Smoking When Pregnant

smoking-pregnantPhew! I got myself into a debate yesterday in a right old Viper’s nest of anti-smoking/smoker feeling on a friend’s page on Facebook. I must say that she is a lovely person – I think she is a never smoker – but her status about seeing lots of pregnant women in town on a hot day must have melted their brains didn’t pass my attention.

Now, I know that once you get into debate on this subject it can go on for hours as it is a subject where both sides of the argument are always diametrically opposed with extremely strong views. Add into this mix the emotional issue of unborn babies and pregnancy and it spirals off into a whole guilt-ridden flurry of judgement on those women who choose to continue smoking when pregnant.

I can only say that I smoked throughout my pregnancies and my babies were born healthy. The first two were late arrivals and had to be delivered by Ceasarian section. I was advised not to have any more children because it could put both my life and that of any future baby at risk – not because of smoking when pregnant but because the operation is a major one and the wound trauma to the woman’s body is massive. My first pregnancies were more in danger from the violent relationship I was in at the time. I’m always amazed my second child didn’t come to harm in my womb after my then partner dragged me out of bed one night when I was heavily pregnant and threw me down the stairs before throwing me out into the cold. I have to say that while pregnant with this child, I smoked my heaviest because of my fear and stress of living with a violent relationship. 80 a day. She was my biggest baby. Not premature, not underweight. Not affected in any way, shape or form.

Life had other plans for me than to stop after the advised two pregnancies. My third baby decided to come on time, naturally, but I was told that because I’d had two previous Cearerians, I had to have a third. My natural labour was stopped and I was taken off for an emergency operation. Oddly, she was exactly the same weight as her child born 18 years later. She gave up smoking when pregnant. I didn’t. How come we ended up with same weight babies? Genetics perhaps?

My fourth pregnancy ended in tragedy. This pregnancy was in the early 90s and I can assure you I smoked less, hooked by the anti-smoking propaganda. It was a terrifying time. A fourth Ceasarian. You would have thought the medical staff responsible for me would have kept a closer eye on my progress but they did not. In eight and a half months of pregnancy, I had one – yes ONE – anti-natal appointment – none at hospital. This was because after escaping from said violent relationship, and finding myself branded as one of the former Tory social secretary Peter Lilley’s feckless single parents, I set about changing my life. I was half way through my A levels with a view to entering journalism when I finished my two year course, met my current partner, and fell pregnant. My doctor’s antenatal surgery was held on a day when I simply couldn’t attend and getting past his receptionist to arrange to see him another day was like asking for personal access to the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Perhaps I chose wrongly but back then the pressure was on to stop being a waste of social space and get a job and I prioritized my course over my pregnancy which I told myself would be fine. I cycled to college three days a week and I lugged my heavy bag full of text books around all day. My dates were such that I should have just been able to finish my exams before baby came.

Everything appeared to go well until one day I woke extremely ill, sweating, and lapsing in and out of consciousness. My doctor was called out. He seemed annoyed. He had been at a garden party and objected to being called out. He said I had a bug. Told me to drink water and left. I knew something was wrong but was too weak to convey that to my other half and he just took the doctor’s word that there was nothing seriously wrong with me or my baby. At some point, I begged him to call an ambulance. One came. I felt my baby kick as I went down the stairs. By the time I had gone the the three miles to the hospital, and was seen in the Maternity ward, medical staff could not find his heart beat. My son Thomas was born dead. We changed doctors immediately. My other half wanted to sue him. I was not so sure because of the physical trauma I had put on my body through my college work. I did not want anyone to say it was my fault because I should have dropped out and rested.

Then, 15 months later, well into my training as a journalist and after my A levels had finished, I fell pregnant again but I had no idea until I collapsed at home one morning. No mistake this time, straight to hospital to be told that at 26 weeks pregnant my baby was not worth the public money that would be spent on saving him. “Not viable” the doctor said and left me. A nurse approached and told me not to accept that.

“Don’t tell him I said so, but demand to be taken to Nottingham where they have specialist teaching care. Your baby can be saved,” she told me. I did so insist but the doctor told me I would be dead within 20 minutes if I tried to make it. I still insisted and after a further 11 weeks of bed rest in hospital my son, who is now a very healthy 17 year old, was born by my fifth Caesarian. Is this a record when women are told to have no more than two? I have no idea but I know that it was the lack of antenatal care, trauma and weakening of my body that led to the last two “bad” pregnancies and not my smoking.

Nowadays, women are told that any smoking while pregnant WILL kill their babies, make them prem or small, or weak, give them asthma or something horrible and of course they want to give their baby the best start in life. Who wouldn’t? I support those who do choose to quit when pregnant but I absolutely abhor anyone who sits in judgement on those women who choose to continue smoking and this leads me back to the debate yesterday on Facebook.

I simply wanted to highlight how it is wrong to judge smoker pregnant women given the contested medical “evidence” when other studies show differently and that the use of derogatory language against smokers is not on – however much people are encouraged these days to be abusive towards smokers to hype up the guilt factor – especially when pregnant. I said smokers were a minority group. I felt like I had been pushed up against the wall by playground bullies who felt justified in calling smokers irresponsible, stupid, smelly etc…

Below are some of the comments in this mass debate. I begin with that of a smoker and the guilt she feels. Note how smoking is “bad,bad,bad” but drinking alcohol is Ok. Not one of the debators took her to task for that and neither would I. Her choice. Her body. Her baby. Her life.

“Wow.. what a debate.. I have never been a heavy smoker and did give up when I found I was pregnant with my first but I must admit I used to have the odd puff on friends fags when I was on rare nights out (although I never actually bought ciggies to smoke at home.. or out for that matter) and that was before the smoking ban came in.. but I was very discreet for fear of getting evil looks off people.. I didn’t actually want any1 to see me smoking as I was very embarrassed and annoyed with myself at my lack of willpower.. I was BAD BAD BAD.. but luckily both my girls turned out OK. I definately wouldn’t take that chance again.. although I would flatly refuse to give up my litre bottle of Brandy a day!!!”

Then of course in sticking up for my right too choose to smoke and other women’s right to choose if they so wish, I am met with the usual “pathetic addict” syndrome as below.

“OMG Patsy!!! Just because you have no will power to give up something that is so unhealthy, smelly and life shortening-do not play the ‘minorities’ card!! It is selfish and irresponsible to smoke whilst pregnant and indeed around your children. Just because you think it did not affect you because your Mum smoked, the facts are there that is can and DOES. You played Russian roulette with your children’s lives, in my opinion. There have also been many studies on passive smoking which also show that it can increase risk of asthma and other breathing related problems. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to realise that what is in cigarettes will damage you and your children. In my opinion, it is child abuse and if I ever see anyone smoking whilst pregnant it makes my blood boil. IT IS SELFISH, FULL STOP!!!!!”

I think the clue to the bigoted comment below comes from his own mouth as he admits to not being the sharpest knife in the drawer.

“I can’t beleive that this has gone on this long!?!?!?! It’s wrong plain and simple!!! I’m not the most educated person in the world but I DON’T CARE if a second rate study says that it’s not harmful, my daughter will not be subjected to it!!! And to compare smokers ‘daily abuse’ to that of an ethnic minority is hilarious!!! One thing has come out of this though………….I now wonder if Martin luther was more worried about people finding out he was a smoker!?!?!”

And again below when someone feels justified in slinging abuse when I am sure this person has never read a single study in her life but has simply read re-written propaganda press releases in a local or national newspaper.

“Excellent comment Matt-It makes me laugh when smokers feel persecuted…as if!! If you choose to smoke-fair enough, but if you choose to smoke when pregnant and around children-you are just selfish, in my opinion!”

Another debator said how her husband’s “mother’s neglect” when smoking whiloe pregnant gave him really bad asthma, the evil woman. I responded by saying how it is odd that asthma rates are rising rapidly and yet smoking rates are declining massively. What could account for it? I suggested that perhaps the increase in traffic congestion and pointed out how she probably has no qualms about getting in her car and poisoning the rest of us – pregnant women as well – with her fumes as she drives while we walk. I had forgotten and, as I reflected on this debate last night, recalled my husband’s brother died in his teens of asthma in the 1970s – his mother was a never smoker.

I was ridiculed for daring to suggest that smokers were in a minority and the language used against smokers would not be used for any other minority group. I mentioned calls for violence against smokers being printed without thought on newspaper websites and pointed to job ads in this smoke free world we live in, that deem it acceptable to advertise vacancies to “non-smokers only”.

But I know well the language of abuse as I pointed out :

“I am post world war 2 ethnic minority Italian. I was abused as a kid – called wop, greasy smelly spic, coward, lazy, – etc… I recognise the language now that I am in a minority of lifelong smokers. I do not say that this group is an ethnic minority but it is a lifestyle minority. Just to clarify.”

The comment above was in response to this comment below.

“I have nothing against smokers…I have smoked in the past and it truly is a personal choice…I think calling yourself an ‘ethnic minority’ is a little bit misguided but I understand where you are coming from. Where I have a BIG problem is when people choose to inflict their ‘choice’ on those that do not have one-i.e an unborn baby or child. That to me is selfish. I apologise if you feel I was being personal about the ‘smell’ but I now find it horrible and it strengthens my view on why we should not smoke. I am a tolerant person but when innocent people are affected by a personal choice..I have to speak up!!!”

Yes indeed, we smokers are certainly affected by our personal choice as it seems it is a licence for others to abuse us and call us names.

The debate lasted all night. The other debate that has wasted so much of my time was somewhere way back in this blog when Baz and I were at it hammer and tongues over the course of a whole day. Our only agreement at that time was that we had probably taken part in one of the longest blogging debates ever.

My final comment in the debate below acknowledges how I always feel worn out both physically and mentally with this issue but because of all that I have said above, I feel compelled to respond. It also sums up exactly how I feel about pregnant women who smoke.

“Yes, indeed – I am also worn out with this debate but feel obliged to answer. I have searched out this evidence for balance because of the way that hostile feeling has gone towards smokers who have been marginalised and outcast and I’m sorry if that amuses some of you. I feel this is undeserved. Older smokers like myself only say we and ours were fine. Younger smokers make their own decisions based on modern evidence which, if you are honest and informed about this subject, you will agree is selective and only allows for one health choice. I support the right of those who choose not to smoke when pregnant. I condemn judgement on those who do. I hope this, and please let it be my final comment, clarifies not justifies.”

I would advise anyone interested in the health debate about smoking and pregnancy also check out the link from Forces above which concludes : “Thus a mother’s smoking during pregnancy could help prevent stomach ulcers/cancer and heart disease in their children.”

I doubt the playground bullies on my friend’s page would agree. One dismissed alternative evidence as “second rate studies”. Those of us who are more informed about this issue would say the studies he relies on are “second rate”. The truth between these opposing strong views must surely be that there is enough “evidence” out there on both sides to make the effects of smoking on an unborn child while pregnant inconclusive which is not enough grounds, in my view, for cause to be judgemental against pregnant women who smoke. When pregnant, they go through one of the most emotional and worrying times in their lives. I sincerely believe that to lay further stress at their feet about smoking is unacceptable.

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