I HAVE served my time with the fetus police. I have been told that sushi, salami, iced tea and chocolate mousse were bad for the traveling companion I hauled around inside my midsection, and I have been told it by perfect strangers.
I have itched to join the force myself. There is something about seeing a pregnant woman with a cigarette in her hand that TC makes me want to sneak up behind her and say, in a teeny-tiny follow-the-yellow-brick-road kind of voice, "Air! Air! I can't breathe in here!"
Which is why I understand both sides of the daiquiri story.
The daiquiri story took place in a restaurant near Seattle. Two waiters were fired after they tried to dissuade a pregnant woman from ordering a drink. The assistant manager said that it was not their job to harangue customers about their health habits.
Obviously the manager was not among the Physically Correct.
Many of us have been reprimanded by the Physically Correct, and have been Physically Correct ourselves. For every time you stood in the bank line and conspicuously waved away cigarette smoke as though it was mustard gas, there was the time that someone peered at your tan and said, "Melanoma."
There are several reasons why people insist on being Physically Correct, or Ph.C. One is that they consider themselves harmed by your bad behavior, by Nutrasweet in the punch and MSG in the stir-fry. They know you'll appreciate their superior knowledge and vast concern. They are wrong. The issue of secondhand smoke has busted up many a friendship.
Another is that they believe they are looking out for innocent victims. This is why the fetus police feel so confident in their constant efforts to inform pregnant women of their shortcomings.
But it's also because the words "I told you so" comprise one of the most satisfying sentences in the English language.
The daiquiri story came close on the heels of the Supreme Court decision in the Johnson Controls case. That was the case in which all women capable of having children were barred from many jobs at a factory that makes batteries because of the possible effects of lead contamination on unborn children.
On the one hand, lead is a hazard to the fetus. On the other hand, women were either having their tubes tied or winding up on the low end of the pay scale.
The court ruled that if a woman can do the job, she can have the job, fertile or not. "Decisions about the welfare of future children must be left to the parents," wrote Justice Blackmun for the majority. I think the call was clearly the right one, but, like the daiquiri episode, I can see both sides.
(I also see contradictions in both cases. If lead is so damaging, what about the rights of men not to be exposed to it? Isn't the overall safety of the workplace the real issue here? And what about the woman told she shouldn't drink during pregnancy? She lives in a society that thinks of crack as a drug and alcohol as an amusing little accompaniment to a chicken fricassee.)
What it all comes down to is the question of who decides. Fetal protection policies assume that women won't be as vigilant protecting themselves and their own as the company will be protecting its deep pocket. And the waiters assumed they knew better than their customer the perils of drinking during pregnancy.
It so happens that the customer was a week past her due date and that she says she had been very careful throughout her pregnancy. This is a different scenario than the one that envisions a pregnant woman who is tanked up all the time, and different scenarios are what individual rights are all about.
The irritating thing about the Ph.C. is that they're almost always C. No one should smoke. Tanning is bad for your skin. Pregnant women who drink risk damaging their children. What's also true is that most people know those things already.
Freedom's just another word for being able to act stupid if you want to. I'm uncomfortable with elected officials telling people how to behave in their private lives, and I hated it when the fetus police took on a role that rightly belonged to me, my husband and my doctor.
I think waiters should assume that the kind of advice most customers need is whether to order the stroganoff, and that certain life decisions are personal property. Even when those decisions are wrong.