You’ve heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” I take that a little further in this post. To start, here’s an interesting article about a recent discovery about the microbiome of the womb.
Word of warning: The article linked above is a short piece that makes no claims about anything. I’m just going off on a tangent in this post. It’s how my mind works.
Scientists are finding out that microbiomes exist in the developing fetus, which they previously thought was sterile until birth. To me, this is a case of science discovering what common sense already knew. I teach natural childbirth, a method that stresses the importance of good diet and lifestyle before birth, or even before conception. Mom’s health makes a big difference to baby’s health. Dad’s health does too, both for healthy sperm and a healthy home environment, but mom is the biggest contributor.
This idea has gone the full pendulum swing, from mom being completely responsible for the fetus’s intrauterine experiences (don’t smoke! don’t drink! don’t have any stress or fright!), to mom being no more than a container for a separate, sterile being.
Sadly, the first idea opens the door to societal restrictions on pregnant women, up to and including criminal charges for miscarriages or stillbirth. At the very least, it’s a good excuse for controlling women and keeping them from full participation in society, such as not hiring or promoting them for a great many jobs.
So here’s what I think.
Women, like men, have control of their own bodies. Like men, they must be responsible for what they do to, and with, their bodies. They decide whether to eat well or poorly, whether to smoke, drink, or take drugs. They decide whether or not to have sex, use birth control, or use protection from STDs. They make medical decisions about their bodies. Men make all these same choices.
Women have one or two further choices to make: whether or not to get pregnant, and if pregnant, whether or not to complete the pregnancy.
I truly believe this is the woman’s choice and that she must have safe, legal, and thorough access to all the information and medical care she needs to accomplish any of these choices. Most women in stable relationships will also take her partner’s wishes into account, but in the end, the choice is hers.
Here’s where it gets complicated, because pregnancy puts a woman in a unique position. She has agreed to lend her body to another human being for 40 or more weeks. I think that a woman who makes this choice must agree to accept the responsibility that goes with it. She must do all she can to be as healthy as she can be. This requires all the choices we all know about when we (male or female) consider our own health.
Mom’s Responsibility to Baby
- We know that smoking is harmful, all the time under any circumstances. There is no case where this is harmless.
- We know that drugs are harmful, even prescription drugs. Any drug the woman takes requires her to understand what it is for, it’s effect on the fetus, and understand whether or not the benefit is worth the risk. Some drugs are necessary for the mother’s health, so she must take them. She still needs to understand the effect on her unborn baby.
- Recreational drugs are never necessary.
- Alcohol is a recreational drug.
- Too much sugar , as in “added sugar,” is harmful. “Too much” is a very small amount.
- Preservatives, pesticides, and herbicides are harmful. Avoid them as much as possible.
- Regular, moderate exercise is essential to good health.
- Eat plenty of good and healthful food, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of rest.
Again, there is nothing here that is not good for all of us to follow in our own daily lives. It may be bothersome to give up wine for nine months, but it’s not really a big deal. Really.
I think of this as a contract between mother and fetus.
Is Miscarriage or Stillbirth a Felony?
Should any of this be criminalized if a woman makes poor choices? What about a meth addict? An alcoholic? What if a woman likes to skydive or drive race cars? What if she works with radioactive materials or travels constantly for her job? Gets a ticket for speeding?
Where should society draw the line between “not good, but okay,” and “this is a felony?” What should the consequences be? If a baby is born addicted to cocaine, should the mother be prosecuted? Should she be prosecuted during her pregnancy?
Is there ever a case where that is right? Because I don’t think so.
We already have laws against the use of certain drugs. I do think a pregnant women who breaks these laws can and should be prosecuted to the same extent that a man is. But should she face additional charges because of the fetus? Child endangerment, perhaps? Feticide?
Because I believe women should act responsibly during pregnancy, I want to say yes. But I can’t. It’s too steep a slippery slope. It opens the door to complete patriarchal control over women’s bodies. We have too much of that still in place in our legal system and societal judgements, and as I mentioned above, it’s getting worse. We need to draw a thick, dark line in the sand and declare that women have personal control of their own bodies. Even if there is a fetus in it.
We need a society that makes it easy for women to control their bodies. A society where all women of childbearing age have access to effective birth control. Where they have convenient access to health care, including safe, legal abortion. Indeed, abortion should be a standard option of care, provided by every OB/GYN in every hospital or doctor’s office. It shouldn’t be a “separate” treatment delegated to “special” clinics, which encourage shaming and secrecy, not to mention setting up patients and staff to be targets of terrorists.
We need a society where both women and men participate fully in all aspects, and at all levels of business, politics, the home, education, healthcare, sports, technology, and science. We need a society that honors reproduction and breastfeeding, and considers these to be natural and essential aspects of women’s lives, without reducing women’s participation in any part of society. We need a society that honors families and childrearing, that allows and expects the full participation of fathers as much as mothers in these endeavors.
In such a society, abortion would be nearly non-existent. Women in difficult situations such as poverty or addiction would have all the help they need, whether it’s to prevent pregnancy, end a pregnancy, or continue one with the medical and psychological assistance required to bring forth a healthy child.
Yes, as it turns out, the womb is not a separate, sterile ecosystem. The mother’s health, diet, environment, and activities affect the life growing in her womb. It’s a serious undertaking. Let’s build a society that supports it, instead of one that hinders it.