Talk to your parents

Here is an except from a work in progress, “Ten Steps to Improve Your Genetic Health.”


“When it comes to thinking about the story of our life, we usually begin with birth – the rational starting point. And yet … what a gaffe! That is not the beginning at all; that’s 9 months too late. What was going on during those three trimesters?

Your parents know how it all began. That’s right, the beginning of you as a biological specimen, a living organism, a fertilized egg.

Perhaps you may find it a bit uncomfortable to ask them about the events that immediately transpired prior to the meeting of that special egg and that special sperm. We have some habit of cringing when our parents swoon over the romance and vintage of the wine. But, considering the impressive acrobatics we can perform with test tubes and couples who want to get pregnant, you would not be entirely bonkers to double check with your mom and dad that your fertilization was a traditional one. It does make a difference from a genetic point of view if they had trouble conceiving and needed fertility drugs or other assistance, such as in vitro fertilization.

In some families, the details of each pregnancy and delivery are archived in excruciating detail, with home videos of the whole pregnancy: from the first home pregnancy test to the drive to the hospital, then close ups of the actual delivery, a virtual repro-bio-video-documentary. Yet for others no one can seem to remember a thing, other than they were child number seven. Or was it eight? Ask your mom about her pregnancy and delivery. Was she ill at any time, even during those few weeks (months for some!) when she was pregnant but had not yet “discovered” the blessed state of affairs? Yes, even in those early days, mother’s health is important, especially because all of your major organs were being constructed from about week 4 until week 12. This is a critical time when the cells of the heart and brain and intestines have not quite made up their minds about what sort of ice cream goes with the pickles and what they want to do when they grow up. It’s when you look like a tadpole but are deeply vulnerable to the wicked suggestions of infectious agents like rubella and toxoplasmosis and the bad influences of a number of poisons, like Jack Daniels and Bud Lite. You are hardly obligated to grill your mother about what happened to the cooking sherry in 1954. However, as a general principle, be careful when you assume that your pregnant past was utterly blissful, well-ordered, and nonchalant.”

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