I think it’s time for a post that better defines “Preconception Health” as I see it, and not just because I was recently asked why I was anticipating fertility issues. Let’s start with the bare minimum–obviously, that’s the government and the first hit on google when I type in “preconception health.” Here’s what womenshealth.gov has to say:
“Preconception health is a woman’s health before she becomes pregnant. It means knowing how health conditions and risk factors could affect a woman or her unborn baby if she becomes pregnant. … some foods, habits, and medicines can harm your baby — even before he or she is conceived. Some health problems, such as diabetes, also can affect pregnancy. Every woman should be thinking about her health whether or not she is planning pregnancy. One reason is that about half of all pregnancies are not planned.”
Stop. Right. There. I need to rant, briefly: people, women included, need to be healthier–regardless of whether or not we plan on reproducing! I HATE being talked to or treated as someone who needs to think about her reproductive system as more important than anything else. This statement makes “every woman’s health” an afterthought, a thought after we have all given appropriate thought to the women who will be reproducing. Are you kidding me? I should be thinking about my health in case I get pregnant accidentally? We’re in the middle of an obesity epidemic, and that’s just for starters! Take care of yourselves, ladies, to prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, osteoporosis, even depression, for heaven’s sake! We are not incubators, and I resent even the slightest intimation that woman = uterus. We can continue, now. I have taken a deep breath and counted to ten.
“Unplanned pregnancies are at greater risk of preterm birth and low birth weight babies. … about 1 in 8 babies is born too early. Researchers are trying to find out why and how to prevent preterm birth. But experts agree that women need to be healthier before becoming pregnant. By taking action on health issues and risks before pregnancy, you can prevent problems that might affect you or your baby later.”
Rant time, again. I can tell by the language they use here that they’re trying to reach as many women as possible and avoid sounding too preachy. I respect that. I don’t respect the manipulative use of “baby” when we are clearly talking about a “fetus.” This is an obvious attempt to push the emotional buttons necessary to get a busy or reluctant woman into her doctor’s office. I understand that. I don’t forgive it. I’m not even talking about the abortion debate rhetoric–a fetus is dramatically different from a baby, and I want to reclaim this language from politics. I recently read a great book about how gestation influences the rest of life. I came away from Origins, by Annie Murphy Paul, thinking WOW are we missing a lot by just looking at a fetus as just a future baby! There is so much more to this! But for the purposes of the webpage I’m talking about, I suppose that would be too wordy. But I think women deserve a straight up, educational, clear and concise wakeup call, rather than gooey talk about “your baby.” To me, the message is clear: too many women are not taking good care of themselves in general. If we focused on empowering women to take charge of their own health and health care, unplanned pregnancy would be a much less frightening prospect. Not to mention the fact that it would happen less often as women became more invested in and educated about their own bodies.
Now let me share the hilariously bad photograph that accompanies the preconception health page of womenshealth.gov. Because it’s just so… well… “.gov”… Can you count the ethnicities? Notice how the doctor is the only person who is clearly 100% caucasian? Love it.