For Angie’s Sake, A New Manifesto
In the midst of planning movie premieres and national anti-chemical campaigns, our life as we knew it stopped suddenly when my wife went into labor at precisely 12:55 a.m. last Thursday. For the next several hours, I was either glued to a stopwatch or being gripped fiercely by my wife as her contractions grew closer and more powerful in succession.
Incredibly important questions came at us from all directions in those precious moments. We opted, for instance, to forego painkiller and intravenous tubes for my wife. We reasoned that an analgesic strong enough to sedate Katie might have unintended effects on our soon-to-be-born child. And we had long since decided to share the experience with only a nurse, Katie’s mom and a mid-wife. Medical doctors were probably only a pager away, but our goal was to replicate the simple, natural experience that had brought our older daughter, Aimee, into the world in 2006.
In the minutes after Angie Kathryn Boardway Tukey entered the world at 3:41 p.m. on Aug. 13, the profound decisions continued. We rejected the erythromycin ointment that the nurse might have applied to Angie’s eyes. We similarly turned away vaccination for Hepatitis B. We had studied these two practices ahead of time and decided that, based on our health history and risk factors, we just didn’t feel comfortable subjecting our daughter to potentially unnecessary chemicals in her first hour of life.
We live in a nation, fortunately, where parents can make those kinds of choices — and I’m not one to judge if and when parents make decisions about their children that are different from my own. Health care is personal and private and, by and large, we should probably all stay out of each other’s business.
As we exited the hospital two days later, however, I was immediately reminded of the health care choices that others make for us. Surrounding this beautiful facility — that attempts to fend off death just as it nurtures new life — acres of a weed-free green lawn stood as someone’s symbol of the hospital’s grandeur and excellence. With nary a dandelion, clover, plantain, bee or butterfly on site, the grass had recently been bathed in an imprecise coating of weed ’n feed. At barely 10 a.m. on the 90-degree morning of our departure, laborers with no eye or ear protection were busily mowing and weed-whacking the grass that was already too short to withstand the heat of season.
I’m quite certain my wife and I were the only ones aware of the spectacular irony of this particular lawn. I’m sure it can be taken as a neon sign of my peculiar obsession that I was even thinking about toxic lawn chemicals on the day I was driving my daughter home for the first time.
For Angie’s sake, though, I feel the need to be more passionate than ever about this subject. Did you know that a recent study found traces of 287 different industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of 10 random babies? Did you know that pediatricians are reaching near unanimity in their conclusion that these environmental exposures are the root cause of increases in childhood diseases ranging from autism to ADHD and leukemia? Did you know that lawn chemicals, in particular, are outrageously dangerous for developing minds and bodies?
So many toxic exposures cannot be controlled in this crazy world. Some that can, though, include lawn and garden chemicals. One state, Connecticut, has taken a look at the evidence and passed laws to eliminate lawn pesticides from schools and daycare centers. In Canada, courts have evoked the Precautionary Principle — otherwise known as better safe than sorry — as rationale for allowing lawn pesticide bans to sweep nationwide.
I’m sure the majority of the patients at our hospital saw that weed-free lawn as a sure sign they had come to the right place. I took that lawn as a symbol that — by and large in the United States — we have so much more work to do.
For Angie’s sake, the SafeLawns Foundation will keep at it. Thank you for being a part of this overwhelming, but attainable, challenge.