The war on sugar is becoming a new way to shame and control pregnant women

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Clementine Ford
If you feared the world might have been running out of ways to shame pregnant women, worry not – as George Bluth Sr would say, there’s always money in the banana stand. Or to put it another way, there will always be new and more ridiculous ways found to exercise control over the world’s breeders. You don’t even have to look that far.

An article published this week introduces yet another ‘evil’ that pregnant women and nosy onlookers alike should be concerned about: sugar.

“If you saw a pregnant woman smoking,” Michael Goran and Emily Ventura write, “you would undoubtedly be concerned about the health of her child. But if you saw a pregnant woman drinking a soft drink, would you bat an eye? The comparison may seem extreme but the parallels between tobacco and sugar run deeper than you might imagine.”

The authors go on to discuss how consuming sugar during pregnancy (and then later on during breastfeeding) could contribute to the obesity epidemic by producing children who have been exposed to “secondhand sugars”. And as we all know, fat people are gross and wrong* and deserve to be paraded through the streets for the public to pelt with rotten tomatoes (don’t eat them though, greedy guts).

I’m not going to dispute the science around excessive sugar consumption, especially the addictive properties and empty nutritional value of high fructose corn syrup, but I take exception to the tone of judgement that accompanies the piece. A foetus is already the property of everyone but the person carrying it, and this just contributes to that narrative.

At university, we used to jokingly refer to heterosexual people as “breeders”, because heteronormativity was boring and children were especially boring and it stood to reason that the two should be mashed together to make a boring unit. “Breeders” referred to men and women and was used equally for both.

But breeders as a stand-in for cis-het couples isn’t exactly correct either. In the grand conception (pun intended) of the role of ‘breeder’, men are conveniently left out. Men can come and go as they please. It’s women who are policed by pregnancy, whether they’re in it, plan to be in it, claim to never want to be in it, or did it once upon a time.

The judgment starts before those two lines even appear; women who are “trying” are told to reduce their alcohol intake, increase their folate and omega-3 fatty acids consumption and maintain a healthy BMI (a measurement of health and weight that is actually bullshit). Oh, and don’t leave it too late either – old eggs are haggard and unreliable and those geriatric pregnancies (an actual medical term for pregnant women over the age of 35) can’t be trusted.

Once pregnancy takes hold, forget about your body being your own anymore. People will side-eye you for ordering anything from a glass of wine to a coffee and even some slightly undercooked poached eggs.

“Are you allowed to have that?” they might ask, as if the grown woman in front of them has forgotten to bring her permission slip to the party. The motivation for this judgment is very gendered (women can’t be trusted to know what to do with their own bodies, let alone the precious little and definitely more important lives they’re growing inside them) but it comes from all corners.

When I was 10 weeks pregnant, I read an enraging thread in a Facebook group started by a woman disgusted that her pregnant colleague would occasionally eat McDonald’s for lunch. This Concerned Woman (who had no children and had never been pregnant) would never threaten the well-being of her unborn child by feeding it junk.

Numerous women chimed in to agree. When they fell pregnant, they would only eat wholefoods and kale. Stuck in the horror of morning sickness that would see me bent over the toilet bowl well into the third trimester of my pregnancy, I had to do some serious eye rolling. The truth is, sometimes the only thing you can keep down is salt-laden carbohydrates and a takeaway burger and fries is much easier to stomach than a salad with a side helping of unsolicited judgment.

But lucky us! In addition to having people squint to check if women are pregnant while they smoke or just had a big lunch, we can now look forward to them tut-tutting over bowls of ice cream, glasses of soft drink or the chocolate bar that might prevent her from falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon.

Pregnancy is hard and it’s made much harder by the fact that everybody feels not only entitled to their opinion but also to their input. And that’s before you even consider indicators of other oppressions like poverty, race or disability. It needs to stop. The only people who have the right to discuss any elements of a pregnancy are the person carrying it and their health care provider/s.

And if the public and the government alike insist on continuing to monitor, judge and dictate the conditions of pregnancy, maybe they should just do it properly – invest in sprawling pregnancy centres where birth vessels can go to be taken care of by being fed the ‘right’ foods, instructed in the right behaviours and given a daily regime of massages, gentle Pilates and meditation.

And then when the baby arrives, those same centres can be involved in the care and labour involved in parenting them – the rocking, the bouncing, the sleep training, the endless feeding, the playing with, the entertaining, the cooing and the trying not to breakdown when they’re crying for the fifth time that morning because they don’t know how take a nap.

Nah, didn’t think so. So if you can’t back your critique up with action, back off instead.

*100% sarcastic and satirical comment intended to act as criticism for the fat shaming Schadenfreude that western society in particular fosters, one might say ‘greedily’.

 

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