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Author: Dorothy Haze

With the plethora of online outlets, in person peer support groups, and general chatter there is no shortage of places to turn to and bitch about parenting. Even if one finds themselves in ill suited friendships or familial relationships when it comes to discussing the realities of life as a caregiver, the internet affords many an opportunity to privately, even anonymously, get it all of their chest: the endless “mommy mommy mommy” and inexplicable ability to destroy a room is enough to make anyone second guess what the hell they were doing when they signed up for the gig.

Fortunately this area of mental health is being more explored, or at least more verbalized among parenting resources: anxiety and stress related to caregiving are becoming less taboo. These days many are deciding to go beyond the typical “got my hands full” rhetoric and are certainly pushing the boundaries of what is an acceptable response to parenting stress. The cat’s out the bag and parents these days are increasingly prepared to keep it 100: taking care of children isn’t just exhausting, it’s fucking brutal sometimes.

Few occupations require an uninterrupted complete dependence on an individual to sustain human life, and parenting is undoubtedly the most demanding. Those who have not spent literal months and years on end in ceaseless service to a young child can not begin to imagine the degree of mental and physical fatigue these periods demand.

Spending such stretches of time at unsustainable levels of duty is often only accomplished at the expense of a caregiver’s psyche and overall mental wellness. Stress, irritability, boredom, depression, and other manifestations of over exertion are normalized and are treated as routine existences.

When found in such dangerous circumstances (as most of us are), there are only two options: accept it (and concede to driving yourself into the ground) or find replenishment.

It is time to fully consider the wellness of caregivers as a necessary element of parenting that is no longer debatable.

Whether comfort and rejuvenation is found in exercise, pharmaceuticals, food, scents, arts, social media or whatever other outlet offers some sense of stress management, parents must find ways that allow themselves an opportunity to find balance and refreshment. While no one option is universally effective, accessible, or desirable, it is critical that caregivers find opportunities to decompress and release tension.

In this regard we are doing a serious disservice to parents by not speaking more candidly about marijuana use as a tool that may afford them increased patience and creativity, stress and anxiety relief, and all around mental and physical wellness.

Frequently in parenting circles, conversations that would legitimize the practicality and utility of marijuana for parenting purposes are held in small private ‘safer’ spaces or is cryptically alluded to. The fear of being ostracized is palpable: immediately there is a shift that questions a cannabis consumer’s ability to healthfully parent or steer clear of addiction and substance abuse. These criticisms are largely unfounded and take root in the general stigmatization of marijuana use.

Through research, anecdotal evidence from peers and their own instincts, many parents find themselves increasingly interested in the medicinal qualities of marijuana in relation to pregnancy and parenting, but such interests are weighed against significant external factors.

On top of being shunned for cannabis consumption in social arenas, parents also face tangible concerns of being targeted by authoritative bodies like child protective  services (CPS), a fear that is actualized as soon as birth with routine or discretionary drug testing on newborn diaper output (refer to your state laws for precedents and details).  While any parent has reason to be apprehensive about CPS and what obstacles they might face if their marijuana use was called to question, none have more reason for such apprehensions than black parents considering black people and families are both disproportionately more likely to get arrested for marijuana related charges¹ and to be under investigation by child protective services². Add to this the fact that black Americans also have a disproportionate lack of access to health care and the criticality of these concerns become even more compelling.

Many caregivers who might otherwise find themselves willing to give cannabis consumption for mental and emotional health further consideration are often held up over questions about the safety of marijuana and what affects it might have on their children, a concern pregnant or breastfeeding parents are especially wary of.

Large portions of this generation of parents have been methodically exposed to marijuana shaming under anti-drug campaigns supported by middle and high school health curriculums, leaving many unsure or downright ignorant about the effects of cannabis (especially the most well known cannabinoid, THC) on the body. Even those who may have indulged in marijuana consumption pre-children are generally skeptical about effects and reaction on developing bodies. The idea of a parent consuming marijuana medicinally or recreationally often stirs up feelings ranging from wavering to discomfort to downright appall.

Studies have yet to show any correlation between marijuana use during pregnancy or breastfeeding and negative effects on babies or young children. One particularly notable study done on 59 children in rural Jamaica over a 5 year period even  showed “no significant differences in developmental testing outcomes between children of marijuana-using and non-using mothers except at 30 days of age when the babies of users had more favourable scores on two clusters of the Brazelton Scales: autonomic stability and reflexes.” Still the National Institute on Drug Abuse has no evidence or studies that conclude marijuana has any harmful long term effects on the brain so even worry regarding the fact that THC passes through breastmilk (in small amounts) remains unfounded.

During the prenatal period, the medicinal benefits of marijuana in pregnant people alone is a reason to consider further exploration. With more than half of pregnancies resulting in dreaded and prolonged morning sickness, many people find themselves feeling caught in a cycle of nausea and loss of appetite that ends in vomiting and dehydration often leading to hospitalization.  The ability to combat nausea, stimulate appetite, and relieve pain (and most notably–with no lethal dosage OR harmful long term effects!) makes cannabis a potentially ideal medicine for pregnant people with minimal (if any) risk to a developing fetus.

What this all really comes down to is body autonomy. Black and brown bodies, especially femmes, have been forced to consume or take part in medicines and procedures that have PROVEN to be harmful and yet are continuously denied the right to make decisions about their own bodies. More than that, we are denied the validity and finality of our decisions. Whether for psychological health, physical wellness, or flat out recreational use (which truly is an element of mental wholeness and fulfillment), the autonomy of caregivers must be realized. These decisions belong to us, and it’s time we take what’s ours.

 

¹ https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/06/04/the-blackwhite-marijuana-arrest-gap-in-nine-charts/?utm_term=.546390c430a9

² https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439815/

³ http://herb.co/2016/09/23/new-study-cannabis-pregnant


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