My cheeks burned as I looked at the man.
‘I can’t buy aspirin?’ I asked, hardly understanding what I’d just been told. ‘Why not?’
‘It’s for the safety of your baby,’ he said, pointing to my baby bump. What? Did they think I was going to overdose on the medication to purposefully hurt myself – or us both?
I attempted to explain that I had been advised to take aspirin by my maternity team, but again, I was told about the potential harm I could cause myself and my baby.
Humiliated, I could feel my eyes stinging with tears and so, instead of staying and arguing my point, I fled outside to where my partner was waiting for me.
We went into the nearest Costa Coffee where I just broke down. I was so upset and embarrassed about the whole situation – but that quickly turned to anger.
You see, not only did I have the legal right to make my own decisions and buy whatever I wanted, pregnant or not, but I was actually buying the aspirin on medical advice.
Our official NHS scan at 12 weeks was the first time our baby was looked at medically: it’s usually the earliest point any anomalies are picked up. Overall, my health during pregnancy had been good but I was nervous: you never knew what could be happening inside.
Although our scan went well, my partner and I were told about a small, potential issue.
Our baby has a singular umbilical vessel. This means there is only one blood vessel travelling from baby to the placenta through the umbilical cord, instead of two. A lot of the time, this isn’t a huge issue but it can increase risk of restricted foetal growth.
At that point in time, our hospital wasn’t overly worried about the single umbilical vessel impacting our baby’s growth. But they were worried it could increase the risk of me developing pre-eclampsia — a condition that can cause severe headaches, vision problems and vomiting during the second half of a pregnancy.
That was a pretty scary conversation.
Although most cases of pre-eclampsia are mild, it can lead to serious complications for the pregnant person and baby if it isn’t monitored.
This is when I was advised to start taking low-dose (150mg) of aspirin per day until my 36th week of pregnancy. Apparently taking low levels of aspirin daily regulates your blood pressure and can assist with the development of your placenta.
There is so much stigma surrounding what pregnant people can and cannot do
I went into my nearest Boots store a few days later and purchased 75mg dispersible aspirin tablets over the counter. I wasn’t asked about any possibility of being pregnant, just whether I was taking any other medication – which I wasn’t.
That’s why I was even more surprised when I visited the same store again when I was 19 weeks pregnant and was refused sale. This time, when I asked for the medication, I was questioned whether it was for myself. I answered honestly. Why wouldn’t I?
The man serving me then asked if I was pregnant. Again, I said I was. It was then I was told that they could not sell me the aspirin.
I actually couldn’t believe it – it was ridiculous, and judgemental, I told my partner.
I’m an adult, over the age of 18, and I am legally capable of making my own decisions.
When I’d calmed down, I filed a formal complaint against Boots. I received a call a few days later, which was only more infuriating. When I argued my points, I was shut down quickly again, stating that their policy was for the wellbeing of my baby. When mentioning that I could purchase alcohol without any legal restrictions, I was told that hopefully I wouldn’t do that.
Again, this is so belittling and dehumanising. As a pregnant person, I still hold every single ounce of control over my body, life and choices. I am not public property purely because I am growing a child.
There is so much stigma surrounding what pregnant people can and cannot do. Drinking alcohol, taking prenatal vitamins, maintaining a BMI under 30, these are all areas in which pregnant bodies are constantly policed.
This is my first pregnancy and I’m not an expert, so I am completely open to taking advice from medical professionals for the benefit of my baby’s health. I do believe there is a time and a place where medical advice takes priority over my own personal wishes.
For example, I am planning on having my baby at home, with the support of my partner and community midwives. However, if my labour reaches a point where it is jeopardising mine, or my baby’s health, then I will happily be transferred to hospital if that is suggested.
But in an ultimately pro-choice country, I would expect better when it comes to aspirin. After this situation, my partner bought the aspirin for me from a different store. A few weeks later, I was able to get a prescription from my doctor that allowed me to pick it up from my hospital.
Reproductive choice does not end at pregnancy or abortion – it is a long, winding road of allowing individuals to make their own decisions.
That includes giving pregnant people the ability to make their own educated choices about their pregnancies.
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