Catholics Do What?,  Contraception,  Culture of Death,  motherhood,  pregnancy,  Theology of the Body,  Women's Health,  Women's Rights

Well, that escalated quickly

I mean, I guess if you’re going to break the internet, you might as well do it talking booze and birth control. Two things near and dear to my heart if ever anything were.

If anyone is coming late to the party, hai, glad you’re here, might want to pop over and get the backstory. I’ll wait.

Now that we’re all on the same page, I want to offer a few further thoughts on the situation of the federal government making an official, taxpayer-funded recommendation that women of childbearing age be either completely abstinent from alcohol (not sex, mind you, because that’s like, impossible.) or be continuously contracepting to ensure maximum protection from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Here’s a painfully obvious caveat: FAS is a terrible, preventable condition. Do not binge drink during pregnancy. Actually, I’m going to go a step further and say DO NOT BINGE DRINK EVER. IT’S TERRIBLE FOR YOU, knocked up or not.

(Do not smoke crack, either, even though one intrepid commenter helpfully pointed out it’s, like, way safer than wine. I’m still not 100% on that…)

The overwhelming response (and it was delightfully overwhelming, so thank you!) was fist bumps and high fives. And a few precious messages from my more liberal leaning and even, in one case, pro abortion female readers expressing solidarity with me on this position.

Which is awesome. Just awesome. Because how amazing if government overreach on recommending contraception is what unites women from both ends of the political spectrum in the effort to overhaul and reclaim authentic feminism?

Would be cool. Just saying.

But a few people were very, very concerned that I might be agitating for pregnancy benders. Let me be quite clear when I say, again, FAS is terrible. And you will not give your baby FAS if you drink a glass of wine at a dinner party.

But there have been studies!! I know, I know there have been. But there have been other studies, too. And none of the studies seem to be able to agree on a “safe amount” of alcohol, so it’s easier for the FDA, the CDC, and the other 3 lettered agencies out there to just slap a do not on it and call it a day. Because most women will only be pregnant for 18 perfectly planned, spaced and executed months, anyway, when they go off the pill or have their IUD removed. So it’s no big thing.

This is crazy for 2 reasons.

First, there are plenty of things that are fine in moderation and terrible in excess. I might venture so far as to say that applies to everything. And this applies to pregnant and non pregnant humans alike. And if we’re to believe that the entirety of human history up until this point was dramatically wrong, and that all of Europe is still wrong, and that one drink will doom your child to a life of misery, then…I don’t think there’s anything I can say to convince you otherwise.

Please understand, I’m not encouraging pregnant women to get lit. I’m not even saying they should drink. 

But women who either drank before they knew they were pregnant or have the occasional adult beverage during the 10 months when baby is on board do not need another thing to obsess over. They don’t. There are enough crazy things women already believe about the tenuous grasp on control they pray they have over their lives and the lives of their children. A new year’s eve champagne toast or a Guinness with dinner does not need to be on that list.

Here’s the second crazy thing about the CDC recommendation: it presupposes pregnancy as a predictable, planned, and finite occurrence in a woman’s life, occurring when and where and how she wants it. Once, maybe twice. And then never again. And we can make sure that happens.

Our culture has shifted so dramatically since the advent of the Pill that the above statement doesn’t raise an eyebrow for most modern minds, I’m guessing.

But that’s crazy.

And it’s also the very opposite of “openness to life.”

I think this is where it got weird for some people in trying to understand the outrage from Catholic women, and indeed all women who embrace their fertility and the potential for new life: not as a fearful, high-risk gamble we take once or twice, crossing our fingers and holding our breath, but as a natural extension of our maturation and growth as women and wives and mothers.

If you’re open to life, you’re probably going to spend more time being pregnant. That’s just how it works out. And even while you’re pregnant, life happens. Pregnancy isn’t a horrifying disease or debilitating (well, usually) condition. It’s a natural phase in a woman’s life. And yes, she’s more susceptible to certain ailments and no, she probably shouldn’t be skiing double black diamonds at 8 months along, but for the most part, your life kinda does just go on, just a bit heavier.

So for the government to point a finger at women, the only people capable of conceiving and bearing new life, and say to them “you need to either shut that down or shape up and teetotal,” yes, it was incredibly disturbing and incredibly demeaning.

Because the message is twofold: you’re too ignorant to understand your own (inconvenient!) body, and you’re too reckless to be trusted to behave yourself.

It’s a patronizing, deeply misogynistic message of incompetence and belittlement.

(But then, so is the push to get all women from 13 to 50 on some form of birth control. And we’ve been living that dream for 40 + years.)

I long for the day when all women, regardless of whether they believe in God or practice any religion or even like the taste of beer, recognize that in our bodies we have an intrinsic genius which is uniquely feminine, and it doesn’t need to be turned off or shut down.

It isn’t broken.

We aren’t broken.

But our culture is.


  • Jeni

    Just to be clear, no to the pregnant benders. Right? jk. Nice piece Jenny. Thanks for saying what so many of us are thinking.

  • Theresa

    I appreciate this piece and the last one. I had the pleasure of attendiny a talk from THE Alice Von Hildebrand last night to promote her new book “Memoirs of a Happy Failure”. At 90+ and feisty as ever, she said heart stoppingly beautiful things about women. I can’t help but contrast her challenging words that call me to be a more holy, more feminine (in the deepest sense) woman- contrast that with the drivel from state bodies. The fear mongering guilt trip that a lazy limit like that just brings women down to their lowest version of ourselves. Thank goodness for the Alice’s! And the Jenny’s!

    I drink a reasonably sized beverage to your good health!

  • Tacy

    This post reminds me deeply of my birth with my fifth child. Patronizing.. message of incompetence and belittlement. You’re having a fifth child? You’re doing it naturally? You must be insane and crazy! So to add the other things, well… go figure. 🙂

  • Ana

    If I get arrested today for running down the street with only a bathing suit on to show off my large pregnant self and screaming about authentic feminism, be sure that I’m blaming you. Keep preaching it, sister, these posts are amazing SO needed!!

  • Therese P.

    Looks like another blog post that tells it like it is. Nailed it, again. Thank you again for reminding the internet that women are functioning, smart, beautiful, clever, amazing, baby-making adults who can and should more fully embrace an understanding of their own bodies. We don’t need the gov’t to tell us how to be women. I think we’re pretty good at it as it is. Thank you so much.

  • Krissy

    Well I totally binge drank for the first 7 months of my first 6 pregnancies and my kids are all just…

    Oh…sorry, not where we were going with this piece?

    Thanks for doing this again. Clearly the fun way you put it to them got in the way of what you were saying. They very easily could have come out saying (again!) drinking in excess is bad while pregnant, because that would be true. But apparently they don’t feel like they were being heard. (Just like I’m yet to get bike helmets on my family when we go to the basement during a tornado warning, as the CDC has recommended.) Hopefully people won’t listen to this recommendation either. Our nation needs our humble prayers.

  • Tia

    I am a liberal person and I’m not opposed to contraception but this really, really, really got my hackles up. Liberals often frame conservatives as treating women as walking wombs…but this was basically saying “ladies — yeah even you ladies who say you never want kids — you need to change all your behaviors on the off chance you might get knocked up, for a dubious bit of science which hasn’t been demonstrated, because that’s more important than ever having a normal, adult social life or facing the (not in any way quantified) risk of harming your not-yet-existent fetus.” I spoke with a pediatrician who supports the new recommendation, and her argument just highlighted how weird all these public health people are on issues that affect humans. Seriously, are they robots? She was basically like “well, yeah the traditional route by which women harm their babies via FASD is through the placenta, which does not form in the first few weeks of pregnancy, but we don’t know FOR SURE if it’s safe and lots of women don’t know their pregnant for weeks before they find out, so we need to tell them all not to drink, ever, or to never ever have sex, or to only use a (highly reliable!!!) form of birth control.” Why don’t they just tell women to always drink moderately (good advice for humans), and if they’re having unprotected sex, get those Wondfo super early pregnancy detection kits and just, you know, check through the latter half of the month that they’re not knocked up? It’s like they assume that women are both so incredibly docile and absent any interior life or motivations that they’d actually follow these recommendations, and simultaneously too stupid to do things like checking to see if they’re pregnant. Their concept of risk and benefit is just all screwed up.

    I do have to disagree about whether a glass of alcohol here and there through pregnancy is completely risk free. A glass of alcohol can be harmful for some babies later in the pregnancy. Most women and babies will be fine. But it’s a combination of the kid and the mother’s genetics. If the mother processes alcohol slowly, leading to a spike in alcohol concentration, the problem is that the baby then takes that in but lacks the mature liver (and may even be genetically less capable than its mother even with a mature liver) of processing it. So that means, let’s say you feel a light buzz for an hour, the baby might be marinating in that higher BAC or face an even higher BAC for hours or even a day. And the difference between a “therapeutic” and a toxic dose of alcohol is much narrower than with any other recreational drugs, so it’s basically impossible for a mom to titrate her drinking to the point where she can be absolutely confident it’s not a harmful concentration for her baby. So my guess is that there’s like 1 percent of FASD babies where the mom did not binge drink, but just got unlucky because both she and her baby had the wrong genetic combination for drinking. And you know? Even with that I think it’s still fine for expectant moms to drink an odd glass of wine here or there, if they realize there is a low, but nonzero risk of their child developing some symptoms of FASD.

    • Jodi

      The thing is there is no such thing as “non-zero” risk at ANYTHING in life. Living is a dangerous business that always ends in death. We can never be 100% for sure safe at any point in our life, and the risks associated with pregnancy and the “risk” of not having a 100% “perfect” baby is always present when you have sex. Obviously, you shouldn’t engage in stupid behavior, but we can be smart about what is acceptable risk for us. The angering thing about this CDC business is it says that women are too stupid to figure out what is acceptable risk is.

      • Ad

        Why take an unnecessary risk on a matter that is completely preventable by abstaining from alcohol? Where is the self mastery?
        BTW I’m speaking as an adoptive mother who knows many adoptive mom’s and foster mom’s who face the ugly reality of FAS daily. Yes. There are many women in the US who drink, not even binge drink, causing brain damage to their child. And some of them decide they are not going to raise the child or parental rights are terminated.
        FAS is one of the most common topics in adoptive parenting support groups.

  • Pattie

    Thanks for a bit of sanity from a (very young, thank you) grandmother of two boys, matching my status as a the mother of two boys. [infertility issues, so we were happy as heck with ‘just’ the two blessings!] WAAAY back in the early 80’s, after the gin and tonic plus ciggies bridge parties during pregnancies of OUR mothers, and before the current hysteria, the *ahem* official guidance was no more than two measured units of alcohol a day three days a week, which worked fine in navigating cocktail hours in the military. Besides, until about 20 weeks everything made me puke. I know anecdotes are not data, but both babies are brilliant men and husbands with MENSA IQ’s……who were breastfed, raised for the first five years by their own mother. Even WORSE….I was on horseback 5 days a week until my 38th week of pregnancy. BUT……I was on the most mellow mare in the barn, stayed in a controlled ring (no gallops through the desert) and, oh……I had been an expect rider since I was six. This was NOT the black diamond slope for someone who could be out run by a three year old on the bunny slope! Can we be trusted to know where we are in our cycle, how much time we have spent with our husbands, and be safe in our we care for our precious cargo??

  • Emma

    Thank you for putting into words what I felt upon hearing about this! Glad to know I’m not alone when I feel demeaned and dehumanized as a girl who “can’t be trusted with alcohol” according to the government.

  • Joy McCann

    Again: this topic sounds a lot different once you’ve spent some time listening to alcoholic women who spent years in denial of their alcoholism, and put their kids through all kids of hell over it.

    Alcoholics can be very selfish people. That’s the primary audience for this advice. Not “women.” Not “pregnant women.” Alcoholic women.

  • Jeanette

    The overarching nature of the CDC recommendation is lost on women who routinely contracept, as has been pointed out. Women who use natural methods and are open to life are the ones who will really get the sense of why this recommendation goes too far and is overkill in prevention. As someone else pointed out, birth control pills are not without harm, either.

    Some people are risk takers, some are not. A risk taker would be more inclined to say a few drinks during pregnancy are okay, because they feel the risk is so negligible that they are willing to take it. A non-risk taker (I’m in that group) would say zero drinking because they don’t want to take the slightest chance. However, the women really being targeted by the CDC are the people who are potentially taking too much risk, or have an actual alcohol problem. In fact, the website alludes to changing all excessive drinking behavior, not just pregnant women drinking. But the solution offered points to FREE SCREENING and FREE COUNSELING for ALL women. So now you have to look at this from a more political motive angle. I’m willing to speculate that this is just a hidden way of ensuring that no matter what happens to the Obamacare contraception mandate, there will be a loophole available to make sure women continue to have free, unlimited contraception coverage. Call me suspicious, but that’s what it looks like to me. Go to and scroll down to the part that says “What Can Be Done” and the look at the bullet items for the Federal Government and you will see what I’m talking about.

    The CDC did the same kind of “one-size-fits-all” approach with HIV testing a number of years ago, recommending everyone from 15-65 years old should be tested. Lifestyle apparently didn’t matter, because chaste people apparently don’t exist anymore.

    It’s not just the CDC that does this kind of thing of throwing everyone into the same category. Women and girls, even if they are virgins, routinely are given pregnancy tests when a physician asks if there is a chance they are pregnant and their answer is no. After all, some people lie. So you have to get the test because you MIGHT be one of those liars.

    We never really know the motives of the CDC, but I’m sure there is more here than what is on the surface. So while your point hits on a valid argument against what they are doing, I think it is more a case of FAS being USED to promote another political agenda for FREE contraception to be mandatory. Women being seen as incompetent at managing their own drinking behavior during pregnancy is just conveniently a way of addressing alcohol abuse in society as the presumed agenda.

    • AD

      Well said. Your post states the issues with the CDC and ACA while acknowledging the devastating realities of FAS.
      The author of this blog could reach more women, especially those who are still wrestling through issues such as being open to new life and abstinence outside of marriage, with more thoughtful use of tone and hyperbole.