So the latest thing to avoid when pregnant is iodine. No, wait – I got it the wrong way round! When pregnant it’s best to have loads of the stuff. Loads of iodine, and loads of iron. And maybe all the other elements that start with “I”, just to be on the safe side (I’ve heard iridium’s nice).
As with all these things, you’re not allowed just to have supplements, though. That’d be cheating (oh, and taking iodine supplements “stuns” the thyroid. A likely story). You have to get your iodine through eating a varied diet, the kind of diet it’s impossible to eat because you’re so busy trying to avoid anything unpasteurised /raw /caffeinated /unwashed /with a high mercury content (that’s assuming you can keep food down in the first place). Anyhow, do your best, and just to help you, here’s a handy, meaningless table listing the iodine content in mcg per average serving of various common foodstuffs. Just make sure it adds up to 250mcg every day while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding; it’s easy, providing you ignore the fact that the list contains items such as nuts, shellfish and oily fish which, actually, you’re not really allowed (plus organic milk is now worse for you than normal milk, but only in terms of iodine content. Make of that what you will). But hey, in case it all seems too much of a hassle, the British Dietetic Association have even illustrated their advice with one of those photos of a headless pregnant woman. There’s a man standing behind her, hands resting protectively on her bump. So now you know just how important it is. You’re not a person, you’re a baby-brewing machine, and you run on iodine, folic acid and virtue.
I didn’t know about needing more iodine when I was having my kids. This has, potentially, lowered their IQs. Mummy’s inadequate fuel input may have led to substandard produce. If we were talking about embryos in petri dishes – “designer babies”, as it were – we’d find such talk obscene, but not so when we’re dealing with the petri dish that is a pregnant woman. With her, there are endless adjustments to make in creating the ideal specimen. Of course, there’s only so much you can do. Frequently the basic equipment is flawed. She may have an “incompetent” cervix, an inexplicable propensity to miscarry, a genetic heritage that no amount of forbidden-but-not oily fish can counteract. Never mind. You’re still permitted to nag her about the small stuff. After all, when a pregnancy or birth goes wrong – and so frequently they do – it’s always useful to remind a woman that it might be all her fault.
The new advice is that all women of childbearing age – not just those trying to conceive – up their iodine intake on the basis that so many pregnancies are unplanned. Fair enough. I guess if we’re all pre-pregnant now, walking wombs in waiting, it’s best to get with the programme. Although I have to admit, a child having a slightly lower IQ at age eight does not seem as worrying to me as a child suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome. So maybe all women of childbearing age need to avoid all booze instead. As an added bonus, that’d probably sort out all the unplanned pregnancies anyhow. But still, I don’t think that’s going far enough. Looking further into the future, and with only the welfare of the unborn in mind, it’s worth remembering that we’re also, every one of us, pre-dead. We should therefore cease using all non-renewable resources right this minute, no matter how restrictive this makes our lives, since valuing experience in the present is selfish. Or at least it is if you’re young and female.
It’s important that pregnant women are able to eat a healthy diet. It’s important that all of us can. I suspect the biggest barrier to this is a lack not of knowledge, but of money. It seems to me slightly ridiculous to be faffing around advising women on how many micrograms of iodine they should be “giving” their foetus when there are children suffering from malnutrition. The background and politics of IQ tests are questionable enough, without us adding “guilt-tripping mothers into thinking they’ve let their children down before they’re even born” to the list of crimes against peace of mind.
It’s hard enough to do the right thing when you’re pregnant. Well, to be honest, it’s impossible, as long as you’re obliged to eat, breathe and move. You can reach a point of OCD-like madness where you start to worry that every breath you take might harm the baby because it might not be “pure”. Or you can think “fuck it, I’m doing my best”. And then take a deep breath and eat the oily fish. Or don’t eat it. Or half-eat it. Hell, I don’t know. But surely there just has to be some consistency one day.
PS That thing about iridium – I was joking, of course. I suspect iridium is very bad for you indeed. Mind you, I only suspect this on the basis that it ends in “-ium”. I’m not a fucking scientist.