Confessions of a Pregnant Wine Writer 

Just how much wine can one safely consume during pregnancy? That depends on how much you listen to the Sanctimommies.

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As I revisited Lucia's body of work for my article, the question of drinking and pregnancy loomed ever larger. At this point — fully into my second trimester — I was feeling lots better than I had a month ago. Still, because of my doctor's cautious comments about alcohol consumption, I was spooked — and hadn't consumed more than a sip of wine since New Year's Eve.

I was spooked, but I was also thoroughly confused. Dr. T had said that she'd have one glass of wine once a month if she were pregnant, while many of my friends with kids say they drank more often than that during their pregnancies. Still, Dr. T is a doctor, and my friends, for the most part, are not. Dr. Lucia was a doctor, too, but he's been dead for 25 years.

So I googled it.

Now, granted, I'm not a big troller of online forums on any subject, but I was shocked by the volume of information available on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. And by information, I mean both thoughtful articles written by medical professionals and rants from posters who say they can't understand why a woman would risk the health of her unborn child for any reason — never mind a reason as selfish as her love of a glass of wine with dinner.

Sanctimommies — those legions of woman who seem to lurk online, just waiting for the perfect moment to pounce and declare how badly you're screwing up your kid — love the issue of drinking and pregnancy, and in the forums I perused, their comments ranged from mildly moralistic to downright scary. I found myself — somewhat randomly — taking solace in a web site called NetDoctor, which seems to be the British equivalent of WebMD. NetDoctor advises no drinking during the first trimester and a limit of one or two units a week thereafter. (A 4-ounce glass of 12-percent-alcohol wine is about 1.5 units). NetDoctor also has this to say about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: It affects "about one-third of babies born to women who drink at least 18 units of alcohol per day during pregnancy (that's equivalent to about 18 small glasses of wine or nine pints of beer, lager or cider per day)."

I took this in, and thought about the range of options between one glass of wine a month and eighteen a day. But I also thought — a lot — about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Dr. T brought it up the day we first discussed alcohol and pregnancy, and she had mentioned the mental retardation, abnormal facial features, and problems with growth, learning, memory, vision, and hearing that can plague a child who is born with the syndrome. This was, of course, why I wasn't just going with my gut and having a glass of wine more frequently than she'd suggested. And I understood her logic: There's evidence that more than one drink a day is bad and that any drinking at all in the first trimester is bad; there's just no data on the impact of less than a glass a day later in pregnancy. So why risk it?

No surprise that that's not the view I encountered on the Women Wine Critics Board. There I stumbled upon an article published in January of 2006 by an Israeli wine critic named Daniel Rogov entitled "Wine and Pregnancy: Lies That Women Are Told." The gist of the article is this:

Although the official message is "don't drink at all during pregnancy," a great deal of recent research and a re-examination of the alcohol-pregnancy issue show that there is no conclusive evidence to demonstrate that moderate drinking during pregnancy can harm the fetus.

Rogov's premise is backed up by a chorus of medical professionals, and though the article is dated, today the author says he still stands by every assertion he made. Around the time of its publication, the article got a positive mention on at least five other wine blogs, including two of the best known: Fermentation and Vinography. Since then, it has prompted hundreds of comments (lots of accolades, more than a few Sanctimommy rants), the most recent of which was posted on August 2nd of this year. Clearly, I'm not the only one thirsting for someone to tell me I'm allowed to drink.

Then there's the Berkeley Parents Network. I quickly became enamored of a thread entitled "Do European Women Give Up Drinking?" It was the plaintive request of one local pregnant woman who was missing her wine with dinner and wanted to know whether the expats on the forum abstain from alcohol during their pregnancies. As I noted their responses — "No regular drinking (i.e. every single day)," "No binge drinking," "Not hard liquor; stick to wine or beer" — I became vaguely aware that it was the sense of deprivation, and not the actual absence of alcohol from my life, that was getting to me.

Please bear in mind that despite all this googling, soul searching, informational interviewing, and strategizing, I still had yet to drink a glass of wine. This finally happened in April, and the wine in question was a 2006 Mayro Murdick Carneros Pinot Noir. I drank it in Philadelphia, where my sister was throwing a winemaker's dinner (with Peter presiding) to raise money for a local nonprofit. The Pinot was lovely, but by the time the last sip was gone, I had made a tragic discovery. I don't like wine because of terroir-specific fruit flavors, long finish, or strong aging potential. I like wine, primarily, because it's an intoxicant. And this teeny glass of Pinot simply hadn't done the trick.

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