A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
By Nina Pajak
Mother’s Day was great, huh? Moms across the country were spoiled, celebrated and thanked by their grateful families. So nice! But guess what? Today isn’t Mother’s Day, whiners. It’s Monday, and that means we can get back to the business of telling pregnant women what to do with their bodies. Phew, what a relief. Yesterday must have felt like forever to some people.
Late last week, the NYC Human Rights Commission declared that it is illegal for a bar or restaurant to deny entry or service of alcohol to pregnant women. Of course, this is quite the opposite of telling women how to behave. I am referring to the apparent real-life cases that inspired this ruling in the first place. We don’t know precisely what happened, but do we really need to? In one instance, a pregnant woman was not allowed into a bar or nightclub. In what I assume are a fair number of other instances, pregnant women were refused alcohol by servers who felt they ought not be drinking while in the family way. I myself have heard enough personal anecdotes to have no trouble believing this. I’m sure you all have, too.
When the news was published, I did something I rarely do: I read some of the comments on the Facebook post. A handful were from people who preached personal agency and maternal autonomy. But those were mostly in response to the many, many more from people who felt strongly that pregnant women should not have the right to make their decisions for themselves and their unborn children. “There’s no reason for a pregnant woman to be in a bar!” “The babies are innocent and need protection!” Yadda yadda yadda. Yadda.
Let’s establish some facts:
- Pregnant women are also often known as just plain old women. Despite our physical differences from other humans, we maintain the same basic genetic makeup and are therefore permitted to go where we please, when we please (just so long as there’s an accessible bathroom).
- While much of our energy is devoted to the growth of another life within our loins, we do still enjoy the occasional adult social interaction. Many of the gatherings among those in our species are hosted at establishments which serve alcohol—my mother would refer to them as “those drinking places.” Whether or not those who enter one of those drinking places actually drink said alcohol is typically left up to the individual’s choice. Many pregnant women frequently enter bars to drink a soda and chat with friends for a little while before going home to put their feet up and reflect on maternity and the lifetime of selfless piety which they no doubt eagerly anticipate.
- Some pregnant women choose to drink a glass of wine now and then. Some of them drink more than that, or drink liquor. I neither condone nor condemn this behavior for many reasons. One is that every culture is different, every individual is different, and it’s not for me to judge someone else’s comfort level or decision-making abilities. Another is that I’m not a physician, and I’m going to take a wild guess that neither are the proprietors and servers at the places that want to regulate what pregnant women imbibe. The rules surrounding prenatal eating and drinking are based on statistical risk and are extremely strict because those who write them cannot assume we live in a population that understands moderation (and appropriate litigation). But the fact remains that some people do understand moderation and are perfectly capable of managing themselves and making informed choices. And this still being a free country, they’re allowed to do just that.
Will concerned bartenders also check to make sure that no customers are taking medications for which alcohol is counter-indicated? Will they warn pregnant women away from diet sodas, since all that fake sugar is potentially harmful? Will hot dog vendors withhold their nitrite-filled wares from us? I choose to eat lox and salami and undercooked eggs, which probably makes me an unfit mother in the eyes of many. Some women eat sushi. Some women don’t ask if the cheese is pasteurized. The horrors! Guess what has been making people sick lately: frozen vegetables. Guess what else: Dole and Blue Bell Creameries both knew about listeria contaminations in their facilities and did nothing until their products caused illnesses and even deaths. Chipotle waited to correct their little Norovirus problem until hundreds of people got sick. So where does that leave us?
The fact of the matter is that pregnant women are just people, and their bodies are no more a property of the public than the babies they will bear. Lots of them are doing their best. Others may do things that some regard as careless or stupid or irresponsible or downright dangerous, and that can be quite sad and frustrating to witness. Perhaps if someone sees something truly egregious, that person can’t help but speak his mind. That’s understandable. But most of the time, there’s just nothing anyone can—or should—do to impose one set of beliefs on another person. Hmm, that sounds oddly familiar. That’s kind of, sort of the foundation upon which our nation was built, isn’t it?
Now pardon me while I go enjoy my weekly tuna sandwich and daily coffee as I sit alone and bask in the special glow which emanates from my saintly uterus. It truly is all I need now.
Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!