Recap: Zani’s elation, inspired by Jake’s meticulous notes on preconceptual care, soon makes way for a sense of dread. Who would have guessed that co-creating a baby would be such a colossal responsibility? But then, a new feeling emerges …
He reaches for the file propped up on my knees.
“Tell you what – let’s put the file away, tidy up and then we’ll go for a walk and brunch and read the bit on lifestyle? I know of a coffee shop I think you’ll like. Okay?”
“Great idea.” I am grateful for the opportunity for a break.
As I pull myself out of bed and start to get ready, I am equally grateful that I have married a man of such maturity – as opposed to a boy unable to think beyond his ego. A man who is man enough to make a 180-degree turn from ‘baby cat or dog’ to helping me see pregnancy for what it is – a lifetime commitment. What was that quote from one of the internet sites? ‘Parenting is being a role model 24 hours a day, 7 days of the week.’ Phew, am I ready for that?
We shower and get dressed in no time at all, and I even manage to ‘forget’ the file, but Jake grabs it as we head out the door. On the way there, we are both a little quiet, but it is a comfortable rather than a morose quiet.
It is the cutest, cosiest – and craziest – cottage surrounded by a sea of herbs and flowerbeds, with tables shaded by umbrellas screaming in orange and purple and lime green. A bright smile meets us at the entrance and offers us menus.
“Welcome! I’m Vee, and I’ll be your waitress today. Choose any table, and I’ll come and find you in a minute.”
Jake and I choose a table close to a little stream that murmurs over the stones and I take a deep breath, inhaling the profusion of fragrances: lavender, rose, mint and jasmine.
“Jake, how did you know about this place? It’s so beautiful!”
“Nice, hey? I designed their marketing material and website and thought it’d be just up your alley.”
Vee has overheard Jake and when she comes over apologises for not recognising him right away. She seldom has anything to do with the briefing of the agency, she said. She leaves that to her business partner, Elaine, but she did see Jake once when he dropped by to get a feel for the place.
As soon as she has left, out comes the file.
“Yes, I am actually. I really didn’t think having a baby was such a big deal. I thought there was a bit of hanky-panky, you grew fat, you had the baby and then we’d be a family. I didn’t think there were so many things we’d have to do and learn about when it came to preparing to fall pregnant – never mind actually falling pregnant, being pregnant, the birth and raising a baby!”
Jake laughs. “Yup! I also had no clue about the whole story, seeing as I’ve never really given it more than a brief thought. But you’re right … maybe if we know as much as possible, making the decision to have a baby – or not – will be a little easier. I’ve found that making an emotional decision seldom works.”
He puts his cell on silent, and flips open the file. “So, the last point on our list is ‘Preconceptual lifestyle’.”
Lifestyle can compromise fertility and pregnancy and the following needs to be considered in order to increase fertility and a successful pregnancy: alcohol, smoking, drugs and lifestyle.
Zita West, the pregnancy guru, says a by-product of alcohol metabolism is acetaldehyde, which is a toxin to sperm.
Research offers overwhelming evidence that alcohol use during pregnancy readily crosses the placenta into the bloodstream of the foetus – so if the female is intoxicated, so is the foetus. Prof Lise Eliot says that alcohol kills neurons in foetal brains and disrupts the relocation of neurons so that parts of the brain may be out of place or fail to form. Different areas of the brain are affected, depending on the stage of pregnancy at which alcohol is consumed.
Research is inconclusive about the effect of a glass of wine now and then, but caution is suggested and abstaining altogether is recommended.
The effects of alcohol on the foetus are dose-dependent, but Foetal Alcohol Syndrome occurs in 30–50% of babies where the female drinks daily. These babies may be deformed and 80% of them may suffer from some form of mental retardation, hyperactivity or speech and language delays.
“Well, there go your party days!” laughs Jake, as he turns the page.
I just roll my eyes. Well, if you think I’m doing this on my own, think again, buddy. I don’t say it, but I am as sure as hell thinking it. I refuse to be alone in this.
Smoking doubles the quantity of free radicals in your body and robs it of nutrients that are crucial to the development of the sperm and the egg. Smoking also promotes the absorption of lead and cadmium; both are toxic and reduce the oxygen intake needed for cell replication. If the male is a smoker, the quality, mobility and density of his sperm may be affected and result in children with a greater risk of having cancer. If the female smokes, chances are doubled that she will have a low-weight baby. Nicotine restricts blood-flow to the foetus and can impact on cell division. Smoking females have a higher risk of premature rupture of the membranes and placenta problems.
I make a mental note to Google terms like ‘cell division’ and ‘placenta’. No use pretending I know exactly what all of this means. Mustn’t let pride get in the way. That’d just be foolish – and irresponsible.
Persistent use of cannabis/dagga lowers sperm production. It contains an active ingredient – tetrahydrocannibinol – that can increase the number of sperm having abnormal heads, making it difficult for the sperm to penetrate the egg. Cocaine seriously impacts on the mobility of the sperm and if the female is a cocaine user, she runs the risk of retardation of her baby and premature birth.
Sleep is important because it allows us to switch off the cognitive brain [‘thinking brain’ is Jake’s note in pencil alongside] to maintain brain health and functioning and refill energy reserves. Sleep enhances the body rhythms needed for optimal functioning.
We are briefly interrupted when Vee brings over a tray laden with a sumptuous breakfast. I see her eyes drift curiously across the file notes that lay spread out in front of us, but she doesn’t say anything. She simply steps back and checks if we need something else before she leaves us to eat.
“Enjoy!” she says with a smile. “And shout if you need anything, you hear?”
We turn our focus to the food. Yummy! And this is the ideal setting to be discussing something as natural as falling pregnant. The prospect of food makes me feel a whole lot better already!
I mentally tick off Step 9 of Project Baby, monitoring the progress in achieving the goal: What do I need to know before I fall pregnant?
I also mentally tick off steps 10 and 11: Step 10 – Feedback to stakeholders. Well, the gorgeous stakeholder is sitting right in front of me and has had all the feedback he needs – for now anyway. And Step 11 – Goal achieved, so celebrate! Yes, the goal has been achieved, and we now know what we need to know before we fall pregnant. Our next step will be to define a new goal, but I don’t think this is the time for that.
“Zani,” Jake is looking a little bashful, “I know I was a pain in the arse when you raised the subject of a baby, starting a family … I know it’s important to you, and I don’t want you to think it’s something I do not even want to consider.” He checks to see whether I am following what he is trying to say. “I must admit I’ve learned quite a bit since, but I just want to say this …”
When I start to open my mouth, he raises his hand firmly to indicate that he is not done.
“No, wait. I just want to say this – I need some time to get used to the idea of having a baby. I enjoy our life together as it is, and wouldn’t want to give that up. If I’ve learned anything from all that I’ve read so far, it’s that having a baby is going to mean big changes. And I mean big, big changes. For both of us.”
Again, I try to interrupt. And again he raises his hand to stop me.
“Let me finish. What I suggest we do is follow the 104-day preconceptual programme. It can only do us good. But I don’t want you to think that we’ll make a baby three months from now. We give up alcohol and do the rest to improve our health in general, that’s fine, but I think those three months will also give us some space in which to get used to the idea.” He pauses, and looks at me.
“Would you really do that?” I confess I am a little teary at this point, but I am also silently thinking that if I can get a yes now, I’ll have three months to convince him I’m right – as always. I’m not a Leo for nothing!
“Yup, if that’s what you want, that’s what we’ll do, but starting tomorrow. Not today. Remember, we’ve got a braai with the cycling team and I need to have a final few beers with the boys before the start of the dry rugby season!”
I find myself saying a silent prayer.