first months of family life

Humanity’s Happy Scientists: On Independent thought and Counterfactual thinking of Babies

“Successful creative adults seem to combine the wide-ranging exploration and openness we see in children with the focus and discipline we see in adults.”

–Alison Gopnik

Alison Gopnik, is a professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. As an international pioneer in the study of child development and learning, she was the first to posit the theory that children’s minds could teach adult minds a thing or two. Her “theory of mind” focuses on how children understand the minds of others and is based on the premise that children learn in much the same way as scientists do, through a process of active experimentation.

Her 1999 book , “The Scientist in the Crib” (coauthored with Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl) received rave reviews by several prestigious magazines, including the New Yorker, and has been translated into 20 languages. She has also written over 100 articles for various publications, including New Scientist, Slate, and The Times Literary Supplement. Her 2009 book, The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life” offers some provocative theories about the first months of family life.

According to Gopnik, in modern times, the first months of family life have become far too socially isolated. Ideally, the first months of family life, rather than often being in the care of a single adult or couple, children should have the opportunity to observe and interact with a wide range of people with varying degrees of commitment to their well-being.

She attributes the development of life-long familial attachments that begin from the first months of family life, which doesn’t exist for other primates, to the relatively prolonged helplessness of the human infant. In a sense, it is that helplessness which created selfless love. That selfless love is essential in the first months of family life and to children reaching adulthood.

Childhood learning is one of Gopnik’s specialties, and she believes that adults can learn a lot from children as well. She posits that because adults, in order to earn a living, must perform so many repetitive actions, their minds can lose its natural curiosity and excitement for learning. This can make the first months of family life more difficult. She compares babies’ minds to scientific research and development departments. Babies approach life like travelers in a world in which everything is new.

Like scientists, babies draw conclusions from physical data, and even statistical analyses, such as when they experiment with what will prompt a smile or positive response from their caretakers. She also believes they are capable of what is termed “counterfactual thinking”, which is defined as the ability to imagine different past or future outcomes from those that have actually occurred.

According to a review in Scientific American, she was influenced by the work of psychologist John Hagen of the University of Michigan. His work includes developing alternative learning environments. For example, in one of his labs, the room has no front or rear, the chairs are on wheels and cameras are utilized for a variety of purposes. One of his research studies found that young children were better than older children at remembering playing cards that they had been instructed to forget, a fact which points to the capacity of babies for independent thought.

In addition to working as an educator, she is also a political activist for positive educational change for children. In her capacity as educational activist, she has given several keynote speeches to organizations such as the World Economic Forum as well as organizations that advocate specifically for children, such as Parents as Teachers. She has also lectured for science organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as appearing on television shows such as Nova and NPR radio programs.

In a video interview, she advocates for experiential education, in which children are guided in developing skills by doing and receiving feedback on their performance. She recommends apprenticeships in which young people can observe and experience the activities of those who are already working in professions that they themselves hope to work in one day. This approach would also help them learn whether they are emotionally or psychologically well suited for the job, or what characteristics they would need to develop further to be successful at it.

She also revealed in the interview that none of her psychological training or professional expertise helped during her first months of family life or in parenting her own three children. Theories are just that, and real life has a way of being much more unpredictable, especially when human emotions are involved.

According to Gopnik, there are some things adults can do to reclaim their own natural curiosity and excitement about learning. She recommends travel, meditation, and spending time with and learning from children, as well as teaching them.

One of her personal and professional goals has been to cultivate more respect for children and their innate brilliance, rather than devaluing them and continuing to relegate them to social isolation with one another. She seems to be succeeding admirably.

first months of family life
Giant Baby Head in fiberglass, by Freezelight, Flickr CC2.0
in vitro fertilization

Creating Life: How the True Genius of Technology Helps Conceive Life

In Vitro Fertilization—The Process

In vitro fertilization is a process by which a woman’s egg is fertilized in a laboratory rather than inside her body. The fertilized egg is cultured for 2 to 6 days and then implanted into a woman’s uterus to complete the process of conception that leads to a successful pregnancy.

The IVF process is used both as a treatment for infertility and in cases of gestational surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy can use the intended mother’s egg the intended father’s sperm, the surrogate’s egg, or both eggs and sperm from donors. Another method, called ovarian hyperstimulation, uses drugs called gonadotropins over a 10 day period to stimulate egg production.

The cost of in vitro fertilization can vary depending upon the number of procedures required to achieve a successful pregnancy from approximately $8000 to $17,000. The costs associated with gestational surrogacy can be over $150,000 because they include the costs associated with the pregnancy as well. Psychological screenings, counseling, legal fees, and medications are among the expenses covered by that fee.

The legal status of in vitro fertilization varies by country, with some countries placing more restrictions on the process than others. For example, some countries such as China and Turkey only allow the process for married couples, while others such as Spain permit it for single people and same-sex couples as well. Surrogacy is banned in many countries, but permitted in India and many others, with some restrictions.

The Rising Use of In Vitro Fertilization

The use of in vitro fertilization has increased in recent years for a number of reasons. According to a recent report, that trend is expected to continue, with an estimated increase of 7% from 2015 to 2021. According to one article, 61,740 babies, or 1.5% of all babies born in 2012 in the U.S. alone were the result of successful in vitro fertilization. In Australia in 2010, the 61,774 assisted reproductive treatments performed resulted in 12,056 live births.

Many people who are sure they want children in the future take the precautionary measure of having eggs and/or sperm frozen for future use. However, the success rate of the procedure is lower with the use of frozen eggs. The age of the woman is also a factor, with women over age 40 having lower success rates than those under the age of 35. However, until 2006, the record for the oldest woman to give birth using IVF and a donated egg was held by Adriana Iliescu, who gave birth at the age of 66.

Common Reasons for the Use of In Vitro Fertilization

Economic factors play a role in the decision of many women to postpone having children until their careers are firmly established and they are able to financially support a child. The average cost of raising a child in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent years to $304,480 when adjusted for projected inflation. That figure is calculated on raising a child from birth to the age of 18 and does not include the cost of college or other forms of higher education that prepare young people to enter the workforce and become financially independent.

Fertility disorders are another common reason women choose to use in vitro fertilization. The most common cause of female infertility is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In this condition, changes in the the hypothalamus, pituitary glands and ovaries create a hormone imbalance that affects ovulation. Another common causes include hypothalamic dysfunction caused by physical or emotional stress or a substantial weight gain or loss and pelvic tuberculosis.

Premature ovarian insufficiency disorder is caused by an autoimmune response in which the body attacks ovarian tissues. It can occur as the result of genetic factors or environmental factors such as exposure to chemotherapy and causes a decrease in estrogen and a loss of ability for the ovaries to produce eggs.

Hyperprolactinemia is a condition in which the pituitary gland produces too much prolactin, which reduces estrogen production. It can either be genetic or caused by medications taken for other conditions. Polyps or tumors can block fallopian tubes, and endometriosis can cause scarring that prevents successful implantation of the embryo. Endometriosis, cervical stenosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and genetic uterine abnormalities are also common reasons for women to utilize IVF.

The Future of IVF

Since the successful birth of Loise Brown resulting from IVF in 1978, it is estimated that 5 million babies had been born by 2014 using IVF. In 2011, 588,629 treatments were reported from 33 European countries. 151,923 were reported from the U.S. and 66,347 from New Zealand and Australia. The approximately 1.5 million treatments performed each year result in the birth of an estimated 350,000 babies.

This remarkable process, which has continued to grow at a rate of 5 to 10% each year, has allowed many people who might otherwise have remained childless to experience the joys of parenthood. Techniques continue to be refined, which is predicted to increase the success rate even further.

in vitro fertilization

nurturing placenta

The Placenta: The Source of all Human Life

“The beautiful life-giving placenta is given back to the earth to continue is life-giving journey. Family and friends can be invited and a libation can be given to the ancestors. Thank the spirit guides and the placenta for protecting the child”.

–West African quote

The Role of the Nurturing Placenta in Celebrating the Miracle of Birth

Throughout history, in many cultures, the nurturing placenta, one of the miracles that makes life possible, has played an important part in rituals and ceremonies celebrating the birth of life. For example, in Indonesian culture, and many others, the placenta is believed to be a protective link between the child and the earth. Fathers are responsible for either burying the placenta near home to endure that the child remains close to the family, or taking it to sea to ensure travel and a wide perspective.

Regarded as sacred, some cultures believed its nurturing properties prevented bleeding, depression and other ailments associated with childbirth. Others, such as those in Russia and China, have used it as medicine to treat fatigue and infertility. Some cultures practice the ritual of placentophagy, in which the placenta is eaten. According to one article, the nurturing placenta is the mother of us all.

Functions of the Nurturing Placenta

The nurturing placenta, named for the Latin word for “cake” is a pancake-shaped organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall. It serves many other functions as well. In addition to providing oxygen and vital nutrients, it also eliminates waste through a process called diffusion. Using IgG antibodies, it fights infections, provides immunities and produces essential hormones.

Human chorionic gonadotropin is the hormone that prevents spontaneous abortion. Progesterone serves to help the embryo pass through the fallopian tubes and implant successfully. It also stimulates an increase in secretions for fetal nutrition. Estrogen is crucial for growth of the fetus and production of milk after the birth of the baby as well as increasing the blood supply.

Development of the Nurturing Placenta

The placenta develops in layers from a single blastocyst The outer layer of the blastocyst becomes the trophoblast, and forms the outer layer of the placenta. This outer layer is further divided into two more layers called the cytotrophoblas and the syncytiotrophoblast layers. The syncytiotrophoblas covers the surface of the placenta.

The average fully developed placenta measures approximately 22 cm (9 inch) in length and 2–2.5 cm (0.8–1 inch) in thickness. It is thickest in the center and thinnest around the edges. Crimson in color, it weighs just over one pound or 500 grams. The 55-60 cm (22 to 24 inches) umbilical cord is developed by the nurturing placenta to connect mother and child through the chorionic plate. Maternal blood begins circulating through the placenta towards the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, coming into contact with the fetal chorion. Deoxygenated fetal blood passes through umbilical arteries to the placenta, where it is oxygenated and carried to the baby through the umbilical vein.

From Nurturing Placenta to Afterbirth

The process of placental expulsion, the final stage of delivery doesn’t begin until 15 to 30 minutes after the birth of the child. In some traditions, it is customary for the father of the child to make the symbolic gesture of cutting the umbilical cord.

For many years, in Western cultures, the attending doctor cut the cord immediately after birth. However, that practice is slowly changing as new parents move towards more holistic and traditional methods of childbirth, such as the use of doulas or midwives, rather than hospital births. A practice called “lotus birth” in which the umbilical cord is not cut at all is gaining popularity. Even without cutting the cord, the placenta would fall away naturally within a day or two.

According to one article, some experts believe that because the area around the umbilical cord seals itself about an hour after birth, by not clamping and cutting the cord, newborns can get one last beneficial transfusion of blood from the nurturing placenta. Placental blood is rich in stem cells and immunoglobulin that helps fight infections.

Today’s parents have the benefit of combining age-old natural wisdom and modern medical technology to make childbirth the safest and best experience possible.

nurturing placenta
Wooden placenta bowl, Maori, New Zealand,1890-1925 Science Museum A6697, #L0064825
tamarin animal mother

Back to the Future: What Primates Can Teach Us about Parenting

“I’m certainly not advocating that we should behave like monkeys and apes. I’m saying that understanding the basic primate way will help us make more informed choices about the kinds of parents we want to be.”

–Harriet J. Smith

A practicing clinical psychologist and former fellow at the National Institute of Child Health and Development, Harriet J. Smith she has published many journal articles over the years. In her book, Parenting for Primates, she offers parents valuable knowledge gleaned from the four months she spent in the Peruvian rain forest observing primates as well as the 30 years that she managed a colony of tamarin monkeys in her own home. She became interested in primate parenting and realized that human mothers could benefit in many ways from her study of the tamarin animal mother. Some of the topics in the book include the roles of mothers and fathers, single parenting, weaning babies, baby-sitters, independence and dealing with an empty nest.

Maternal Instinct and the Tamarin Animal Mother

Her experience with the tamarin animal mother began with two orphaned monkeys, which were bottle-fed and hand-raised. When these monkeys became parents, they displayed very little interest in caring for their young. In fact, their reactions to them were often hostile, and included sticking out their tongues and making threatening gestures.

In an article, Smith describes how the infants were fostered and cared for by a tamarin animal mother named Rachel, who had been captured as an adult after having been raised in a primate family group in the wild. This experience led her to conclude that rather than being the product of maternal instinct, parenting consists of a complex set of learned behaviors. After Rachel taught them those behaviors through example, the natural parents were able to develop those skills.
One of her goals for writing the book was to alleviate the sense of guilt experienced by mothers who question their own maternal instinct. Guilt is often experienced by women suffering post-partum depression. It can also be the result of an overwhelming sense of inadequacy by new mothers who question the value of skills learned from their own mothers. Evidence that parenting skills can be learned is a potent antidote.

The Social Support System of the Tamarin Animal Mother

In tamarin primate families, the males care for the babies from an early age, providing as much, and sometimes more, care than the females. Just as the females were able to learn parenting behaviors, the males were also able to learn adequate parenting skills. Tamarin animal mothers without a mate often rely on other adult males as well as female relatives for assistance. Smith points out that in the primate realm, parenting does not take place in social isolation. The degree of social isolation that parents in industrialized societies experience is one of the most difficult challenges they face.

Tamarin animal mothers also utilize baby-sitters for their young. Those who provide care are usually related to the mother or socially subordinate to the extent that they recognize her ultimate parental authority. The mother never goes so far out of range that she cannot return and immediately take charge upon hearing a cry of distress. Babysitting in the simian world is carried out on an individual basis, rather than a single adult supervising a group of young tamarins.

Applying Lessons Learned from the Tamarin Animal Mother

According to one article, “Parenting for Primates” has generated some controversy. The book received critical acclaim from several sources such as Publisher’s Weekly and favorable reviews from colleagues like psychologist Jay Belsky, London University’s director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues. However, others such as Georgia State University’s Dr. Emily D. Klein, believe that it may add to the guilt of mothers in industrialized societies who, due to economic realities beyond their control, are unable to implement many of the suggestions.

In response to her critics, Smith offered the reassurance that “My message is not that mothers shouldn’t work, but that they should be thoughtful about how much time they spend away from their children and about who will care for them in their absence.” Rather than working mothers feeling guilty about the need to rely on professional day care, she counsels parents to develop good relationships with their child care providers. Another way to enhance the child’s experience of being cared for by others is for the parent to remain in the area for a period of time during the transition. An example of this would be to invite the child care provider into the home to develop a relationship with the child while the parents are present.

Many educators also believe that parents in industrialized societies can benefit from the parenting lessons provided by the tamarin animal mother. For that reason, a 7 credit continuing education course designed for parents has been developed based on the book. Perhaps some ancient history, in the form of successful parenting tips provided by our distant tamarin cousins, may be worth repeating to create a better future for our own children.

tamarin animal mother
Vase in the Shape of a Mother Monkey with Her Young, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 6, Reign of Pepi I, 2289 2255bc, Egypt
myth of natural instinct

The Surprising Power Of Praise In Challenging The Myth Of Natural Instinct

“In taking our marital arguments upstairs to avoid exposing the children to strife, we accidentally deprived them of chances to witness how two people who care about each other can work out their differences in a calm and reasoned way.”

–Po Bronson

The 2009 book, Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, written by best-selling author Po Bronson and journalist Ashley Merryman challenges many current child-rearing philosophies, including the myth of natural instinct. It also challenges the myth of natural instinct. This popular book was on the New York Times best seller list for three months and has been translated into fifteen languages. Po Bronson has written a number of books on the subject of personal success and even a novel. Ashley Merryman is also an attorney, and has written a play in addition to having served as a speechwriter for Vice-President Al Gore. Both describe themselves as science journalists.

Worriers and Warriors

One of the challenges to the myth of natural instinct is brain research that indicates that genetics and brain chemistry play a large part in the way people respond to stress. In an interview, Bronson described how genetics determine the way in which the brain’s frontal cortex processes dopamine. He categorizes people as either “worriers” or “warriors” according to those genetic factors. According to Bronson, people with the “worrier” gene can have a cognitive advantage of up to ten point IQ advantage–when they aren’t stressed. Under normal conditions, worriers have a greater ability to think and plan ahead. With the introduction of stress, that advantage is significantly reduced.

Warriors tend to perform better under stress. One of the factors that determines whether a person is a warrior is the amount of testosterone the developing infant is exposed to in the womb. According to research, testosterone lengthens the fingers of the fetus, while estrogen limits their growth. The length of a person’s fingers can be one way to determine how they people will respond as adults to stress and the hormones it releases within the human body.

The Surprising Power of Praise in Challenging the Myth of Natural Instinct

The areas in which the book challenges the myth of human instinct are listed in a chapter synopsis. Chapter one addresses how a parent’s instinct to praise their child for being intelligent may be detrimental. The authors point to studies which show that being praised for specific actions and effort are more effective. For example, in one study, children who were praised for their efforts tended to choose harder puzzles than those praised for intelligence. Additionally, they showed a 30% improvement between the first and third tests. Conversely, the scores of those who were praised for intelligence decreased by 20%.

One of the reasons for these findings was that children praised for intelligence tend to take fewer risks that might jeopardize that initial assessment. It was found that teens often discounted such praise from teacher, and even equated it with veiled criticism. There was also a correlation between praise and the amount of time that students were able to spend concentrating on a task without seeking further approval. Heavily praised students often displayed less autonomy and less confidence in their answers. This can result in students dropping out rather than risking low grades.

The Myth of Natural Instinct in Competition, Praise and Lying

Another chapter makes a connection between praise and lying. According to the authors, respect for both the rules and other competitors is defined as “adaptive competition”. Maladaptive competition doesn’t allow for losing, which leads to behaviors such as lying and cheating due to the desire to win at any cost. In one study, students were told to rate themselves on report cards which would be sent to students at other schools whom they would never meet. It was found that 40 percent of the students who’d been praised for intelligence inflated their scores. That percentage was much lower among those who’d been praised for their efforts.

One of the reasons for cheating is the stigma associated with failure, which discourages children from developing strategies on how to deal with it successfully. Failure often provides greater opportunities for learning than success. Michigan scholar Jennifer Crocker believes that it’s essential to redefine the terms and not stigmatize the learning process by calling it “failure”.

Overcoming the Myth of Natural Instinct in Performance

According to Dr. Robert Cloninger at Washington University in St. Louis “The key is intermittent reinforcement”. Studies revealed that the brain can learn that experiencing frustration can ultimately result in reward. His research located a neural network between the prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum of the brain that monitors its reward center. Dr. Cloninger believes that frequent rewards can result in less persistence. Intermittent rewards result in switching on the neural network that serves to anticipate future rewards based on continued effort.

An excerpt of the book provides case studies that illustrate some of the principles set forth in the book that challenge the myth of natural instinct. It seems that giving children that “A” for effort might be more important than we’d ever realized, and can result in an increased ability to learn.

myth of natural instinct
Syrian refugee children in a Lebanese school classroom, wikipedia cc2.0
appearance of natural instinct

It’s Not Nature Versus Nurture: It’s Nature Versus Culture

“Over and over again, cross-cultural research on infancy teaches the exact same lesson: infants can tolerate—and thrive under—care that most any Western parent would assume would end very badly.”

Nicholas Day

Biology and the Appearance of Natural Instinct

There are many biological realities associated with pregnancy, birth, and parenting that can pose as the appearance of natural instinct. For example, one of those biological mechanisms is the manufacture and release of estrogen and progesterone to prepare the uterus for pregnancy and fetal development. The hormone prolactin stimulates milk production and oxytocin helps initiate labor. Dopamine activates neural pathways that contribute to mutual bonding between parent and child.

Before scientists understood the role of biology and chemistry, these natural changes were often viewed as the appearance of natural instinct. However, despite the important role of biology, parenting behavior may play an even more important role in the development of a child’s brain. Studies have shown that cultural differences in parenting have an effect not only on brain development, but on social development as well.

Ethnopediatrics: Cultural Differences and the Appearance of Natural Instinct

In October 1994, Carol M. Worthman conducted a workshop at Emory University introducing the new science of ethnopediatrics. Ethnopediatrics is a branch of research devoted to understanding child-rearing practices within different cultures and historical contexts. It utilizes a number of disciplines including anthropology, psychology, child development research, and pediatrics. One of the premises of this new science is the continuum concept, which Jean Liedloff wrote about in her 1986 book, The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost . According to this theory, all humans have a set of expectations regarding how evolution enables them to achieve maximum mental, physical and emotional development and adaptability.

Meredith F pop over to this website. Small‘s 1999 book, Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent provides several case studies that illustrate the differences in parenting within a variety of cultures. She reaches several conclusions, one of which is that Western culture tends to focus more on individualism and independence rather than community and inter-dependence. The cultural value of independence is manifested in the practice of encouraging babies to sleep alone, while children sleeping with parents is viewed with suspicion as potentially pathological. Parents in many other cultures view infants sleeping alone as a form of child neglect.

The La Leche League, a long-time advocate of over-riding cultural pressures in favor of biological imperatives, gave the book a positive review. Another of her books pointed out the extent to which social institutions have agendas that affect the socialization process. As a result, parents often struggle between obeying cultural imperatives and respecting the appearance of natural instinct, thereby achieving a balance between the needs of children and those of the larger society.

Child-Centered Versus Adult-Centered Cultures

Many cultures are more child-centered than those of Western culture. One study compared the amount of crying of babies in Western cultures as compared to other cultures. It was found that in Western cultures, babies cried more and longer, and parents allowed more time to elapse before responding to their cries. The Western focus on individuality and independence has also resulted in fewer community and family-centered practices than some other cultures exhibit. For example, in Japan, pre-schools do not engage in competitive learning, but focus on cooperation as a cultural goal.

One article illustrates the extent to which parenting is shaped by the surrounding culture, and points out that even definitions of important concepts, such as “stimulation” differ from culture to culture. In Western culture, stimulation usually means intellectual, while in other cultures, the word has a more social meaning. Similarly, the definition of “intelligence” differs in that it includes social behavior as well as the degree of self-control displayed by the child.

Parental Ethnotheories and the Appearance of Natural Instinct

According to Sarah Harkness, a professor of human development at the University of Conneticut, there are many cultural differences in parenting. She refers to each society’s beliefs about the right way to raise children as its parental ethnotheories. The one shared characteristics of all these differing beliefs is the universal parental desire to want the best for their children. In her opinion, beliefs about child-rearing become evident from the way parents talk about their children and the words they use to describe them.

In one study, it was found that American parents referred to their children as intelligent. Italian parents, on the other hand, spoke of their children using positive terms that reflected their cultural tendency to value being pleasant and even-tempered over intelligence. The view on children asking questions was positive for both groups, but for different reasons. American parents viewed it as a sign of intelligence, while Italian parents viewed it as a sign of social skills. Dutch parents valued their children’s long attention spans and ability to adapt to regular routines. However, in Dutch culture, children asking questions is viewed negatively as a sign of excessive dependence.

It seems that the definition of good parenting is changing to include questioning cultural imperatives that conflict with the appearance of natural instinct.

appearance of natural instinct
Himba mother and child, Namibia, 2007 by Hans Hillewaert CC-BY-SA-4.0
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

The Dance of Life: The Bond Between Mother and Child

“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”

–Sophia Loren

The Senses and the Bond Between Mother and Child

In the animal world, the first bond between mother and child is that of scent. The mother’s secretion of estrogen and that of the child “match” perfectly. In nature, it is one of the ways that an animal is able to recognize its mother. In cases in which an animal has died while giving birth, farmers will often rub the baby animal with the placenta of another mother, which results in that mother accepting it as her own. However, the time in which this is possible is just two hours.

To test whether the same was true of humans, Lee Salk, a child psychologist, separated 115 mothers from their newborn babies for twenty-four hours after birth. 80 percent of the mothers who had contact with their babies within the first twenty-four hours of life held their babies on their left sides, close to the heart. Mothers that had been separated from their babies showed no preferred side for holding their babies.

After performing other tests which separated mothers and infants for longer periods of time, but not within the first twenty-four hours, he concluded that like other mammals, the strongest bond between mother and child may be formed within the first twenty-four hours. In another study, babies who were exposed to their mother’s regular heartbeat weighed more and cried less. If the heartbeat is irregular due to stress, babies respond accordingly by becoming restless.

In a study conducted in Sweden, forty mothers had skin-to-skin contact with their newborn infants during the first thirty minutes of life. The relationships between these infants and their mothers was observed three months later and compared to those of mothers and infants that had not experienced skin-to-skin contact immediately after the birth. The bond between mother and child seemed to be stronger in the first group, expressed by their facing one another for longer periods of time and fewer complaints by mothers regarding feeding times that interfered with sleep. These babies also cried less and smiled more.

The strong yet fragile bond between mother and child begins with the secretion of hormones during delivery, making the first hour after birth extremely important to the bonding process. The mother’s secretion of estrogen and that of the child “match” perfectly. Just as our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are affected by hormonal changes, the reverse is also true.

Socialization and the Bond Between Mother and Child

The production of hormones can also be triggered by our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Whether our thoughts are pleasant or disturbing has an effect on what type of hormone, and how much of it, is produced by the body. Separating our thoughts from the chemical reactions they cause within our bodies would be as impossible as separating a mother bear from her cub.

In some species of apes, the mother does not allow any other animal to care for her offspring. However, in other species, such as the Bonnet macaque, care of the young is shared by a number of community members, both related and non-related to the mother. The capacity for accepting help from others in caring for our young is one of the things that separates humans from our evolutionary cousins, the primates.

What a mother thinks about the meaning of having a child has the power to determine how she will behave towards the child. Unlike precocial animals that mature quickly and can follow their mothers within hours after birth, humans are altricial, and raising a child to maturity can take twenty years. That’s why her thoughts about having children are so important.

The results of studies can support many different hypotheses about the bond between mother and child. Perhaps the fact that our thoughts can affect our chemistry and our behavior, and socialization can affect our thoughts is one of the reasons it is so difficult for mothers to trust their own instincts. Many continue to rely on social customs that have not always proven to be in the best interests of supporting the natural bond between mother and child.
In the final analysis, most mothers are as dependent upon society for survival as their children are dependent upon them. However, between six and ten months, human infants begin to show signs of attachment to siblings and other important people in their lives. This all means that mothers have many years, as well as help from others, to continue to develop and strengthen the bond with their babies.

Our body chemistry and our thought processes are always in the midst of a dance so complex that it is often difficult to tell which partner is leading. The bond between mother and child is one of the most beautiful results of this dance of life.

bond between mother and child
Kiss (mother version) by Leonid Mamchenkov, Flickr CC2.0
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.