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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 09/29/2011

Listeria outbreak: Is fear during pregnancy preparation for parenthood?

Before I had children, a friend who had just delivered a baby described the emotional roller-coaster of pregnancy this way: You find out and you’re ecstatic. For about a second. Then, fear kicks in. You’re terrified for the next nine months.

I soon found out exactly what she meant.


Health officials say as many as 16 people have died from possible listeria illnesses traced to Colorado cantaloupes. (The Associated Press)
My fears of miscarriage and of harming the embryo, then fetus, inside me grew so intense that I couldn’t read any of the week-by-week pregnancy guides I’d bought. Instead, every Sunday, my husband would crack open our “week” and read it aloud to me, editing out the parts about risks.

Those days have come back to me this week because of the current multi-state listeria outbreak (which I wrote about yesterday). In my first pregnancy, there was an E.coli outbreak blamed on spinach, one of my favorite foods. I spent the better part of that pregnancy avoiding spinach and salads. (One universal about these episodes is that there’s no expiration date. No health officials ever declare the food officially safe.) I knew the risk of infection was minuscule, but I couldn’t take the chance of endangering my pregnancy, even the teeniest bit.

Luckily, the pregnancy led to a healthy outcome, which I celebrated. For a second. Then the fear kicked in. I am told by more experienced parents that I’m stuck with it. The fear, and also its cousin, guilt.

Case in point: Recently, I learned from a popular parenting book, “Origins:How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives,” by Annie Murphy Paul (Simon & Schuster, 2010) that my nutritional habits during pregnancy may have adversely affected my daughter. Her absolute refusal to taste green-leaved vegetables may be attributed not to her natural taste buds but to my decision to avoid them while she was inside me.

I want to shrug off this theory, and I do on the outside. But there’s a part of me that feels guilty about my possible miscalculation. Every time I read about how children with healthier eating habits thrive, I feel a stab. I worry I could have compromised my daughter’s health. Yes, it sounds crazy, but it’s not the first (or last) time I’ll blame myself for an issue related to my daughters.

Now, when millions of pregnant women are on edge about listeria (this season’s whooping cough, which replaced swine flu and so on and so on), it occurs to me that maybe there’s a hidden benefit to the intense fear that so many of us endure through pregnancy.

Maybe it’s a way to prepare parents for what’s ahead. Prepare us for not just the concept of living with fear, but also for the need to learn to cope with it; a need to find a way to accept that no matter how much we try to protect them and do right by them, so much of our children’s future is out of our control.

I’m still working on this, but I’m told that I will get plenty more practice.

What fears did you or your partner experience during pregnancy?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 09/29/2011

Tags:  Food recalls, listeria, cantaloupe recall

 
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