Unsolicited advice

Head exploding. While on vacation, Carolyn Hax publishes reader advice. Today a reader explains how s/he feels obliged to warn/criticise pregnant strangers when she sees them smoking. Because maybe they’ll listen to a well-intentioned stranger haranging them about something that probably *no one* else, like a doctor, has mentioned?

I seldom comment, but want to ask the advisor if s/he also points out the error of their ways to:

1. Random smokers
2. People drinking alcohol
3. Anyone riding a bike without a helmet
4. Motorcycle riders without helmets
5. People who don’t put on their seatbelts

Because some of that shit is actually illegal, as opposed to just getting Surgeon General warnings.

What is it about pregnancy that makes people lose their minds and assume their opinion or advice is relevant to strangers?

I don’t want to trivialize the health effects on the fetus, but frankly, if I were a smoker my response would be to tell a random, meddling stranger that if s/he wanted to manage a pregnancy, s/he should get pregnant herself and to otherwise take a giant step back.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Unsolicited advice

  1. I think it’s a bit different from the other examples that you mention, in that all the others are just putting themselves at risk, while a pregnant woman smoking is risking harm to the baby as well as herself. This person probably sees it as something akin to child abuse.
    That said, it’s a bit creepy, isn’t it? A couple of friends who’ve been pregnant recently have mentioned how they sometimes felt as if their bodies had become community property in some ways, to the point of random strangers feeling they had the right to touch their bellies!

    • Considering smoking while pregnant to be akin to child abuse makes me very uncomfortable, which is why the advice really bothered me. Would the advice-giver approach a pregnant person in a restaurant who looked like she was drinking a glass of wine? A parent chain-smoking in the presence of a child? What about a person smoking in the presence of anyone else, child or adult, since second hand smoke causes damage? And does it make a difference if it is the father doing those things, after the child is born? Frankly, I doubt it. THe unsolicited advice is patronizing, and it treats a pregnant person like an incubator whose autonomy is suddenly open to debate or criticism or correction by strangers.
      Wow, sorry, I didn’t realize I felt that vehement. And it’s not as if I’m a smoker or pregnant.

      • I do agree with you in thinking this patronising and that it reflects a certain infantilising attitude towards pregnant women. BUT, I think it also reflects an increasingly hostile attitude towards smoking. I’ve certainly seen letters to the editor in British papers where people ask for bans on parents smoking in cars when children are in them, and they do call it child abuse, too.

  2. lol at the giant step back – I think pregnant women and new mothers are constantly bombarded with what they ‘should’ be doing by seemingly well intentioned people. My friend smoked through both her pregnancies and during the second was on morphine for a week while in the first trimester and her two kids are kinda normal 😉
    I do tell kids (young ones cause by 10 they get lippy) to put their helmets on. After that, if your brain falls out you were warned.
    I watch American Chopper and 1/2 the bikes they make are death traps as far as I can see. Screw the helmet, the first strike by those knife like handle-bars and you’re toast anyways.
    Hmm, all that said though, I do have a pre-conceived notion of people who do smoke during pregnancy, don’t wear helmets or wear seat-belts. My bad.

  3. Oh Rosario! In Canada it is illegal for a parent or whoever to smoke in a car with a child. I think this went into place in Jan. – I wonder if anyone has ever been charged for it.

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