Puffing during pregnancy
Did smoking while pregnant cause health issues for this writer’s child?
My life changed a lot when I found out I was pregnant. I swore it wouldn't, but it was obvious that it did. It was more than just switching heels for pumps, avoiding alcohol, soft cheeses, raw fish and taking an ante-natal supplement. I stopped going out at night, I stopped drinking Bioplus and I avoided vodka like the plague.

Giving in to the craving

The one thing that didn't stop was the smoking. I've been a smoker for longer than I haven't been. Terrible, I know. The first trimester didn't involve smoking at all, as my morning sickness was so bad that I couldn't even tolerate the smell of cigarettes. But like my sudden aversion to garlic, the morning sickness didn't last forever. And once it was gone, my craving for nicotine returned with a vengeance. And much like any other pregnancy-related craving, I gave in to it and I smoked.

I smoked while I had a baby growing inside me. I thought nothing of it at the time, but now the thought fills me with horror. I had a foetus inside me, absorbing nicotene and tar and all the other millions of nasties associated with cigarettes. I smoked and I blamed it on the fact that I was stressed - I was writing my final exams for my masters' degree at the time and trying to keep up with the workloads for my various courses - and I rationalised my behaviour by telling myself that surely stress was worse for the baby than a few measly cigarettes.

Post-birth guilt

Whether or not that's true, makes no difference to the guilt I feel today. Every time my four-year-old son gets ill with a respiratory infection or has a cough or the slightest niggle I feel guilty. The fact that my son was diagnosed recently with asthma, makes me feel guilty. Is it because I smoked while I was pregnant? Was my selfishness during the most fundamental phase in his growth and development the cause of what ails him now?

Sure, he was a big and healthy baby by all accounts. He's a big boy too, now. But healthy? Not so much. We've had bronchitis, tonsillitis, various other coughs, sniffles and permanently snot noses. Coughing so bad that he vomits.

More antibiotics than I can count, coupled with cortisone treatments and a twice-a-day asthma pump. The doctor tells me it's allergic asthma, attributes it to pollution and assures me that it's something he'll more than likely grow out of, but still I feel that guilt. Is it because I smoked while I was pregnant?

The benefit of hindsight

I smoked while I was pregnant because I had no idea what I was actually doing. I was growing a new person. I had no idea of the impact that it would have on his life. On my life. I smoked because I hadn't yet held my baby in my arms and had that realisation. That life-changing moment when you realise that you would do anything in the world to protect your baby from harm. That moment when you switch selfishness for selfless loving.

Would I go back and do it differently, if I could? If only that were possible…

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