No, I don't take folic acid – because I'm not a baby-making machine, thanks
This is a post that's been sitting in drafts – which essentially means I have notes written on my phone, on random notebooks, in my email drafts etc – for a few months, as I've been mulling over last year's folic acid campaign which ran online last year, in association with Safefood.eu. A few influencers and bloggers were brought on board to tell their – largely female – following why they should be taking folic acid every day.
Why should we take folic acid?
Folic acid is, essentially, a synthetic version of folate – a water-soluble B vitamin that is present in foods such as leafy green vegetables, some fruits, beans, yeasts, mushrooms, meats and citrus juices like tomato and orange. It can't be made in the body, meaning that it's an essential vitamin. In other words, the only way we can get folate or folic acid is through diet or supplementation.
Folic acid plays an important role in brain and spinal development in children – and it's important for women who are planning on getting pregnant to supplement their diets with folic acid, just in case they're not getting enough from their food. So far, so good, right?
So, here's the issue
The problem I had with last year's campaign is that the instructions seemed to be for the bloggers and influencers involved to make broad, sweeping statements about how every woman on earth should supplement folic acid – just in case. From SafeFood's website: "If you are sexually active and there's a chance you could become pregnant, you should be taking folic acid every day."
This essentially means that, if you are a woman of child-bearing age, you should be supplementing with folic acid – because your natural destiny as a parent and mother could take effect any day now, and sure, you wouldn't want to harm your baby! One (erroneous) piece on an Irish blog stated: "You never know when you might become pregnant, so taking folic acid every day, whether you are planning or not, is the only way you can help your baby to develop without a neural tube defect (NTD)."
Only in Ireland?
I can't help but feel that it's an incredibly Irish thing to assume that any women who falls pregnant will automatically end up going through with that pregnancy. Why should any and all women who are sexually active prepare for pregnancy, as if it's something that they have no control over? (Well, I mean, aside from the fact that, by law in Ireland, it really is something they have no control over.)
While I have no problem with a campaign that informs and educates women about their bodies and their futures, and the choices they may make now that affect both theirs and the futures of their potential children, I do have a problem with placing all women in the "potential babymaker" box – without taking into account the fact that we should have a right to decide what happens after the "good news".
And look – I get it. Education is good. It is important to take folic acid before getting pregnant, and during a pregnancy – so on the one hand you could ask, what harm? But as someone who has decided that she won't be having children, I find it incredibly irritating that everyone assumes that women will all end up as mothers some day. (And I can only imagine – if I shudder every time a taxi driver tells me "you'll know when you have your own kids" – how upsetting this kind of pervasive attitude is to women who have problems conceiving.)