It's possible that the most complicated risk assessment exercise you will ever complete will be as a pregnant woman. From the moment the little blue line appears on the plastic stick, the endless risk advisory machine will step into motion. Baby books, NHS staff, friends, family, email newsletters, social media, the printed press, TV and even well-meaning strangers will start to inform you about the risks to your baby.
It's easy at this point to feel like a vessel storing cargo, rather than a rational human being with its own physiology, emotions and independent thought. There are some obvious things you are advised to do immediately - take Folic Acid supplements, give up alcohol and if you are a smoker, quit. That all seems sensible and obvious. Don't ingest poisons and take the material that helps your baby's nervous system develop. So far, so easy.
Then comes the advice about all the other things you have to stay away from: the good cheeses, pâté, the good stuff in your medicine cabinet (Ibuprofen and Night Nurse), things that aren't pasteurised (including home-made ice cream and mayonnaise), certain types of fish, cat poo (no complaints from me!), caffeine, lambing and it goes on and on and on. I can't actually remember everything. Initially, I would Google things when deciding what to eat but that wore out quite quickly.
At the same time as you are giving a long and wide-ranging do and don't list, you are tired, possibly nauseous, and being told to relax. Relax. While Googling your shopping list for safety. Nil by mouth suddenly looks like a good option - especially with the regular lectures about maintaining a healthy weight. The need to restore some kind of balance and control while being aware of risks reminded me of working on an IT security campaign.
I remember being in a meeting one afternoon after a long discussion on password policies where we were discussing what steps we could take to make the Data Protection Officer satisfied there were no risks of a data breach. The answer soon became clear. Don't switch on a computer ever again, and certainly don't consider connecting it to the internet. Now that would definitely minimise the risks involved in holding electronic data. But it wouldn't make us very productive.
The tension between IT security and productivity is something we often experience in our everyday lives. Remembering different complex passwords to access different applications is something most people find difficult and we spend a lot of time resetting our passwords when we forget them. Then we think about our personal devices and what data it is safe to store on them. The risks involved in working with personal data on public WiFi make you more likely to work through the latest bestseller novel rather than your progress reports.
I began to feel the same about pregnancy. In order to continue to go to work, eat on the go, enjoy socialising and go on holiday, I decided to employ a best efforts basis and be kind to myself. As all professionals involved in risk assessments know, you can identify risks, you can mitigate against them, but you will never prevent them altogether if an organisation is to fulfil its operational functions. I am aware of most of the risks, I avoid them when I can but I am not a stickler. I have eaten sandwiches without checking the source of the mayonnaise. I do enjoy a caffeinated morning coffee. I have ordered a steak medium-rare. I'm not ruling out a glass of celebratory champagne at my friend's upcoming wedding. I don't lift heavy things anymore but I will help out with room layouts at work. Because I need to function. I believe my baby needs me to function too. If I am happy and occupied, if I am not stressed about my environment and foodstuffs and if I am sinking into bed at night feeling nourished, fulfilled and ready to rest, then I think I am being a good vessel, as well as a functional human.