The Lottery Of Life

Fourth instalment

Before you’ve been so much as thought of

It’s high time I started to list and explain those long-term factors that constitute a person’s luck. 

I’ll begin with the characteristics that accrue to a person before he or she is even conceived. Philip Larkin famously wrote that they fuck you up, your mum and dad, and that’s true enough, but I doubt he was even considering the effects one’s parents have before their offspring is so much a twinkle in their eyes. Therefore I’m not – yet – considering the effects of genetic inheritance; I’ll take that into account once we’re reached conception. But a person’s luck in the lottery of life is affected before that person is conceived – or even conceived of.

And it’s not just your mum and dad, either: there are influences on the as-yet unborn, not yet conceived, not yet so much as thought of person that derive from the parents of the parents. Here is a selection of quotations that support this concept.

          British Medical Bulletin, Volume 60, Issue 1, November 2001. A mother’s ability to nourish her baby is established during her own fetal life and by her nutritional experiences in childhood and adolescence, which determine her body size, composition and metabolism.

          Wikipedia – nutrition and pregnancy. An ever-increasing number of studies have shown that the nutrition of the mother will have an effect on the child, up to and including the risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes throughout life.

          The Lancet, April 17, 2018. Health and nutrition of both men and women before conception is important not only for pregnancy outcomes but also for the lifelong health of their children and even the next generation.

           Oxford Academic: 35 Paternal factors that affect conception and pregnancy. Published: December 2014. The father’s nutrition and lifestyle can influence pregnancy outcomes in a number of ways. In the pre-conception period, several modifiable factors in paternal behaviour and nutrition can influence sperm count and quality, and consequently affect fertility. For example, sperm count and quality is affected by alcohol, recreational drugs, prescription drugs, infections, tobacco, and environmental toxins, as well as the man’s BMI and metabolic health state. A father’s metabolic status may also have some impact on the metabolic trajectory of his offspring.

The conclusion I draw from these studies is that one of the factors affecting whether a person has good or bad luck in the lottery of life is the health and nutrition of that person’s parents and grandparents – not just immediately before the person was conceived, but long before. If your parents and grandparents were well fed and healthy, you’re off to a flying start with all kinds of advantages; if your parents were malnourished, or lacking specific vitamins or minerals, or addicted to certain substances, you start with bad luck before you’re even conceived.

In addition to the medical conditions mentioned above there are studies that suggest that anorexic mothers are more likely to have autistic children; that an alcoholic mother can have a baby with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder; that fathering over the age of 40 increases the likelihood of any resulting baby having physical or mental difficulties.

The age, health and nutrition of your parents set parameters for your life before you were even conceived.

If that seems fundamentally unfair, all I can say is: welcome to the lottery of life.

In the next instalment, I’ll arrive at the moment of conception and begin to discuss the many and complex factors that are determined by a person’s genetic inheritance.  

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.