The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the ultimately good, but occasionally really embarrassing, parent of government agencies. Remember that time it tried to teach us disaster prep by pretending zombies were real? Stop trying to be cool, CDC.
This time the CDC is in some hot water over a recent report regarding alcohol and pregnancy. Ostensibly it deals with the possible dangers of alcohol for pregnant women and their fetuses, but to say it’s worded inartfully would be kind. To quote Tara Haelle in Forbes…
I was angry at the patriarchal tone, the exclusion of lesbians’ existence, the lack of acknowledgement regarding contraception access difficulties or the option of termination, the possibility that some women might actually be abstinent, the absence of any mention of sexual partners who contribute sperm and the overall implication that women exist only as potential baby-carrying vessels, not as individuals.
Basically the whole thing is aimed for “alcohol is dangerous to fetuses and you might not even know you’re pregnant,” but landed closer to “don’t drink, sweetie. It might ruin your baby-making parts.” It was a goof, and yet another reminder that the establishment is still pretty clueless when it comes to talking to women of childbearing age about their health…or lately anything at all (what the hell, Hillary?).
One common complaint from the many people who bristled at the CDC was that men are pretty much either absent from the discussion or treated as some sort of natural phenomenon that happens to women. Well, I’m here to rectify that today. Here’s some basic information to help in the fight against fetal alcohol poisoning pointed directly at my gender.
1. Hey guys, are you sexually active? ‘Cause that makes babies happen unless precautions are taken. Precautions here include having and using condoms regularly and properly to protect against pregnancy and disease. By the way, it’s likely you aren’t actually using condoms correctly, so read up on the subject. If for some reason you are having unprotected sex – say you’re in a monogamous, long-term relationship – and you don’t want kids right now, you should know exactly what birth control methods your partner is using and anything that might weaken them, like certain antibiotics. Make yourself an active partner in reproductive responsibility.
2. If you are sexually active and you and your partner are purposefully not using birth control because children are wanted or acceptable, have a discussion about alcohol and pregnancy. That Haelle link above has some really great sources cited for that discussion. By the third week, post-fertilization alcohol does cross the placenta and it does damage cells. Always. The amount of damage varies widely, of course, and many women have imbibed alcohol during pregnancy without significant effects. It’s not my place to tell any woman or couple what to do, but you should both inform yourselves and discuss it.
As a side note from a man who spent three years going through emotionally devastating infertility treatments with my wife, if you’re pretty certain you’re not pregnant in a given cycle, I say have that drink if you need it. “Well, it didn’t happen again this month. Want to try a new wine?” was a sentence that got said a lot in my house. Sometimes attempting to have a baby and sobriety just aren’t going to happen together.
3. The CDC urges women to consider how alcohol increases their likelihood to be abused or killed, which will probably hurt the baby. The link between alcohol use and intimate partner violence is complicated, but it’s pretty clear nearly half of all homicides involve alcohol and a third of the women murdered in the United States die at the hands of their male intimate partner. That means alcohol is involved in at least one in every six female homicide victims.
So guys, if you notice that when you drink you get kind of angry and violent and start waving your gun around, maybe you should try to see someone professionally about not doing that. On that note…
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4. The CDC report urges doctors to talk to women about their drinking and screen them for possible abuse. The agency does it within the framework of preserving them as brood mares, but it’s not terrible advice on its own in other contexts.
It is okay to be concerned about your partner’s drinking, especially if you are trying to have a baby together. In addition to possible fetal damage, there is the whole “living the rest of your life responsible for a child” thing that alcohol abuse can affect negatively. Again, talk to your partner about it if you are worried. Alcoholism is something fairly easy to self-diagnose, and there are a ton of resources out there for people to get help. “I don’t want to have a child with you because of your drinking problem” is a perfectly valid opinion, and it’s heaps better than hoping she stops “for the baby.”
5. Remember that pregnancy is not the most important thing in the world for a woman. One of the main issues with how women are treated in America, and specifically why this pissed so many women off, is that we constantly expect them to treat pregnancy as a holy state that must be held above all others. It’s why we have an abortion debate. The idea that a woman will change everything about herself once she achieves possible motherhood is a longstanding bit of nonsense that women are clearly tired of.