Teresa Strasser is an Emmy and Los Angeles Press Club Award winner. She is also the author of Exploiting My Baby: A Memoir of Pregnancy and Childbirth.
Even someone like me who isn't particularly good with babies, who looks at them and says things like, "Hey, buddy. Look at your little face," before resorting to a flaccid round of peek-a-boo and then running out of material, even I endeavor to err on the side of caution when it comes to chemicals. After years of wondering if I'm cut out to be a mother, I'm relieved to find that the instinct to protect this fetus is so strong, or at least the image of me smoking a Camel while balancing a tumbler of Jameson's on my bulging stomach is so distasteful, that I figure all of my favorite chemicals can wait.
And I really love chemicals.
Being pregnant makes me feel toward booze and Xanax and Retin-A the way Emily from Our Town felt about food, hot baths and milk delivered to your door. She didn't appreciate the simple things in life until she returned as a ghost to Grover's Corners, relived one day as her 12-year-old self, and asked the question all pre-teen girls agonize over while performing Emily's big monologue at theater camp: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it?"
What I mean is, I never appreciated guilt-free drug use until it was gone.
Chemicals, I can't wait to return to you. Until then, here is a list of the substances I miss the most.
Vicodin -- Narcotics are bad. Except for the fact they produce a little something called euphoria. Listen, this drug is a highly addictive opioid that should be used only to manage moderate to severe pain. However, my definition of "pain" is a loose one. Is it painful to sit around pondering labor? Does it smart to look down the pike at childbirth, something most of us have only seen in movies (during which the woman sweats profusely, swears, wails and let's face it, dies half the time)? Speaking of death, does it hurt emotionally to ponder the absolute END of one's identity? Is it a bit of an ouchy to imagine never going to the gym, the nail salon, or the therapist, without first scheduling a sitter?
Medicines are categorized in various ways as it pertains to their use during pregnancy. The FDA says Vicodin is a category C drug, meaning it is unknown whether it would be harmful to an unborn baby.
Incidentally, any drug worth your time will probably be a category C, which should stand for, "Could be fine but you'll feel like a selfish baby maimer if it's not." Category B drugs are considered "probably safe," and include such party favorites as Tylenol and Pepcid. We've all heard about those underground Pep/Ty raves. All the kids are rolling on P and T, saying screw E, we're up in here with mild relief of muscle aches and almost no heartburn. Join us in this unfettered pleasure-fest. It's a pharmaceutical Bacchanal.
Klonopin -- Relaxes muscles, reduces anxiety, helps you sleep. Take it the night before a job interview or audition, and the entire next day is kissed with a light potion of placidity. If taken during pregnancy, it may cause "floppy infant syndrome." I don't know what that is, and I don't want to know.
Nicotine -- C'mon. Smoking sucks. I get it.
Of all of my darling toxins, I'm shocked to miss smoking the most. I know nicotine is bad. I quit smoking my two to three after-dinner puffy treats as soon as I realized I was pregnant. I wasn't a real smoker, never even smoked during daylight hours.
Right now, I don't want to smoke just a couple.
I want to sit in bed and chain-smoke while high on half a Vicodin and watch a couple of documentaries like I used to do on a Friday night when the mood struck. Smoking calms nerves, and I've never been more nervous than I am about this baby: how he's doing in there, how he is going to get out, when I'm going to ascertain the meaning of the word "layette."
Each time I quiet the flirtatious come-on of a Camel Light, it's comforting to know my early maternal instincts outweigh the brute force of habit and several bassinets full of anxiety.
Xanax -- I usually quarter these pills, never take the whole thing, though I often try to mix with one cocktail for maximum buzz (when the label reads "this medication may increase the effects of alcohol" I take that as a helpful hint).
Admired by anxious pill poppers for its ability to act quickly, it has a short half-life in your body. If my heart starts pounding and my stomach starts churning and I suddenly can't stop my mind from racing, I'm walking a terror tightrope with no chemical net.
Sure, there are side effects. Oh no! I might be afflicted with drowsiness, lightheadedness, euphoria and disinhibition! Wait. I desperately want those things.
Artificial sweeteners -- Yellow packets, blue packets, pink, I don't know what's in you or which of you is better, but you all taste so chemical-y now. You taste like a birth defect.
Booze -- Nursing is about to mean something totally different, I know, but it used to be what I did to two fingers of room temp single malt Scotch. Anyone who suggests a hot bath or meditating or chamomile tea is going to get punched in the face.
My pregnant friends, they are all wink-wink about a nightly half glass of wine, and most doctors say a very moderate amount of booze in the third trimester is fine, but my doctor warns me against a single drop and it haunts me.
Giving up alcohol is relatively easy for me, so I basically do it. Like getting dumped by a guy you never really liked, you get lots of sympathy, but inside, you aren't exactly crushed.
Caffeine -- I have a decaf now and again, but some scary article I read when I was trying to get pregnant linked excessive coffee drinking with an increased rate of miscarriage. As losing this baby is the stickiest, most pernicious worry I've ever had, it seems like every caffeinated beverage is just a Miscarriage-a-ccino.
I know I'm not downing a thalidomide milk shake with a DES chaser, but my guiding principal is starting to be, when in doubt, leave it out.
Retin-A -- Careful, constant and expensive grooming helps me address the genetic hand I was dealt, not a total bust but a pair of threes at best. With a few bucks and some toxic treatments, I can look all right. Now, I'm pregnant and won't even have that saving grace of chubby women everywhere, a pretty face.
I'm not supposed to be concerned about anything as silly as the condition of my skin now that I'm creating new life, but I'm not creating a new personality free of self-consciousness, and I'm also not creating a world free of reflective surfaces. Now I have two chins, and both are breaking out.
Hair Color -- Some say it's okay to use, others say just get highlights and don't let the noxious formula touch your scalp, but let's face it, who wants to sit in the salon all pregnant while women judge you for caring more about your roots than your baby?
EveryGoddamnThing -- Involves chemicals. Your moisturizer is suspect, your soap seems to have a long list of ingredients with too many consonants. Your eye cream smells too good and doesn't go bad for too long to be trusted. The fumes at the gas station are out to get you, as is the air when you roll down your window on the freeway and even your laundry detergent seems like venom. The entire world suddenly seems artificially colored and flavored and threatening to tamper with your fragile, defenseless fetus.
Funny thing, though. The more hushed conversations or e-mail exchanges I have with moms, the more I start to formulate a theory about pregnancy and toxins: EVERYONE LIES. Maybe not with their first babies, because us first-timers are all terrified, but once they get to that second, they use moderation and common sense, and they keep their minimal toxic exposures under their hats, with their dyed hair.