"They Say That If You’re Too Drunk To Drive, You’re Too Drunk To Nurse"


To the modern mom, apparently booze is as fraught as breast milk.

An essay in the New York Times takes on the issue of parental drinking – or, rather, lack thereof. The author, Anna Fricke, is a hard drinker with a long history of alcohol-fueled escapades in her past, all of which come to an abrupt halt when she falls pregnant (as the Brits would have it.)

I felt maternal, wise and frankly relieved. I had worried for years that the alcoholism that ran in my New England stock had snuck into my veins and it was good to know that I could painlessly, easily, give up alcohol when necessary. And so, for 13 months, I didn’t touch a drop. And then I had a baby.

Having a baby is, of course, probably as exhausting and draining as it is exhilarating.

I cannot speak for all babies, but at the end of a long day with mine … sometimes I want a drink. Not a large one, not a hard one. Just enough of one to ease the tension of the knotted back that comes with carrying a 20 pound baby around. Enough to quiet the voices that question, “Is she eating enough? Am I promoting her self-confidence? Should we listen to more Mozart and less Death Cab For Cutie? Should I be teaching her sign language? Or Italian?” After months of willingly sacrificing my body and everything that went into it for the well-being of my child, I started to revel in taking a little of myself back. At night, after she was soundly asleep, I would cook my husband and myself dinner and pour a luxurious glass of wine. I sautéed, I sipped. It was just like the good old days.

“Death Cab for Cutie” reference aside (which just makes me wonder what other bands were considered and rejected for the throwaway), this seems completely natural, normal and reasonable. After all, it’s well known that American doctors are far more draconian about alcohol consumption than their European counterparts, and even the strictest of pediatricians doesn’t begrudge a new mother the occasional glass of wine. And as Fricke observes, it’s not even the drinking itself that’s at issue:

it’s not the alcohol I miss. It’s the immaturity. The selfishness. The wasted days frittered away recuperating from the wasted nights. It all turned around so quickly. I wasn’t prepared to be this person. A person who can clearly recall all the events of the night before. Who can be the designated driver. Who can go to a work party without apologizing the next day. This must be parenthood. I would toast this milestone, but I have pears to puree.

The essay did leave me wondering, though: why is drinking still the milestone for virtue? Why is it so morally weighted? Like food, why must drinking be burdened by context and judgment, good or evil, abstinence or excess? The very real medical implications aside – and flirting with a family history of alcoholism is not a joke – the phenomenon seems socially unhealthy. If we’re going to do the cross-cultural thing, after all, this is not a universal phenomenon, and no study of female binge drinking fails to mention that Europeans – the same cultures that allow for a little wine while nursing or pregnancy – don’t, as a rule, indulge in this particular form of excess. It’s like in some ways we’re still living in the shadow of Prohibition. Maybe if “responsibility” wasn’t regarded as so diametric an opposition to freedom, it would seem less scary. Or maybe not. But this much I do know: Fricke needn’t be defensive about the occasional glass of wine.

Moderation And The Modern Mom [New York Times]

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