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Is it OK to hunt while pregnant?

By S.E. Cupp
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
S.E. Cupp:
S.E. Cupp: "I love getting on the water, and have fished all over the world, from Alaska to Brazil. At five and half months pregnant, fishing off the grid posed some challenges, but it didn't stop me from catching this monster mountain whitefish in Wyoming."
  • S.E. Cupp is pregnant and vowed not to write about it nor to cling to others' 'authoritative' advice
  • When she did finally look at pregnancy books, she found no discussion of hunting
  • Invited on a hunt, she asked her obstetrician: that OK? Doc: OK, but is it necessary?
  • Cupp: Pregnancy brings out the same primal feelings she has while hunting

Editor's note: S.E. Cupp is co-host of CNN's "Crossfire." She is also the author of "Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity," co-author of "Why You're Wrong About the Right," a columnist at the New York Daily News and a political commentator for Glenn Beck's The Blaze. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- The course of events that led me from a promise never to be one of those women who wrote about her pregnancy to writing this column is a little circuitous, involving a wedding in Jackson Hole, an ill-timed bris and a dove hunt in Eastern Maryland. Obviously.

Let me first start by explaining the promise.

Years ago when I first came into television, a network head gave me some of his rules to live by. One was: "Don't talk about your personal life; it makes people uncomfortable." And by people, he meant him.

S.E. Cupp
S.E. Cupp

He was wrong, of course. People do want to know, sometimes more than they should. And it's practically impossible to do what I do -- host television and radio shows, write columns and books -- and not discuss my own life now and then.

But on the other end of the extreme is the overshare, the self-indulgent, memoir-like confessional. These do make people uncomfortable. And by people, I mean me.

So I took his advice to heart, with a slight addendum: "Don't talk about your personal life, unless it's really, really interesting."

I can't think of a topic less interesting to more people than stories about your baby. And so while I've shared a few anecdotes about pregnancy, I vowed I would never write a baby book, start a mommy blog, offer parenting advice or write a column about having a baby.

But that was also because I know next to nothing about motherhood or raising children. And frankly, neither do you. You may know scads of stuff about raising your children. But unless your first name is Dr., you don't know about raising everyone else's.

That doesn't stop a lot of people from delivering authoritative opinions.

The women who give other women unsolicited parenting advice are the same girls who offered sex advice in high school, because they did it once and so must have been good at it. Then Kristy tells you years later that she doesn't even think she went all the way that one time. And now grown-up Jane is confessing that she's changed her mind and in fact little Connor's allergies were not cured on a transcendentalist retreat.

Key lessons about pregnancy

This is my first pregnancy and, from the sound of things, it's been pretty standard stuff. What I have learned is that the sublime pleasure that a single peanut butter and jelly sandwich can deliver is outmatched only by the downright erotic pleasure from two. (Have you ever tried two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? You're welcome.)

"I first started shooting 15 years ago or so, mostly targets and skeet at gun ranges. I loved the focus it required. It was the ultimate stress release. Anyone will tell you, bird hunting is far more civilized. You can sleep in, talk, and smell good, unlike deer season, during which I smell like doe estrus."

I've also discovered pregnancy is mostly about replacing all your old things with entirely new things.

Your cherished old pastimes -- such as drinking alcohol, skipping meals, sleeping -- are replaced with new ones such as sobriety (overrated), eating indiscriminately (underrated -- two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!) and not sleeping (the cause of psychopathy.)

Clothes from a former life -- a considerably thinner and less modest one -- are stored to make room for a new life, one that includes spandex jeans and, regrettably, flats.

Even my bookshelf is not unscathed. Tattered copies of spy novels and political tomes have been put in boxes to make room for titles like "The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy" and "I'm Pregnant! A Week-by-Week Guide."

I was skeptical of these books at first. They're aggressively punctuated, and even unopened I sensed they were judging me. Plus, there are so many of them, you think: These can't all be different. Is there really more than one way to go through this old-as-dirt experience?

What a fool I was. For the first few weeks, I told myself over and over again: For thousands of years, women have done this, and with much less. Many lived in huts. Without running water. You got this.

But I don't live in a hut, nor would I like to. And running water is pretty awesome. So eventually I decided to treat these books like any others, and I skimmed them.

Some were helpful. I remember vividly where I was when I read that we are not pregnant for nine months (what I now refer to as "The Big Lie"), but more like 10. There was even a Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore rom-com called "Nine Months" that perpetuated this lie in the '90s. Those two should be ashamed of themselves.

Other books were less helpful. Advice that ranged from the obvious ("dress to fit your changing body") to the moronic ("don't smoke crack") to the terrifying (I will not be keeping the placenta, thanks for asking) was quickly discarded from memory so I could concentrate on more important things, like: What else can I eat two of?

Between these books and my doctors, all was going swimmingly. I felt prepared, but not overwhelmed. I was in control of the situation.

Then hunting season arrived.

Invitation to a dove hunt

In late August, when I was just about to start my third trimester, my husband and I were invited to go dove hunting in Eastern Maryland with a friend running for Maryland state delegate. My husband had hunted with him many times before, and I'd gone for geese on his property two years back.

Though I'd hunted ducks, woodcock, pheasant, quail and grouse before, as well as deer and bear, dove hunting was high on my bird-hunting bucket list, and I was excited for the chance. Mostly because wrapped in bacon, dove breasts are delicious. Forget two -- I could eat a thousand.

"Now, at 7 months, I'm heading out for my first dove hunt. Pregnancy has brought out the same feelings I have while hunting and fishing. It's sharpened my instincts, connected me to nature and my body, and reminded me that self-reliance doesn't have to be a vestigial value."

But the thought of eating my new body weight in bacon-covered dove meat snapped me back into reality. I was pregnant. Are pregnant people allowed to go dove hunting? Spoiler alert: "dove hunting" is not in the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" index. In fact, not one of my many pregnancy books had any answers as to whether this was OK.

And it's not because they didn't weigh in on these sorts of things. In one, "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books," I could easily find advice on whether a pregnant woman should play football -- FOOTBALL! -- basketball, volleyball, go parachuting, mountain climbing, downhill skiing, horseback riding, waterskiing, surfing, ice skating and scuba diving, but not a single word on hunting or even firing a gun.

Slightly outraged, I knew that the Internet, which had long been showing books-that-know-stuff who's boss, would have a quick and definitive answer. Surely people have asked it far more obscure questions (mostly about objects lodged in places on the body) than mine.

I didn't invent it

You know how some women act like they invented pregnancy? Like they're the first to ever go through it before? That's not me.

I don't assume anything I do is novel. In fact, I'm certain that whatever I'm doing at any given moment, has already been done before, but better, countless times over. So when I found next to nothing on this topic on the Internet I was astonished.

Either I just invented something, or I'm such a terrible pregnant person that no one's ever even considered putting their unborn child through the trauma of dove hunting, and my Internet search has just been flagged and child protective services is on its way over.

To put in perspective how surprising it was to find next to no conclusive literature on this, consider that there are nearly 3 million women hunters in the United States, according to a recent CBS News report.

There are more women hunters in America than there are people who bought the Justin Timberlake album last year...
S.E. Cupp

Three million! That's the entire population of Mississippi. There are more women hunters in America than there are people who bought the Justin Timberlake album last year, and it was the highest selling record of 2013.

Contrastingly, you know how many women play football? Seven. OK, I don't know if that's true, because when I tried to find statistics on women who play football I found nothing, presumably because this isn't really a thing. Nevertheless, if you were wondering if you could do it while pregnant, I own a book that will tell you.

Incredulous, I kept digging, and was relieved to discover that at least I wasn't the only woman who had tried to find an answer to this question before.

There was one post in a forum on the website by a woman named "McGhee 28":

"Dove season is just around the corner in Texas and I was wondering if any other women on here dove hunt while pregnant and what your doctors have said about it?"

"On my babymoon at six and half months pregnant, I knew I wasn't going to be able to reel in a 200-pound shark. A few of these beautiful yellowtail were just the right size though."

And, in my first indication that the topic might be somewhat taboo, she included a postscript: "**Please do not use this as an opportunity to tell me how hunting is unethical or cruel to animals. I hunt because I enjoy it and I eat everything I kill. I'm not here to discuss my nor your opinion on the morality of hunting. Thank you.**"

About 20 other people weighed in on her post. One talked about elk hunting at 7 months, another said she was going grouse and deer hunting 7-8 months pregnant.

In a 2006 blog post, Tracy Ledgerwood lamented the difficulties of bow hunting while eight months along, in what has to be one of the most bad-ass sentences ever typed:

"I even missed a good buck when an awkward shot angle caused my string to hit my belly." With gun season approaching, Ledgerwood set out to do some research to see whether there were ways to make her hunt safer and more enjoyable but found few answers.

She located one study, by Elizabeth Kennedy and Dr. Fabrice Czarnecki, called "Shooting While Pregnant: Dangerous or Not?" and it was hardly definitive on the matter. The authors expressed some concerns over exposure to lead, repeated loud noises and extreme temperatures. But lead exposure and loud noises are much more of an issue at gun ranges, the focus of the authors' study, and not out in the woods where you're infrequently handling ammo and there's limited shooting. Extreme temperatures were also easy enough to avoid. Ledgerwood concluded it was fine.

In a short 2007 post on that managed to reference Artemis, the Greek goddess of both hunting and childbirth, Kim Hiss profiled three modern-day women who hunted while expecting.

If I'd been slightly less paranoid, I would have taken these posts -- what in journalism we'd dismissively call "anecdotes" -- as all the permission I needed. Other women have clearly hunted while pregnant. I doubted any of their children were irreparably scarred from the experience.

But my mind flashed forward to 2045. My 30-year-old son is hover-boarding to work at the food supplement factory when his robot doctor calls and tells him he's got a rare disease and that he probably acquired when his mother went dove hunting in Eastern Maryland at seven-months pregnant.

So I decided to call my doctor. You might be wondering why it took me so long in the first place.

Calling for professional help

This wasn't the first slightly uncomfortable call of its kind that I'd had to make to her over the course of my pregnancy.

The first came at about five months when I was planning a trip to Jackson Hole for my cousin's wedding and learned that we'd be staying dangerously close to one of Wyoming's blue-ribbon fly fishing trout streams, the Snake River.

There was some concern about being so remote and far from medical attention, but that was true of most places in Wyoming. But my doctor approved the fishing, and good thing, too. In addition to catching about a dozen cutthroat trout, I also caught a monster mountain whitefish, which my guide said might even be a state record. (I told everyone it definitely was.)

I won't lie, it could have been bad. There was no cell service and we were miles from any hospitals. I worried about the weather, which turns on a dime in that area. And there was the minor inconvenience of having to "go" every 15 minutes, as had become the new normal. But in the end, we had no injuries, a gorgeous day, and the fishing was so good my bladder magically turned off for five straight hours.

The next call came at around six months when I'd learned our Labor Day plans to visit friends in New York were thwarted by a bris in our host's family.

We rushed to make new plans, and a last-minute, inexpensive fare to the Bahamas popped across my computer screen. Suddenly we had a babymoon and a reef fishing trip booked.

"What does that involve?" my doctor asked when I mentioned the fishing. After telling her I wouldn't try to reel in anything over 20 pounds, promising to avoid stingrays and jellyfish, and assuring her we'd stay close to shore, she told me it was fine and wished me bon voyage.

And now I was going to have to call again about this dove hunt.

"It's me again, with another activity inquiry," I said to my doctor. "I'd very much like to go dove hunting in a couple weeks. We good?"

"I don't know what that means," she said, as if dove hunting might be a euphemism for something else.

"Well, I'd be outside, mostly sitting, and taking a few shots once in a while. I guess I'm concerned about the noise and the recoil." "The what?" "Well, the shotgun will jerk and vibrate against my shoulder a bit. Is that OK?" Silence.

Then she delivered the paramount question:

"Is this necessary?" I was suddenly without words.

The question felt practically existential. Passages from Kierkegaard and Sartre flooded my brain. James Swan's "In Defense of Hunting" and Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" competed for my attention. There was so much to unpack.

What did she mean by "necessary"? Is eating necessary? Is air? Are we meant only to do what's necessary? If the primal, biological necessity of hunting isn't clear, what is? I mean, of course it isn't necessary, there's a Safeway down the street. But do I need to go hunting? Absolutely. Do I need to go right now? Probably not.

In the end, she told me it was fine in moderation. I had our friend save me a spot, and set about trying to locate anything camouflage in my hunting closet that would fit over my protruding belly.

Primal experiences

Back to women in huts.

I imagine catching and killing one's own food was standard stuff for women on the frontier. And in some parts of the world, I bet it still is.

Believe me, I don't think that just because women once had to do this (or still have to do this), so must I. But I also don't think that just because we no longer have to, I shouldn't.

Nor do I think doctors, books-that-know-stuff and the Internet have all the answers. With so many competing authorities on how to perform the routine biological function of childbirth, it's easy to turn off or ignore the best and most important authority a woman has on the matter: her instinct.

And what I discovered is that the feelings I have when hunting and fishing are the same ones that my pregnancy has brought out. These are primal, organic experiences that connect a woman to nature and hone her biological instincts, show her both the limitations of her body and all the amazing things it is capable of, and assure her she can be self-reliant.

As a woman, I can't recall a more empowering feeling than the one I got from skinning a bear or yanking a king salmon out of a wild Alaska river, gutting it on the river bank, cooking it up on an open flame and eating it with my hands. I felt strong, molecularly human and oddly maternal. I assume delivering a baby will feel a thousand times more empowering.

I felt strong, molecularly human, and oddly maternal.
S.E. Cupp

Living in a city, where calls to obstetricians about dove hunting and trout fishing while pregnant are probably uncommon, it might have been really easy to shelve my hobbies for nine months (Lie! It's 10).

My most exotic trip could have been crib-shopping in suburbia and my riskiest adventure the subway during rush hour. No mother, or baby book, would judge me for not wanting to hunt or fish when merely staying upright without tripping on something had become a challenge.

And lest I've given you the impression that I'm some kind of hunting or fishing expert, I am not. These are activities I enjoy immensely, but don't always want to work hard at. So pregnancy could have been an easy excuse to take a hiatus.

I could also have let the dearth of guidance from the Internet and books-that-know-stuff or the hint of skepticism in my doctor's voice make these decisions for me.

But I'm so glad I didn't. I think my son will like hearing these stories one day, about his mom trout fishing in Wyoming and reef fishing in the Caribbean and dove hunting in Maryland while she was pregnant with him. Especially if he hears them while sitting in a boat or a blind from his father, the real outdoorsman in the family.

It also taught me early on in the long journey of motherhood I'm about to take that while books and doctors are valuable -- vital even -- they are no replacement for the instincts of a woman, which have been sharpened over millions of years.

While I still don't know anything about parenthood, I do know never to make a solemn promise not to write about something in the future.

And it might not be enough to fill a baby book, but pregnancy did manage to remind me of two important certainties when it comes to biology and necessity: breasts are for producing milk and opposable thumbs are for casting a fishing rod. (And making two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.)

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