Happy Birthday, Control Freaks

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According to a new study in New York, published by the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association using information gathered over 28 years, the time of year you were born may impact your overall life expectancy.

You read that right. Apparently, conceiving a baby in January or February isn’t the best idea (sorry, Valentine’s Day romancers) if you don’t want to pay for prescription Ritalin, because the resulting November babies have the highest likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis later in life.

Put October on your shit list too, as October babies are the most prone to disease. May-born babies, on the other hand, tend to be most resilient to disease, but are the least likely to die young. March and February babies have strong minds but weak hearts, with a lower chance of neurological disease, but a higher risk of cardiovascular problems. April babies also tend to have health issues pertaining to the heart.

Of course, this study was done in one very small part of the world, and environmental factors like sunlight, pollution, dietary provisions, and other lifestyle considerations have yet to be accounted for. (However, we do know that Sweden had similar results for attention-span-challenged November babes.)

Not to worry: Following your doctor’s advice to move more, eat less, and balance your time between the home and workplace have a significantly greater effect on all the common metrics of health than when your parents got that lovin’ feeling. Time spent at the gym will give a February baby a healthier heart than a May baby who prefers sitting on the couch while catching up with celebrity gossip.

Still, in an age where most new parents attempt to control and monitor every aspect of their child’s diet, education, psycho-social development, social media usage, and extracurricular activities, it’s natural to wonder what this new data may do for the “planning” types who are in the contemplative, pre-parental stages. People have always been curious about the outcomes of parenting, the timing of conception and its effect on the child born, and how to alter any given trait through a variety of methods.

PerfectionReading these studies, it’s important to note that the illusion of control is not a phenomenon with which to be trifled. Perhaps this is not the best time or place for a bully pulpit, but it needs to be said:

Parents, don’t get too worked about the latest “research.”

It’s not that this research isn’t well founded. The Washington Post reported that scientists from Columbia University compared over 1,600 diseases using medical data from the New York Presbyterian Hospital, from the years 1985 to 2013. They were discriminating, and yet verified nearly 40 links also found in prior medical research. But when research is still fairly new, it’s meant to round out what you already know, correct what you falsely assumed, and make your question long-accepted truths. With that said, it’s okay to trust yourselves, trust common sense, and trust your parents when they tell you what worked and what didn’t.

Trust your doctor, trust your sense of right and wrong, trust your instincts, trust your closest friends. Value these people and sources more than your Yoga instructor and all the newest (aka: relatively untested, incomplete) research right off the bat. Also, keep in mind that the U.S. still has an atrocious infant mortality rate, with over 5 babies in 1000 dying at birth, despite all of our expanded “research” and “knowledge,” according to The World Factbook.

Is it the doctors? Is it the system? Perhaps it’s the comfort we take in all of our so-called control, our knowledge of what preventative measures to take, our insistence on all manner of baby monitors over closer-knit family networks, and our stubborn need to feel like “better” people and parents by following the newest pseudo-medical trend.

The Case Against Perfection, published almost a decade ago by Michael J. Sandel, addresses “Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering,” as its subtitle so aptly states.

The babies born today are not just a result of luck, he argues, but a very conscious decision. “Once, giving birth to a child with Down syndrome was considered a matter of chance; today, many parents of children with Down syndrome or other genetic disabilities feel judged or blamed. A domain once governed by fate has now become an arena of choice.” He states that, even with all religious and social leanings pushed aside, “the advent of genetic testing creates a burden of decision that did not exist before.”

I, for one, will not argue that having more information is ever a negative thing, especially when it presents a choice to be made. I won’t even condemn the idea that choices are a burden, because the burden of knowledge is one most of us would choose. (Anyone read a little book called Genesis?)

However, the notion that just because you can control certain aspects of conception, birth, health, and well-being means that you have control is false. You never have control. Unless you’re a Jedi, a wizard, a mutant, or some other unworldly master of minds and hearts.

The truth of the matter is that the truth of the matter is too complex and individual to be decided upon by one person or principle, but control is not a real option, no matter how many choices we appear to have at our disposal. Just because you have more information and make a higher number of decisions about your child’s schooling — or even the type of organic food they consume — than your parents’ generation doesn’t mean you ultimately gain more control. No, you gain the illusion of control.

While choices add up, and they matter, it’s important — as said rather offhandedly in the meandering graduation speech by Baz Luhrmann: “Maybe you’ll marry — maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children — maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40 — maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either — your choices are half chance; so are everybody else’s.”

He may as well have said, “Maybe you’ll get heart disease, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll get dementia, maybe you’ll be a champion chess player into your 80s.” And that goes for every sign on the Astrological spectrum.

Whatever month you’re born in, enjoy your Birthday! Live long and prosper.