After reading a blog post by Helen Simpson about the new Netflix thriller Bird Box (Bird Box We Still Have a Long Way to Go )- which was on my Netflix to watch list – I had to check it out without further delay. She made some valid points about another missed opportunity to promote alcohol free pregnancy.
I felt like I had taken a blow to my stomach. The next 20 minutes of the movie, I could not tell you about. I was too embodied in my own mind and my own thoughts. My husband offered to turn it off. His first reaction after the scene was to express his disdain for how the moment had played out. I on the other hand, felt stuck. My life mission is advocacy. In the past few years of blogging and advocating, I have FELT the shift of the changes we are making in society. I have SEEN the impact our voices have made. I have WITNESSED state governors and celebrities take part in our journeys, I have WATCHED the news coverage of statistics and reports come out of new research…yet suddenly I am wondering how we took a year back from ourselves. Sandra Bullock is one of my favorite actresses. I pride myself in my support of strong women, multi ethnic adoptions, and powerful and community driven women. To see one of my favorite actresses agree to speak those words in a film sent a fury of fluster to my soul.
I want to believe that she knows the impact of this scene. I want to believe her intent was to open doors for a conversation on substance use and pregnancy, but I also am no longer naive. The perception that was taken from those 3 minutes was that if we are indeed facing a crisis or drama, we as women who are carrying a child, can pick up a drink and it will be okay. How wrong this perception is! How DAMAGING THIS mindset is. Would it not have been more powerful for her to take those spare minutes and make a statement against it? Would it have taken anything away from the movie plot or reviews had she just pushed away the glass and said those same words, “I hope you’re right,” or “no”. I mean TRULY would the outcome of people’s reactions overall had been negative? No! I can promise you it would not have deterred a soul.
And I agree with Helen. It was disturbing and disheartening.
There are two scenes which refer to drinking alcohol and pregnancy.
The first reference happens early – eight minutes in – when Malorie, accompanied by her sister, is having an ultrasound and joke about drinking wine.
Jessica: I think we should go feel sorry for ourselves with lunch and a bottle of wine.
(Dr does give somewhat disapproving look)
Malorie: Finally, now you are making some sense.
Dr. LaPham: Really? In front of me?
Both sisters: We didn’t mean like a big …Just a little tiny glass.
Dr. LaPham: I’m pretty sure I heard the word bottle. (Then she goes on to talk about something else).
This was an opportunity for the Doctor to simply say: We recommend no alcohol. Zero. Such a simple statement. But what an impact that may have made!
Next, even more disturbing, is an hour in.
Douglas passes her the glass and Malorie responds: “I can’t.”
Douglas: Come on the world is ending. I really don’t think a quarter ounce of whiskey is going to tip the scales do you?
And pregnant Malorie takes a drink.
And actually Douglas – there is no known safe amount. Add to that the stress Malorie is under. The lack of healthy eating she is doing – because they are under attack from unseen monsters.
Now before you say, come on the world is ending (but is it?) what does it matter…. it does matter. Things people see and hear in movies they remember and repeat. Products are purchased by placement in a movie. Trends start from movies. So why did the director or screenwriter not use this opportunity to make a small but vital inference toward a healthy pregnancy.
Some may argue the world was ending … But would that not have been powerful to show that on the slight chance she and her baby would survive, then she would still want to take every opportunity to ensure the baby was healthy.
Someone pointed out it could be that Malorie is indifferent to being pregnant – but there are other ways to show this indifference. Why does it have to be with alcohol – a known teratogen. She knows drinking is wrong because she tries to say “I’ll only have a little” (to the doctor) and then with Douglas she refuses the drink at first.
Instead, in two scenes, they perpetuate the myth that it is okay to drink alcohol while pregnant. What a powerful opportunity missed to make a powerful statement of 049. No preaching. No drama. Just a small statement that may have gone unnoticed but also may have had an enormous impact.
After a discussion on another group, someone put up a link to an article in which Matt Novak writes:
There are also subplots on motherhood, nature, and even alcohol. You’ll notice that Malorie discusses drinking wine while getting an ultrasound and then has a whiskey with Greg, who reminds her of her father. Once reference is a throwaway, but talking about drinking while pregnant twice probably means something more to the screenwriter.
Whatever the reason for including these references, an information graphic at the end of the movie with a warning against drinking alcohol while pregnant and a number for women to call if they need more information or assistance would be okay. It is only a movie – but that small gesture would have been the responsible thing to do.
While it is difficult to pin point how many people have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (because it takes disclosing alcohol use and it takes a team of professionals to properly diagnose) we know it really is conservatively between 3-5%.
In Canada, that’s almost 1.5 million.
See Global Prevelance of Alcohol Use During Pregnancy for more information on prevelance.
Women can make their own decisions about drinking alcohol. But we owe them correct information so they can make informed decisions. It’s not really something to joke about because the only thing that causes FASD is exposure to alcohol in utero.