Friday, October 14, 2011

Run a Marathon, Give Birth, Who Cares?

Evidently, a lot of people do.

40 weeks pregnant 
photo credit

I wasn't one of them until, Liz, a twitter friend & blogger at a belle, a bean, & a chicago dog, posted an innocent question on the twitter:
Everyone keeps praising the pregnant woman who ran the . Anyone think that wasn't such a great thing for her to do?
Some of the responses she got made me realize how many people are coming down hard on this mom for her "reckless" and "irresponsible" decision to "run" a marathon at 39 weeks of pregnancy. Not just, "I wouldn't do it" or "I don't think she should have done it" but people seriously calling her "reckless," "irresponsible," "selfish," and "risky."

In case you didn't catch the news coverage, Amber Miller got clearance from her doctor & support from her husband to run half the marathon & walk half the marathon at 39 weeks of pregnancy.  Obviously, she didn't just up & decide to run a marathon.  She is in excellent physical condition and had no contraindications to continuing her physical activity during pregnancy.

I'd like to point out that my Google news search for "chicago marathon birth" on 10 OCT 2011 turned up more articles about the winner of the marathon & the firefighter who died than it did for the woman who gave birth.  She was mentioned in a few articles, but only rarely mentioned in the titles.

Why is this a big deal?  I wasn't in condition to run a marathon BEFORE I got pregnant, so it would be asinine for me to do so while pregnant.  Personally, I think running when you aren't being chased by a knife-wielding maniac is pretty crazy, but I'm a lazy sloth. Other women have continued to train for marathons while pregnant, so this isn't anything new.  The key point is that your activity level during pregnancy is individual to you.  I was walking 3 miles a day towards the end of my pregnancy with no issues.  Some women are on modified bed rest.  I am not going to judge another woman's pregnancy needs based on my own.

Most people understand difference between discussing/debating a controversial issue (which I greatly enjoy).  However, when I see words like "irresponsible" and "selfish" coming up repeatedly, I tend to think it's no longer a discussion but a judgment.  It would be very irresponsible for ME to run a marathon ever at 39 weeks, but it's not irresponsible for everyone, as evidenced by Amber Miller.

Guess what?  I have a few confessions:

1- I ate sushi while pregnant.
2- I cleaned the litter box while pregnant.
3- I had half a Guinness while pregnant.
4- I ate soft cheeses while pregnant.
5- I took zoloft while pregnant.
6- I did not get the seasonal flu or swine flu vaccine while pregnant.
7- I slept on my back more than once while pregnant.
8- I went to a party, wore heels, & met Donald Rumsfeld the night before I went into labor.
9- I labored at home for several hours after my water broke.
10- I hired a midwife and not an OB.

For each of these things (okay, maybe not meeting Rumsfeld, I just like to throw that in whenever I get the chance), I was told by at least one person that I was being selfish and putting my baby at risk.  I never asked for anyone's opinion, but my growing belly made some people think they needed to tell me exactly how irresponsible and negligent I was being.

Guess what? I have the right to make decisions concerning my own body.  Just because a woman is pregnant does not suddenly mean that she loses the right to make her own decisions. Random members of society don't get to make these decisions for me based on what they think I should do.  In fact, unless I'm declared mentally incompetent, no one gets to make decisions for me.

This kind of thinking worries me because it can lead to pregnant women being forced into birth interventions, surgery, or tests without their consent because someone else deems the mother's right of refusal invalid due to her being pregnant.  It can throw us back decades with women's rights.

the New Jersey appellate court found that V.M. and B.G. had abused and neglected their child, based on the fact that the mother, V.M., refused to consent to a cesarean section and behaved erratically while in labor. The mother gave birth vaginally without incident, and the baby was "in good medical condition." Then she was never returned to her parents, and the judge in the case approved a plan to terminate their parental rights and give custody of the child to foster parents.
Melissa Ann Rowland stands charged of murder by the State of Utah forfailing to permit a timely cesarean section that could have saved one of her two babies from in utero death.  Her case demonstrates the classic maternal-fetal conflict: Mrs. Rowland refused to consent to a procedure that had substantial risks for her and no benefits, but which could have saved her stillborn child’s life.  The charges represent the farthest extent of state action in favor of fetal rights over maternal autonomy and proceed against a jumbled background of contradictory precedents.

These were just two examples and the facts surrounding the cases are murky but the charges were brought against these women due to their refusal to do what someone else decided was best for them.

This leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.  It tastes like paternalism & misogyny.

I'm going to step off my soap box now but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think women lose their autonomy upon getting pregnant? Should doctors/caregivers/loved ones have the authority to overrule a pregnant woman's decisions regarding her body?
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