Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Russian Roulette

My dear friends on facebook, you've already sampled a tiny bit of the rant that is to follow if you read what I posted about Listeria this morning. If you're Kate, you've seen more than that, even, but you started it so it's your fault. It got me all fired up, and I've come to vent and possibly set some stuff on fire. I am going to focus specifically on the choices women are faced with during pregnancy.

I don't want to assume all pregnant women feel the same way I did, so I'll refer to myself only.

When I was pregnant, I was a sponge. My pregnancy occupied my thoughts constantly. If I wasn't talking about the human being growing inside of me, I wanted to read about it and absorb all of the information. I joined a forum community (to be fair, I'd already been a member since pregnant with Riley, but never really participated) just so I could interact with other women who, like me, were too preoccupied by being pregnant to carry on with their normal lives without frustrating everyone around them.

Pregnancy, for me at least, is this massive thing to come to grips with. Creating life is intimidating, exhausting and demanding. Lifestyle changes have to be made, more for some than for others. Your decisions are no longer only affecting you, they're now being forced upon your future child. When I was pregnant, the idea of my "child" was more abstract, especially before I started showing. I was able to hear a heart beat, and it meant a lot to me, but at that point it was all potential and possibility. I had images in my head. I was envisioning what life would be like someday when I got to meet this little one. As the pregnancy progressed and I felt the movements and eventually saw them, things start to become more real- like a fuzzy picture gradually coming in to focus. Then we knew what gender it was, and assigned a name. This was no longer a "pregnancy", this was our baby. This was Riley, or Zoey. This was our future, this was the rest of our lives growing in there, if we were lucky. This was tiny socks, fists clamped around our fingers, first words, days at the park, first days of school. This was graduation, college, the future president, a cure for cancer.

Having children means your life isn't really your own anymore. I had no true concept of this before I had Riley, and I was more reckless during my pregnancy with him. After he was born, I learned the true meaning of selflessness, and subsequently was more consciencious during my pregnancy with Zoey. The fact is that, like any other life, you have to cultivate and care for a pregnancy to the best of your ability because a healthy infant is NOT A GUARANTEE. Even if you do your very, very best, it's not a guarantee, but the silent agreement you make by deciding to have a baby is that you WILL do your very, very best to ensure its health.

There were things that I didn't take seriously enough during either of my pregnancies, and one of those things was listeria. There were always "by the book" moms or pre-moms I'd encounter that would preach about avoiding lunch meat or heating it to 'steaming' before eating it and I'd blow them off. The fact was that I was arrogant and of the mindset that bad things only happened to other people, people I didn't know, people that I didn't share any kind of connection with. I ate whatever the hell I wanted to- thank you very much- and I had done so with Riley, too. He was fine, so there you go. It didn't help the situation that many doctors were advising women that listeria was nothing they needed to worry about. I remember reading things from other pregnant women on the forums like "My doctor never heard of anyone actually contracting listeria from lunch meat, so he said not to worry about it."

I am sad to say that like so many others have, I had to learn the hard way by watching my best friend's first child succomb to listeriosis. The kicker, in her case, was that she was following all the rules and it happened to her anyway. The doctors said it was likely cross-contamination, maybe from a restaurant. Shortly afterwards, I found out about two more people in my extended family that had lost their pregnancies to listeriosis- one of them from lunch meat. Suddenly this was a REAL concern, and the group of naysayers I'd once been a part of seemed abruptly very reckless. If this could happen to someone that was taking care to follow the rules, think about how much more a risk those who weren't following the rules were running?

It is easy for many people to make selfish decisions when the life growing inside of them is still an abstract concept, or a distant potential. It's not unheard of for women to not relate to their child until it is outside of their bodies, and even sometimes then it takes a while. What's important is that we acknowledge the potential and possibility there. It has become a matter of grave importance to me over the past year to caution women that disregard the warnings they're given during pregnancy. They aren't just myths. They are warnings for a reason. Far too often, I've seen the excuse "But I did _______ during pregnancy and _______ is just fine!". I liken it to a game of Russian Roulette, where a revolver is loaded with a single round, the cylinder is spun and the gun is fired against the side of the head. Chances are better that you will get lucky than they are that you will put a bullet in your brain.

But do you really want to risk not getting lucky?

I have seen and felt the pain that accompanies the loss of a child. It is awful regardless of the situation, but I can only imagine how much more awful it would feel to endure it wondering if there was something you could have done to prevent it from happening.

Your responsibilities as a parent start at conception. Take warnings seriously, and if your doctor doesn't? Get a new doctor.

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