Monday, September 23, 2013

Mother Blaming. The Gift Which Keeps On Giving

This time it's from the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat, in an article pleading for zero tolerance when it comes to alcohol and pregnancy.  This, my friends, means essentially that all fertile women should stop drinking, and that certainly no pregnant woman should ever have a glass of wine.

The latter is because "nobody has established a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy."  But that's partly because the existing studies are about severe alcohol consumption by women who qualify for the label "alcoholics."  The recommendation of no alcohol is made on that basis, and because alcohol consumption is purely optional.  So there's no real loss, the thinking goes, when women are told that even a teaspoonful of alcohol could cause havoc with the developing fetus, whether that is the case or not.

And all that may be fine.  What's NOT fine is how the story in Helsingin Sanomat goes.  I have translated some bits from it, to explain what I dislike about it:

Vähäinenkin alkoholinkäyttö raskauden aikana huolestuttaa alan tutkijoita. He vetoavat nollatoleranssin puolesta.
Asiantuntijat ovat huolissaan raskaana olevien suomalaisten alkoholinkäytöstä.
Monet raskaana olevat juovat lasillisen silloin tällöin, mutta tämäkin huolestuttaa asiantuntijoita. Näyttöä riskirajasta tai turvallisesta rajasta ei ole.
"Mehän emme koskaan voi tehdä ihmiskokeita tällaisella asialla", raskaana olevien naisten päihteiden käytöstä väitellyt erikoislääkäri Hanna Kahila.
Suomessa syntyy vuosittain arviolta kuusisataa lasta, jotka ovat selvästi äidin raskaudenaikaisen juomisen vaurioittamia. Lisäksi vuosittain kaikkiaan 3 600 lapsen arvioidaan sikiöaikanaan altistuneen äidin runsaalle alkoholinkäytölle.


Even very limited consumption of alcohol during pregnancy worries the experts in the field.  They appeal for zero tolerance.

The experts are worried about the alcohol use of pregnant Finns.  Many pregnant women have the occasional glass of alcohol, but even this troubles the experts.  There is no evidence about the risk limit or safety limit.

"We can't carry out human experiments in this area," states the specialist Hanna Kahila whose dissertation concerns women's use of alcohol.

Approximately six hundred Finnish children are born each year, clearly damaged by the mother's alcohol consumption during pregnancy.  In addition to that,  3600 children are estimated to have been exposed during pregnancy to the mother's plentiful use of alcohol.

Note two things in that excerpt.  First, the story speaks to all pregnant women.  Second, the data on children with alcohol-related problems probably is linked to cases of real alcoholism.  To put the latter into perspective, in 2012 the number of live births in Finland was 59,493.

A second quote:

Naisten alkoholinkäyttö ja nuorten naisten humalajuominen on lisääntynyt rajusti viime vuosikymmeninä.
Asiantuntijoiden pelkona on, että tämä näkyy myös sikiövaurioiden lisääntymisenä.
Tutkimusten mukaan joka toinen raskaus on suunnittelematon, Kahila ja Autti-Rämö sanovat. Moni nainen juokin itsensä humalaan, kun ei tiedä olevansa raskaana. Kuitenkin juuri raskauden alkuvaiheessa syntyy perusta keskushermostolle ja muille elimille, Autti-Rämö muistuttaa.


Women's use of alcohol and the drinking by  young women to inebriation has radically increased in recent decades.  Experts fear that this will also show in increased fetal abnormalities.


According to studies, every other pregnancy is unplanned, Kahila and Autti-Ramo state.  Thus, many women may drink themselves into inebriation while not knowing about being pregnant.  Yet it is at the beginning of the pregnancy that the foundation for the central nervous system and other organs are created, Autti-Ramo reminds us.

And what does that suggest to you, hmh?  Perhaps we should insist that no fertile person with female sex organs ever has a drink anywhere?  Even if there are no studies about the effect of having the occasional glass of wine etc.  Because, after all, we are talking about the whole lives of potential future people here!  Only very selfish bitches would disagree with something like that (and, oh boy, do we get the selfishness of women discussed in the comments!).

Those of you who are familiar with this blog know already that I'm not advocating alcohol for anyone and certainly not for people (both male and female) who try to conceive.  But there's something truly odd about these sermon-type articles, aimed at women.

They try to push the guilt buttons of all women, they always imply that any sacrifice is acceptable and they misuse data to get to that conclusion.

On the latter,  take the reference to half of all pregnancies being unplanned.  As the study was not quoted in the article, I may be mistaken in assuming that it's the US study.  But let's assume that it is.  Then note this, about that study:

Two-thirds of U.S. women at risk for unintended pregnancy use contraception consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year; these women account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies. In contrast, the 19% of women at risk who use contraception inconsistently or incorrectly account for 43% of all unintended pregnancies. The 16% of women at risk who do not practice contraception at all for a month or more during the year account for 52% of all unintended pregnancies (see graph).[13]

Why does this matter?  Because the conclusions one draws are quite different.  If a woman wants to have the occasional glass of wine, she can do so pretty safely for any potential future fetuses by using contraception properly.  The conclusion of the "experts" in that article are rather different, implying that women, as a class, should not drink at all.

Then, of course, there's the fact that these kinds of stories are rarely aimed at men who consider becoming fathers, even though no study has shown the safe amount of alcohol they could imbibe, without damaging their sperm.  (Yes, this is a quip on the previous discussion of safe limits.)

Let me finish with the beautiful (beauuuutiful!) end to that Helsingin Sanomat article.  Here we really get into the mother blaming:

"Jokainen voi mennä peilin ääreen ja kysyä siltä peilikuvaltaan, että onko äidin oikeus juoda ja käyttää päihteitä suurempi kuin lapsen oikeus syntyä terveenä", toteaa sosiaali- ja terveysministeriön hyvinvoinnin ja terveyden edistämisen johtaja Kari Paaso.

"Each and every one of us can stand in front of a mirror and ask that mirror image if the right of a mother to drink and use drugs is greater than the right of a child to be born healthy."  notes Kari Paaso, the manager in the advancement of health and well-being at the ministry of social matters and health.

The comments to the story run wild with all these ideas, as you might imagine.  The selfishness of women is mentioned in several, and a few speculate that all children with difficulties at school have those because of what their mothers did during pregnancy!   Almost anything and everything can  now be assumed to be the fault of women during pregnancy.  And if they deny ever drinking or smoking, well, we all know they will lie.

I guess my annoyance with this piece is partly because they are so very very many, but only when directed at women, and because anything having to do with being a mother is discussed as a problem for ALL women and ALL mothers.  So if some women drink too much, then all women must be given a strict sermon.  And so on.  One becomes subject to this simply be being female, by the way, not by anything one does.  And then lots and lots of people join in policing those female bodies.  Because of the aquaria aspect. 

Yet we don't carry out these types of sermons when it comes to other large groups of people.
Added later:  The way to make this something less than hectoring at all women (with implications of selfishness etc.) would have been to state the recommendation:  zero tolerance, and then to explain why that is the case (no safe amount known).  Then one might have added that taking care of contraception is recommended for women who like to drink alcohol and are fertile, and that both partners  should avoid alcohol while planning for conception and, once pregnancy follows, the woman should abstain from alcohol.  That would still not give all the evidence there is but at least it would be respectful of the intended audience (women).