Sunday, March 04, 2012

Finding Peace in Pregnancy

Dearest Reader, I must share with you a wonderful pregnancy blog that had me empathizing and laughing and loving every line of it!  I shall re-paste Ashley E. McGuire's words below, along with a link to her blog.  Enjoy!

This Advent, I find myself more like Our Lady than I will likely ever claim to be in this humble life. I find myself with child.

But I find myself in a seemingly never-ending struggle against the culture to emulate a quality in my pregnancy that Our Lady embodied in hers: peace.
In the gospel reading on the recent Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Mary’s response to the news that she was to be the mother of Christ bore new meaning for me. It was so calm. It was so confident. It was so peaceful. So much so that God’s favored angel was amazed. Similarly, at the Mass celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the only Marian apparition to appear pregnant, I was yet again struck by the reposeful gaze of Mary’s grey eyes in the wondrous image she left us.

Today we have a culture surrounding pregnancy that is anything but peaceful. It is frantic. It is terrifying. It wages a constant war on serenity.

In fact, it starts before you even conceive. When I told my OB-GYN that my husband and I were planning to start a family, her first response was to recommend genetic testing. When I pushed as to why, I got her to eventually admit that the tests are entirely worthless unless you are willing to “take action.”

“Take action?”


“As in, have an abortion?”


So there you have it. I had not even begun to try to get pregnant, and the medical community had cast the shadow of abortion on my excitement and anticipation. The only purpose of the tests is to find out if you are statistically at risk of conceiving a child with a genetic disorder.

So to summarize, freak women out about something they can do nothing about, except kill said hypothetical baby. Great plan!

Then she asked, with a gravitas one would expect of a discussion about terminal cancer, “I assume you’re taking pre-natal vitamins?”

“No, I already eat a really balanced diet that is particularly heavy on dark, leafy. . .”

“It’s not enough,” she interrupted severely.

Then she thrust a “what not to do list” in my face (which makes sure to tell you on the bottom that if you do accidentally conceive while on hormonal birth control not to worry, your baby will be fine—a blatant falsehood), and sent me on my merry way. I left feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and inadequate.

And so it begins. The pregnancy industry continues the scare tactics once you conceive, warning that you must be churning with pre-natal vitamins, gorging your mind on a bunch of worthless mommy-to-be books, and testing yourself nonstop for every possible thing that could possibly go wrong in your pregnancy. And it is an industry, indeed. The doctors bill the bones out of the insurance companies for tests. It sells magazines, 8,000 variations on multi-vitamins, and overpriced clothes, to name a few.

At my first pre-natal appointment, they did more than $1,000 worth of tests and then handed me a sheet with a chart listing more than 15 different possible diseases, defects, or disorders my child could have. The chart conveniently tells you when to get tested so that you have time to abort while it’s legal. Classy.

My doctor at one point told me when we were discussing Down Syndrome, “Down Syndrome is actually viable with life.”

(Is that supposed to be news?) Ironically, genetic testing has made Down Sydrome hardly viable with life, as nine out of ten women who find out their child has Down Syndrome put an end to the pregnancy.

Then there are the do’s and don’t’s. Anytime I looked up a question or symptom online, I found myself on some crazy mommy blog with some variation of “Ten Foods to Avoid in Your Pregnancy,” or “Seven Common Pitfalls of Pregnancy,” or “Five Things Every Pregnant Woman Should Never Do” flashing at me.

Within a few weeks, my head was literally spinning with anxious thoughts.

I had sushi before I knew I was pregnant; is my baby condemned to a life of gastronomical problems?

I took three alka-seltzers; is my baby deformed now?

I ate brie at a party; is my baby going to die?

The mental meltdown was looming.

When I had a dental emergency and the dentist insisted on an x-ray, I burst into hysterical tears, such was the fear the industry had successfully ingrained in me. He calmly reminded me that the cell phone sitting in my lap was emitting more radiation towards my uterus than thousands of the x-rays he was about to do.

My suspicions began to mount.

Then, one morning, I woke up. I realized almost all of this is crap. I was on a weekend away, and, for the first time in weeks, I didn’t throw up. I realized the only variable that had changed, other than location, was that I had forgotten my multi-vitamins.

I had already felt that they were making me sicker, and so I did a little research. Sure enough, I found out that pre-natal vitamins do, in fact, tend to make you sicker, because of the extra iron.

I thought to myself, “So let me get this straight, I am supposed to pump myself with thousands of extra milligrams of vitamins for a being the size of a small speck, which results in me actually barfing more and eating less.” Once again, great plan.

I had been suspicious of the vitamins to begin with, as studies are starting to reveal that adult-vitamin use may actually be a harmful substitute for healthy eating. In fact, my Mayo Clinic book (the one and only book I allowed myself to buy) told me in the section about women developing anemia, “Pregnancy is designed so that even if you aren’t getting enough iron, your baby is.” So . . . the vitamins are for what, again?

And so, I began to calm down about all the “rules.” I ate soft cheese. I ordered my steak medium. I even scarfed down not one, but two scoops of cookie-dough ice cream the other night. Unlike the rumored-to-be-pregnant Dutchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton, I don’t decline “peanut paste,” I slather it on. And guess what? I sleep like a baby now.

The reality is this: Pregnant women are simply not as fragile as our litigious culture would have us think. And the anxiety created by endless lists of do’s and don’t’s creates only stress, which we know is bad for the mother and bad for the baby. Approximately one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, why, we largely do not not know. Except we do know that stress can cause miscarriage (as well as a range of other problems including pre-term birth, asthma, cognitive problems in the child, and more).

As Dr. Calvin Hobel, the director of maternal-fetal medicine at Cedars Sinai and a professor of obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), noted, in pregnant women, “Stress is a silent disease.” As another doctor and professor at UCLA put it, “It appears that women who are constantly anxious or fearful may be most susceptible to problems during pregnancy.” And the way the industry has evolved from keeping mommy healthy and balanced to freaking mommy out, is causing women stress.

Take some hokey breathing classes or else labor will kill you. Don’t eat blue cheese or you might contract some horrible bacteria that can screw up your baby. (This raises the question of why we even eat blue cheese at all.) Don’t have a glass of wine or your baby will come out deformed. (One website actually warned women not to use mouthwash with alcohol. That is the level of paranoia we are dealing with.)

Actually, the latest studies show that women who drink lightly have babies who perform better cognitively as children. And pregnant women can be excused for being a little exasperated—and for wanting that drink even more—after they finish reading some whack book about all the things they are doing wrong as a pregnant women by craving French fries, by wanting to burn entire fields of spinach and broccoli, and by taking a sip of eggnog when no one is looking.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of it all is that if you are a woman who gives birth to a baby with some sort of serious illness, genetic disease, or deformity, how can you not kill yourself with guilt and blame with the negative psychology that marks pregnancy today? We should of course strive to be healthy, get good pre-natal care, and live with the understanding that our life is no longer entirely our own. But we cannot forget that last bit. Because God does have a plan, and there are things that elude our control, and all the vitamins and sonograms in the world cannot stand in the way of God’s plans for us and our children.

We are doing ourselves a huge disservice as women if we crush ourselves with blame and give in to the temptation to assume that a women who finds herself in that situation did something wrong. We must find a balance between the authentic advances in the medical community—which have lowered infant mortality rates and allowed women to give birth without fear of dying themselves—and the urge to get swept up in obsessively trying to control the outcome of our pregnancies and truncating our own lives in the process. Pregnancy, after all, is little more than a harbinger of new life to come. It’s only fitting then, that the mother carrying the new life, should continue to embrace and enjoy life, rather than board up and dim the lights. And it's important that she not allow herself to be reduced to little more than a uterus and a blood pressure reading.

As Dr. Hobel put it, "I think our whole approach to comprehensive prenatal care today is sort of messed up—a lot of the focus is on the wrong things. We measure a woman's blood pressure, her uterine size, listen to the baby's heart tones, but no one asks how things are going with her life."

Mary, more than any woman in history, had reason to be paranoid in her pregnancy. She was literally carrying the Savior of the world. She was a teenager. She wasn’t married when she conceived. And she was soon to discover that she was going to spend days riding a donkey heading to the census where they didn’t exactly have Holiday Inn Express. (Of course now your doc will bristle if you want to travel on a plane and sit in a cushy chair for a few hours.)

Lest we forget, she also didn’t have vitamins, sonograms to make sure the head-to-neck ratio was within normal range, 2 million books to read, 7-for-all-mankind maternity jeans, baby checklists, and flu shots. (But she did have wine.)

And yet, throughout all this, Mary was at peace. Despite all of these occasions for worry, and despite the fact that Mary gave birth to Jesus in a filthy barn with animals, the night has been described for centuries as a “silent night” where “all was calm.” And you know what, her Son turned out okay. In fact, he made her a Queen.

So this Advent, I am scorning the books, the vitamins, and all the other scaremongering out there, and I am looking to Mary for help in finding peace in my pregnancy.

I too, strive to be a handmaid of the Lord, so let it be done to me according to Thy will. And please, pass the cookie dough.

Ashley E. McGuire is editor-in-chief of