Excerpt from the translation of Daphne Deckers' book: Geboorte van een Moeder; a Dutch VIP's story of childbirth and motherhood, peppered with personal anecdotes, laced with little-known information and dotted with humorous doting.
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"Once one little sperm pierces the shell around your egg, the walls instantly seal against any other comers. They're just out of luck. This interesting fact caused Woody Allen's observation that every single human being is a winner, because he already beat hundreds of millions of others just to be born. I always liked that idea; after all, every mother thinks her child is the most important person ever born on earth. That most primal of emotions now proves to be well founded. The possible genetic combinations were countless and the competition was killing, but this is the one baby that came out on top of it all. You would almost think it's not a matter of luck but indeed proof of a higher meaning. In the early days of my pregnancy I was filled with romantic visions of this child who from a galaxy of possibles had picked us to be born to. A few weeks later, as I hung vomiting over the toilet bowl, I retained precious little of this mystical feeling. But for a few happy weeks, I was floating on a downy pink cloud. Way too soon I was on the phone to my doctor, calling proudly, "I'm on my way!"; pregnancy test stick still dripping in my hand. "Congratulations," said the assistant, "Call back next month." I had to laugh at myself. What did I expect, that the doctor would hail me with a brass band? Studies have shown that ten to twenty per cent of pregnancies abort in the first three months. Let's get through that first, I told myself.
And so I happily swept into a bookstore where, to avoid choosing between them, I bought the whole lot of pregnancy books. Well, I got the whole lot all right. The things that can happen to a pregnant woman! Toxoplasmosis. Listeriosis. Pre-eclampsia. Pelvic instability. Breech position. Postnatal depression. And that's in addition to the 'usual' pregnancy woes: nausea, constipation, cramps, heartburn, stretch marks, varicose veins and haemorrhoids. When Richard came home from the US he was amused by the lists of warnings I had stuck all over the fridge. Meanwhile, I was losing my sense of perspective. All I could see was the hazards of unwashed lettuce, red meat, blue cheese and raw eggs. It's different for men anyway. All this was going on inside my body, and I didn't want to make any mistakes. At our favourite Japanese restaurant I would firmly look the other way as Richard enjoyed the delectable raw salmon. The chef tried to tell me how in Japan pregnant women eat sushi and sashimi all the time, but I would not be swayed. The fear of premature birth or brain damage was well rooted. They ended up making a special 'Daphne roll' for me: wafer-thin cucumber rolled with crab and avocado. Nowadays, two pregnancies later, I know a piece of camembert won't cause an acute miscarriage. In fact the danger of listeriosis only applies to raw milk cheeses, made with unpasteurised milk, which you can hardly buy in the Netherlands anyway. If you want to be sure check the label. It doesn't hurt to be extra careful. I avoided raw meat and fish the second time too. But I no longer lay awake worrying about a liverwurst sandwich.
My grandmother Oma Mien gave birth to six healthy children in the war-torn 1940s. (Incidentally, the doctor had to check how far a woman was dilated under a sheet. Even the incision, or episiotomy, had to be made in the dark!) In those lean times, Oma's family usually ate mashed potatoes with applesauce, and maybe enjoyed the luxury of a piece of meat once a week. Apparently unborn children can weather a lot of shortages, but it is still a good thing that we now have more guidelines and choices. I tried to eat as healthily and varied as possible. I took folic acid to help prevent spina bifida and avoided X-rays and medication. But once when I was out to dinner with Richard and, yet again, agonising over how rare the steak would be and if the cheese sauce might have gorgonzola in it, he got fed up with me. He said: "Daphne, pregnancy is a time of happy expectation, not fearful anticipation. Now for Heaven's sake, eat!" And he was right. There are only three things that are seriously off limits: smoking, drugs and alcohol. That was easy for me, as I never drank a glass of alcohol in my life. (Well, that's not entirely true. One time I drank one glass of champagne: at Richard's Wimbledon victory. I spent the whole evening feeling as if someone had hit me on the head with a hammer.) I also have never smoked and I don't need to even discuss drugs. I know from friends who do smoke how fiendishly difficult it may be to leave that pack of cigarettes alone. Think of it this way: you have a choice and your baby doesn't.