A landmark legal ruling in the UK threatens to criminalise mums-to-be for drinking while pregnant. And although the case that sparked this judgment is undoubtedly horrific, I’m just as worried about the law of unintended consequences… not least because drinking was the only thing that got my mother through her pregnancy.
I’m joking—but only a bit. My parents were splitting up when my mum discovered she was pregnant. (The timeline varies depending on who you ask, but that’s a subject for another day.) I don’t suppose she would have had the baby, nor stayed with my dad for another six years, if she hadn’t been able to somehow dull the pain of a relationship that wasn’t working. And boy am I glad she did!
I bet my mum’s not alone in getting through a stressful, hormonal time with a few glasses of Chardonnay. In fact, although half of all mothers give up alcohol entirely during pregnancy and don’t touch a drop for the whole nine months, the other fifty per cent do enjoy a tipple. In the vast majority of cases, it does no harm at all—except, perhaps, to their already blossoming waistlines.
Some mums do even worse. I’ve even heard of a couple who did lines of cocaine together at a dinner party despite the mum being relatively sure she was up the duff—because it was once-in-a-lifetime “really good stuff,” apparently, and, well, you would, wouldn’t you? (The kid in question turned out fine.)
So what are we going to do with a prospective mum who eats undercooked eggs, theoretically putting her unborn at the risk of salmonella, or a knocked-up mother on drugs—even if those drugs are from the doctor? Bang her up and give her cell-born tot to a nice pair of foster lesbians in Crewe?
Of course, in the hideous case the Mail recounts, a child was born with a severe disability because her mother downed half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager a day (impressive!). But I’m not sure such outlying grotesqueries can be allowed to make criminals out of, what, half of all expectant mothers? It feels like a licence for baby-snatching and the sort of horrors committed by social workers so exhaustively recounted by Telegraph journalist Christopher Booker.
This ruling, should it go the wrong way, is going to be used to justify another power grab by a state desperate to inject itself into our private affairs. A licence for counterproductive, nannying interference, in other words. And that’s before we get to the horrible social consequences: imagine your local jobsworth publican, desperate for an excuse not to serve you, looking down his nose and saying: “Sorry, love. I think you might be preggers.”
Is everyone’s health everyone’s business? I prefer to think not, and I’d rather not only the state butt out of my family’s decision-making but other people butt out, too. And here’s something else to consider: is it me, or is there a nasty whiff of class hatred about some of these conversations between clean-living north Londoners anxious to regulate the excesses of the great unwashed? Drinking, smoking, casual sex… they’d ban the lot if they could.
And what about the ideological hypocrisy of it all? For instance, middle-class pro-abortion campaigners are always banging on about “bodily autonomy” and a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body—provided the subject is killing their own kids—but turn the topic of conversation to grubby pursuits these pontificators frown upon, such as heavy drinking, and watch how quickly that censorious, finger-wagging instinct kicks in.
So no, thank you, I think we’ll leave mothers to decide what’s best for their own children, and to manage the physical and emotional journey of pregnancy however they like. If that includes—shock, horror—a slice of unpasteurised cheese in the second trimester, so be it.