My Sister’s Keeper

I’m sitting in a bar after work with Beth and Arlene. It was a long night and we’re rewarding ourselves with some post shift libations.

Beth’s drinking a beer. I’m finishing up a dirty martini. Arlene, who is almost seven months pregnant, is sipping her single disciplined glass of wine.

I signal to the bartender for another drink. Arlene looks at me forlornly.

“Hey that’s not fair,” she says, “I can only have one.”

“When you’re in the recovery room I’ll bring a pitcher of martinis instead of flowers,” I quip.

“I still can’t have it. I’ll be breastfeeding,” Arlene replies tartly.

I laugh. “I guess you’re drinking days are behind you Mommy.”

Arlene smiles. She just turned thirty. This is her first child. Her entire life is about to change.

The bartender sets a fresh drink in front of me. I take a sip. Mmmm. Ice cold.

“Hey look over there,” Beth says nudging me.

“What is it?”

“Another pregnant lady at the bar,” she giggles.

A very large pregnant woman struggles onto a bar stool. The bartender goes up to her. She orders a Jack & Coke.

“Jesus – that’s a bit much,” I remark.

The barman deposits the drink in front of her. She sucks it down in under a minute. Wiping her mouth she gets up and waddles outside onto the patio. She lights up a cigarette.

“Can you believe that?” Arlene says in horror.

“I’m afraid I do,” I reply sadly.

We watch the woman as she returns to the bar and proceeds to drink herself into a stupor. Some of her running buddies join her. They start to get loud.

“I don’t think I can see anymore of this,” Arlene says rubbing her tummy nervously.

“Yeah, let’s get out of here,” Beth agrees.

I look over at the woman. She’s having a good time, laughing uproariously at her friend’s jokes, oblivious to the life growing inside her.

“Let’s go,” I say polishing off my drink.

We ask the barman for the bill. He brings it too us.

“Thirty bucks,” he says. I reach for my wallet. Drinks are on me tonight.

“Hey! I want another drink,” the pregnant lady calls out.

“Just a sec lady,” the barman snaps.

As I count out the bills I whisper, “Don’t you think that lady’s had enough?”

The bartender stares at me blankly. “Not my problem,” he replies.

“Yeah, but she’s pregnant.”

The bartender glances over at Arlene. She only drank half her wine. “I’m not my sister’s keeper,” he says shrugging.

I push the pile of bills towards him. “I guess you aren’t,” I mutter softly. The barman snatches up the cash and walks away.

“Ok, let’s go,” I sigh.

We walk out the French doors onto the patio. The air is thick with tobacco smoke. The pregnant woman comes up behind us with her fresh drink and lights up a cigarette. Arlene moves away from her.

The woman goes over to one of the outside tables and sits down. She starts talking to a young girl with dreadlocked hair and arms covered in tattoos. Off to her side is a little girl, maybe two years old, fast asleep in her baby carriage. She clutches a plush toy close to her chest.

My heart plummets. It’s one in the morning.

“Jesus, those ladies are never going win Mother of the Year,” Arlene says angrily.

“Who brings a little girl to a bar this late?” Beth asks.

I look at the little girl. I look at the pregnant woman.

“People who are angry at having kids,” I reply.

Beth looks at me quizzically.

“Sometimes people are angry they have to grow up and get their shit together – so they take it out on their kids.”

“Maybe,” Beth says.

“The funny thing is most of the anger is subconscious. If you asked them they would tell you that their kid is the most important thing in the world.”

“Well they’re not acting like it,” Beth replies.

“Those women shouldn’t have kids,” Arlene says throwing in her two cents.

“Probably not,” I sigh.

We walk Arlene to her car and say our farewells. I go home. I can’t get the little girl in the carriage out of my head.

A couple of days later I’ve got a pregnant woman in my section. She orders a glass of Merlot. No big deal. After she finishes her appetizer she orders another. I bring it reluctantly.

The woman finishes her entrée. The table is cleared. I bring the dessert menus.

The woman waves me off. “No dessert for me,” she says, “But I’ll have another glass of wine.” I notice she’s slurring her words slightly.

I remember the alcoholic pregnant lady from a few nights ago. I think about the little girl in her baby carriage.

“I’m sorry madam,” I reply, “I cannot bring you another drink.”

The woman stares at me in surprise. “Why not?” she asks.

“I just can’t.”

Our eyes lock. A few seconds pass. The woman starts to say something but reconsiders. She knows why I won’t serve her.

“I make a mean cappuccino,” I offer in conciliation.

“That’s probably a good idea honey,” her husband chimes in. Great pal. Now you decide to find your balls.

The woman lets out a deep breath. “Ok. Just make it decaf.”

I win.

“Thank you madam,” I reply gratefully.

The man and woman finish their desserts and leave. The tip’s 15%. I’m lucky these people didn’t make a scene.

The night ends. I go into the bathroom to wash my hands and face. As I’m toweling off I look my reflection.

My father once told me that if you’re ashamed of what you see in the mirror you’re in trouble.

I think about my pregnant customer. Sometimes we are our sister’s keeper.

The man in the mirror smiles back at me. I’m not in trouble.

At least not yet.


Comments

My Sister’s Keeper — 32 Comments

  1. Great job! I have to admit that I smoked while I was pregnant. I am not proud ot it, but with shot nerves that wasn’t doing my son any favors either. I quit for awhile, but thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. Not because of the pregnancy itself, but because I was doing it all alone. Very stressful. Thank God my son turned out healthy. I have now been smoke free for 5 1/2 years. Thanks for taking the stand. :)

  2. I gave up drinking alcohol for both my girls. These women who don’t think about their child inside are so sad. It’s just plain sad, but true, what you’ve said, you know. They are subconciously blaming their children. And who pays? The child of course. Sad and tragic that the sins of the mother are the child’s burden to bear. Why I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol while I was pregnant. Luckily, I don’t smoke either. So thankful that I quit at 21 years of age. Best adult decision of my life besides having two wonderful, smart children who are the centre of my life.

  3. Good. For. You.

    While I was pregnant, I didn’t eat any fish because of the mercury, ate filet mignon well done because of the bacteria, stayed away from chocolate because of the caffeine… I lost my baby two weeks later to an ectopic pregnancy. but women like this intentionally mistreat their babies and pretend to be the best mothers in the world. It’s like a smack in the face.

    Guess I’m a little more sensitive to these situations.

    Love your blog.

  4. I’ve got to stop reading blogs so close to bedtime; now I’m not going to get a good night’s sleep knowing about this woman. An old high school friend of mine got married and they had a son. They were both potheads and their son was just wonderful. She used to brag that he was proof that pot was harmless.

    Right around three years of age the effects of the pot began to show. I’ve lost touch with them but I’ve been told that they had another child. Some women just weren’t meant to be mothers.

    Stacey, I’m so sorry for your loss.

  5. I think you did the perfect thing. I am against legislation that restricts women’s actions, but not at all against people speaking up for what is right and taking a stand. Bravo!

  6. I used to live with a girl that had a baby in high school. She got pregnant again only a few months after she gave birth. She didn’t want the kid, so she pretended she wasn’t pregnant.

    She drank almost everyday and smoked cigarettes. Now her son is 9 years old and he looks slightly retarded. He also does poorly in school.

    Her first son is handsome and very smart-she was careful not to drink in her first pregnancy.

    What a huge difference there is between these two kids.
    It’s sad and sickeneing that someone can do this to an unborn child. I’m so proud of you for what what you did!

    Maybe if everybody acted like you, they would feel more ashamed and stop drinking while pregnant!

  7. i think its great u refused to give that lady a drink altho that tech was not ur duty..pregnant women should not have alcohol at all. imagine one drop of alcohol to a 2cm foetus.

  8. Way to go- I’ll admit I was a little upset about your handling of the dog situation since I belive its illegal in my state to leave a dog in the car at anytime.

    But you did a fine job there, stepping in.

  9. I am not surprised to read that you have a Psych degree. Your writing is psychologically informed, but deeply based in working life reality, and that is probably why so many of us enjoy it.

  10. I think you can get sued for discrimination for not serving pregnant ladies…but maybe that’s just some bogus thing I heard.

  11. I applaud you for not serving her more.

    My little brother has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He’s lucky that in some ways it is very mild and that my parents (the people who adopted him) refused to give up on the possibility they saw in him. However, he has poor judgment, poor interpersonal skills, and a very limited ability to function on his own.

    Being his sister, I got to have a four year old brother from the time he was four until I moved out of the house. My parents are wonderful people but it was a strain on all of us to have this member of our family impaired by something he had absolutely no control over.

    I wish every mother had to live a week with a child that has a disability brought on by pure and simple neglect. It would open their eyes to what being a “good” mother entails.

  12. I want to begin by saying I love your blog, and commending you on taking that stand. I’ve worked my way through school waiting tables and bartending, and if you do it long enough, you end up with a simialar story.

    However, I believe that Fluvio would have prefered you served her, as opposed to making his restaurant vulnerable to a discrimination suit. A restaurant cannot refuse service to a member of a social group based soley on that persons membership. In the eyes of the law, refusing to serve a pregnant woman simply because she is pregnant is wrongfully discriminating. It sounds nuts, but legally speaking, it is exactly the same as refusing to serve an African-American because they are African-American; nevermind the still developing, unborn child in question.

    Like I said earlier, Waiter, I commend you, but refusing that woman service could have costed Fluvio his Bistro, and you your job.

  13. Although it is true that you cannot refuse service to a pregnant woman solely because she is pregnant, you can still refuse to serve her. I’ve bartended for many years, and the fact she was slurring, even slightly, is a good defense to refuse service. If she did try to accuse you of descrimination, you never stated the reason. She knew she shouldn’t have been drinknig, which is why she didn’t put up a fight.

  14. I’m not my sister’s keeper

    That’s really not the sort of defense I’d want to invoke. You know, considering the precedent and all.

  15. I really don’t know how alcohol laws work in other states, though from reading some of the other comments, it seems pretty much the same as here.

    I obtained my TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission) license recently. During the class we were shown a scenario in which and obviously pregnant woman asks the waiter for a glass of wine and the waiter refuses on the grounds that she is pregnant. Then we were asked if this what a proper response. The answer is no. Thanks to laws about discrimination towards pregnant women, an establishment and/or the server can be sued for refusing to serve. Often times, refusal to serve can lead to the server being fired because of the risk of the establishment being sued.

    I guess it all depends on your moral convictions. Would you rather keep your job and not risk getting sued? Or can you not handle the guilt of being indirectly resposible for yet another FAS baby? It really is only the parents’ business and nobody else’s. And I think most server’s become jaded because of that fact. What the bartender said might’ve seemed harsh, and he was probably thinking something like, ‘I really need this job, and it’s not my kid.’ But that’s the cruel reality of life.

    Although, in your case, you would have been in the clear, since it’s illegal to serve to intoxicated people, and whether or not someone is actually intoxicated is up to the server’s judgement. With the slurring, she beginning to show signs of intoxication.

  16. I’m not in favor of telling a woman what she can or can’t do with her own body. But if she’s having this kid, she probably needs to be taking care of it.
    ycantibu, I don’t see this as paternalistic OR condescending. I think I’d have refused her too.

  17. I have seen some many women in my years of working in a General Practice clinic who desparately want children and for some cruel twist of fate, can not conceive or worse, miscarry part way through. When I hear of women and young girls popping out unplanned and unwanted children like pez dispensers, I can’t help but feel anger at the cruel irony that is life.

  18. I haven’t worked as a bartender/server, but I did work at a grocery store that sold alcohol, and from what they said in training I believe you can refuse sale of alcohol on any basis you want or for no reason at all. Maybe I misheard/misunderstood that though.

  19. Also, even one glass on occasion could have a BAD effect on a baby. You should let Arlene know- even though she’s definitely had her baby by now…

  20. I don’t really agree with refusing to serve her because it’s not really your place to decide, but at the same time, everytime I had a pregnant woman order wine I always cringed a bit. If you want to drink when pregnant, then fine, but at least don’t do it in public. I think that is pretty trashy.

  21. Good call. At the end of the day, we can refuse service because of the condition of the drinker, be it “too drunk” or “carrying life”. I’d do the same.

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