Parenting & Relationships

Google Raised My Baby, Vol. 5: Mom Genes

Written by Anna Lotto

When I was growing up, the nature vs. nurture debate was alive and well. If a kid was an asshole, it was unclear whether the parents were assholes who treated the kid badly, or the kid had just inherited a strong set of asshole DNA.

But that was before we got all up in our chromosomes and read them like a book. Now scientists have found a gene for everything from alcoholism to the gene that makes you eat a whole goddamn bag of chips. It’s pretty much confirmed that humans are basicallyCylons, programmed by our DNA to follow our chromosomal instructions exactly. Which means, even if we haven’t discovered it yet, there’s a code that makes us fall in love with unemployed musicians or ask annoying questions during movies.

So, given that it’s pretty much a pre-destined formula, it seems like you would be able to accurately predict exactly what kind of baby you are going to get. And not just throughawesome baby morphing tools. You’d think there was an easy way to determine what your baby will look, act and even smell like, based on how much we now know about how it all works.

But despite all that we know, when it comes to exactly what is going to pop out of you after nine months, it’s still a total crapshoot.

Apparently there’s a whole bunch of genes and who knows which ones are going to show up. On top of that, we now know that genes can be turned on and off. Yes, our genes need to be seduced to “respond” or they are labeled “repressed.”

So, that would explain how, even though I am almost 5′ 1″, I have a one and a half year old who is over the 100th percentile for her height. Somehow, her height gene got very, very excited, I guess. Obviously my height gene is frigid.

It’s also possible I just never got a tall gene and my daughter did. Who knows, maybe my great great grandfather was Hagrid. (He was Scottish, after all.) The activation theory is likely more applicable to personality traits than physical ones and might better explain an even odder trait that my daughter seemed to inherit from unknown origins: happiness.

One of the earliest happy surprises we had was that our baby was and is a super smiley and freakishly happy baby. (This is in contrast to those early unhappy surprises, like your baby’s ability to projectile vomit and poop simultaneously.) We thought we saw a faint smile right after she was born and in the days that followed and even on the ultrasound. But we were fully able to admit that we were insane first-time parents caught up in a mutual narcissistic delusion.

This was especially apparent when trying to get other people excited about the ultrasound picture. What we saw as a nascent expression of pure joy and beauty, other people saw a grotesque mashed potato fetal sculpture with vaguely human-like features. If you’ve never seen a 3D ultrasound picture, it can be quite jarring. I remember being shocked at their repulsiveness before I was pregnant, and even when I was pregnant, I vowed I wouldn’t get those “gross pictures” done. Of course, I ended up not only getting them done, but displaying them on my TV during my baby shower, causing many guests to be unable to eat in the presence of the gigantic action shot of my womb on the widescreen.

Mabyn's smiley ultrasound
Mabyn’s smiley ultrasound

But by the time she was two weeks old, out of my womb and all cleaned up, she undoubtedly had a cute and non-stomach-churning smile. There was no denying that she was making a giant, open-mouthed, adult human-style smile.

Mabyn's early smile
Mabyn’s early smile

Only thing was, she wouldn’t really smile at people, just at…nothing. It was sort of a weird experience because it was like she was seeing something that was making her happy. It was just never her parents or any other people. It seemed like she was overjoyed by a white wall or a lamp. Luckily, Google had the answer, and that answer was that babies can see ghosts. This is the first thread that comes up for the search “my baby smiles at nothing.”

Awesome. I am so happy my infant, like dogs and cats apparently, can see spirits. I can understand how you could arrive at this conclusion. It did look like Mabyn was making eye contact with someone. And it was as if there was a hint of recognition in her eyes–like she was enjoying an inside joke. And how could she already have an inside joke when she’d only been on the outside for two weeks? Clearly she had old friends from another dimension/spirit world. I will buy the baby ghost hunter explanation before the “fart smile” one. Most doctors now say the “it’s just gas” explanation for an early smile is a myth.

What kind of a hater decided to say babies smiling was because they were farting? What bitter loser came up with that theory? Anyway, the reason her smile was so surprising is that my baby comes from a long line of depressives and social isolationists.

I realized though that maybe Mabyn’s father and I, despite being borderline misanthropes, were actually happy babies. Maybe the cruel world turned us cynical but our true natures were exceedingly gregarious, just like our daughter’s. First I checked with my mom. When I asked her if I was a “smiley baby” she said “Noooooooooo. No, not at all.” She then elaborated and explained that I actually growled at strangers as a baby and when my younger sister was born, when I was three and a half, I began attacking other children, usually by biting them in the grocery line. The picture at the right shows me expressing my feelings towards my new sister, contrasted with a picture of Mabyn expressing her feelings about life in general.

Mabyn’s father’s mother said he was also not a smiley baby. In fact, he was actually a non-stop crying baby. She said she “paid her dues” with him, because he had horrible colic. However, she assured me that his sister was a perfectly lovely baby.

So, no, we were not happy babies. Yet, these two miserable babies/adults created an infectiously happy kid. Is it a latent gene that skips generations that causes Mabyn to smile? Or does nurture still have some sway, and the fact that we are obsessed with our daughter make her very happy? Obviously, I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, and this whole post is a thinly veiled way show off my baby’s smiles. But it’s not my fault, I have the bragging parent gene. Here’s some more genetic-related questions I posed to Google:

  • Do all newborns have pig snout noses or just Irish ones
  • ADHD diagnosis infant
  • Does baby who smiles at everyone know who mother is
  • Why does infant not love mother more than strangers
  • Early newborn smiles linked to mother Percocet use
  • Are babies who smile less intelligent
  • Do babies hallucinate

Next time: Genetics, Part 2: Where’d you get those baby blues? Effed if I know.

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About the author

Anna Lotto

Anna Lotto, a native of Pittsfield, MA, currently lives in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and works as a writer for TV. She has written two pilots for TeenNick and her most recent job was on the Saturday morning ABC show Culture Click. When she doesn't have a job outside the house, she is in the house with her one-year-old daughter Mabyn, probably asking what sound a doggie makes.

Born in Newfoundland, Canada, to a Scottish mother and New Yorker father, Anna has three passports. She lives with and plans to marry the father of her daughter, helping Mabyn shed her bastard identity as soon as possible.

In between bouts of trolling the Internet for obscure childcare tips, Anna updates Mabyn's Twitter page.