listed are unintended pregnancy, contracting STDs, and “injuries/violence.”
So a woman shouldn’t drink because a man might abuse her? Or give her an STD? Or get her pregnant?
I want to see the fact sheet about why men shouldn’t drink. Are they told they might be at risk of contracting an STD or getting someone pregnant? Or hitting someone? Or is that not a public health issue? Isn’t that the other side of this coin?
Rather than making the ridiculous and completely unrealistic suggestion that women should avoid alcohol completely until after menopause, how about some help for women who are struggling with binge drinking or alcoholism? How about improving access to birth control and reproductive health care? How about some resources and support for those most at risk for giving birth to babies with fetal alcohol syndrome–poor, young women who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction? Your recommendations present this issue as impossibly black and white. The gray area that real women actually live in is extremely important here, and by pretending it doesn’t exist, these recommendations might actually do more harm than good.
How about helping women who need help because they are human beings and deserve to be healthy, not just because they might one day carry a baby?
Let’s get to the heart of these issues. Fear mongering isn’t the answer.
A Concerned Female Citizen