I was getting some repair work performed on one of my vehicles the other day when I noticed a pregnant woman smoking a cigarette outside the lobby of the auto repair facility. I have to admit that my first thought was quite judgmental, something along the lines of this: "What an imbecile, and I sure feel sorry for the unborn child she is carrying."
The CDC is among those groups that actively discourage pregnant women from smoking, and they cite statistics that associate smoking during pregnancy with premature birth, low birth weight, and an elevated risk of SIDS.
Yet the more I thought about the subject, the less comfortable I felt with my snap judgment. Perhaps this twenty-something mother is an otherwise model example of prenatal care, eschewing alcohol, drugs, and other substances with more deleterious effects on the fetus. Perhaps she is trying to quit, and has weaned herself down to a half-dozen cigarettes a day.
I then began to examine the thought processes behind my initial assessment, and came to the conclusion that government and anti-tobacco propaganda has not only influenced my thinking, but has also instilled in me a sense that pregnant smokers are somehow heartless, selfish dangers to unborn children.
My own mother smoked a pack of cigarettes each day through three pregnancies, and each of us turned out to be law-abiding citizens who have amassed six college degrees between us (seven, if you count my in-progress PhD work). Of course, in the 1950s and 1960s there were no official studies linking cigaretes and birth problems, let alone public service ads decrying the pregnant mothers who smoke.
And I should not forget that I was once a pack-and-a-half a day smoker, though my wife never let me puff the addictive coffin nails around the children. I found that quitting cigarettes was among the more difficult tasks I have endured, with cravings that lasted weeks after the initial desire to claw off one's own face passes. Even to this day, some eight years after the last time I quit smoking, I catch the occasional wafting of an aromatic Marlboro and feel a slight twinge of temptation.
Thus, I am glad that I kept shut my trap when those sanctimonious thoughts popped into my head the other day, and I vow to mind my own damned business should I come across another pregnant woman lighting up.