The Complete Organic Pregnancy, a book I wrote with my friend Lexy Zissu, came out about two weeks ago from Harper Collins. Although it's aimed at women who are trying to get pregnant and pregnant, almost all of the information in it applies to anyone interested in living a more organic life.
The idea for the book came to us when we each decided we wanted to get pregnant and realized we had a lot of questions and doubts about what was truly safe and unsafe to eat, use, breathe, wear, and do. We couldn't find a comprehensive guide with the answers we were looking for. Lexy and I are both reporters (we met writing for the New York Observer newspaper), so we put our skills to work and started asking lots of questions.
The subjects we were most concerned with are pretty much the same ones anyone (pregnant or not) has - how big a problem exactly are the PDBE's in my mattress and computer? What's wrong with fresh paint, certain carpets and that new car smell? Why is jet fuel showing up in my breast milk? What we'd like to do here is spend some time each week with one topic, and share some news, personal experience and information from the book so that you don't have to worry you're not doing enough to protect yourself (or an unborn child).
The "how-to" information in our book is broken up with diaries from writers (Barbara Kingsolver), people who care about organic living (Marion Nestle) and reporters like ourselves who wanted to know more (Florence Williams). Lexy and I have a few diaries too. The following is one of Lexy's diaries, about how paranoid she felt before we started researching and she realized she had a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers.
The first time my boyfriend Olli and I had deliberate let's-make-a-baby sex was just plain weird. We were still in the talking-about-it phase when it just sort of happened. I lay in bed afterwards, freaking out. To my surprise, my panic had very little to do with the idea of a child.
My anxiety was about my physical world, suddenly looming over me. I tried to concentrate on that what-if-we-just-made-something feeling, but the crack in the ceiling above my head distracted me. It was suggesting a different sort of what if? As in, What if that's lead paint? What if that stain where the window meets the wall is actually toxic mold? What if the zit cream I smeared on my face before climbing into bed can lead to birth defects? And the wine I drank hours earlier? The fumes wafting through the vents from my building's boiler?
Olli wandered into the bedroom, unfazed, with a glass of water. I sipped. He turned out the lights. I couldn't sleep. Why had I taken a sip? We use a Brita filter. But what if even Brita isn't safe? What's in that filter anyway? The water sits in a plastic pitcher in our fridge. Isn't plastic toxic? And plastic is everywhere - my computer, all of my food storage containers, the television, the printer, the remote control, the Cuisinart, the garbage pail, the hangers, all of the plastic bags, my phone. What about cell phones? Eventually I drifted off.
The next morning I made coffee on autopilot, momentarily forgetting what had happened. I was putting brown sugar into our cups when I dropped the spoon. The sugar could be deadly! (Not to mention that I shouldn't have been caffeinating.) The sugar was a gift from a close friend in Jamaica, thoughtfully smuggled on a flight to New York. American brown sugar is refined to white with "cleaned" molasses added back in. Jamaican sugar is like French cheese - unprocessed. And now that I was possibly pregnant, the microbe-unfriendly USDA didn't seem so wacky anymore. Maybe those beautiful wet granules contained germs that would harm my unborn kid. I poured my coffee in the sink.
I headed to the shower to calm my nerves. Fat chance. The bathroom was like a House of Horrors. Can Soft Scrub residue get in your system via your feet? What about the black mold dancing across our (plastic!) shower curtain? And the roach bait behind the toilet? The cat litter winked at me, I recoiled. I brushed my teeth and almost cracked - was fluoride bad for me? And what about my deodorant (aluminum), hydrocortisone cream (steroids), and just about every shampoo, lotion, and perfume on my shelf (all made with chemicals that have the potential to harm growing babies). Even my pedicure made me nervous, but I didn't dare risk acetone fumes in order to remove the poisonous polish.
The phone rang -- my friend Deirdre. She had been trying to get pregnant for a few months. I broke down: "I've lost my mind. Do you think subway fumes can pickle a kid? I have to quit my job; my chair has stuffing poking out of it. I bet it's toxic. Everyone at work has the same cold all the time."
"Okay, Lexy," she said, handling me. "What are you talking about?"
"We tried last night. The people downstairs smoke cigarettes and pot constantly. It floats up around the heat riser by my pillow. That can't be good."
"My neighbor smokes too. You can't think like that. If there's something you can do, do it, but you have to live in the world. Can you shut the heat vent? Just write down everything you're freaking about and we'll start Googling." D's good like that. Trying to get pregnant has made her hyper-aware, but she's also a realist.
I started to make breakfast. Scrambled organic eggs with organic scallions (well done, just in case, and not in a non-stick pan for good measure). I sliced up an organic wheat baguette from my favorite local place. The bread - and Deirdre - soothed me. I used to be this neurotic about everything I ate. Simple newspaper articles would lead me to think lettuce was deadly. As a defense, I researched everything that concerned me and decided eating organic would save my health -- and my sanity. I promised Deirdre I'd take the same approach with my cracked ceiling.
Olli climbed out of bed and retrieved the remaining cup of coffee. He smiled. As I sectioned my grapefruit, I didn't feel pregnant. But I knew that by the time I was, I would have figured out if my aluminum grapefruit spoons were out to hurt our offspring. And even if they were, I've always preferred silver anyway.