Drinking for Two, or Three

By Jeff Koyen 07/14/14

Why my wife and I decided drinking during pregnancy was a good idea

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My pregnant wife drank her first glass of wine around the five-month mark. It wasn’t her first glass of wine ever. Rather, her first since she’d begun carrying our child.

Few days are a picnic during the best pregnancy, but we’d had a particularly tough afternoon. The news wasn’t tragic, just unwelcome. When we got home that evening, I could see that my wife—already ground down by the physical and emotional demands of pregnancy—was teetering on the edge of tears. That’s when I took down the bottle of red, which was waiting patiently on a high shelf in the kitchen. We drank one glass apiece, and I used the remainder in a chicken dish the next day.

 It’s hard to get drunk when there’s an infant depending on you for everything.

About a year ago, I wrote for The Fix about going sober in solidarity with my pregnant wife. Essentially, I described us as enthusiastic drinkers, but our habits weren’t out of place for an urban “DINKY” couple (Double Income, No Kids Yet). Reactions to the piece were mixed, to say the least. Most people were sympathetic to the challenges of changing one’s lifestyle so dramatically. Strident nondrinkers branded us raging alcoholics who clearly couldn’t accept that we had a problem. 

This update will do little to calm the latter camp.

Before I cracked open that bottle of red, of course I investigated the documented risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Within a few clicks, I found plenty of data to support what I already believed: in moderation, booze is widely considered to be harmless. Even for pregnant women. To wit:

I’m aware of my own confirmation bias, and the internet is nothing if not the world’s greatest facilitator of confirmation bias. No matter what you’re researching, you will find studies, anecdotes and communities to support your agenda. Dig further, and you’ll find contrary opinions. In my case, for every “alcohol is safe” proponent you’ll find a website pushing fetal alcohol syndrome stats, low birth weight charts and tales of slackjawed nephews who were sloshed in utero.

The most common tactic, then, is to play it safe, right? In other words, is it soooooo hard to abstain for nine months?

I appreciate that, but it’s not always so simple. I’m actually writing this article poolside at a resort in Puerto Rico. I’m sipping a tall, cold mojito with my son napping on the daybed next to me. (No, I’m not getting stupid drunk. Yes, he’s in the shade and still covered head-to-toe in SPF 50 sunblock.) I just overhead this at the nearby bar:

Exasperated husband to bartender: “I don’t get it. I tell her, I haven’t had a drink in 33 years. And she can’t give it up for nine months?”

The guy is 33-years-old and in perfect shape: one of those “my body is a temple” types with abs that drinkers only dream of. His wife stands next to him, about seven months pregnant, also fit as a fiddle, drinking a Medalla Light beer. This local brew comes in 10-ounce cans and tastes worse than the water that surrounds the island.

Why can’t she just give it up for nine months? Well, I’m pretty sure she can. She’s choosing not to. In a conversation a few hours later, Samantha tells me they’d originally planned to vacation in the exotic South Pacific. Not at this mundane, been-there-done-that hotel in Puerto Rico. When she got pregnant unexpectedly, her doctor advised them to stay closer to home. When asked about having that beer, she said she just wanted “to feel normal.” Despite her husband’s petulance, she’d savored two 10-ounce cans over the course of an hour.

That’s the key: feeling normal. At some point, I daresay that most pregnant women will feel like a baby factory. Their bodies are unfamiliar, uncomfortable and no longer theirs. Even if they planned the pregnancy, even if they fought hard to get that inseminated egg implanted safely along their uterine lining, it’s hard not to think fondly back on their pre-pregnant days. Add to that the overwhelming sense of responsibility: his little fingers, his little toes, his eyes, ears and nose, his tiny cortex and microscopic brainstem — everything is being built within.

Unless you’re Octomom by way of Mother Theresa, being pregnant is not a blessing every single minute of every day. “To feel normal” is, then, a perfectly sane urge. For me and my wife, the instinct to hold onto normalcy for as long as possible was strong. Once the kid arrived, we knew, everything would change. (And it has.)

Then there’s the stress.

They say that losing a job and moving to a new home are life’s two most stressful situations. I call bullshit: Being pregnant should top the list. Making a baby is no easy task. My wife, like most American women, continued to work until the week before her due date. After a long day at the office, enjoying a glass of wine over dinner, while enjoying each other’s company, reduced both of our stress levels. And I’m confident that stress is more harmful to a fetus than a few ounces of an expensive cabernet.

Those rare glasses of wine were also a means of control in an increasingly panicked situation. You know that scene where Indiana Jones is scrambling away from the giant rolling boulder? That’s how pregnancy feels: The kid is coming quickly and inevitably, and he will steamroll your world. Unlike Indiana, you cannot outrun your giant rolling baby.

A year later, our eight-month-old son isn’t a crack baby. Best we can tell, he’s not an idiot. He’s hitting his developmental benchmarks like a champ: babbling, grabbing, crawling, standing, lots of eye contact and so forth. He sleeps through the night, plays well with others and loves his stuffed animals. It’s a privilege to raise him, and we don’t take it lightly.

Our drinking, incidentally, has not returned to pre-baby levels. Whereas we once enjoyed a bottle of wine with every dinner, we rarely tipple on weekdays. Whereas we once spent weekends drinking bottomless mimosas and barhopping ‘til nightfall, we’re more likely to share a nice bottle of white in the park with friends. It’s hard to get drunk when there’s an infant depending on you for everything.

That said, we occasionally hire a babysitter to put the kid to bed. We set out his bottles and bedtime gear, and run to our local where the bartender has known us for nearly a decade. We drink a few pints and play cards for a few hours, and spend time together as best friends, not mom and dad.

Jeff Koyen is the former editor of the New York Press and founder of the software startup Assignmint. He last wrote about an attempt at sobriety.

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