When I started telling friends and relatives that I was pregnant with Lauren, a number of them told me I should start taking prenatal vitamins immediately. Everything I read impelled me to do the same thing; in fact, almost everything I referenced assumed that anyone trying to get pregnant was already taking vitamins, particularly vitamins chock-full of folic acid. It all made it sound like any baby born to a mother who didn’t take prenatal vitamins was destined to develop some kind of birth defect.
I held off on buying any vitamins until after we saw Dr. Shoji, mainly because I didn’t really have any idea what to look for, and we’d hoped that he would steer us in the right direction. When I asked him about vitamins I should take, he shrugged and said, “They’re not necessary. If you’re eating a healthy diet, you and baby are getting everything you need.”
His extremely relaxed response surprised me, considering how adamant all the American literature had been about it. But vitamins were clearly not at the main front of Japanese prenatal care. After the appointment, Geordie and I went to a drugstore, just to see what kind of vitamin options there were. We found nothing marketed especially for pregnant women, nothing in the way of “prenatal care.” When Geordie asked one of the employees about it, she pointed out the folic acid supplements but explained that there were no specific vitamins for pregnant women. We ended up getting a general women’s vitamin that had folic acid in it. Later in the pregnancy, I switched to one that had a high amount of DHA, the better for baby’s brain development. None of the doctors I saw in Japan ever asked me about the vitamins or supplements I was taking.
Fast forward to now. One of the first questions the midwife asked me at my first prenatal appointment was what vitamins and supplements I was taking. I was not surprised by the question, but I was a little taken aback by how insistent she was about what I was taking.
I’d started taking prenatal vitamins in late December, once we’d decided that we’d be trying for a baby in the spring. I wasn’t convinced of the necessity,but I figured it wouldn’t hurt. By the time I got the positive pregnancy test, the bottle was nearly empty, and I’d found that the vitamins were contributing to my nausea – supposedly because of the iron. I switched to a gummy vitamin that did not contain iron, along with a calcium supplement since the gummies didn’t have that either.
The midwife didn’t seem overly impressed with my choices. She suggested I look into an iron supplement. She suggested what type of calcium supplement I should take. She suggested a “plant-based” vitamin. She was adamant that, no matter what I took, I should be sure it had the full amount of folic acid.
We talked more about vitamins and supplements than we did about actual nutrition through diet.
I found it mildly irritating.
One of the things the head midwife mentioned at the open house was that they tried to reserve medicine as a last resort. Geordie kind of rolled his eyes at the mention of homeopathic treatments, but I figured that would be standard procedure for an establishment that focused on natural pregnancy and childbirth. Not that I’m into homeopathy, but I’m not in the habit of automatically reaching for pills when I’m not well. I’ve never been that bad off, fortunately.
Even though I do take my prenatal vitamins, I’m not convinced that they’re necessary. Well, maybe right now, while my stomach deals with all of these hormones and aversions and cravings – but I intend to eat as balanced and healthy a diet as I can. Not just during this pregnancy, but indefinitely. I don’t want to be reliant on vitamins for my nutrition. If I find myself needing more iron in my diet, I don’t want a supplement to be my crutch – I know what foods to reach for when I need iron. I want to put my trust in natural foods. I still believe what Dr. Shoji said: baby will get everything it needs from a healthy, natural diet.
Reading through American pregnancy books during my last pregnancy, I often felt that they were trying to convince me that babies aren’t born healthy on their own, that they need medical care, doctors, and vitamins to make it through their ten months in the uterus. Everything seems to offer assurance: follow these rules, and baby will be healthy. What can go wrong?
Well, we know how I feel about that. I took the vitamins, I had regular prenatal care, I carefully watched what I ate to make sure I wasn’t ingesting anything “dangerous,” I took the best care of myself and was blessed enough to have a partner who did his best to make sure that I did just that. None of it kept my daughter from dying. I don’t think any of it caused Lauren to die either, but the truth is that perfect prenatal care isn’t a guarantee.
The truth is that even the perfect pregnancy can end in heartbreak.
I’m not looking for the perfect pregnancy. I’m looking to keep my baby healthy, to bring home a happy child, a living child. Much of it is out of my hands – this early in the pregnancy, anything can happen, and there’s not much I can do to stop it. I know that. I’ll keep doing my best. But I’m not going to delude myself into believing that following all the rules will lead to a happy ending.
So, this is what I will do: I will live as healthy a lifestyle as I can. I will eat unprocessed foods as often as I can, I will eat as healthy as possible. I will take my vitamins in moderation. I will not obsess. I will follow my instincts. I will listen to advice and do what I feel I need to do. I will not follow blindly, nor will I take anything for granted. I will not believe in guarantees.
I will take care of myself and our baby as best I can. That is what I have control over. I’ll take that.