Drinking and Conceiving

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader responds to the controversy over the CDC’s new guidelines to help lower the rate of fetal alcohol syndrome, guidelines that say doctors should “recommend birth control to women who are having sex (if appropriate), not planning to get pregnant, and drinking alcohol”:

The complaint is about tone? It’s a CDC health guidelines document; the tone is Ben Stein chanting “Bueller? Bueller?” The fact that women can get pregnant unexpectedly and then potentially harm the fetus is inconvenient to say the least, cosmically unfair if you want to take that route, but ultimately utterly inescapable (until we get sci-fi biotechnology).

The advice boils down to this: pregnancy and alcohol don’t mix. If you’re trying to become pregnant, definitely don’t drink alcohol. If you’re a heavy drinker, you should take measures to avoid becoming unexpectedly pregnant. If you’re having unprotected sex and or not using birth control, you may become pregnant, so you should consider not drinking to avoid harming the fetus, if you care about that kind of thing.

The fact that people can find a way to wring offense out of totally innocuous factual statements is both unremarkable and tiresome. Being a woman entails a lot of shitty, unasked-for obligations, and this is one of them. Sympathy, support, you got it—but don’t ask the CDC not to tell it like it is.

From a mother who tells it like it is, when it comes to fetal alcohol syndrome:

One of my kids was born with a genetic disorder that has many characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome, and mothering her is a long, hard road without end. A lifetime spent caring for a disabled child (now in her late 30s) is something most of us can’t fully imagine until it happens.

If there’d been one thing—no matter how difficult—that I could have done to prevent this disorder, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Sadly, there was not.

Some young women are loudly offended about the CDC recommendations: “Gee, I’m not using contraception, and I love to party, and some old meanie’s warning me that I could end up spending my life raising a disabled child!” All I can say is: Think twice. Please.

Another mother of a child with fetal alcohol syndrome is profiled in the video seen above. Do you have differing views about the CDC guidelines, or on the subject of FAS in general? Drop us a line.