On Tuesday leading public health institute in America, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, published a report in which it was recommended that women of childbearing age who are not on contraception should avoid drinking. The reason for this was that if these women happened to fall pregnant, their drinking might put the health of their hypothetical unborn child at risk. It’s a recommendation that, funnily enough, left us desiring a strong drink.
The report obviously has the good intention of helping stop preventable birth defects in children and ensuring women have safe pregnancies. But the tone and message of this particular recommendation doesn’t sit well with us, and when it comes to giving people recommendations about how they ought to live their life, tone is everything.
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are absolutely serious and since there is no known safe volume of alcohol to drink when pregnant, it’s not entirely unreasonable to recommend to pregnant women and women who are actively trying to conceive that they avoid alcohol entirely as a precaution. But extending this recommendation to the woman who doesn’t intend to get pregnant, the woman who is transitioning between contraceptive methods, or the woman who is still trying to find contraception that’s actually compatible with her body is problematic to say the least.
It’s a recommendation that basically tells women to think of themselves first and foremost as prospective mothers, vessels in which babies are carried, and to adjust their attitudes and behaviours to suit this role rather than to suit themselves as an individual person.
The fact that the report’s infographic states “Drinking too much can have many risks for women”, leaving men out of the equation, only adds to the feeling that the CDC are shaming women for their behaviour and putting the onus of providing contraception entirely on their shoulders.
Women already bear the burden of responsibility when it comes to ensuring the safety of their unborn child when they actually are pregnant. There are so many things a woman must avoid doing during pregnancy lest she be branded a “bad” mother and this report appears to want to extend the paranoia and responsibility to women who aren’t even intending to become pregnant, first by blaming women for being sexually active, then blaming them for not being on contraception, and finally blaming them for drinking. We’re half expecting to see “Don’t drink and be a fertile woman” posters go up beside those that say “Don’t drink and drive.”
Honestly, CDC, we know you have to educate the public about the risks of alcohol in relation to pregnancy but you couldn’t have gone about it in a worse way – you’ve turned every womb into a Schrödinger’s box, every woman into a prospective mother, and every innocent drink into a reason for a woman to feel bad and worried about her actions.