13 July 2011

The Unborn

Toward the end of my pregnancy with Emmaline I developed a serious addiction to Cheetos. 

“If she’s born orange,” Daryl threatened, “I’m totally blaming you.” 

“That’s called jaundice,” I informed him. “It happens, they fix it. Relax.”

The truth was, however, that despite what had been a very easy and healthy pregnancy for us both (apart from the propensity for post-call puking), I had probably not always made the best, most baby conscious decisions the whole way through. I had not entirely cut out caffeine, maintaining my habitual Diet Doctor Pepper as an early morning wake up on the short walk to the hospital. When chastised about this I would bristle. “At least I cut out the heroin,” I retorted on more than one occasion because, seriously, there are things that are important and then there are things that are not. And for clarity sake my never having done heroin I think should count for something in this race to make the perfect baby and win me a diet soda here and there.

Then a friend of mine who was also pregnant at the same time I was expecting Em delivered early, at thirty-one weeks. She was in the hospital doing a thirty hour shift when the contractions began. One of the nurses wheeled her across the street to neighboring hospital where her OB practiced and where they actually take care of adults. Her son, who ultimately did well in the NICU and went home several weeks later and who is now gorgeous and fat, had a thin bird like chest where every rib was standing out as he struggled for air until the breathing tube was slipped down his throat.

Apparently, and there are some studies to support this, just being a resident was potentially dangerous to our unborn. Are there good studies, recent studies that measure the increased likelihood of prenatal and birth complications? Nope. Because no one has checked since the nineties. But I would not be at all surprised to find that standing for thirty hours straight, not having time to drink, and having increased stress hormones is not an entirely good thing for your growing belly.

Does this matter? Should anyone care?

Well what if you miscarried, as another friend of mine did, at nineteen weeks during an especially stressful rotation in a cardiac ICU. What if you were convinced that the demanding schedule, nights on call, rules against drinking or eating in patient care areas ultimately contributed to losing that child? What if a jury was convinced as well and you were convicted of murder?

Thirty-eight states have laws on the books classifying violence against a fetus as a punishable crime. In most states the laws were passed under the auspices of protecting pregnancy women from domestic violence. But more often, the laws are used to punish women for actions taken during pregnancy that are interpreted as being harmful to their own fetus and that (maybe) resulted in miscarriage. Read more here and note that it's not an American news outlet:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/24/america-pregnant-women-murder-charges

The women discussed in the article, who have been charged with murder after a miscarriage or after an infant died shortly after birth, were accused of doing drugs during their pregnancies. Certainly I don’t mean to condone illicit drug use, which is known to have the potential to cause serious harm to a fetus, but neither do I think it is the equivalent of holding a gun to someone’s head. On a more practical note, the pregnancies that do involve drug use are those that are most in need of careful prenatal monitoring and counseling. But if women risk being charged with a felony by showing up for an OB appointment, then they are just not going to show up and when that starts to happen we (the collective we) should not really be able to blame them.

Furthermore, addiction is an illness. The woman in the article who ingested rat poison in a suicide attempt had an illness. Is she receiving treatment for her depression during the months of her incarceration? Is she being helped through the process of grieving the loss of her child by the kindly prison guards? Doubtful. I mourn for her as well as for her lost infant.

And I mourn for our country, where simply to be a woman seems to be a potential crime.

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