Friday, August 03, 2018

'Better not risk it'

Sorry, dear reader(s), but I remain fixated on the bonkers Twitter response to the news story of the pregnant woman who got served cleaning solution instead of the latte she'd ordered at McDonald's. I shouldn't, really, when the entire "story," such as it is, is that three (at least; didn't comb through all of it) people/bots in a substantial Twitter thread objected not to the poison served to this woman, but to her decision to go into McDonald's and order a latte in the first place.

Typing this, I realize it's not self-evident what the issue was. Was it that lattes aren't a choice classically associated with McDonald's? No! It was that pregnant women — according to some tweeterers not up on what medical guidelines actually are about this — shouldn't be drinking coffee. For the link-non-clickers: the guidelines are basically, don't drink coffee like it's water, but a coffee or two is fine. It just doesn't feel as if it should be. Why?

What kept coming to mind when overanalyzing this is what would have happened had this woman been served cleaning solution not in a McDonald's latte guise, but at one of those millennial-plant-filled, Instagrammable juice bars. Juice, so evocative of health and purity! Cold-pressed, of course. Except here's the fun thing: unpasteurized but prepared juice is one of the many (, many, many) otherwise consumable items that are fully off-limits to The Pregnant. It feels as if it would be fine, advisable, even. What could look more wholesome than a fresh glass of (green, perhaps) juice? And yet, the latte was (in principle; not that specific latte, clearly) the better choice.

In the great Before, I'd known that pregnant women couldn't have sushi. (Which may not even be the case anymore in the US, but still is in Canada; as compensation, we don't have to give a moment's thought to paying for maternity care or childbirth.) Ha! It is not only sushi. It's basically a full-on impaired-immune-system diet (no runny eggs, dubious leftovers, etc.), with the added twist that certain otherwise-whatever toxins are deadly to fetuses. Cold cuts, undercooked meat or seafood (or fully cooked fish, if it's the mercury-dense kind), any remotely decent cheese, lox, it's all a disaster waiting to happen.

At which your impulse might well be to go vegetarian, or maybe even vegan, just to simplify matters, and given that all the fun non-vegan foods are out. But that's not ideal, either, since you need to get enough protein, not just regular-person enough but even more. That, and salad is also suspect. If you don't know where it's been or whatever, it crosses over into one of those foods. Not least with romaine lettuce regularly swinging between acceptable salad green and bacterial sewer to be avoided at all costs. Eat vegetables! Just not those vegetables, or those, and oh, maybe not those either. And carbs are good! Just make sure you're having multigrain everything, and not too much sugar (she types, looking down at her almond croissant), because you want to gain weight but not too much, and gestational diabetes could be around the corner.

I read Emily Oster's Expecting Better and nodded along in theory to the idea that what matters is actual risk, while at the same time thinking if even minor risk can be avoided, now's really the time. I went into... this entirely prepared to make all the sacrifices. What's nine months? My lifestyle at 34 didn't require any major adjustments (the upside to losing one's alcohol tolerance around 30), and I mostly eat the vegetarian sushi anyway. I didn't (and don't!) find it all that infantilizing if, for actual medical reasons, I'd have to consume a bit more like, well, a child.

What I wasn't prepared for was the system of rules, akin to kashrut or extreme "clean" eating, that came with. Basically anything you haven't prepared yourself is dangerous, because who knows what's in anything? All sorts of seemingly innocuous foods could have secret raw eggs, secret alcohol. I find myself standing at the cheese section of the supermarket, Borat-style, trying to make sense of which cheeses would be acceptable. Confusingly, the hard cheeses are often raw-milk, while the ones with the reassuring "pasteurized" label are often the soft-rind, forbidden variety.

Not drinking, fine. Not ordering the beef tartare that I wasn't going to order anyway, also fine. But where was the option that didn't involve turning every meal into a research project, and at a time when one is meant to be getting enough nutrients? This is an approach that, as a matter of principle, I object to in my regular life, but that here struck me as all-out dangerous.

And add to this the expectation that all women open to the possibility of becoming pregnant act as though they already were, and not just basic stuff like taking folic acid or not smoking, but, apparently, giving up pizza, because god forbid an actually pregnant woman ate garbage like that. So yeah, while I didn't immediately, I now get why the purity requirements grate, and why Oster's book has such a passionate following. It's not, as I first skeptically imagined, that everyone just wants an excuse to drink. It's not even about that, really. Where everything is risk, and still more things feel as if they would be, there's no obvious 'safest not to risk it' option.

So I do what I guess everyone does, in one way or another: I draw my own lines. Alcohol is out, because I can give or take its presence in my life. Max one coffee a day is in, and is the main hope for me consuming the recommended amount of milk. There's enough that's necessary that I find it hard to convince myself to sign on to the things that merely feel as if they might be. That means the whole organic thing is one I'm giving a pass. (If the organic fruit's the one that looks vastly better, it's what I may go with, price depending, same as before.) I'm not picking now as the moment to start on the apparently effective retinol-based anti-wrinkle creams, since retinol's in the Actually A Problem pile, but have not combed through my existing makeup, tossing anything with parabens. I've very nobly held back from getting a gel manicure, something I'd been contemplating but too frugal-squeamish to get Before, but did get highlights in my hair, which, like coffee, appears to fall into the seems-like-it-should-be-a-problem-but-isn't pile.

Put another way: There are so, so many ways, at every stage of the process, for things to go wrong, and for no known or controllable reason. My understanding of this daunting reality does not make me want to grab pseudocontrol via pseudoscience. On the contrary, it makes me a little bit more live-and-let-live, which honestly, in my sober and cheese-researching state, can't hurt.


Miss Self-Important said...

On the topic of the previous post on maternity clothing, I recently came across this, which may also be of interest to you: This woman has pretty boring taste in regular clothes, but she's into thrift and boring is fine for a third trimester so long as it at least fits.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Belated thanks for this (am no longer email notified about blog comments for some reason). As third trimester approaches (and at late-second, I've reached raincoat's-too-snug stage), am thinking it's going to be the Lululemon pseudo-maternity leggings, plus men's t-shirts or t-shirt/loose-enough dresses, plus a necklace or something to make it look like I'm not wearing pajamas. The real mystery, fall-in-Canada-wise, will be seeing whether any of my existing sweaters fit...