Oct 16, 2007

On Pregnant Women, Smoking, and Minding My Own Damned Business

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.


The Screaming Nutcase said...

You'll enjoy this newspaper photo, then. Priceless.

JQ said...

Awww, horse shit! You should have smacked the cigarette out of her mouth. I don't care about government or tobacco industry propaganda. Ingesting smoke of any kind into your lungs is harmful.

On the other hand, maybe that child deserves to have a low birth weight, respiratory complications, fetal hypoxia, and so on and so on. Little bastard. That will teach him not to light up.

HumboldtsClio said...

I read something recently that said cigarette companies have increased the amount of nicotine in their cigarettes in an attempt to hold on to the few smokers they have. That could be a reason she is having trouble quitting.

I kind of feel sorry for her. She probably gets judged all the time. I might also remark that given the rise of autism and ADD in this country, she probably has bigger things to worry about as far as baby is concerned.

Still, hopefully she is quitting.

microdot said...

Yes, agreed that smoking is harmful!
But, there has to be limits on our own behavior and the urge to intride into and regulate every detail of other peoples lives.

The tobacco industry is government subsidised and allowed to advertise and promote itself tempt thousands of young people to smoke every day.

It is the same here in France, but I never see tobacco advertisements or promotions. Subsidies of the farmers in this region who still grow tobacco as a cash crop are being gradually phased out and will end in 2012.

Cigarette packaging now has big ugly labels that state "Smoking Kills". There is an evtire branch of medicine called tabacologie which deals with smoking, it's problems and stopping.

But you are still dealing with an entire aging generation of smokers who view smoking as one of lifes little pleasures. There is the remnant of a culture of tobacco, the cafes, the bar tabac which still are the meeting places in little towns.

To outright ban behavior is to only make it more attractive to many.
Tobacco use will be a thing of the past in a few generations. Now it is for me, Proustian...a whiff of the smell of a cafe, tobacco and coffee and alcohol...suddenly resurfacing memories of a fleeting age.

You can only really influence the present by example.

Anonymous said...

Smack a cigarette out of MY mouth sometime.

Historychic said...

Since I am a pregnant woman I appreciate this post. While I do not smoke cigarettes at all, I do choose to indulge in the occasional Subway (lunch meat is a no no for pregnant women)and I have cut back on my caffeine intake, but not cut it out all together. People tend to judge pregnant women for what they do or don't do. It is nobody's business but her baby's father and doctor.

JQ said...

Anonymous...who are you?
You know I am 28 and have smoked for 15 years. I am trying to quit. So should you. And, if you are, don't act like a hardass if you can't even post your name. If your not I would be glad to, if you return the favor.

Roo said...

Unfortunately we are all guilty of jumping the gun when it comes to judging others.

For whatever reason this young woman lit a cigarette while pregnant - it doesn't matter. What does matter is that she made a choice. She still has that right, doesn't she?

In reality, we all have crutches. Some are cigarettes, some alcohol, some coffee, some soft drinks, some chocolate, etc. Some folks run, drive fast, work out at the gym. We all choose what makes us feel better or allows us to blow off steam. We make choices - good or bad. It's time we take personal responsibility for all of them.

Tim Higgins said...


Thanks for a common sense approach to one of life's delicate situations, and for opening a discussion on the fact that society may be becoming far too judgemental in general.

As you (and roo as well) point out, it is far too easy to judge people on first appearances, without examining all of the facts or our own motives. After all, its always easy to judge. That you exhibited restraint however is to your credit, and probably an example of the last shreds of civilized behavior.

We have the right to control our own behavior. We do not have the right to control that of others, even when it's stupid. Any attempt to do so, no matter how well-intentioned, sends us down a path down which we probably do not want to go.

Robin said...

When I was pregnant, the OBGYN nurse told me that I should stop drinking my beloved Coca Cola (because of caffiene). I told her that I could not. Although, I did cut down to one can a day. So, I guess I can feel some empathy for the smoking pregnant woman. It still irks me to see a pregnant woman (or a teen ager) smoke.

Tina Kubala said...

I'm so sad to see pregnant woman smoking. It's not so much the pregnancy that concerns me, but that child will be sucking smoke it's whole life.

That said, no random stranger has the right to make a comment about me, pregnant or not.

My overall smoking statement is that younger people, say 30 and under, should have known better in the first place. We had enough education growing up to know better. If you're a young woman who plans to have babies someday, not starting is the bast thing.

P.S. The jury on caffeine in moderation is still out.

microdot said...

just to make my comment a little more accurate.
I am 58 and smoked for 30 years off and on. I regret every cigarette I ever smoked.
I stopped cold turkey twice. Once during the early 70's and started again about 1980 when I was a rock musician in bars in Quebec and NYC.
I stopped again cold in 1992 and have not had a cigarette since then.
Tobacco and the associated smells of bars and coffee can have a powerful Proustian effect on me, but I have absolutely no desire to smoke.
If you are going to stop, just stop. Pills, patches and treatments are ways that make it harder and seem more of a way of coddling yourself.
Just stop now!

Mad Jack said...

I finally quit smoking for good and all back in the 1990s. It was the hardest thing I ever did. Now I'm trying to lose weight.

Hey anonymous, I'll smack that coffin nail out of your yap. I used to be pretty good with a bull whip - taking beer cans off my little brother's head and such. I'll bet I can still do the cigarette trick!

You know, I spoke with a lady who lives across the street a while back about smoking. She's a respiratory therapist, and told me that she works with the children of parents who smoke. When she recommends smoking cessation, the reaction she gets from the parents is, "Well, he'll just have to get used to my smoking."

Chris said...

My mother drank Guinness when she was pregnant with my brother and I(1962 and 66). At the time, doctors in Britain recommended same as a method of battling weight loss associated with morning sickness or emesis gravidarum.

Now we know better the risks to fetal development associated with (yes, even mild) alcohol consumption, and discourage such behavior.

My Mum also used to ride in an automobile at speeds approaching 85 miles per hour with no seatbelt, in an automobile with no airbag, collapsing bumpers and no safety glass. My brother and I made it through pregnancy fine, so as infants we were placed in a kind of box placed in the back seat - no child seat, no restraint.

We were fine then as well. So as adolescents she would let us pull icicles off the edge of the roof and consume them. The icicles contained high levels of lead, as the gasoline of the day featured lead, and the paint on the second floor of the house contained and leached the substance.

My point is that the valid argument isn't to look at your experience with certain risks and compute the harm. We need to look across the totality of experience and compute the risks of exposures. As our level of acceptable risk changes, we adjust our societal mores to discourage unacceptably risky behaviors.

Anonymous said...

I was a smoker myself for 10 years until I found out I was pregnant. No matter how hard or impossible it is to quit, you can not make a choice for the baby to let it enforcefully enhale it. Think about the baby in the first place, and how he or she struggles inside of you with that cigarette toxins.

Husband of a Virginia Slims mother said...

I'm glad you had a reasoned response after the initial shock. My wife, a light to moderate smoker now, but a very heavy smoker until a few years ago, smoked while pregnant with our daughter. Before she found out she was pregnant, she was smoking more than 2 packs per day. (I was always trying to get her to quit or at least cut back to no avail.) Immediately upon finding out she was pregnant, she cut down to less than 1 pack a day and was able to get to about 4-6 cigarettes a day during the 2nd trimester and only 1-2 during the 3rd trimester. Yes, it would have been better if she'd been able to quit entirely (and she agrees), but the stress of the couple smoke-free days she tried early on was too much to endure on top of being pregnant. Unfortunately, she's back to around a half a pack a day again, sometimes more. Thankfully, our daughter was born completely healthy (and my wife remains so as well).

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Katie Caballero said...

Well I'm not dumb Viagra, and I have smoked while pregnant. You have no idea how difficult it is to stop. It is the worst habit that I've ever tried to break, including all the drugs I did years ago. Quitting those were easy. Once the physical addiction resided it's like I was brand new. No symptoms or signs, no psychological mark, nothing. I was over it. But cigarettes are a different story. No other substance has ever had such powerful control over my mind.
When I
Try quitting cold turkey, smoking a cigarette is all I can think about. Honestly, the world can go to war and all I care about is how bad I want to smoke. My stress and anxiety levels spin out of control until I want to pull my hair out; I can feel my face and ears getting flushed and i lash out in every direction. I fear something worse for my child. The stress I place on my body and mind is more of a risk than if I allow that one cigarette. Most times it's not even a whole cig, just a few puffs to level me out. I am completely aware of the harm smoking can cause and am not condoning it in any way. I just want to share my experience with anyone who cares to understand.

Mickey James said...
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