Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 1999 /18 Tishrei, 5760
Your children's allergies, obesity, diabetes, future heart attacks, eventual cancer, low SAT scores, bad marriages -- they're all your fault.
The latest findings, discovered by Dr. David Barker of England's University of Southampton and reported in Newsweek, tell a story that mothers surely don't want to hear. Apparently everything women do, eat or think while pregnant can have an effect on their children. Not just their birth experience, not just their early years, but their entire lives. Take that and your blankie to the shrink.
Barker isn't talking about the usual suspects -- alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. Forget those old hats. We're talking about stuff the body produces -- hormones such as estrogen, for example -- in response to factors in your life, from stress to diet to exercise.
If you try not to gain too much weight during pregnancy, writes Mr. Science, you may be sending starvation signals to your baby. When he grows up, he'll become an eating machine because his fetal message center stalled on: "Hungry. Eat everything in sight."
Barker formed his hypothesis that adult disease may be related to womb conditions after comparing thousands of birth and death records. He found that death rates from stroke and coronary disease were highest among men and women with low birth weights (less than 5.5 pounds). He also found, for example, that chubbier female babies had a higher risk of breast cancer in early adult life.
On the bright side, these new findings hold promise for our health. All I have to do is examine my birth records (Oh, here they are right here!) for my weight, length and head size at birth -- and live according to my propensities.
On the dim side -- where, I admit, my expectations tend to loiter -- is the nightmarish potential for a brave, new world that isn't fictional. Given the health problems plaguing our nation, can we afford to permit imperfect parents to continue producing imperfect offspring?
Conversely, can a planet about to hit the 6 billion mark afford to encourage people to live even longer?
I probably shouldn't have read Aldous Huxley when I was an impressionable youth, but I can't quite shake the image of the government baby hatcheries in Brave New World. In Huxley's prescient imagination, babies were "cooked" to order -- their government wombs manipulated and plied with ingredients suitable to future tasks. "Hey, Lou, create some wave action in that incubator; he's gonna be a shrimper!"
The mind wanders. Think of the obsessive-compulsive yuppie mother-to-be, already anxiously playing Mozart to her belly button, who now has a new fathomless frontier: "If I eat this candy bar, will my child become a diabetic?"
People who already blame their flaws and failures on others have a new safety net: "I can't do math; my womb was too cramped." Criminals who never touched a Twinkie have a new alibi: "I didn't mean to do it; I was a neglected fetus."
The policy ramifications are clear. Uncle Sam, having already taken over our children's brains (see public education), soon will assume responsibility for conception, gestation and birth. Which may not be all bad. Instead of feeling guilty, maybe women should be feeling celebratory. This is, after all, the ultimate manifestation of feminism.
At last, women will be free to have sex without
consequence and to pursue our careers without
hindrance. Talk about a bright
09/23/99: The great blurring of need and want