As it happens, I don't actually have any special fondness for pigs, despite the fact that the surfactant Charlie was given shortly after birth was the product of, um, somebody doing something to a pig — I'm not quite clear on exactly what, and I beg you not to tell me. Mostly I just like this headline:
Not only is it a pig who could possibly hold the answers to questions about infertility and diabetes, it's an odd-looking pig at that. A "reproductively mature" odd-looking pig who will be fed "an unlimited high-fat and high-sugar diet," whose ovaries will be scrutinized via ultrasound a few times a week, whose egg quality will be examined in the course of in vitro fertilization.
I know. Make up your own joke.
It's strange to think that a pregnancy that might have killed me could prolong my life instead. The complications that arose when I was pregnant with Charlie — HELLP syndrome, gestational diabetes — led us to run tests afterward that give a clearer and somewhat sobering picture of my overall health.
There's the clotting disorder, which we wouldn't have detected if we hadn't run into complications with Charlie and therefore asked careful questions about having another child. Most people with Factor V Leiden never experience any difficulties, and there's no compelling reason to believe I'll have further problems, either. But with that knowledge I can manage my risk intelligently. No birth control pills. Anticoagulants if I'm undergoing surgery or attempting another pregnancy. No hormone replacement therapy come menopause. And a lifetime of crawling awkwardly over my airline seatmates to move freely about the cabin once the captain has turned off the seat belt sign.
And then there's the diabetes. I don't actually have diabetes, not yet. I have what's called prediabetes, which is what they call the no-man's land between normal glucose tolerance and full-blown diabetes. That, along with several other boring factors like "my dad has diabetes," "I had gestational diabetes," and "okay, wait, back up, regular program of exer-what?" means that I'm at much higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. (And heart disease, and stroke, and having to wear those attractive flesh-colored elastic compression stockings, but we'll talk about those another time when I'm feeling especially racy.)
The good news is that a change in diet and exercise patterns can play a dramatic role in delaying or preventing the eventual onset of diabetes. The depressing news is that to a 35-year-old, what health professionals call a lifestyle change means about 50 long years of very little of the foods I love most and a great deal more of the activities I dislike most.
It's quite possible that I had a tendency toward impaired glucose tolerance before I ever became pregnant. I'll never know whether my pregnancy with Charlie brought it on, or whether it simply revealed it. Either way, even as I'm glaring at the dry brown rice cake that is trying to pass itself off as a snack, I'm grateful. I'm glad I know. Without knowing, I couldn't change it. With Charlie around, I want to. 50 years of rice cakes seems a small price to pay.
Spam was a staple food of my childhood. My mother cheerfully insists that what intelligence I may possess is a direct result of Spam's, um, I don't know, healthful salts? Nutritious piggy fats? High-fiber jellies?
Who the hell knows? I know I ate a lot of the stuff. When my father was out of town on business trips, my brother and I enjoyed the rare treat of a crudité platter in front of Space: 1999 or Emergency! featuring uniform cubes of Spam, batons of Velveeta, and coins of Vienna sausage, occasionally relieved by a disciplined little chiffonade of iceberg lettuce. When my father was in town, supper might be one of his favorites, Spam spaghetti, which is exactly what it sounds like. Weekends out on the boat or at our camp on the bayou, for I am a child of south Louisiana, meant Spam sandwiches.
Now does this ring any Lunchable-related bells?
I was talking to my mother about this a few nights ago. She, who is by no means culinarily unsophisticated, was surprised when I told her I hadn't given any to Charlie, and had no plans to do so. If I wouldn't eat it, and I would not, why would I give it to him?
I'd sooner let him eat crayons. And I can prove it.
And it's not because it tastes bad; it was a pleasant enough part of my childhood menu that I suspect if I were to eat it today I would enjoy a shiver of near-Proustian delight as its rubbery bulk slid easily down my gullet. It's the salt, the fat, and the jelly, my God, the jelly.
Thanks, but no Spam for Charlie. Magical animal, my ass.
Tell me what you ate as a child that you wouldn't give a kid yourself. But I warn you: first person to say "burnt sienna" gets it.