Getting the best start in life is about having a good education .…wrong.
Getting the best start in life is about being offered opportunities to utilise and develop potential ….. wrong.
Getting the best start in life is about being in a supportive and nurturing family environment ..…wrong.
These facets may all be beneficial, but they are all aspects of child raising that are, arguably, not the foundations for getting the best start in life. That happens before any of these come into play.
The start of life is at conception. A couple’s first responsibility as parents does not therefore occur at the baby’s birth or during the pregnancy but in their actions prior to conception. It is through both the man and woman’s behaviour and lifestyle that the raw materials which will produce their baby are created. The quality of the egg and that of the fertilising sperm are determined by the body that creates and holds them. If those bodies have been neglected or mistreated, damaged or tainted then they will not generate the best possible reproductive material which will mean that the embryo they go on to produce may not be all that it might have been.
It is not that different from cooking. Most chefs will advise that the key to a good meal is to use the best quality ingredients available. Whenever we produce something the output will only be as good as the quality of the inputs used. Of course, having a good chef will always help but if the ingredients are of a premium quality then it will certainly add to the result.
Is a woman’s ovarian egg really very different from the egg of a chicken? Not greatly. And yet, we recognise organic and free-range eggs as being of a much better quality – they taste better, they’re better for us, and we get a better product when we cook with them. And, because of this, we’re prepared to pay more for them.
Generally, women will stop smoking and drinking alcohol when they find out that they are expecting. They will become more conscious of what they are doing to their body. But, in part, the damage will have already been done. The embryo is already created, the building blocks are already in place.
As for men, very few have any realisation that the quality of their sperm is determined by the inputs that go into their body.
Too many parents-to-be, particularly in the young, conceive accidentally. They may have smoked, taken drugs, ate poorly, drank alcohol right up to and through conception. Only when they later become aware of the pregnancy will they perhaps change their behaviours. By then it is of course too late.
As an athlete’s training builds for a main event, prospective parents should also prepare for their conceptual moment. Their bodies need to be in top condition – pure and unsullied. It’s the surest way to achieve the best outcome. If they’re not in tip-top condition, then they’re not going to deliver the best possible result. And genetically it’s all about maximising potential.
By this definition therefore, accidental conception must be of a poorer quality to one that is planned and prepared for. This is not to say that the resulting baby will be inferior; it may just not be all that it might have been.
But where do we draw the line? Cutting out cigarettes and alcohol prior to conception are fairly obvious behaviours that would be beneficial but how far should we go?
Should we be eating organically?
Should we cut out all but essential medications?
Should we avoid heavily polluted areas?
Should we be taking vitamins or supplements to improve our body’s chemistry?
Should we follow an exercise programme to get pre-conceptually fit?
These are all pieces of advice and recommendations that may be given during pregnancy, but perhaps they should equally apply during pre-conception.
Too often we will focus on lifestyle changes that seek to improve the chances of conception but really what we should also be doing is making lifestyle enhancements that seek to improve the very quality of the conception.
Although generally we may recognise that the quality of outcomes is, more often than not, governed by the quality of the inputs, in relation to conception, this is rarely proclaimed. This is because we like to uphold the mantra that parents will always do their best for their children. Yet, in challenging their pre-conceptual behaviour we are suggesting that, perhaps, they haven’t done their best, that perhaps they have fallen short of being a good parent.
The implicit suggestion is that all unplanned – and therefore unprepared for – pregnancies are of poorer quality. It’s an assertion that would not sit comfortably with many parents.
As we all know there is no such thing as perfect parenting. We are parents for a long time. In that time, we are bound to do things wrong. We all make mistakes, have deficiencies or do things that, for whatever reason, might not be in our child’s best interests. Perhaps poor conceptual preparation is just one of those failings.
In the grand scheme of things, it might also be asked how important the conceptual moment is. Does it really matter if that child is later brought up in a loving, nurturing environment that is committed to maximising that child’s best potential and interests? It’s certainly true that later failures and successes may negate or compensate for pre-conceptual preparations, nevertheless, it is only by doing those preparations, that we would be seeking to give our child the best possible start in life.