by Jana Daisy-Ensign
Perched at a small table the end of the beer and wine isle, I present a pair of glasses to a younger hipster couple who’ve stopped. It’s five-thirty Saturday night. I’m in Portland’s “friendliest grocery store” but for a moment it takes on the feel of happy hour somewhere else. I deliver the glasses with a quick synopsis of the brewery I’m showcasing- describing each of the individual beers lined up across the table while doling out tawny gold, rich ruby and dark, chocolate colored sample pours of the brews. We easily stride into conversation and laughter about beer. Next, an older gentleman in a baseball cap stops to taste. He is meticulous, carefully considering the selection; examining the hue, aroma and flavor of each before finally consuming. My evening continues this way for the next few hours, diverse tides of city shoppers washing around me. Just before wrapping up, a middle aged women and her two young children pull over in a car shaped shopping cart. She absorbs the situation. Visually scanning my body, she forms an expression that makes me pause. I breathe in and carefully begin repeating my tasting mantra. This woman has the appearance of listening but is obviously elsewhere. Finally, it seems she can’t help but to blurt out, “Are you drinking?” Her question takes me by surprise. It’s been months since I’ve had a drink. Not only does the Oregon Liquor Control Commission prohibit severs to consume alcohol while working, but I’m also 28 weeks pregnant. I know it’s my growing baby bump that has prompted her reaction. I think the question is ludicrous but opt to take the high road. Spreading a smile across my face,“Not tasting tonight, just pouring,” I reply. Driving home later, I find myself replaying this interaction. Not that long ago, people were unaware of the possible impacts drinking alcohol during pregnancy could have on a growing fetus. Now there is a great deal of information and public discourse around this issue but that is not why the experience lingers in my mind. I suppose it stays with me because of my own belief that pregnancy shouldn’t preclude women from being part of the industry in which they work, live and play.
Growing up in a micro brew-centric environment I was exposed early on to home brewing, brew pubs and a passion for the craft they create. My own debut into the world of beer followed nearly fifteen years ago as one of a few female crew members on a brewery bottling line. An intrigue with the world of micro brews (and later wine) expanded from there. For the past five years, I’ve enjoyed learning about the wondrous world of fermentation as a sales representative for a small, independent wine and beer distributor. My day job takes me around town selling libations to retail markets, bars and restaurants. It’s a social world; matching products to customers. I love sharing the stories and high quality “grown up” products of emerging artisans and established producers. It’s safe to say that working in the alcohol industry there have been many memorable events, among them many moments over the course of my two pregnancies stand out.
Tuesday just after lunch, I’m in another beer and wine department checking the wine bottle count of a display stack. I gingerly lift up the open wine tray, hugging twelve clinking bottles to my chest before carefully setting them down on the top of another open wine tray so I can access to the boxes below. The whole operation is slightly dangerous for the untrained. Rebuilding the stack, I rest the open tray on my protruding belly for a moment before easing it into place. During this process, I become aware of someone standing close watching me. We are in a heavy traffic, downtown grocery store where all walks of life converge. It’s mid-summer and with my heightened sense of smell (thanks to pregnancy) I’m keenly aware of a stagnant cocktail of sweat, urine and alcohol before I ever looking up. The man I see matches his aroma. His eyes wide, “You’re huge!” he tells me. His outstretched hand gesturing dangerously close to my stomach. I step back. “You smell very badly and are severely lacking dental hygiene,” I think but don’t say out loud. “Uh, yeah,” I finally utter, hoping this will possibly be enough to conclude our interaction. He remains locked in a blank stare for a long minute, apparently fascinated by the idea that one woman could cart around so much belly and still rebuild wine case stacks. Finally, he seemed to loose interest and wanders off. I find myself wondering what it is about being pregnant that suggest to people the topic is up for public input. One would rarely ever remark so overtly about another’s body, except in the case of pregnancy. Perhaps it is because we all came from this shared beginning people feel such a strong reaction that they at times need to vocalize it.
The air is crisp and the sun is brilliant the next morning when I meet with one of my company’s drivers in a grocery store parking lot. His van is stacked high with as assortment of cardboard cases and he moves quickly, wasting no time. He gives me a warm hello and slides open the van door, we begin looking for boxes marked with my name or the name of an account I will deliver. He swiftly stacks his handtruck much higher than I would feel comfortable doing and easily wheels the product to my open car. “I can help,” I offer as he unloads box after box of beer, wine and mead. “I’ve got it,” he smiles quickly glancing at my belly. I appreciate the help and thank him. Looking at my trunk, now piled high with boxes and thinking of the many stops ahead, “What are you doing for the rest of the day?” I ask him jokingly.
As I see it, life is a great balancing act. Balancing the roles of working in the industry and being a mother is an on-going dance. Many funny and awkward moments have happened as a result of being pregnant in the industry; provoking comments, curiosity and at times even the uninvited touch of strangers. The reality of living in a body that is continually changing shape has also made challenging some of the more physical aspects of the work. Still, this is the world in which I choose to live and as more and more women are assuming increasingly visible roles in the beer and wine industry this experience will become less unique. As I find myself in the final days before the birth of my son I reflect on the long road that has lead here… I feel deeply grateful for the gift of a beautiful daughter (nearly three years ago) and for the opportunity to participate in one of nature’s most ingenious, amazing phenomenons. I reminisce on the collective eighty weeks of missed beer releases, special events and the like. Knowing there will be ever more great experiences ahead and casually day dreaming about my first drink on the other side.