Constructing the Myth of the Crack Baby

Ta Nehisi Coates has a short blurb about about the crack baby ‘epidemic’ in the early 1980s in the US.  You can also watch a ten minute video / short documentary about it here.

a pregnant woman with one hand resting on her belly.

Coates mentions the influence of racism in how women were being prosecuted for being pregnant while addicted to cocaine. In fact, there’s a whole confluence of racism, classism, misogyny, and ableism that feed into the crack baby hysteria:
–the racism and classism that goes into poor WoC being more easily seen as irresponsible mothers who were recklessly endangering their unborn children
–the general misogyny that a woman’s health (like helping her with her addiction) is not nearly as important as the health of the her unborn child (so she should be prosecuted for potentially harming it.)
–the ableism that influence our standards of health.  Part of the hysteria was that babies would be born with physical and cognitive disabilities, which not only lead us to think of them as not being fully human, but we were then also concerned about all the extra money they disabled kids would cost us.  Because you know, the *tragedy* here is not that there are a bunch of women addicted to a dangerous drug, but that people’s taxes will go up from from all these costly, disabled babies.

Eek, it’s like a messed-up game of “spot how the -ism influences our moral concerns.”

Ever lay for two months staring at the ceiling?i

That’s what pregnancy might have landed you with. The alternative, your doctors said, was the possible death of you and ‘the baby.’ That’s quite a motivator.

Well, all that may have been unnecessary.

Of course, if you are pregnant, your doctors may fell entitled to disregard the rest of your life in deciding treatment. The rational use of probabilities can go out the door.


The article does not list pre-eclamsia as not really requiring bed rest. High blood pressure is one sign of pre-eclamsia, but there’s more to it:

Eclampsia (described above). [ajj: life threatening stroke]
Liver, kidney, and lung problems.
A blood clotting disorder.
Bleeding into the brain (a stroke).
Severe bleeding from the afterbirth (placenta).
HELLP syndrome. This occurs in about 1 in 5 women who have severe pre-eclampsia. HELLP stands for ‘haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets’, which are some of the medical features of this severe form of pre-eclampsia. Haemolysis means that your blood cells start to break down. Elevated liver enzymes means that your liver has become affected. Low platelets means that the number of platelets in your blood is low and you are at risk of serious bleeding problems, as the platelets work to help your blood to clot.

Don’t mess with pre-eclamsia. Paid maternity remains VERY important, for this and other reasons.