I have had this post brewing in my mind and in several drafts but it never seemed right – probably still isn’t right and will be dismissed, picked apart, denied, whatever. Take it or leave it, but it is what I believe. I over-react to everything. I have been told literally hundreds of times (since I was small to just the other night) that I worry too much, am too stressed out, and need to relax. That I need to work on my anxiety levels. I can’t “not stress” despite trying every trick in the book. We are all told stress is bad for you. I know that genetics and evironment also play a role in who we are, and how we handle things, but I do believe the stress in the womb and then separation can impact us in ways we are just now starting to understand.
I think unplanned pregnancy is one of the most stressful times of your life, especially if you are not in a secure stable place in your life. Add on the stress of making the decision to surrender your child solely due to financial, societal pressure/requirement, violent partner, whatever reason or version of events that lead to adoption, that you wouldn’t have chosen otherwise. That stress impacts the baby. When a mother is stressed, the hormones released hit the developing baby. From the article last updated December 2010:
Prenatal maternal stress
How is stress communicated from mom to fetus?
Understanding how prenatal maternal stress can affect a developing fetus requires some knowledge about the biology behind the stress response. Response to stress involves a number of organs and systems within the body; from the brain to specialized organs, such the adrenal glands, which are adjacent to the kidneys.
The process begins with a stressor stimulating the brain, which evaluates the threat and processes it into an appropriate response, physiological and behavioural. This results in the secretion of corticoids, such as cortisol, and glucocorticoids from the adrenal glands into the bloodstream. The corticoids are molecules, which trigger the “flight or fight” response of an individual to stress
Cortisol is the link between prenatal stress and infant outcomes. Prenatal maternal stress is associated with increased levels of cortisol in the mother. It is believed that this molecule has a direct effect on the fetus. Moreover, because a linear relationship exists between maternal and fetal cortisol levels, relatively small increases in maternal cortisol are equivalent to relatively large increases in fetal cortisol.
What is the impact on the developing baby who is being nurtured by someone with objective or chronic stress day in and day out throughout pregnancy? (from the link above)
When is a fetus most susceptible to prenatal maternal stress?
Timing is everything, especially for the effects of prenatal maternal stress (PNMS). New research findings show that the first two trimesters are the most sensitive to prenatal stress. Two periods are especially crucial :
■At week 10, the embryo becomes a fetus and it begins to move. The vital organs now have a solid foundation. During this time, the brain will produce almost 250,000 new neurons every minute. This is called neurogenesis
■During weeks 24 and 30, nerve cell connections are occurring. Guided by chemical signals, nerve processes seek out their target and establish contact. Communication between neurons begins. At birth, there are an excess of nerve connections, those that are not used will degenerate. This is called synaptogenesis
Exposure to extreme stress during these critical periods of pregnancy will influence which developing structures are affected and therefore determine the physical, cognitive or behavioral outcome.
July 2011 comes this article from the BBC on German research…
Mum’s stress is passed to baby in the womb
A mother’s stress can spread to her baby in the womb and may cause a lasting effect, German researchers propose.
They have seen that a receptor for stress hormones appears to undergo a biological change in the unborn child if the mother is highly stressed, for example, because of a violent partner.
And this change may leave the child less able to handle stress themselves.
(go read the rest because it is important and the quote above does not even cover the worst part…)
The above is one of the reasons why I do not like domestic voluntary infant adoption when practiced as the first option – not the last option. Stress hormones, changes and outcomes is an area of intense scrutiny by scientists, although much of the research is conducted on rats like this one see the number of references to get an idea of volume of the research happening.
Yet they have and are conducting studies and research on expectant mothers and children, but doing it on those who were part of natural disasters like the article (first link above) discussing Prenatal maternal stress. That research was on expectant mothers during the Ice Storms in Quebec in January 1998 which saw some without electricity for 6 weeks – it is now being expanded to research the impact of other natural disasters. (snippets below […] indicates portions missing)
Impact of prenatal stress on mothers-to-be and their fetuses
A unique opportunity for PNMS research
“This study is the first of its kind,” stated Suzanne King. “Thanks to our colleague in Australia, Sue Kildea, PhD, we have access to samples of placentas, umbilical cords and blood from births that occurred during a natural disaster. No one has ever had access to this kind of biometric data. We now need to analyze this information to understand the mechanisms through which PNMS can affect fetuses. This major grant is essential to the advancement of our research, as the process we are embarking upon will be long and require a huge investment.”
Sue Kildae oversees more than 400 midwives at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane, which was at the epicentre of the Australian floods. Her team was already following about one hundred pregnant women in a study on prenatal care when the 2011 catastrophe hit. She recruited 200 more mothers for QF2011 as the disaster was unfolding. Another collaborator of Suzanne King’s is American researcher Michael O’Hara, who is coordinating a study in Iowa that follows 300 pregnant women and their children, about one hundred of whom had been recruited before the flooding in Iowa in June 2008.
[…] Project Ice Storm: an innovative and groundbreaking project
Launched in 1998 during the Montreal ice storm, the work of Suzanne King has led to major advances in our understanding of how prenatal stress affects child development. “We have found that PNMS has long-term effects on children’s cognitive, behavioural, motor and physical development,” explained Suzanne King. “Given that minor problems persist in children who were born in the context of a moderate disaster such as the ice storm, we suspect that these symptoms could be much worse in the case of a tsunami or an earthquake like the one in Haiti.” […]
We really need to understand that it isn’t just smoking, drinking, drugs taken/ingested during pregnancy that impact babies – stress impacts them as well and in ways they never imagined.
Shouldn’t we as society, and especially those who hold themselves out as looking at the best interests of the mother and child – who operate CPC’s and Christian Adoption Agencies etc. be first and foremost providing services that actively promote parenting? That instead of offering adoption as a good or better solution to unplanned pregnancy, that they sit down and say “we have found the resources that will allow you and the baby to thrive” and start there, instead of starting with the end goal being adoption? Why not start with finding out what the expectant mother needs and then providing a plan that includes whatever is needed regarding housing, food, medical, daycare resources, and turn the current scenario around to “we offer scholarships to those who parent” (instead of surrender)? Isn’t that the best solution for the baby? A solution that reduces that risk to the baby growing in the womb that will impact that child in different ways throughout life?
(don’t forget to include all the disclaimers that go without saying)…