The second most ridiculous thing about a modern American pregnancy is the addictive urge to educate your fetus in utero, such that they emerge calm, even-tempered, and ready to discuss Sartre — or at least sleep through the night — immediately upon arrival.
The MOST ridiculous thing about a modern American pregnancy is the paranoia, unprecedented in history, that ordinary foods and drinks might possibly, just maybe, in certain circumstances, pose such grievous risks to your child-in-progress that it’s better to avoid them altogether.
I can criticize these ridiculous things, and the goofballs who believe in them, because I’m one of them. (Pump enough progesterone into the skeptic and watch as her reason goes the way of her size 6 clothes.) I am now enough of a Susceptible Pregnant Person that I practice both flavors of prenatal fussiness. (In moderation, natch.)
My dear friend Ana, reliable source of good ideas and the loaner maternity wardrobe that got me halfway through the second trimester, was the first to recommend an item called Baby Plus. My husband raised an eyebrow every time I’d mention it, and pooh-poohed the expenditure of actual money on such a thing. My visiting mother was equally skeptical. But Ana swore by it, and that held my attention. Eventually I lucked into a secondhand unit at Wiggle Room for $6.50, figured I’d give it a whirl, and brought it home to &’s dismayed amusement.
(So far Mayhem loves it. The item emits a rhythmic pulse, and when I strap it onto my Pregnant Tummeh, she starts to kick in rhythm with it. My daughter has not yet reached the viability threshold and already she can dance.)
Will the Amazing Pulsing Pod make Mayhem smarter, or at least a good/better sleeper? Who can say? We’ll never know how comparatively unsmart, or how poor a sleeper, she would have been without these in utero dance parties. Baby Plus is the sort of thing my trademarks professor called a “credence good” — something you buy out of hope and use out of faith, even though you may never actually perceive its effect. (His favorite example: vitamins.) You don’t invest in a credence good because its utility is readily apparent. Rather, it’s something you do because it might help, or at least it couldn’t hurt.
Normal foodstuffs, meanwhile, apparently COULD hurt. I’ve heard all about fetal alcohol syndrome, caffeine-induced miscarriages, mercury in fish, listeria in cheese, etc. And as a graduate of remedial fertility school, I half expected to find myself among the gladly paranoid, rebuffing every spicy tuna roll or ham sandwich in sight.
Except that I’m not.
Full disclosure: I am being careful, kind of. When we go out for sushi with friends, I happily order grilled eel. We don’t eat much lunchmeat, canned tuna, or bean sprouts anyway, and I’m not even sure where I could find unpasteurized cheese if I tried. But I have cheated with abandon when it comes to poached eggs. I craved them and have had quite a few while Mayhem gestated away, right next door to my stomach. And the crock of Stilton cheese we brought back from England (confirmed: made with pasteurized milk) continues to delight, even though in England pregnant women are advised to avoid the stuff.
Frankly, I have difficulty believing that so many things, consumed by so many pregnant folks for so long, are as toxic as they’re now claimed to be in certain parts of the world. I want to be agnostic and dismissive of fussy pregnancy dietary restrictions. I don’t want to become one of those people who steps onto the slippery slope at the “no thanks, I’m pregnant” level and, before you know it, skids all the way to “That bottle is PLASTIC! That car burns GASOLINE!! Goddamn it, I’m taking my infant and moving off the grid!” in a muddy heap.
But at barely five weeks into this pregnancy, some bad things happened. My beta had failed to double. And I was already having an epic stressful week at work: one dispositive motion due and two expert depositions to take on the west coast, the latter on scant few days’ notice. On the flight out west, I had the first anxiety attack I’d had in months, complete with racing heart and inability to breathe. And then the cramps came.
Terrified of another miscarriage, I bargained with the cosmos: please let this not be an ectopic pregnancy. Please let this baby be digging in, right where she should be. If this is a good healthy pregnancy, I promise I will not touch alcohol or caffeine for the duration.
Turns out, it is. So I haven’t.
Make no mistake, there have been evenings where I’d have dearly loved a glass of wine, and mornings where I could have murdered a puppy for a cup of coffee. And I’m certain that the mere presence of Mayhem, without more, would not have deterred me. (At least not once the first trimester was over, and certainly not once I’d passed my twentieth week.) But when my own dietary restrictions rest on as fragile a rationale as “I made a bargain with the cosmos,” I can hardly condescend to the people whose paranoia is based on actual data.
But I’d like to believe that, deep down, I’m still a skeptic in the prenatal funhouse. My goal is not to worry about harming Mayhem any more than I go out of my way to try and upgrade her. She’ll be who she’ll be, and at this point, I think that’s already been more or less decided.
(Apparently she’s someone who’s got rhythm. And enjoys runny eggs.)