No, I don’t take folic acid – because I’m not a baby-making machine, thanks

June 25, 2017
folic acid

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.)

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  • Reply Ellen June 25, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Very irresponsible article. Expect absolutely nothing less from you lately.

    Fair enough you have chosen not to have children. I’m not a parent and have never been pregnant but the campaign is only a good thing educating people around the benefits of taking folic acid. No one knows what they would do with an unplanned pregnancy. Of course you would decide not to continue but for those who choose to keep the baby in such a situation there are obvious benefits to have taken folic acid. All the campaign did was highlight the importance of it but you again think it revolves around your own decision – it doesn’t. It is a general campaign for the general public.

  • Reply Emily June 27, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    How you can write an article attacking a campaign to highlight a well established, effective supplement that reduces the incidence of neural tube defects in infants by 85-100% by taking offence at it based on the view you feel it is part of society’s overall patriarchal expectations for women to reproduce is simply breathtakingly selfish, lacking in empathy (and realistically, click bait material).

    I apologise on behalf of everyone that you had to suffer the inconvenience of this. However, if there was one less person born with spina bifida (and its associated complications including painful recurrent urinary tract infections, contractures etc) then this campaign is worth it. Also, your point about women who are struggling to conceive is nonsensical- surely all the nappy ads, washing up liquid ads etc are much more likely to cause distress than an educational piece about folic acid?

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