Emma Veness, a pregnant woman in the UK, craves shoe polish. And, according to this story in the somewhat ridiculous Daily Mail, she’s been consuming three cans of this toxic glop a day.
Apparently her doctor diagnosed her with Pica– a condition that makes sufferers crave and eat non-food items like dirt, paint, sand and paper, possibly out of an iron-deficiency or as the result of some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s most common in pregnant women but sometimes appears in kids. Ms. Veness told The Mail that she’s craved non-food items of the household cleaning variety but that it became severe during pregnancy. She enjoyed eating bath soap bubbles in her youth.
A blogger at The Stir thinks we ought to lock this woman up to prevent the untold harm those chemicals are inflicting on the developing fetus.
This tabloid story touches on an important legal/political issue that has been stirring debate recently: should we criminalization pregnant women who put their babies at risk? Recently a pregnant woman was put behind bars for trying (and failing) to kill herself by drinking rat poison. (The fetus died as a result of the poison.) Advocates for the rights of pregnant women are gravely concerned about the implication of “locking up” pregnant women for mental health problems that contribute to drug addiction or other potential fetus-harming behaviors.
Lynn Paltrow, founder and director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women told The Daily Beast recently: “Feticide laws are used ‘as a legal basis to deprive women of their personhood…It’s not just reproductive rights. It’s not just the right to privacy. It gives the state authority to say that, while other human beings will have health problems that will be treated through a compassionate health-care response, pregnant women alone will be imprisoned without bail for not being able to guarantee the outcome of their pregnancy.’” (Read Jennifer Block’s excellent coverage of this case.)
I don’t think a woman eating the shoe polish should be locked up. But I do think she needs immediate medical and psychological treatment. This story and others like it also emphasize the incredible importance of routine mental health care during pregnancy. Psychological and physical health are vital during pregnancy and the former is often overlooked. How would fear of prosecution lead women to seek proper help? (Doctors in Texas have been asked to turn in pregnant women suspected of using drugs.)
I also wonder if Veness isn’t suffering from addiction rather than Pica. I have no idea what’s in the shoe polish but she likes to spray and sniff it and spray and lick it. She says she’s always liked cleaning products, some of which can get you high if you are smelling them all day. Sounds a little bit like the chemical-sniffing heroine in Alexander Payne’s brilliant satirical film Citizen Ruth. Maybe worth a re-watching given the shifting ideas of maternal and fetal rights we’re facing now.
7 strange pregnancy cravings from dirt to paint: Could they be signs of pica disorder?