child development stages

The Paradoxical Dimension Of Growth When Having Children With Disabilities : Soulful Closeness And Unshakable Respect For Life

According to the most recent statistics, one in 33 children in the U.S. is born with a birth defect. The March of Dimes global report estimates that 8 million children–6 percent of total births worldwide–are born with a birth defect. According to the report, the five most common genetic birth defects in the previous decade were congenital heart defects, neural tube defects, the hemoglobin disorders, Downs syndrome, and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.
While these five account for 25% of all genetic birth defects, over 7000 different birth defects have been identified. Many are caused by environmental agents, such as pollution, cancer-causing chemicals, war, and poverty. A chart shows the number of birth defects according to country. Tragically, approximately 3.3 million children under the age of 5 die each year due to birth defects. However, medical advances have made it possible for many not only to survive, but thrive.

The Role of Child Development Stages in Identifying Disability

Some physical disabilities are apparent at birth, but others may reveal themselves in specific child development stages as milestones are missed. Still others may be the result of accidents. Some parents report that it is more difficult to adjust to a sudden disability than one which is present from birth. Parenting is difficult under the best of circumstances and parenting a child with disabilities has its own set of challenges. One of the first challenges is dealing with the very real sense of grief that accompanies the knowledge that your child may experience pain and frustration associated with their disability. It is common for grief to be experienced at each of the child development stages.

In addition to grief, parents of children with disabilities also report experiencing guilt, anxiety, and anger, as well as worry regarding their child’s future. In cases of extreme physical disabilities that result in potentially life-threatening medical conditions, families must also make decisions regarding the extent to which science and technology may extend their lives. There is a very real economic impact on families as well, in terms of purchasing medical equipment, medications, or special foods.

However, love is a powerful force, and despite these challenges, many families report that the experience of having a family member with a disability has not only strengthened them as a family, but enriched their lives. They report experiencing more closeness, acceptance, and a greater respect for life. Additionally, support groups for children with disabilities in different child development stages provide opportunities for new friendships and a larger social support system.

Child Development Stages and Invisible Disabilities

While physical disabilities are often visible, other types of disabilities that are revealed in different child development stages are not. For example, it is estimated that 10% of the population has some form of learning disability. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 20 percent or one in five children between the ages of 13-18 in the U.S. experience a debilitating mental disorder. It is difficult to obtain global statistics, because many countries don’t report this data to the World Health Organization.

One of the most difficult and painful challenges that parents of children with disabilities face is, sadly, stigmatization and judgement from society. Often, in response to bullying or other forms of social rejection, parents can become understandably overprotective. The fact that children with disabilities are more vulnerable and at greater risk of mistreatment often contributes to the tendency towards being overprotective. Encouraging children with disabilities to reach their fullest potential is often made more difficult by a social and educational institutions created with a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Public Education about Disabilities: Making the World Better for All Children

Fortunately, great strides have been made in educating the public and raising social awareness of disabilities. That education includes focusing on their capabilities rather than their limitations. Each and every child has their own specific talents and abilities that parents learn to recognize during child development stages. One of the most important, and enjoyable, aspects of parenting is assisting the child in developing those abilities to the fullest. Children with disabilities are no exception, and like all children, bring joy to the lives of their families and friends with every new achievement.

Global organizations that provide support for parents and their children exist for almost every type of disability. These organizations transcend borders, race, and nationality, uniting parents in a common purpose–increasing the quality of life for children. Parents of children with disabilities have learned a great deal about advocating for both equal rights and resources for their children. The examples of parent advocacy they’ve provided, and the results they’ve achieved, could very well lead the way for improving the quality of life not just for children with disabilities, but for all children.

child development stages

cells of mother and child

How New Life and Old Life Combine in the Cells of Mother and Child

“Nature is only another chimera.”

Julien Torma

Chimerism and the Cells of Mother and Child

Genetic chimerism is a phenomenon that illustrates the extent to which we are all interconnected, and even, biologically, a part of one another. In the past, it was common for societies to mythologize natural phenomenon of which they had little scientific understanding. The Greek myth surrounding chimerism depicted Echinda, half snake and half nymph, who was mother to the Gorgon, the Hydra, and the Chimera. The chimera has been described differently by different cultures. In the “Illiad”, Homer describes it as a combination of a goat, a lion and a snake.

The myth illustrated the terror associated with the prospect of mothers not having control over which parts of themselves their children will inherit. Today, there is a scientific explanation for chimerism, or one individual organism carrying the cells of another separate organism within it. The cells of mother and child may be shared to a greater extent than previously realized. According to one article, one example of this is the placenta, which is an organ built from the cells of mother and child, through which the child receives nourishment throughout the process of gestation. Cells from the placenta can migrate to almost any other organ in the body, including the heart, kidneys, and even the skin. These cells can serve positive purposes, like tissue repair or preventing cancer.

Some evidence suggests that cells can also be transferred from mother to child through nursing. These cells, like stem cells, can become many types of tissue and serve to assist in tissue repair of damaged organs. An experiment with a mother rat with an injured heart showed that the fetal cells migrated to the heart, where they became heart cells that helped repair the damage. In other animal studies, microchimeric cells were found to have become nerve cells in maternal brains, leading researchers to believe that they may serve a similar purpose in humans.

The Cells of Mother and Child in the Brain

The modern concept of individuality is somewhat challenged by the fact that most people carry remnants of other individuals within their bodies. A new study shows that these remnants, or cells, are also found in the brain. In the study, living male cells, some of which had survived for several decades, were found in the brains of women. It was also found that these cells were less common in women suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Further research may one day reveal exactly what impact the cells of mother and child have on brain health.

Another study examined the brains of deceased women. They found the presence of cells containing the male chromosome in more than 60 percent of the brains. Further, they were found in multiple regions of the brain. This study disproved the theory that Alzheimers may be caused by the presence of these cells. Rather than being more common in women who’d had multiple pregnancies, it was more common in women with fewer shared cells.

The Role of Cells of Mother and Child in Continuity

In the first reported case of chimerism, that of Mrs. McK, it was found that a twin had been absorbed in utero, which resulted in her having two distinctly different blood types. The majority of chimeras are, or were at one time, twins who exchanged blood in utero. In rare cases, the DNA of a child lost in utero has been absorbed by the mother’s body, transforming her into a chimera born of grief and the desire for her child to experience life.

In the case of Lydia Fairchild, DNA tests ordered by the state to prove the paternity of her two children confirmed that she was not their genetic mother, despite having given birth to them. Accused of welfare fraud and threatened with the removal of her children by the state, her lawyer demanded further testing and it was revealed that she carried two distinct strands of DNA. This results when two sperm implant two eggs and is called tetragametic chimerism. Her case illustrated that DNA may not offer the 100% positive proof of individual identity that we believe it does. It also suggested that we may not always pass as much of ourselves to our children through our own DNA as we believe we do.

Scientific Experimentation with Chimerism

A “geep” was created in 1984 by British geneticists who combined the embryos of a sheep and a goat. The resulting chimera was sterile, but lived to adulthood. Other scientists have experimented with rabbits with blood containing human cells. These experiments are distinctly different from the naturally occurring phenomenon of the combining of the cells of mother and child and some ethical considerations have been raised surrounding them. While such experimentation may one day increase our understanding of our own humanity, there is no substitute for the genius of mother nature.

The-Chimera-on-a-red-figure-Apulian-plate-c.-350–340-BC-Musée-du-Louvre
The-Chimera-on-a-red-figure-Apulian-plate-c.-350–340-BC-Musée-du-Louvre
chemnistry between mother and child

Reproductive Chemistry: How Parenthood Provides a Natural High

“When two people are in love or when a mother is bonding with her baby, all of the elements of mother-infant bond are mediated through biology: “the smell, the skin-to-skin contact, the facial expressions, eye movements, body language, the kissing, the cooing, the cuddling, the tone of the mother’s voice, the baby talk. This is all part of the orchestration of bonding between the mother and the baby.”

–Dr. Deepak Chopra

The Importance of Oxytocin in the Chemnistry Between Mother and Child

The maternal bond is a complex one, consisting of more than just chemnistry between mother and child. Chemistry, in its most literal sense, is just one of the many components used by nature to build this important life-sustaining relationship. One of the most powerful chemicals at work during the bonding process between mother and child is oxytocin. Oxytocin, sometimes called the love hormone, is credited for making monogamy and trust between friends possible as well as helping to create positive chemnistry between mother and child.

A research study of 62 pregnant women showed that mothers who had higher levels of oxytocin in their systems during the first trimester of pregnancy demonstrated more bonding behaviors such as gaze, touch, and baby talk after the child was born. The good news is that oxytocin is a gift that keeps on giving because touch is one of the things that causes and increase in the body’s production of the hormone. Higher levels during pregnancy results in mothers touching their infants more, which in turn increases production during infancy. Conversely, other studies have shown that women suffering post-partum depression have low levels of oxytocin.

Oxytocin begins to be released by elevated levels of estrogen during pregnancy. Even a mother’s sense of smell, as well as that of her newborn, is affected by it, allowing them to recognize one another’s scent. This scent recognition is part of the process of imprinting and helps the baby find the mother’s nipple.

One of the wonderful qualities of oxytocin is that it is transferred back and forth between mother and child. Many studies have demonstrated that oxytocin controls the part of the baby’s brain that handles stress, and helps promote secure attachment. The quality of that attachment continues to play a part in an individual’s ability to handle stress throughout the rest of their lives.

If oxytocin levels are too low, stress results in elevated levels of cortisol, which can cause changes in brain structure in response to stress that can lead to symptoms such as high blood pressure. New fathers also have elevated levels of oxytocin, which increases according to the amount of physical contact he has with the baby

The Role of Prolactin and Opioids in the Chemnistry Between Mother and Child

Prolactin is another important element in the chemnistry between mother and child. During sleep, it maintains immune function and maintains reproductive organs, including the release of milk in the mother’s breasts. Additionally, it has a relaxing effect. Like oxytocin, elevated levels are found in both mother and father. When levels of prolactin are elevated for a prolonged period, it stimulates the production of natural opioids. These opioids produce a pleasurable sensation and further strengthen the bonding process.

Many parents report feelings of withdrawal when away from their infants, and part of that has a basis in chemical reality. Finally, breastfeeding also produces dopamine and norepinephrine, a by-product of it. Those chemicals produce the alert energy necessary to function despite the lack of sleep caused by an infant’s need of frequent care and feeding. Norepinephrine also reduces the baby’s stress, which creates a state most advantageous to learning.

Through nature’s chemistry, coupled with physical contact, voice, and facial expressions, the baby is able to determine the safety of its environment by perceiving its mother’s emotional states.

Better Living through Natural Chemistry

One of the most positive results of the research on the chemistry between mother and child has been the change in hospital policies that resulted from the realization of the importance of touch in triggering these important chemical reactions. Hospitals now encourage mothers to touch their infants born prematurely. An article by PBS points to a study led by neuroscientist Amir Lahav, from Harvard Medical School, which concluded that in addition to touch, even exposing premature babies to recordings of their mother’s voice and heartbeat improves functioning in the auditory cortex portion of their brains.

The chemistry between mother and child is a beautifully complex symphony orchestrated by nature to continue the cycle of life and increase the joy of living. Part of its beauty is that it is set into motion by the desire for human connection and conducted by its realization.

Yashoda & Infant Krishna, Chola period, early 12thC, India, Credit line Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Hazen and Leon B.
Yashoda & Infant Krishna, Chola period, early 12thC, India, Credit line Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Hazen and Leon B.
Female hormones

The Chemistry Of Emotion: Female Hormones and What About Hormone Replacement Therapy – part 3/3

“Women don’t know what to believe anymore,”

says Shelley R. Salpeter, MD, director of medicine consultation services at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif.

The Basics of Hormone Replacement Therapy

Female Hormones

Hormone Replacement Therapy is used to replace two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Once a woman reaches menopause, her body’s levels of these hormones drastically drop, and this can cause very unpleasant side effects, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, severe mood swings, sleeplessness, and physical ailments like osteoporosis. The symptoms will eventually disappear over time, although the risk of osteoporosis won’t necessarily lessen. Unfortunately for most of us, we will be faced with these symptoms once menopause hits. Hormone Replacement Therapy is an option that works for many women, but there are pro’s and con’s to the therapy.

“If a woman in early menopause has low bone density, high cholesterol, mood changes, and sleep problems, she could just take one medicine — estrogen — instead of four,”

says Lynne T. Shuster, MD, director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Estrogen

As we have seen in part 2/3, estrogen has a unique role namely reproduction. No other hormone can be held responsable. But estrogen, one of the female hormones, plays other roles in the body besides reproduction. It increases good cholesterol levels and helps the body use calcium more efficiently, thereby strengthening the bones. This is why doctors prescribe often the lowest dose of estrogen possible that will relieve menopausal symptoms, especially in women who have had a hysterectomy.

Progesterone

Progesterone should be used in conjunction with estrogen in HRT in women who have a uterus. This is because the risk of uterine cancer is increased, particularly cancer of the endometrium that lines the uterus.

Once menopause has begun, the endometrial cells are not sloughed off each month, and the build-up of cells increases the risk of cancer. By adding progesterone, the risk is lowered, because progesterone thins the endometrium. This type of Hormone Replacement Therapy is called Estrogen/Progesterone/Progestin Hormone Replacement Therapy. Progestin is the synthetic form of progesterone.

Hormone Replacement Therapy Benefits and Risks

Hormone Replacement Therapy has benefits and risks. It is important to talk to a doctor and weigh the risks for each individual, because some people are more at risk than others when replacing female hormones.

Information that is taken into account includes age, symptoms experienced, how long since menopause began, if it began early, and if it occurred as a result of surgery.

Other factors taken into account are family history of cardiovascular disease, thrombosis, and cancer, and an individual history of cardiovascular disease, and breast cancer.

Benefits

Benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy can be summed up as the benefits of female hormones such as estrogen and progestrone in particular. But the benefits are relief from menopausal symptoms and protection from osteoporosis and the risk of broken bones. Starting Hormone Replacement Therapy in the early stages of menopause carries benefits such as a lower risk of stroke, dementia and cardiovascular disease.

Risks

A risk associated with female hormone replacement therapy is breast cancer, because estrogen encourages formation of breast tissue.

Other risks include cardiovascular disease, stroke, deep vein thrombosis (blood clots form in veins deep in the body), and pulmonary embolism (artery blockage in the lungs).

I believe it is good to know that a more recent study of 2014 , but on post-menopausal ladies, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal provided evidence of a risk for acute pancreatitis caused by Hormone Replacement Therapy. The results showed that women who are currently using Hormone Replacement Therapy and those who had used it in the past had a higher incidence of this disease. The study has evidence that using Hormone Replacement Therapy systemically and/or for more than ten years is a factor that increases this risk.

The riscs cited above (besides the latter one on acute pancreatitis) are the riscs that women commonly know.

But what kind of risk are we actually talking about

It all started with the Journal American Medical Association that came with the first results of research.  This first research was done by Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) some 15 years ago. The WHI researched pro’s and cons of hormone replacement therapy with healthy American women. One group took daily HRT (0.625mg oestrogens – Premarin – with 2.5 mg medroxyprogesterone acetate – Premplus -) and the other group took no HRT.  Over a period of five years. They concluded the above risks. But I think it is most interesting to read these statemenst in absolute figures. So here they are: the results showed that for 10.000 women per year there is per year:

  • an increase with
    • 7 heart attacks
    • 8 cerebral hemorrhages,
    • 18 thromboses,
    • 8 thromboses with pulmonary embolism and
    • 8 breast carcinomas
  • a decrease with
    • 6 colon cancers
    • 5 hip fractures

I am not defending Hormone Replacement Therapy but I think it is can never hurt to know the facts. So everyone can decide for themselves, without the dogma’s.

Bioidentical Female Hormones in Hormone Replacement Therapy

Female HormonesPro’s

Proponents of bioidentical female hormones say they are derived from sources that occur naturally, such as soy and yams, and that they are exactly the same structures as the female hormones being replaced. The body can use them in every way it could use the original, which leads to fewer side effects. They are also designed specifically for the individual’s needs. Synthetic hormones are purposely made to be the same to make it possible for them to be patented.

Con’s

Opponents of bioidentical hormones say that they aren’t given the same rigorous quality assurance standards that commercially available hormones must meet. They also argue that they have little scientific support or advantage over synthetic female hormones.

They point out that, although the source of bioidentical hormones is natural, they are still commercially processed.

Another argument is that synthetic hormones do not exclude them from originating from a natural source. Estrace, Climara and Vivelle-Dot, and Prometrium, a natural progesterone, come from plants.

FDA Approved Bioidentical and Synthetic Hormones

In 2009, the FDA published an article called “FDA Approved Bioidentical Hormones.” They have approved more than 20 bioidentical hormones. They also put in some of the synthetic female hormones that have been approved. They specifically say that bioidentical hormones are able to be metabolized completely and do not have the dangerous side effects, such as a higher risk of cancer, that synthetic and non-bioidentical hormones do.

Views on Hormone Replacement Therapy definitely vary, as we can see. Seeing your doctor and discussing the risks and benefits to you as an individual is therefor recommended. But get the facts, not the opinions.

 

Female hormones

The Chemistry Of Emotion: Female Hormones and How We Habit Our Body – part 2/3

It is said that modern endocrinology was born when the German zoologist and physiologist Arnold Adolph Berthold (1803-1861) carried out experiments in the 1800’s.  He set out to determine what role the gonads, the ovaries and testicles, played in the development of secondary sex characteristics.

He saw that castrated cockerels never developed wattles (the reddish lobe hanging from the head or neck)  or combs (the crest that grows on the crown), the way cockerels should. The cockerels also did not show typical male behavior after castration. I am thankful that we have come a long way since then.

The female hormones of the endocrine system help to regulate and maintain the health and functioning of the reproductive system as well as other areas. Part 1/3 explained that the female hormones produced by the ovaries are estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

They play actually a variety of different roles in developing secondary sex characteristics, controlling fertility, and regulating menstrual cycles.

Sometimes problems cause a female hormone imbalance. These usually are associated with the ovaries, such as ovarian cysts, ovarian cancer, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. The differing levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone throughout the month can cause mood swings and other behaviors.

Female Hormone, Estrogen

Female hormonesEstrogen is the most widely known hormone.  Estrogen is actually the name for a group of three very similar hormones:

  • estrone,
  • estriol, and
  • estradiol.

Uniquely responsible for reproduction: The estrogenic hormones are uniquely responsible for the growth and development of female sexual characteristics and reproduction in both humans and animals.

Estradiol in high volumes: Estradiol is the most highly produced of these hormones during the reproductive ages.  The anterior pituitary sends follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) to the ovaries, which causes them to release estrogen into the blood stream.

The pituitary and hypothalamus receive the message that estrogen and progesterone are being produced by the ovaries, and it slows or stops the release of LH and FSH. FSH causes some of the ovarian follicles to mature. A burst of LH is released from the pituitary, called the preovulatory LH surge, causing ovulation of the mature follicle in the ovary. The cells left around the released follicle form the corpus luteum.

Production location: The ovaries produce most of the estradiol and estrone, and the placenta produces estriol. The adrenal glands and fat tissues also produce some estrogen.

Estrogen targets cells that are located in areas that include the uterus, breasts, brain, heart, liver, and bone.

Estrogen is responsible for

  • the female shape by controlling factors, such as
    • limiting muscle mass and height, and
    • plays a dominant role in breast formation during puberty and pregnancy.
  • controlling the uterine lining growth during the first part of the menstrual cycle.

Moodswings: The differing levels of estrogen and progesterone throughout the month may cause mood swings.
Allopregnenolone, the body’s relaxation hormone, disappears in the days before the menstrual period. This is one of the causes of PMS.

Female hormone, Progesterone

One goal: Progesterone has actually only one goal and that is to thicken the uterine lining to prepare it for receiving a fertilized egg after ovulation has occurred. But is has several consequences when lacking as we see further.

Mechanics: As the mature egg travels through the fallopian tube on its way to the uterus, progesterone is released from the corpus luteum. We gave two options:

  • If the egg becomes fertilized, it implants in the uterus. In this case, the corpus luteum continues to produce progesterone. LH is necessary for the continued growth and functioning of the corpus luteum. The placenta also begins to produce progesterone, which maintains the uterus during pregnancy. Progesterone helps to protect the fetus from the mother’s immune system. It keeps the mother’s body from rejecting the fetus as foreign. Women who have many miscarriages may need progesterone therapy to prevent this from happening.
  • If pregnancy doesn’t occur, then progesterone levels quickly drop. Pregnant women’s progesterone levels are 10 times higher than non-pregnant women.

Contraception pills contain a compound that mimics progesterone, and is often combined with estrogen. The preovulatory surge of LH that causes ovulation doesn’t happen when on birth control, because these circulating hormones inhibit LH secretion.

And Female hormone: Testosterone

Although usually considered a male hormone, testosterone is also a female hormone. Comparable to estrogenic hormones that are sometimes mistakenly referred to as exclusively female hormones when in fact both men and women produce them. However, the role estrogen plays in men is not entirely clear.

Role: Testosterone is commonly known as the responsible hormone for our sex drive. Testosterone is indeed responsible for much of the female libido. In a more general way, it gives a supply of sassiness and a zest for life. Androstenedione is the precursor to testosterone. It slows at menopause and perishes along with the ovaries. After menopause, testosterone levels drop as well as estrogen levels. Testosterone levels fall to 50% of their prior level, and they are completely absent in some women.

Mechanics: Approximately 40% to 50% of the testosterone in a woman is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands.

Hormonal imbalance

Female Hormones

Overproduction of testosterone: A female hormone imbalance causing overproduction of testosterone results in physical changes that include a decrease in breast size, changes in body shape, excess hair growth, oily skin, and lack of a menstrual period. This could be due to an ovarian tumor, in which case the tumor is removed, and the symptoms usually disappear. These tumors are usually not cancerous, and they will not come back once removed. In the case of polycystic disorder, careful monitoring is necessary. There is no prevention known at this time, but maintaining a proper weight and exercising will help.

Estrogen drop: At the same time the testosterone levels are falling after menopause, estrogen levels also fall. A drop in estrogen causes symptoms that include

  • Bone loss or brittle bones. After menopause your body breaks down more bone than it rebuilds. In the years immediately after menopause, women may lose as much as 20 percent of their bone mass.
  • Vaginal dryness,
  • Decreased sensitivity of the clitoris, and
  • Thinning of the walls of the vagina. This may cause sex to be painful.

Estrogen replacement therapy after menopause not only addresses sexual dysfunction, but it helps to protect against osteoporosis and heart disease.

When a uterus is present, it is a good idea to also add progesterone to keep it from becoming cancerous. If estrogen replacement doesn’t correct the loss of interest in sex, then testosterone may be added. Extra estrogen does increase the risk of breast cancer by promoting breast tissue growth, however not everyone agrees on the degree of risk.

Oxytocin

Female hormones

Oxytocin is another female hormone released by the pituitary, and is often called the “love drug.”

Here are some examples of love:

  • Suckling by the infant during breast feeding releases oxytocin, which causes milk ejection.
  • Oxytocin is also released when the cervix dilates and it causes the uterine contractions.
  • When the female hormone oxytocin is released by the mother during labor, it sends oxytocin across the placental wall to calm the baby while it is being born to protect against injury.
  • Oxytocin increases a variety of good feelings :
    • security,
    • contentment,
    • trust,
    • empathy, and
    • it plays a role in bonding.

Paul Zak, PhD, a researcher at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, says the higher the oxytocin levels of a women, the happier she is. He commented that

“Those with higher oxytocin had more sex with fewer partners.”

Oxytocin and Bonding

Bonding is an important behavior necessary in forming relationships between a child and mother and between people, such as men and women. A 20 second hug between partners causes the release of oxytocin in their brains. Oxytocin triggers trust.

Its release is not caused by hugs but by positive emotional interactions, like:

  • gazing into another’s eyes,
  • touching,
  • kissing, and off course
  • orgasm.

The female hormones estrogen and progesterone also increase the effects of oxytocin and dopamine for a feel-good euphoria of sorts.

However, stress can turn off these happy chemicals. But is nice to know that oxytocin supplements in the form of a nasal inhaler do exist. They are actually often used in oxytocin research.

So, here you go. The female hormone, estrogen, along with progesterone, testosterone and others, play a large part of our daily lives for our entire lives. A female hormone imbalance could cause distress or physical illness. Knowledge about how to re-balance hormones has come a very long way. Luckily for women today, there are female hormone therapies to replace the lost hormones and regain functioning in all areas of life.

To know about these hormone replacement therapies, we have another article coming up: part 3/3!

Female hormones

The Chemistry Of Emotion: Female Hormones and How We Create Life – part 1/3

Hormones! From PMS to menopause, these messengers of womanhood can affect your mood, your weight, your food cravings – even your desire for sex. For many women, it’s smooth sailing, but for others, it’s a shipwreck at every turn of the hormonal bend,” said Colette Bouchez an award-winning medical journalist.

Women’s bodies are chock full of hormones, and they don’t always cheer us up! Often, it is the opposite. Many of these female hormones are crucial to fertility. We know the beginning of the reproductive years starts with puberty, and  the end of the fertile years is called menopause.

Most women often struggle with issues such as PMS and hormonal fluctuations throughout the month. Menopause is no cake walk, either. But if we understand our hormones, it may make it easier to cope. There are off course ways to ease the symptoms of these troubles through diet, exercise, and if necessary hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

But a better understanding of these hormone fluctuations throughout our lives will help deal with them, as well as help women who are trying to become mothers, because in the end, female fertility is in fact the sole purpose of several female hormones.

The Basics on Male and Female Hormones

Female Hormones

Hormones are often referred to as “chemical messengers,” hormones carry information and instructions from one group of cells to another. But let’s dive deeper.

Secreted chemicals that travelling in the bloodstream: Hormones are chemicals secreted by specialized cells, groups of cells, or a neuron (then it’s called a neurohormone) into the blood which travel to a distant and specific target. Collectively, the secreting cells and the target cells are known as the endocrine system.

Really tiny: Hormones exert their control at very low concentrations: nanomolar concentrations (10-9 M) to picomolar concentrations (10-12 M).

Three types: A hormone can be

  • an amine (derived from amino acids),
  • a peptide (derived from proteins), or
  • a steroid (derived from cholesterol).

Hormones from the pituitary that target the gonads (ovaries or testes) are called gonadotropins, and are peptide hormones. The sex hormones synthesized in the ovaries and testes are steroid hormones.

Receptor Binding mechanism: A particular hormone binds to specific receptors on the target cell and initiates further responses from that cell. Since hormones affect only their target cell’s receptor, they illicit no response from a cell lacking the correct receptor.

Limited time frame: Hormones act only for a limited time, and their levels must be controlled to be effective.

Negative-feedback system: All of the gonadotrophic female hormones are controlled by negative-feedback, except for oxytocin that uses positive feedback control.

The Hypothalamus and the Pituitary

Female Hormones

Master switchboard: The hypothalamus is located above the pituitary gland and is called the “master switchboard”. It signals the pituitary, the “master gland” to synthesize and release hormones that regulate many bodily functions. The hypothalamus synthesizes two hormones in the neuronal cell body and sends them to the posterior pituitary through an axon. The two hormones are the anti-diuretic hormone and the female hormones oxytocin (OT).

The posterior pituitary then releases it into the blood stream. The anterior pituitary gland synthesizes and releases the other trophic  female hormones. Trophic hormones cause the release of a different hormone at another location. In the case of female hormones, the target cells are in the ovaries.

The hypothalamus and the pituitary are intimately linked and in very close proximity. They are separated by a portal system of capillaries and neurons.

The pituitary is really two fused glands, called the anterior and posterior pituitary. The anterior pituitary secretes trophic female sex hormones. These are luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and prolactin. The posterior pituitary secretes the female neurohormone oxytocin.

  • LH and FSH target the ovaries (testes in males) to control various sex characteristics and reproductive actions.
  • Prolactin targets the breast tissue and carries the signal to begin milk production.
  • Oxytocin triggers breast milk release during breast feeding, is responsible for uterine contractions during childbirth, and plays a role in maternal nurturing behavior and other kinds of bonding, such as emotional bonding with a partner.

Placenta

Female hormones

The placenta also secretes hormones, but only when a woman is pregnant.

  • Estrogens from the placenta ultimately prepare the uterus for the birthing process.
  • Progesterone keeps the placenta in the proper state for fetal development, prevents the secretion of LH and FSH from the anterior pituitary to prevent ovulation, and suppresses uterine contractions.
  • Chorionic somatomammotropin (CS), also called placental lactogens, is believed to control mother and fetal metabolism.
  • Chorionic gonadotropin (CG) is produced by the fetus. It tells the body it is pregnant and prevents luteal regression. CG is the first chemical in the body that signals pregnancy.
  • Relaxin is thought to work with progesterone for pregnancy maintenance, and also helps the ligaments in the pelvic region relax at the end of pregnancy to aid in the childbirth process.

This introduction to female hormones touches on the basics of the endocrine system, as it relates to reproduction. I find it helpful to start at the very beginning and work your way through the intricate mechanisms for a full understanding of what is happening in your body every month and when you are pregnant, or trying to become pregnant.

For further reading I highly recommend these books for a better understanding of female hormones: “The Female Brain“, by Louann Brizendine, reviews and prices here and “Human Physiology: An Integrated Approach, 4th Edition” by Dee Unglaub Silverthorn, reviews and prices here.

But if you have no time for reading these, then a further article (part 2) will focus on the functions of female hormones produced by the ovaries, the emotions and behaviors they may cause, and ways to possibly ease negative symptoms.

instinctive behavior

On What the Founding Father of Ethology, Konrad Lorenz Has To Say On Human Instinctive Behavior

“One asks, which is more damaging to modern humanity: the thirst for money or consuming haste… in either case, fear plays a very important role: the fear of being overtaken by one’s competitors, the fear of becoming poor, the fear of making wrong decisions or the fear of not being up to snuff.”

Every mother knows this fear of which Konrad Lorenz, one of the founding fathers of ethology, speaks. In a highly competitive world, mothers everywhere want to know that they are doing everything possible to insure their child’s ability not just to survive, but to thrive. Unfortunately, this fear is often expressed by mothers competing rather than co-operating with one another to achieve maximum benefits for themselves and their children. Conflicting guidelines offered by “experts” often result in more stress as parents struggle to differentiate instinctive behavior from learned behavior.

Too often, this stressful competition takes the form of using general developmental guidelines established by experts to compare themselves with others. For example, if the guidelines say that the average child learns to walk at a year old, mothers whose children learn to walk at ten months may imagine that their children are extraordinarily gifted, while those who don’t learn to walk until 15 months of age are considered developmentally delayed. Mothers often suffer unwarranted shame as well as pride in comparing their child’s development to both the guidelines and the development of their friends’ children.

Konrad Lorenz is best known for his study of instinctive behavior in Greylag geese and his elaborate description of the principle of attachment, called imprinting. Born into a family of physicians, after completing his M.D. degree at the University of Vienna in 1928, he earned a Ph.D. in zoology in 1933. He observed that certain behaviors of ducklings and goslings were triggered by visual and auditory stimuli from the parent object. Further, he observed that the following response elicited by either the parent or a foster parent continued to affect their adult behavior.

His observation of the interbreeding of species of birds and the resulting hybrids led to his belief that similarly, human racial interbreeding could cause dysgenic effects. These scientific beliefs helped justify Nazi eugenics policies against “race mixing”. Of his writings during that time, he later said

“I regret those writings not so much for the undeniable discredit they reflect on my person as for their effect of hampering the future recognition of the dangers of domestication”.

After the founding of the German Society for Animal Psychology in 1936, Lorenz became the editor of the ethology journal “Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie”. From 1937 to 1940, he lectured in animal psychology and comparative anatomy at the University of Vienna. He was head of the psychology department at Albertus University in Königsberg, Germany from 1940 to 1942. His lectures on instinctive behavior included his theories on the function of positive and negative social feedback mechanisms that serve to help override impulses.

Lorenz is equally well known for his extensive research on the roots of aggression and wrote the book “On Aggression”. He had the opportunity to personally experience the effects of aggression when he was drafted into Hitler’s army. While there, he served as a psychologist in the Office of Racial Policy from 1942-1944 before being captured by the Soviet army and being held as a prisoner of war until 1948. Upon his return to Austria, he served as director of the Institute of Comparative Ethology in Altenburg until 1951. He became a co-director at the Max Planck Institute for Behavior Physiology in 1954, and remained there as director from 1961 to 1973.

In 1973, along with his colleagues Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch, he was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for “for discoveries in individual and social behavior patterns”. Today, the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, relocated in 2013 from the family mansion in Altenberg to Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, still plays an important role in the university research community. A second institute named for Lorenz is located in Grünau.

In addition to his gift for detailed recording of the instinctive behavior of animals, he also rigorously avoided any form of animal cruelty during his research. He was also one of the first to warn of the ecological dangers of market economics. His thoughts upon receiving the Nobel Prize reveal that perhaps because of the role that his research played during the Nazi regime, he recognized the moral and ethical problems associated with the misuse of scientific research.

He concluded that

“The competition between human beings destroys with cold and diabolic brutality…. Under the pressure of this competitive fury we have not only forgotten what is useful to humanity as a whole, but even that which is good and advantageous to the individual….”

Perhaps that’s why he advocated choosing mates based not on looks or wealth, but the quality of kindness, as the best hope for the future of mankind. His research proved that while we, like animals, possess instinctive behavior, as humans we also have the capacity to override our instinctive behavior and choose cooperation.

If you are intrigued by Konrad Lorenz, like I am, you can find here another article posted earlier on Konrad Lorenz and how he proved the “biological mother” can be utterly ignored.

instinctive behavior
Lorenz and Tinbergen. Source: Wikimedia Creative Commons
Biological Clock

About Delaying Motherhood and The Imperative of The Biological Clock

“I often think about a saying attributed to the Dalai Lama, that goes something like this: we sacrifice our health to make money and then we spend our money to take care of our health. How do we reject the expectations foisted on us to excel at everything in work and in life, to drive ourselves to the limit, while we try to be happy, healthy human beings? Of course, both women and men confront this question, but women have some different concerns because they have had to fit into a world largely constructed by and for men.”

Some feminist authors spark controversy without even trying. That can be said of Tanya Selvaratnum. Even the title of her book, The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock, invites debate. In her book, she describes her personal experiences as well as presenting the thoughts and experiences of others, on the subject of delaying motherhood.

In 2013, it made front-page headlines when the average age of a new mother in Britain reached 30 for the first time. Similarly, the average age at which a woman had her first child in the United States reached 26 in 2013, compared to age 21 in 1970.

Most people can agree that the increasing trend towards delaying motherhood is primarily the result of financial considerations, rather than a matter of keeping time with the female biological clock. Increasingly, more years of education and experience are required to earn an income sufficient to provide for the material needs of a child.

Consequences of ignoring the biological clock

However, according to experts on women’s natural biological clocks, their fertility peaks during their twenties. Delaying motherhood can often result in difficulties in conceiving and carrying a child to term. One reason for this is that although by puberty, women’s bodies contain 300,000 to 500,000 eggs, only about 300 of them are released by the ovaries, part of a woman’s natural biological clock, throughout her reproductive life cycle.

The risk of miscarriage grows slightly with each passing year, beginning at 10% in the twenties, rising to 18% by the late thirties, reaching up to 53% by age 45. While few women struggle with infertility in their twenties, the choice to ignore the natural biological clock has biological consequences. For example, a full two-thirds of women over 40 experience infertility problems.

The inability of a woman to conceive during her twenties is only 6% but that percentage skyrockets to 64% by age 40. There are other risks to delaying motherhood as well. For example, the risk of having a child with Downs syndrome is one in 2000 in a woman’s twenties, increasing to one in 900 by age 30 and to one in 100 by age 40.

Not only are there consequences for delaying motherhood, but there are other benefits to women having children in their twenties as well. Women in their twenties generally have a higher energy level and a greater ability to function on less sleep. As any mother of an infant can testify, motherhood requires a woman to adjust her own biological clock to accommodate that of her child.

Biological clock and Economic benefits

Conversely, while the study of the natural biological clock has provided ample biological evidence of the consequences of delaying motherhood, the benefits of delaying it are primarily economic. This means that our economic system was created, and is maintained, without taking the reality of female biology into consideration. This sad fact has resulted in a great deal of anguish for many women who found that delaying motherhood meant never being able to experience motherhood at all.

Those who are able to overcome the physical challenges associated with delaying motherhood must deal with the challenges faced by working mothers. Although many have solidified their careers, which allows them to afford good child care, working mothers are expected to achieve a constant balance between motherhood and their careers.

In an article in which she describes her goals for her book as well as for her life, she says

“One lie, or myth, to be more precise, is that there is work/life balance. I believe true balance might be unattainable, but we can achieve moments of it. One of my goals for 2014 is to have those moments happen more often and last longer.”

All mothers, and mother-to-be can look forward to the day when economists take women’s biology into consideration when making policy. Until then, mothers will just have to continue to support one another as much as possible.

Here you you will another article on the ticking clock…

Biological Clock

How Mistakes About Maternal Instinct, Explained By Imagination And Even Poetry By Victorian Scientists Including Darwin, Still Resonate Today

According to Robert J. Stoller in his book “Sex and Gender”, Herbert Spencer, an important English philosopher, biologist and anthropologist of the Victorian era said that

“Given women’s and men’s respective shares in the rearing and protection of offspring, women must have been endowed more than men with that form of the parental instinct that responds to infantile helplessness, that doubtless this biologically given specialized instinct conferred on women special aptitudes for dealing with infantine life”.

Maternal Instinct in a Victorian Era

This belief in the existence of maternal instinct was typical of the time. When the age of industrialization began, this perceived basic difference between men and women was further magnified by the division of labor.

The division of labor resulted in a large degree of division, even segregation, between the worlds of men and women. Women and children were largely isolated within the confines of home and hearth, while men’s lives were largely conducted in the social world of business and commerce outside the home.

Maternal Instinct and the Impact of Darwin

That concept of maternal instinct was one that Charles Darwin himself had written about. He rejected the idea that social feelings were acquired through experience, formulating instead what he called the “associationist doctrine“. According to this doctrine, humans, like animals, also possessed social instincts.

The fact that Darwin’s theory seemed to support the belief in maternal aptitude helped to solidify it in the form of rigid social structures. Darwin wrote in 1871 in his book “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex”

“Maternal instincts lead women to show greater tenderness and less selfishness and to display these qualities towards her infants in an eminent degree”.

The Ideal Mother with Biological Instinct

Quotes such as these were used to form society’s definition of the ideal mother. However, the concept of women possessing maternal biological instincts was never sufficiently explained by science.

It was explained instead using imagination, and even poetry. For example:

  • some claimed that the maternal instinct was located in the “cerebral organs of sense”(Van de Warker. E., 1875, Sexual Cerebration. Popular Science Monthly 7:289-92), which today we would call the brain
  • others believed them to be located in the “reproductive organs” (Van de Warker. E., 1875, Sexual Cerebration. Popular Science Monthly 7:289-92)
  • with one group further specifying the “uterus” (Thomas, W. I., 1897,  On a Difference in the Metabolism of the Sexes. American journal of Sociology 3:31-63)
  • some even claimed that the instinct was dependent upon the “mineral manganese“.

Relegating the maternal instinct to organs that only women possessed gave these theories further credibility.

Astoundingly, the fact that women’s breasts often produce milk in response to the sound of their babies’ cry was not included in this body of “scientific evidence”.

The Choice Between Motherhood and Public Life

Spencer also explicitly stated that parental aptitude, or maternal instinct, meant that women should not seek at all to enter into public life. Women today seem to agree with the first part, the existence of maternal instinct. However, most would disagree with the conclusions on maternal instinct that the male scientists of two hundred years ago reached. Their own conclusions might be stated in this way: The biological gifts of women to take care of children should be recognized, nurtured and respected in our societies.

What is strange is that even though they did not know what we know now through extensive research, somehow people knew that biology, to some extent, decided the fate of women. Many years later, in the aftermath of the feminist seventies, it still does.

However, there are many women who envision equal participation in the workforce and society, and this is regardless if the existence or scientific proof of a maternal instinct. According to Adrienne Rich, an American poet and essayist, women will achieve sexual liberation when they have learned to think ‘through their body’.

Adrienne Rich was one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. In her book Of Women Born, we see Rich believed women need to connect to their

“our great mental capacities, hardly used; our highly developed tactile sense: our genius for close observation; our complicated pain enduring, multi pleasured physicality”.

She definitely offers a different viewpoint than other liberal, socialist or Marxist feminists who see state childcare as a prerequisite to women’s liberation. In fact, she is explicitly opposed to any form of state childcare.

“The repossession by women of our bodies will bring far more essential change to human society than the seizing of the means of production by workers”

The American sociologist Alice Rossi has also changed her position from that of the liberal feminism of the seventies and rejects the concept of sexual equality. In her book “A Biosocial Perspective on Parenting”, she stated already back in 1977 that

“you do not have to do the same things in order to achieve equality”

This has become a classic phrase in the ongoing social dialogue on the topic of equal rights for women. To a degree, such reactions in the early eighties served as a kind of corrective pendulum swing from the extreme feminism of the seventies.

It was with this pendulum swing that biological essentialism was born. Terms such as “nurturance”, “community sense”, “family support”, “institutional innovation” and “volunteering” became much more in vogue beginning in the eighties.

Women should band together in challenging society to improve and foster childcare while recognizing and rewarding the unique talents and abilities which are bestowed by nature upon women. Indeed, future generations, for both men and women, depend on it.

maternal instinct
Young Mother Gazing at Her Child, William Bouguereau, La Rochelle, 1871
Slow Social Change

Darwin, The Empowerment of Women and Slow Social Change

Empowerment of women definitely took a nose dive in the 19th century and slow social change for women followed. Most of us are familiar with the creation vs. evolution theory which is almost always associated with Charles Darwin, a scientist of the 19th century. While there were other scientists who supported his views even earlier than Darwin, he remains the predominant scientist of evolution.

He had other influences on social science besides evolution and two that still affect us to today are eugenics and the inferiority of women. Because of his huge and lasting influence slow social change for women was an indirect result. It is still hard to believe, but his beliefs about women and eugenics elucidated in his writings were not challenged until the 1970s in the scientific and public arenas. His beliefs have greatly influenced all theories, including the ones on childcare, motherhood in general and more particularly our concepts of the Ideal Mother.

Darwin’s Scientific Approach

One of the last things on the mind of Charles Darwin was the empowerment of women. While raised Unitarian (one of the Christian theological movements, known for its rejection of the doctrines of the Trinity, original sin, predestination, and biblical inerrancy) due to the early death of several family members, Darwin became and stayed an avowed atheist. Since his work led him to disavow the Genesis account in the Bible, this made it easier for him to support his work. However, unlike Genesis which states that

“Then the lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

Darwin finally established that if evolution was the survival of the fittest, then certainly man was the ultimate goal of evolution.
Darwin felt the following,

“My object … is solely to show that there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.”

Comparing an assortment of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic arguments, Darwin placed Savages, who were said to possess smaller brains than the higher races, and whose lives were led by instinct and less by reason in an intermediate position between animals and man. Darwin extended this placement to include children, congenital idiots and women, whose intuition, perception and imitation were

“characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilisation.”

Darwin, then felt that empowerment of women was only gained by serving under their master or caretaker. His view of marriage was that a wife did not set to be her husband’s intellectual companion, but rather to amuse his leisure hours and look after his person and his house, freeing and refreshing him for more important things. Although he had revolutionary thoughts on many levels, and accepted the social consequences pf these thoughts, on other matters social change was slowed down because of him.

Darwin’s theory was picked up by Carl Vogt, an anthropologist of the time who wrote,

“hence we should discover a greater [apelike] resemblance if we were to take a female as our standard… and because her evolution stopped earlier, a woman was “a stunted man.”

Vogt felt that the gap between males and females increases with civilisation’s progress, and is greatest in the advanced societies of Europe. There were other scientists who wrote papers along a similar viewpoint. The fact that their country was ruled by a queen during this time seemed to be of no mind to the scientific community, nor the other female rulers during this time including Catherine the Great.

Darwin’s Theories Spread in the Scientific Community

Moving along on this path, Darwin’s main point was that women were essentially a stilled part of the evolutionary tree. Further, Darwin felt males were not only

“more powerful in body and mind than women”

but had even

“gained the power of selection”.

Evolution was in the males’ hands. Women, consequently, were less evolved and this is why instinct and emotions dominated women, her “greatest weakness”. 

Clearly, Darwin had no knowledge of genetics as it relates to inheritance of genes from both parents. He seemed to feel that since all evolution was taking place through the male, the female was merely passing on the results of evolution as determined by the needs of the male of the species. Once genetics was more thoroughly understood (see here), it underscored the difficulties with Darwin’s theory on women, people of color and his theory of evolution itself.

Slow social change for women as a result

Why were such easily disprovable theories clung to for so long? The answer is and has always been a loss of power and fear of the unknown. During the early 20th century, most of the world was at war, experienced several economic collapses and other disasters which led to a changed world. Many people associate change with chaos, slow social change with stability and history does bear this out to some extent.

A review of the history of the Mideast or Asia bears this out. However, in the 1970s, most longstanding views were being challenged, including the view of women as inferior. Study after study refuted the long held views on brain size, emotions and intelligence. Yes, men and women do look at things differently, but there is no proof one way is better than the other in every situation.

Thus, we have arrived at where we are today, where women can do many things that their grandmother’s or parents generation could not. This does not mean all is settled. Empowerment brings responsibility along with choices. It is clear that empowerment of women will empower the rest of the human race as well.

Sources:

Slow Social Change
Charles Robert Darwin by John Collier