WASHINGTON, April 25, 2012 - When I look at my precious twin sons, I marvel at their innocence and beauty. I let my finger trace clusters of freckles near their noses. I gently brush back unruly, brown hair, with enviable red highlights, and kiss the softest skin around their eyes.
Then I usually thank God they are finally asleep.
When they are awake and my meds kick in, I often hug Jacob and Zachary and ask why I am blessed with two terrific kids.
Jacob, my oldest by three minutes, usually has the answer.
“You picked the right man,” he says.
After only a few years of life, they understood the importance of breeding with the right person. I hope they remember this lesson in another decade while perusing strip joints and the occasional brothel.
I didn’t particularly want children when I first met my husband. Only eighteen, I had more important things on my mind.
Like tattoos and poetry and deciding which bars to try out my new fake ID.
After Marc and I got married in our mid-twenties, he talked about the idea of having children. I managed to hold him off a few years so we could begin our careers and travel. Then, toward the end of 1998, for the first time in over ten years together, I took a good look at the man.
I asked myself if I was okay with our children possibly inheriting his Hebrew nose, posture, Fred Flintstone feet and body hair. I also took a good long look at his family’s medical history.
Lucky for him, I did not have an aversion to ethnic Jews and their propensity to argue and complain.
We went over my family’s medical history, too. Coming from Irish Catholics as far back as the Ice Age, I had my own fair share of dubious traits to pass on. I may have shed the Catholic legacy when converting to Judaism back in the mid-1990s, but I couldn’t shed the tendency toward alcoholism, temper tantrums, and red pubic hair.
If you are convinced you should be a parent, really take a look at your partner. Make a list of everything you can’t tolerate in an offspring. If there is even a number one on that list, find someone else.
And yes, dreadlocks count.
Marc and I were both okay with what we might pass on to potential children and decided to stop our preferred method of birth control, the old pull-and-pray, circa June, 1999.
“That means we should start cleansing six months beforehand,” I told him.
“Cleansing?” he asked. “I already took your advice and stopped eating anything with partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. What more do you want?”
“I am getting my body ready.” I ran my hands over 125 lbs. of rock hard loveliness that would soon be gone forever. “I will prepare a lovely and healthy little space for your baby. That means, way ahead of time, I will stop drinking alcohol and caffeinated products. I will stay away from second-hand smoke. I will refrain from eating anything that is bad for pregnant women, like feta cheese and Ecstasy. I will start taking prenatal vitamins.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Marc said.
“Yes,” I replied. “But what about you? Sperm is just as important. I want yours to be in good shape before you deposit a few inside me.”
Marc sighed and rubbed his eyes. “What do I have to give up now?”
“It’s good you don’t drink alcohol, so that’s one less thing to adjust to. Let’s see. You will have to stop drinking coffee and stop taking those stomach meds.”
“How do you know Prilosec is bad for my sperm?” he asked.
“How do you know it isn’t?” I asked in return. “I’d rather err on the side of caution. What if we gave birth to someone with three arms and a tail and they found out years later it was because of Prilosec? What would you do then?”
Marc thought about this for a moment. “I’d take him swimming in the ocean and blame it on the current?”
I gave him The Look. “There are so many studies that show a person’s tendency toward illness can be traced back to choices his mother made while he was in the womb. It’d be hard enough to deal with a sick child, whether he’s five or fifty. It’d be even worse if it was because of something we did.”
Marc nodded. “But we don’t know for sure that cleansing helps us get pregnant, carry a healthy fetus, or produce a healthy child.”
“Right,” I said. “But we know for sure it can’t hurt.”
“Does Tums count?” he asked.
“Great. Then we’re going to have to do something about your cooking.”
Lots of mothers say they gave up caffeine or alcohol after they found out they were pregnant, but not when they were actually trying to get pregnant.
Why not give those brain stems and organs and bloodstreams a chance to develop without a buzz?
I got pregnant right away and five months later, we went to the doctor for our ultrasound and discovered twins.
Shock gave way to joy when Jacob and Zachary fought their way out of my womb and joined us eight weeks early. There were a few complications. I dealt with carpal tunnel syndrome, gestational diabetes, a horrendous body rash, preeclampsia, and a nose that spread across my cheeks and into my ears.
Marc suffered through seven months of looking at me.
Our children were born healthy. Thank goodness they now have no known defects, disabilities, or a desire to vote Republican.
Sometimes friends and family will mention all the early roadblocks, gaze at our brilliant and beautiful children, and say, “You were lucky.”
Perhaps. But our thorough vetting process, preparations, and choices provided our children with the best possible start. Our good health made it possible to get pregnant and produce not one, but two kids who, though born premature, are able to run, jump, keep up in class, and argue with me over electronics on school nights.
Cleansing might not have helped.
But, at the very least, we know it didn’t hurt.
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