“But daddy how are babies made?”

Last Friday, during Shabbat, our daughter, Mia, popped the question: “How are babies made?” Nina, my wife, is 24 weeks pregnant, and Mia, who is only 5, really wanted to know how babies were made.

You would think that question is hard to answer to such young a child. Uncomfortable. My first attempt was to try to simplify things. I went for the famous seed story.

“You know how at school you have been growing plants? You plant a seed, and then a few days later you see a sprout coming from under the dirt? Well, I planted a seed and mom has a baby in her belly,” I said.

“But how. daddy, how did you plant the seed?”

“Well, that,” I said, “You will find out when you are older.”

“You mean when I am 10?”

“Yes, Mia, when you are 10.”

So, by now you are probably thinking that by the time she is ten we will have the “sex talk.” But no, we won’t. When she is ten, we will have the “lab talk,” because Mia, like 5 million other children in the world so far, was made from Nina´s eggs and my sperm at an in vitro fertilization lab. My seed was “planted” in a petri dish.

Mia’s question was not only timely because of Nina´s pregnancy, but because today we are launching Prelude, the company that will help thousands of people have healthy babies when they are ready (a feature in Forbes about Prelude, authored by Miguel Helft, is here). And as a result of Prelude´s strategy, we will transform the infertility industry into the fertility industry, and in coming years, many more parents will have the “lab talk” with their kids.

Why would Prelude encourage the “lab talk” and not the “sex talk”? Because sex fails too frequently for it to be the only means of procreation. In the 60s, with the invention of the pill, the sexual revolution was launched—a revolution that decoupled sex from procreation. In the 2010s, thanks to the invention of vitrification (mostly developed at Prelude labs) and genetic sequencing of embryos, we are launching the second sexual revolution and decoupling procreation from sex.

When women under 30 are asked how many children they would like, the most common answer is three. But by the time they are 45, which is the natural end of fertility, 19% had no children, 22% had one, 30% had two, and only 29% had three or more children. Moreover, of those who had children, around 3% of babies were born with a congenital illness, and to get there, 20% of known pregnancies ended up in miscarriage. And to add to the risk of starting a family, every year there are tens of thousands of clinical abortions on pregnant women whose amnios or NIPT results lead them to decide to abort. So if having babies by having sex produces these results, should we continue to trust sex as the only means of procreation? We don’t think so. At Prelude, we think sex is great, sex is fun, but it is just too unreliable as the sole way to have babies during our 30s and 40s.

Prelude is a complementary strategy to starting a family having sex; an alternative that only occasionally would be necessary if millennials had their children at the same age as baby boomers had theirs. By stretching youth into our 40s, we’ve squeezed maternity out of the equation. A large segment of women is ending up with no children, or just one or two, when they wanted more. Or, because of advanced maternal and paternal age, they are having babies with significant health problems.

So, how do we fix this?

It’s why we developed The Prelude Method! The Prelude Method consists of freezing sperm and eggs when you are fertile, making embryos when you are ready, genetically sequencing parent’s and embryos to reduce the frequency of congenital illness, and transferring one at a time to reduce multiple pregnancies.

So. while all Prelude babies develop in their mother´s wombs, Prelude babies, like Mia, are not made having sex. And as opposed to people who solely rely on sex to make babies, people who rely on both sex and Prelude have a much greater chance of achieving their parental goals of having healthy babies when they are ready. Prelude uses the technology available to infertile people, on fertile people. At Prelude we believe that something as important as having a baby, and equally important, a healthy baby, should not be left to chance.

Today is a big day for us. Today, as Prelude, we announced that:

  • We raised $200 million mainly from a phenomenal group of investment professionals known as Lee Equity including Barry Baker, Yoo Jin Kim, and Collins Ward.
  • We have acquired the largest egg bank in North America, My Egg Bank, started by the scientist who perfected the vitrification technique in the U.S., Dr. Peter Nagy; and Dr. Daniel Shapiro, one of the nation’s leading reproductive endocrinologists who developed the most reliable technique to avoid hyperstimulation and obtain many eggs from fertile patients.
  • We have acquired Atlanta-based RBA, one of the nation’s best fertility clinics, whose CEO, Dr. Andrew Toledo, and COO, Ron Davidson, are also a stellar part of our team.
  • We have recruited a remarkable top manager, Tia Newcomer, as Chief Revenue Officer, former Vice President, Marketing & Commercial Operations at CBR, who convinced hundreds of thousands of new parents to preserve their baby’s stem cells.
  • Allison Johnson, who worked for Steve Jobs and launched the iPhone and every other i-product from Apple during Steve’s time, is helping us communicate Prelude to the world.
  • Joanna Rees, a well-known venture capitalist from San Francisco, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, America´s doctor, have joined our board as independent board members and are investors in Prelude.

From the outset, Prelude will have a sizable acquisition war chest [or bankroll] to partner with and acquire more fertility clinics around the country and to build a phenomenal embryo testing lab and cryogenic facilities.

In the years to come, many more parents like Nina and I will have the “lab talk” with Mia, our son David, and our baby on the way. And maybe you will too, because those who do will be much more likely to have healthy babies when they are ready than those who rely on sex alone for reproduction. With Prelude, our biology will finally come to terms with our psychology.

Today, Leo (5) didn’t want the iPad in the car on our way to school. Before, he used to cry if he didn’t get it. Leo is the fourth of my five children.

There’s one danger when saying no to a kid for an activity that they love, but which the parent considers detrimental, and that is that it increases its desirability.

In terms of value, the mere denial of permission increases the value of the activity to the child. So I have a very different, understandably questionable strategy as a parent – I tend to favor oversupply of the craving. My theory is that if it’s always available, kids learn to self-regulate and say “no” all on their own. Eventually, that unrestricted access leads to self-control through either satiation or sheer boredom; especially after they go through an addictive phase of whatever activity or toy they wanted incessantly. In my experience, the addiction is generally to watching TV, buying toys or playing videogames.

Of course, this parental strategy takes a lot of cold blood from parents when putting up with activities that they would normally not want their kids to do. It is tough to wait until the children themselves realize that there is a point at which too much of a good thing is a boring thing.

Tom (18), used to be really addicted to going to the toy store and playing games! And many times I would comply with his wishes. Eventually, by overindulging, he got really bored of conspicuous consumption and staring at screens. As a result, now that he is 18 he wants nothing, not even a gift for his birthday. And I mean this. He is frugal and hates conspicuous consumption. Indeed, now he frequently criticizes me for consuming too much, for example my own addiction to amazing bicycles. Tom is now into being with this girlfriend, his friends, listening to his music, studying and doing whatever is fun for him. Tom at 14 was glued to videogames. But Tom at 18 doesn’t do any activity that would be considered addictive. That strategy worked with him.

I end by commenting that in the case of my three daughters, I found them to be more social, less addicted to games or toys and less prone to spending endless hours in front of a screen. It is likely that boys are more prone to addictive activities and that saying “no” might not be the solution.

Americans reward their kids into good behavior, Spaniards punish them, French ridicule them, British ignore them, Germans scare them, Chinese humiliate them, and Argentines, well you just have to go and see how Argentines just let kids do whatever they want 🙂

Yoko Ono was at DLD Conference in Munich last Sunday and I made room on my agenda to see her. I had heard about Yoko all of my life. Well as it happens it would have been better that I had not gone to see her as I now have a really negative impression of her. I will summarize it in three comments she made:

The first one was that babies born through C-section suffer trauma because they were never hugged and said goodbye to their mother.

Another one was that babies conceived via IVF can never get to love their father and mother. No comment was made about the ones that are both conceived via IVF and born via C section but you can only guess how sorry she feels for them.

So by then she had hurt without reason maybe around 20% of all babies in the planet but that was not enough. She went on to insulting the rest of the planet by saying that we don’t need to wait for nuclear war so only the cockroaches survive because us, humans are the cockroaches. And she went on to explain her point.

In the end she changed her tone and said a lot of positive things about humanity, she even said, “all you need is love“. But I guess if you are an IVF conceived baby love is not enough, as you will not love your parents.

I am a father of 5. I also built 5 companies. Building 5 companies of which 4 did very well is a very rare accomplishment. Yet having 5 children is something that many more people could do if they wanted to..

If I have to compare, what gave me more satisfaction in life, as much as I have enjoyed building my companies and I now enjoy being CEO of Fon, being a father is just another level of enjoyment and satisfaction. Alexa, Isa, Tom, Leo and Mia they make me happy every day of my life. Parenting has tough moments but overall it is the best thing I have ever done. I am not recommending that everyone has 5 children. But many people I know have none. In Spain where I live, the native population is shrinking. Even having 3 children is very rare and most couples have one or two. People say having children is expensive but health care is free, education up to university level is free and these are the two biggest costs in USA where people have more children. To me it’s a mystery why people have such few children in this country. I still hope to have my 6th one. When I was growing up we were also 6. Our home was an ongoing party.

My 17 year old son Tom was sick for Roshashana the Jewish New Year that we celebrated last night. I felt sorry for him and asked him if there was anything I could get him that would make him feel better. He answered “I don’t know Dad, all I want I get on my laptop”.

When I was his age being sick meant book, magazines, videos and TV. Now all that comes over the internet.

But then I thought that everything I could possibly get him I could get him thanks to the internet. That our home, our car, our vacation home and whatever we have we owe to the companies I built that deliver the internet to people. That my career has been all about companies that deliver the internet to everyone, including my son Tom. He gets his internet via Jazztel and Ya.com and Fon (the two Spanish telcos that I founded and deliver internet via DSL, and Fon WiFi).

So there we were, a son who anything he wanted while sick was on the internet and a father who anything he could possibly buy him was thanks to the Internet.

We are a good fit Tom and I.

Mia Varsavsky was born this morning. As you can see we are all well. This picture was taken only 2 hours after birth. Nina was amazing, brave, confident, and very happy. Mia struggled through the whole thing. We promised her that life gets better later on. Birth took place at Ruber Internacional in Madrid. Dr Luis Recasens, an amazing obstetrician did the C Section. I had the easy part of course 🙂

Do you live in a culture in which people believe it is fine to occasionally scare children with things like this so they behave? I know in Germany there are also characters that are meant to scare children into good behavior, like a bad Santa helper that punishes bad kids, Knecht Ruprecht, or long nailed Struwwelpeter. We don’t have those scary characters in Latin cultures, nor in USA.

When my Leo misbehaves I say “only good boys get to play with the iPad” 🙂

You can see other frightening illustrations from Norwegian children’s books here.

Struwwelpeter in a 1917 edition - Via Wikipedia

Struwwelpeter in a 1917 edition – Via Wikipedia

We have known that Nina, my wife is pregnant since December but we waited until the 12 week sonogram to announce it. In this video you see the sonogram. It is crucial because you can discard a number of common diseases from the morphology of the baby. Interestingly a big nose and a well shaped back neck (nucha) are indications of a non Down syndrome child. Other results come in the blood tests.

As you can see we are very happy! Nina is radiant.

Baby 12 weeks from Martin Varsavsky on Vimeo

Amy Chua at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Aust...

Image via Wikipedia

In order to understand my post please read Amy Chua’s arguing why Chinese mothers are superior. Only after you are done please read my reply.

Chinese mothers are not superior Amy and here’s why.

Jewish Americans are more successful than Chinese Americans and therefore are “superior” in Amy Chua’s terminology (an absurdity of course). Here’s a link to an example of pure Jewish chauvinism that gives you a sense of how Jewish Americans who are only 2% of the population and Jewish people who are only 1 in 500 in the planet fare. Please only read this if you are not Jewish.

But never mind the debate. Amy Chua’s kids get superiority from both parents because Amy Chua is married to a Jewish American. For some reason however, he gets no credit as a father in the story of the two daughters education. This is wrong both from a moral point of view but also from a sociological point of view: Amy Chua’s conclusions are based on a sample of only two, and this sample is biased by the presence of a Jewish father. This father has contributed Jewish parenting which is very different from Chinese mothering and probably a good balancing act to what I see as an unnecessary brutal style that could very well backfire. Indeed China is the country in the world with the highest female suicide rate and the only country in which women commit suicide at a higher rate than men. That in itself would make Chinese mothers sadly not superior at one thing, facing adversity.

Now my credentials. I am a Jewish father of 4 kids ages 20 to 4 with the two eldest at Columbia University and NYU. As a Jewish father I can say that we are very different from Chinese mothers. Here are some highlights of what I would call Jewish parenting.

-we work jointly with mothers, both parents are very involved with the kids education, even in case of divorced and remarried parents such as mine.

-we never call our kids “garbage”, on the contrary, as the term JAP implies, for us they are….royalty. We spoil them, but it works. Our kids are the best simply because they are.

-we are our kids number one fans. We bore others with stories of how bright our kids are.

-if they get a bad grade we go and fight it out with the teacher. Jewish kids may get better grades because teachers are tired of dealing with their parents. We don’t do this to break the rules, we do it because we are truly convinced our kids are the next Einsteins and the teachers are just blind. Once my daughter Isabella got a D and I went to tell her Math teacher that no Varsavsky had ever gotten a D in Math, that my father was a PhD in astrophysics from Harvard, and whatever it took to make a point. While the British lady did not change her mind that time I think she got the message as that was the one and only D that we got as a family.

-we look for originality in our kid’s thinking, we want our kids to be funny, to come up with unexpected solutions to problems, to be almost irreverent. When they talk back we are secretly happy that they have a personality of their own. We rarely punish them. Instead we are quiet when we disapprove and celebrate their merits.

-we want them to be liked and appreciated by their friends, their peers, we want them to have a social life, to fall in love. When they are unhappy we suffer.

I could go on but I think you see where I am headed. And by the way, being a Jewish parent is also an attitude or culture and has little to do with religion. While I celebrate the Jewish holidays I believe that the world as described by the Bible is most likely imaginary. But it is a good Jewish story.

And in any case there is no such thing as being a Chinese parent or a Jewish parent or any parent as such.  I am arguing in favor of being a nice, empathic, supportive parent, anyone can be that and I am sure many Chinese parents would be opposed, as I was, at Amy’s style of raising her daughters, no need to be Jewish!

My answer is also on Quora.

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