If it’s harmful for a baby how is it not harmful for all of us?

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Photo of woman and flowers

By Mariette Reineke

One of the first things most women say yes to when they find out they are pregnant, is the factor of self-care. Knowing there is a precious being inside of you for nine months asks you to have a more honest look at your daily living, your choices, and the level of commitment to taking the necessary steps to at least not harm or abuse your unborn child. The overall advice from a medical perspective is to eat healthy, do not drink, smoke, take drugs, no dangerous sports, no visits to high altitudes and no cleaning up of cat poo. The latter does not appeal to me under any circumstance. When I read this advice, it feels like common sense. Most of this advice we would not only give to pregnant women, but to all children growing up, at least to the age of 16. 

One of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant, was to stop drinking alcohol. Zero effort or will power; I just stopped. Before falling pregnant, I had no intention whatsoever to say no to my nearly daily glass of wine. I told myself I enjoyed drinking wine, but the truth was, I needed it to numb what was there to feel and be aware of, and to cope with life and the sense of feeling lost. 

The pregnancy brought me, in many ways, back to my senses and asked me to become more honest about my way of living.

After seeing the two stripes on the pregnancy test, the need to drink alcohol vanished. I felt responsible for what was residing inside of my womb, and drinking alcohol did not match with that responsibility. The pregnancy invited me to connect deeper with my body, which I enjoyed. I felt more into what my body needed, and I discovered a settlement that I had not felt before. I started to eat differently, went to bed earlier, and continued doing yoga, although quite soon, I knew doing all these postures, including standing on my head, was no longer needed. Why on earth would I stand upside down, apart from needing recognition? The pregnancy brought me, in many ways, back to my senses and asked me to become more honest about my way of living. I enjoyed the changes I felt from not drinking, i.e., more clarity, waking up wide awake, no more hangovers and more awareness of life in general.

The pregnancy was medically terminated at fourteen weeks, after we discovered our child had Down Syndrome and was physically not well. There were no emotions after the termination. I felt strong and joyful, having a sense that there was more to it than a physical procedure. In hindsight, the pregnancy and the termination were a letting go of many false pictures, needs and a way of living, which lacked responsibility. Two days later, my partner at the time and I went to see friends, and I was offered a beer. You can drink again! I said, “yes,” and felt the impact on my body, more than ever before. But that did not stop me from drinking. I continued because I could (I was no longer pregnant, right?) and still needed it. And besides no longer having the excuse of being pregnant, I didn’t come by car, and I was not on antibiotics. 

The thing is, I did not see myself as precious and as loving as the being that had been inside of me for fourteen weeks.

I continued drinking, because I did not feel the same responsibility and care for myself or my body as I had felt for my unborn child. I did not want to harm the fetus, but I did not have any problem whatsoever putting poison into my own body, once the pregnancy was over. I once walked to the Basecamp of Mount Everest. Would any GP advise a woman who is pregnant to make that same trip? We might think about it at least twice if that is something wise to do. 

We were all once that precious, delicate, beautiful, and grand being inside of our mother’s womb. And we still are. Our bodies have grown, we might have gray hair, but we are still all that. Why do we, as women, have self-care high on our agenda during the nine months we are pregnant, and the moment we are no longer, we fall back into abusing our bodies by drinking alcohol, smoking, taking drugs, and doing (dangerous) sports that our body is not asking for? As women, we have accepted and allowed self-abuse on many levels, and still do. 

The other day, I read a post from a woman showing a video of her friend running towards the finish line of a marathon. The woman championed that her friend had made it, although she had been sick for three weeks and had a high fever two days before the start. Although, her friend had, in reality, taken too many paracetamols to be able to run the marathon, she did it and got the money for charity. The post got many likes. Why do we boost a fellow beautiful sister who abuses and harms her body and is not taking true care of herself? 

A couple of years after the termination I stopped drinking alcohol. Zero effort or will power, and not because I was pregnant or because of dry January. I had started to build a self-caring and loving relationship and routine in my life, and I no longer wanted to numb myself. I felt the responsibility I had for myself and my choices, and I addressed the need that was there to drink alcohol in the first place. 

The absurdity of needing to justify yourself.

This was twelve years ago, in a time when not drinking alcohol was not as common as it is these days. For the first months, I regularly felt I had to justify myself to others as to why I no longer drank. I could not pull the pregnancy card, although I did get that question. Soon I realized the absurdity of needing to justify myself for taking true care of myself and my body, and re-connecting with that precious part that has always been there. 

Self-care is so much more than taking a bath, going to a spa, or intermitting fasting. It is a responsibility for our body that we all have, 24/7. The great thing is, it is not hard, nor strict, nor a ticking of any box. It is a quality of living with a deep reference and reverence for our body and its communication, and a holding of our self, just as we hold a newborn baby.

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