How the Chemnistry of Smell and Touch Develops Human’s Capacity for Harmony

How the Chemnistry of Smell and Touch Develops Human’s Capacity for Harmony

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.”

–Erich Fromm

Most parents are aware of the importance of successful bonding between mother and child. The complex combination of scent, sound, hormonal secretions, heartbeat, and skin-to-skin contact all serve to create and reinforce that bond just moments after a baby is born. While those moments are important, just as important are the days, months, and years that follow. That’s why so many studies about bonding between mother and child have been conducted that it has become a science.

The Importance of Scent in Bonding Between Mother and Child

It is a science that consists of many sciences, including chemistry. For example, pheromones are the chemicals that physically attract humans to one another. Well, babies fairly ooze those pheromones, which is part of the reason that so many people find them irresistible. Most people don’t think much about the role of their sense of smell in their lives. Modern media focuses primarily on the senses of sight and sound. However, advertisers recognizing the power of scent were quick to take advantage of scratch and sniff technology, which is used to increases the sale of expensive perfumes.

The importance of scent in the process of bonding between mother and child was demonstrated by a scientific study. After spending just ten minutes with their newborn infants, 90 percent of mothers were able to correctly identify their newborns by scent alone. After spending an hour with their babies, 100 percent of them were able to distinguish their own babies’ scent from the scent of other babies.

The Importance of Touch in Bonding Between Mother and Child

Dr. Deepak Chopra, an endocrinologist and best-selling author of more than 80 books on topics of human well-being, says that successful bonding between mother and child can help prevent diseases by boosting immunity and even contribute to a higher I.Q. An important part of that bonding is the element of human touch. His assertion has been reinforced by several scientific studies.

In a study at Ohio State University, it was demonstrated that cuddling produces chemical changes in the body that can reduce the negative effects of common environmentally caused medical conditions. In this case, cuddling protected the rabbits against some of the physical consequences of high cholesterol diets, like clogged arteries.
Science leaves no doubt about the power of human touch. Another study that was published in Pediatrics magazine found that premature babies who were frequently touched and stroked gained almost 50 percent more weight than those who weren’t. In addition to promoting bonding between mother and child, skin-to-skin contact has been proven to provide a number of other health benefits. It can even regulate a baby’s temperature, because a mother’s breasts automatically adjust temperature, heating up or cooling down according to the baby’s needs.

Physical affection also releases hormones that activate specific genes that help reduce the physical effects of stress. Babies, being helpless to exert any control over their own environments, are especially sensitive to stress. They are quite literally little more than a bundle of nerves responding to a series of unfamiliar physical and environmental stimuli. They depend on adults to provide warmth, relieve their hunger, and soothe their fears.

Obstacles to Successful Bonding

Despite a wealth of scientific evidence that demonstrates the importance of the bonding process, there are a number of obstacles that can interfere. One of those obstacles is a family history in which a mother has not successfully bonded with her own mother. This may have been as a result of neglect or abuse. According to statistics, childhood trauma greatly increases the risk for a number of diseases later in life. Traumas associated with abuse or neglect often result in former victims repeating that behavior themselves.

A link between poverty and stress has been firmly established by the scientific community. Further, a link between stress and mental and emotional illnesses that often lead to child abuse and neglect has also been established. Unfortunately, due to current economic and social policies the number of mothers and children living in poverty world-wide continues to grow.

Popular comedian John Oliver addresses the very serious issue of social conditions that often interfere with successful bonding between mother and child. Although some may find his language offensive, most find the social phenomenon he describes even more so. All the scientific knowledge about the physical, mental, emotional and social benefits of bonding will be of greater value when social policies enable parents to fully utilize it.

bonding between mother and child

parental genetics

The DIY Genetic Testing and The Brave New World that Comes With It

With every new form of genetic testing comes a new controversy. One of the most recent controversies concerned the 23andMe saliva DNA test. The test was designed to give individual consumers information about their ancestry and any potential genetic health risks. Potentially, prospective parents could use the test to determine their parental genetics and identify health risks to a child they may have together. The U.K.’s the health regulatory agency recently approved its use despite the fact that the FDA had banned the company from marketing the test in the U.S.

The CEO of the company is Anne Wojcicki, former wife of Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google and reportedly one of the 18th richest people in the world. In the U.S., which does not have universal health care, one of the concerns was that the data from the test could be obtained by insurance companies, who would then raise their premiums or deny health care coverage based on the information. Another concern was whether customer data obtained by the company would be sold to other companies. Finally, most diseases are the result of a complex combination of genes and social and environmental interactions, which limits the potential of the test to accurately determine risk factors.

Another article discusses the controversy surrounding PDG, or preimplantation genetic diagnosis. This is a form of parental genetics testing available to women during the process of in vitro fertilization. Supporters of the test argue that detecting genetic abnormalities in the embryo before implantation reduces the risk of a child being born with a potentially deadly or crippling disease. The moral argument is that reducing human suffering is the right thing to do.

Opponents of parental genetics testing of embryos argue that physical limitations often contribute to making a person stronger in other ways, and that the world might be losing a valuable contribution. Another argument surrounding the use of the test concerns the concept of eugenics which refers to the improvement of the human race through parental genetics or “good breeding”. The word itself was coined by an ancient Greek slave society, a fact which illustrates the concerns of many people about the high potential for misuse of parental genetics testing technology for political purposes.

Another controversy surrounding parental genetics testing is the moral objection by many to the destruction of less than perfect embryos, as well as their use in conducting medical research. Many within the medical community argue that with the consent of the parents, it is not only moral to conduct research on unwanted embryos, but that such research provides potentially life-saving information which benefits all of humanity. For example, it may one day be possible to induce stem cells to form tissues and organs for those currently suffering and in need of a transplant.

Some have suggested in vitro fertilization using only one embryo rather than cultivating several, then implanting only the healthiest one based on parental genetics test results and freezing and storing the rest. There are several reasons for cultivating multiple embryos for the IVF process. Up to 80 percent of embryos transferred into the uterus fail to implant, often due to chromosomal abnormalities. Further, only about one third of IVF procedures result in a successful live birth. In countries with universal health care, the single embryo method could be used for several attempts. However, in the U.S. most insurance companies do not cover the process, which has an average cost of about $10,000 dollars.

One of the moral questions that form the basis of many arguments against the practice of medical research on human embryos is the question of when life begins. Medical research has determined that embryos don’t begin to form nervous systems until two weeks after conception. They are unable to experience pleasure or pain before sixteen weeks of gestation and don’t develop consciousness until twenty-four weeks. More than 50 percent of embryos die within eight weeks of conception through the natural occurrence of spontaneous abortion.

If embryos are persons, then 220 million people die each year as a result of spontaneous abortion, making it the leading cause of death in the world. Researchers argue that if this is the case, it would be their moral duty to conduct research that would reduce the number of such deaths. While the controversy is similar to that surrounding abortion, one article describes a very personal account of the differences between how society and the law view the two.

In some countries, including the U.K., the law requires that surplus embryos produced through the IVF process be destroyed d after a period of time. These laws indicate that embryos are not regarded as living persons by society, and there have been few protests against this issue compared to the issue of abortion. Ironically, frozen embryos are considered potential persons by their donors, some of whom oppose these laws because they want to ensure their ability to have the biological child of a beloved partner even in the event of their death. That ability is one of the miracles that parental genetic testing has made possible.

parental genetics
Unreachable Futures by David Goehring. Flickr CC2.0
On Gender Equality in Parenting, Fatherhood and Human Paternal Behavior

Scientific Truths and Questions of Morality on Genetic Testing

Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors – ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.”

–Sam Harris

Modern Mother and Child Genetics Testing Methods

Mother and child genetics has become increasingly relevant in today’s society for many reasons. Genetic testing is becoming widely available for a variety of purposes. For a variety of reasons, many prospective parents are availing themselves of modern technology to give their children a head start in life. For example, prospective parents with a history of certain types of hereditary diseases and conditions are beginning to seek genetic testing and counseling before having children.

There is now a wide range of diseases that can be detected with modern genetic testing, including some forms of cancer, cystic fibrosis, Down’s syndrome, fragile-x syndrome, hemophilia, Huntington’s Disease, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, neurofribromatosis, muscular dystrophy, phenylketonuria, sickle cell anemia, and Tay-Sachs disease.

Counselors are able to evaluate genetic tests and advise people of the risk of conceiving a child with recessive genes that may manifest in these diseases. Genetic tests can now be performed on fetuses by taking cell samples from the womb. The two techniques now widely available are called amniocentesis and chorionic villi sampling. Most newborns are given a blood test for phenylketonuria, which is a a genetic disease that can cause mental retardation if it goes undiagnosed, after birth.

Amazingly enough, there are now biochips, also called DNA arrays or microarrays, that promise to make a variety of genetic tests faster and easier than ever before. With the use of biochips, each glass slide or “chip” contains multiple rows of DNA probes, which test for the presence of a specific DNA sequence. If a specific sequence that signifies a mutation is present, a specific spot on the biochip will glow under a special light. This method allows for testing for thousands of mutations at once.

The use of biochips could very well result in the use of genetic ID cards that carry all of an individual’s genetic information. While such a card may be helpful for doctors, who could use it to determine the right dosage of the right drugs, many are apprehensive about potential abuses of this technology. For example, many potential mothers have expressed a desire to use it to determine the sex of the fetus, which depending upon the culture, may result in aborting a fetus.

Another new form of testing mother and child genetics is called tandem mass spectometry. The mass spectrometer is a device that separates and quantifies ions. For example, organic acid derivatives are subjected to gas chromatography before entering the mass spectrometer, where they are ionized and fragmented to determine their abundance. The tandem mass spectrometer is made up of two quadrupole mass spectrometers that are separated by a reaction chamber. The genetic testing process takes only a few seconds. The data can be analyzed either by using a parent ion to obtain an array of all parent ions capable of producing a daughter ion when fragmented, or in a neutral loss mode to obtain an array of all parent ions that lose a common neutral fragment.

Ethical Considerations of Mother and Child Genetics Testing

There are a number of ethical considerations surrounding the testing of mother and child genetics, some of which does not provide enough information for parents to make difficult decisions. Additionally, there are some tests that may provide false negatives or positives. Modern mother and child genetics testing is able to identify approximately 80% of neural tube defects in pregnancies and approximately 60% of pregnancies in which Down syndrome is present. False negative or positive tests often result in further testing and increased anxiety about having to decide whether it is in the best interests of the child to terminate the pregnancy.

It is also believed that some mother and child genetics testing for some conditions for which there are no treatments can cause potential psychological harm. Other ethical issues include stigmatization and potential discrimination. In countries in which health care insurance determines whether a person can receive treatment, such as the U.S., there is a concern that test information might be used to limit people’s access to employment or health insurance.

Maintaining confidentiality of medical information is essential, but there is still a risk of discrimination against people who have a positive result on a genetic test. Patenting of genes is another ethical consideration. The ability to isolate genes has raised the issue of the right to patent them. In Australia there have been three preliminary cases of gene patenting. In the U.S, the Federal Government issued a response in 2011 confirming that the government does not prohibit gene patenting, but will attempt to ensure that gene patents do not lead to people being denied “reasonable access to healthcare”.

Guidelines for genetic testing must reflect the value of each and every potential child, capable of being valued and loved beyond measure.

mother and child genetics
Genetic Testing. Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT). Plant samples in the gene bank at CIAT’s Genetic Resources Unit, at the institution’s headquarters in Colombia
loving female hormones

Sacred Insanity: The Love Drugs

“That’s what falling in love really amounted to, your brain on drugs. Adrenaline and dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. Chemical insanity, celebrated by poets.”

Tess Gerritsen

The Role of Loving Female Hormones in Sexuality

There are a number of substances produced by women’s bodies that might be called loving female hormones. Two of the most important are oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin was “discovered” in 1952, and dopamine in 1957. Both play a complex and important role in human relationships between men and women as well as between parents and children.

Oxytocin is both a medicine and a hormone which has been nicknamed “the love hormone”. Secreted from the pituitary gland to the many parts of the brain that contain receptors, one of the primary ways oxytocin acts as a loving female hormone is by reducing social anxiety and evoking feelings of calmness in the presence of a romantic partner. However, it is not only a loving female hormone, but a male one as well.

Another important aspect of human relationships is trust. In experiments designed to measure trust levels, researchers found that subject who were administered doses of oxytocin experienced higher levels of trust than those who were not. Even friendships require a degree of trust, but romantic relationships that may one day result in someone you find attractive seeing you in your underwear one day requires an even higher level.

One study that measured oxytocin serum levels of women before and after sexual stimulation found increased levels present immediately after orgasm. A similar study conducted with men found increased levels of oxytocin throughout the entire process of sexual arousal, rather than just after orgasm. This means that the presence of increased levels of oxytocin is an important component of human sexual arousal, both male and female.

During childbirth, oxytocin causes contractions, while dopamine reduces the pain that accompanies them. Dopamine also plays an important role in preventing or alleviating post-partum depression.

The Role of Loving Female Hormones in Parenting

One article shares the results of an experiment in which the natural production of oxytocin, one of the loving female hormones, was blocked in mother rats, which caused them to ignore their young. Additionally, young female mice who were not mothers themselves were indifferent to the cries of infant pups. However, when they were injected with oxytocin, they began to retrieve the crying infants. These studies revealed the presence of oxytocin receptors in the auditory cortex of the brain. The left side of the auditory cortex contains more receptors, which suggests that this is the part of the brain that specializes in recognizing social signals.

The largest and most important source of dopamine in the brain is the basal ganglia located at the base of the forebrain. This is the part of the brain responsible for controlling impulses and making decisions. One of the reasons that dopamine can be considered a loving female hormone is that high levels of dopamine has the effect of reducing inhibitions. While some impulse control is necessary, as any parent can testify, if the decision to have a child was based entirely on logic and preparedness, the world would contain very few people. During childbirth, oxytocin causes contractions, while dopamine reduces the pain of contractions. Dopamine also plays an important role in preventing or alleviating post-partum depression.

Production of Loving Female Hormones

New studies have shown that the body’s natural production of dopamine can be adversely affected by high levels of copper in the brain. Low levels of dopamine is believed to be one of the causes of post-partum depression. Luckily, there are things women can do to stimulate production of the loving female hormones that enable them to care for themselves as well as others. One article lists a number of natural ways to do just that.

The loving female hormones oxytocin and dopamine play a huge part in attraction, romance, and sexual arousal as well as reducing the pain of childbirth and helping new mothers successfully adapt to their roles as infant caretakers. Mothers would do well to remember that males produce these hormones as well, and with the exception of childbirth, for similar reasons. Perhaps one day, researchers will conduct a research experiment that reveals that men who are administered a dose of oxytocin respond to crying infants, too.

loving female hormones
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Stolen Kiss, cc2.0
sexuality and family lfe

About the Mothering Heart and Sexual Invisibility

“You can be a businesswoman, a mother, an artist, and a feminist — whatever you want to be — and still be a sexual being. It’s not mutually exclusive.”

An article about motherhood and sexuality in literature and film questions whether sexuality and family life are compatible in Western societies. The author’s analyzation of literature and films would suggest that they aren’t. She asks, and attempts to answer the question: “How far can we go, as a filmmaker and a novelist, in representing the mother as a sexual being?”. The answer seems to be changing, albeit very slowly.

Sexuality and Family Life in Film

Mothers in literature and film are often portrayed as either “good” or “bad”, and it is frequently something connected to their sexuality that makes them “bad”. From the first days of film, women in the role of ideal mothers have been portrayed as sexually pure, forgiving and self-sacrificing. In the 1913 film The Mothering Heart, the heroine deviated from that ideal by leaving her cheating husband. Her baby dies shortly thereafter, and believing it to be a divine punishment for her non-forgiveness of her husband’s sexual transgressions, she returns to him
In the 1930’s films portrayed mothers who had no desires of their own, but were often weak enough to be seduced by men with desires. In the 1950’s, the film Mildred Pierce contained a message about the consequences of women who prioritized their children’s happiness over that of their husbands. Her husband divorces her, leaving her to support herself and her demanding children, although she is ill-equipped to do so. Her daughter resents their new poverty and decline in social status. This left the mother vulnerable to being seduced by a scoundrel who promised economic assistance, but then seduced her daughter. Overall, films have presented very few positive portrayals of sexuality and motherhood.

Sexuality and Family Life in Popular Magazines

The societal view that good mothers repress their sexuality is also reflected in magazines geared towards mothers. One study examined articles in eight of those magazines from 1991 through 2010 for content related to sexuality. The study found that out of 14,746 articles in eight popular magazines over 20 years, only 2.3%. contained any content regarding sexuality and family life. Despite the popularity of the controversial 1991 cover of Vanity Fair, the content of magazines geared towards mothers would indicate that mothers simply cease to be sexual beings after the birth of their first child.

Only one parenting guide in the 1990s, Vicki Iovine’s The Girlfriend’s Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood contained a chapter on sexuality and family life. Psychologist, couples counselor and author Ester Perel’s book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence addresses some of the issues surrounding sexuality and motherhood that popular magazines geared towards mothers don’t. Ms. Perel points out in her book that sexual invisibility is deeply ingrained in Western culture. There are also at least a few online articles on the subject of sexuality and family life.

Sexuality and Family Life in Education

This example of a current U.S. public school course in human sexuality and family life demonstrates that the educational objective is to teach abstinence from sexuality by emphasizing the consequences of unplanned pregnancy. A report on public school sex education in Australia states that “The pleasure of sexual behaviour/activity was taught by less than 50% of respondents.” According to an article in the Guardian, the unwillingness of adults to speak openly and honestly about sexuality has resulted in leaving children more vulnerable to the influence of sexualized advertising and pornography on the internet.

The Role of Religion in Sexuality and Family Life

Many of the negative attitudes towards sexuality have their origins in religion. Most religions teach that sex outside marriage is wrong. Even people who are not religious believe that sex within the context of a caring relationship is both healthier and more enjoyable than casual sex. An interesting experiment revealed that the brain performs differently when thinking about sex than when thinking about love. Subjects were divided into three groups. One group was “primed” with the mention of sex, while another was primed with the mention of love. The third acted as the control group.

The results of the experiment were that those who had been primed with mentions of sex performed better on analytical tasks, and those primed with mentions of love performed better on creativity tasks. Conversely, thoughts about sex may be detrimental to creativity, while thoughts about love may be detrimental to analytic reasoning. Religious beliefs rely on long-term love, utilizing words like “eternal”. One reason that religion may discourage sex, and even masturbation, is because it increases analytic ability, which may undermine religious belief.
The role of sexuality in family life cannot be ignored. Reducing discussions about sexuality to clinical explanations of the biological purpose of body parts or lists of negative social consequences may be doing children a disservice. The pleasure of sexuality, which include both the physical sensations and the emotional closeness it engenders, is one of the reasons family life exists at all.

sexuality and family lfe
Pregnant Woman was created by Ron Mueck who is an Australian hyperrealist sculptor, and was purchased by Queensland Art G
parental surrogate

Surrogacy: Humanity’s Capacity for the Ultimate Gift

“The Vatican is against surrogate mothers. Good thing they didn’t have that rule when Jesus was born.”

–Elayne Boosler

Forms of Surrogacy

Couples who are unable to have a child due to any number of medical conditions are increasingly utilizing the services of surrogates. Surrogacy involves one woman carrying the biological child of a couple to term. The two common processes of surrogacy are the traditional and the gestational.

In the traditional process, the surrogate is inseminated with donated sperm, and the surrogate mother is also the biological mother. In the gestational process, the biological parents donate the egg and the sperm. The egg is fertilized in the laboratory and then, implanted into the uterus of the surrogate in a process called a blastocyst transfer. The success rate of this method has increased by 10% in recent years.

To become a surrogate usually requires that a number of health tests be administered to determine eligibility, including a hysteroscopy to determine the size, shape and health of the uterus. Other tests include an infectious disease test, a pap smear. Another important test is a psychological one, which determines belief and the level of commitment to the process, as well as addressing the likelihood of some level of emotional bonding with the child during pregnancy and potential sense of loss upon completion of the process. Sometimes, mock trial pregnancies are conducted with the use of estrogen.

Legal Issues About Parental Surrogate

Experts estimate that approximately a thousand children each year are born in the U.S. as a result of the use of a parental surrogate. Other countries in which the use of a parental surrogate is legal include Russia and the Ukraine. In many European countries, including France, Italy, Germany and Spain, the use of a parental surrogate to conceive a child is still illegal.

Although soliciting a parental surrogate is illegal in the U.K., a non-profit organization called Surrogacy UK supports couples seeking surrogates through process of introduction of people interested in participating in the process. The number of people who, after being introduced, are able to forge a personal relationship between themselves with the level of trust required for the lengthy process of surrogacy is not a matter of public record. However, the laws may soon be changing. Despite surrogacy being illegal, as of 2014, the number of babies registered in Britain showed a 255% increase over the previous six years.

In India, where the use of a parental surrogate is legal, it is estimated that up to 40,000 children are born to surrogates each year. One of the reasons for that high figure is that in India, the cost is approximately $60,000, less than half of the average cost of $150,000 in the U.S. Thailand is also a favored destination for couples seeking a parental surrogate. A surrogate mother there receives the modest sum of only $13,000 dollars for her services, the majority of the fee going to brokers and doctors.

Ethical Concerns Surrounding Surrogacy

Despite the increase in the number of couples utilizing a parental surrogate, the industry remains largely unregulated. The lack of regulation leaves a number of ethical questions without legal answer and can also result in unforeseen events having life-long consequences.

One ethical issue is the potential exploitation of women living in poverty, but there are others, both from religious and ethical perspectives. One example of is that of an Australian couple who hired a surrogate in Thailand. She became pregnant with twins, one of whom was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome in utero. The couple advised the surrogate to abort the child, but the surrogate refused. The couple accepted the other twin, but left the infant with Down’s syndrome to be raised by the surrogate.

Another ethical considerations is whether or not the surrogate mother has a right to remain informed regarding the health and welfare of the child. Many parents who utilize the services of a surrogate do maintain a life-long relationship with the surrogate. However, unlike legal open adoptions, which are more regulated, they are not legally required to do so. Just as with adopted children, parents of children born to a surrogate using the traditional method must also consider the ethical question of whether their child has a right to know about their biological origins. Many believe that knowledge of one’s true origins is vital not only for health reasons, but for developing a healthy personal identity.

Despite the potential for ethics violations, the use of surrogacy has brought untold joy to live lives of thousands of hopeful would-be parents. Many surrogate mothers have reported that participating in bringing joy into the lives of others in this has increased the joy in their own lives as well.

parental surrogate
Pregnancy by Tatiana VDB, CC2.0
parental choices

The Unforseen Value of Reproductive Rights

People have attempted to control their parental choices throughout history. Information about birth control was once considered “obscene” material that would erode public morals, in much the same way as pornography. Reproductive rights are now considered an important aspect of basic human rights in many countries, yet there are still many in which women are still struggling to achieve those rights.

Despite the continuing efforts of religious and political groups to control women’s access to contraception, in countries where it is available, the quality of life has improved considerably. Improved mental health, financial security, and increased political participation are just a few of the benefits of the ability to choose when to have children that contraception has provided women. Safe and effective contraception increases parental choices and has changed both women’s lives and society as a whole.

One of those positive changes include lower incidences of child abuse. The consequences of unintended pregnancies are both far-reaching and long-lasting. Countries with the lowest accessibility to birth control have the highest rates of forced child marriages, domestic abuse, abortion, poverty, and deaths resulting from childbirth. They also have the lowest literacy rates for women.

Most Popular Forms of Contraception

According to a 2009 United Nations report, the two most commonly used methods of contraception in developed countries are the pill and the male condom. However, in developing countries the two most commonly used methods are female sterilization and the IUD. Increasingly, female sterilization is becoming the preferred method for couples exercising their parental choices and is currently the most utilized form of contraception in the world as a whole. In developed countries, the most common method is still the birth control pill at 28% or approximately 10.6 million women, closely followed by female sterilization at 27%, or approximately 10.2 million women.

Female sterilization levels are highest in Latin America, China, India and the Caribbean. The IUD is used by 14% of women worldwide, making it the second most widely used form of contraception. Male condoms ranked at number four worldwide. Other modern contraceptive methods such as implants are gaining popularity, especially in Eastern and Southern Africa. Depo-provera is also becoming increasingly popular because a single dose can provide contraceptive effects for 12 weeks.
Sterilization has sometimes been used by governments in eugenics programs, and one article points out the disturbing fact that very few men utilize this option as compared to women. Despite the fact that the procedure is simpler and safer for men than for women, according to one article, as of 2009, the ratio of female sterilization to male vasectomies was 5 to 1. This reflects a widespread societal belief that birth control is largely a female responsibility. However, more men are now recognizing the benefits of increasing the number of parental choices for themselves as well as their families.

The Continuing Controversy Surrounding Parental Choices

Many people believe that even potential life is sacred and that preventing conception is wrong. In the continuing controversy over parental choices, members of religious groups who work in the health care field claim that government mandates to provide contraception is a violation of their religious freedom. Many pharmacists in the U site web.S. have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control as well as morning-after pills in cases of rape. This resulted in a recent Supreme Court case in which new rules were introduced for religious institutions and businesses with a moral objection to the birth control aspect of the Affordable Care Act.

Carl Djerassi, the father of modern birth control and inventor of “the pill” has been quoted as saying that with the advent of birth control, “sex became separated from its reproductive consequences”. However, birth control has done very little to protect women from the social consequences of freely expressing their sexuality. There are many opinions about why there continues to be a sexual double standard. One article maintains that women themselves perpetuate it through excessive competition. Feminists tend to point towards economic factors such as wage inequality and the capitalistic commodification of sex as reasons for the continued double standard.

Of the many benefits to mankind that the ability for people to choose when, and whether, to become parents, perhaps the greatest is that of increasing the number of children who are wanted. While people may disagree about how best to achieve the goal of a world in which every child is wanted and every parent able to care for them, everyone agrees that children deserve nothing less than to be welcomed and loved. Parental choices are helping to make that ideal world a reality.

parental choices
(Pregnant) Josefa de Castilla Portugal y van Asbrock de Garcini, Goya, 1804, Credit line; Bequeet of Harry Payne Bingham,
maternal genes

Nature and Nurture: A Complex and Delicate Dance

The Role of Maternal Genes in Embryonic Development

The link between genes and human behavior has been a subject of scientific research since before the discovery of DNA in 1953. There is still much that is unknown about how human genes interact with biological and chemical processes and the extent to which those processes are affected by the environment. Epigenetics is the study of how the expression of genes is modified by factors such as social experiences, diet and nutrition and exposure to toxins. Behavioral epigenetics examines the role of epigenetics in shaping behavior.

Children share half of their alleles with each parent. The maternal genes contribute the maternal gamete which develops as an egg that becomes an embryo when fertilized. Maternal genes containing RNA and protein are present before the development of zygotic genes that takes place after fertilization. The development of the embryo relies exclusively on maternal genes for its early development processes until the embryonic genome is activated. In humans, the embryonic genome is activated within 4 cleavage cycles.

How Maternal and Paternal Genes Affect Parenting Style

Parenting styles can be affected by both maternal and paternal genes in combination with the environment. Michael Meaney provided the first documented example of epigenetics affecting behavior in 2004, when his research team found that how a rat responds to stress later in life is affected by the amount of nurturing a mother rat provides during infancy. Nurturing behaviors stimulate activation of pathways that remove methyl groups from DNA, allowing the glucocorticoid gene, which lowers stress response, to be activated.

Epigenetics provides evidence that the nature versus nurture controversy has been resolved and that each is shaped by the other through a series of complex chemical, biological and environmental interactions. One article about how parenting styles are affected by behavioral epigenetics points out that environmental stress can cause methyl groups to become attached to genes. This causes epigenetic changes that can be passed down from generation to generation through affected maternal genes.

How Environment Can Affect Paternal and Maternal Genes

One study compared brain samples of 36 victims of suicide. The one third of those who were known to have suffered childhood abuse showed distinct epigenetic methylation marks or characteristics in their DNA that were not present in the control group or the group with no known childhood abuse. Those marks specifically influenced the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function of the brain. Another study revealed that poverty can also change the way in which DNA is expressed. Blood samples of 40 men all born in 1958 from differing economic backgrounds revealed genetic changes based on family income during childhood.
However, not only economic poverty, but a poverty of physical affection can also affect gene expression. Researchers compared blood samples of 14 children being raised in Russian orphanages with blood samples of 14 children being raised by their biological parents. The children in the orphanage were found to have a greater degree of methylation in the genes affecting neural communication and brain development than the children receiving more individual attention from parents.

These discoveries about how maternal and paternal genes are affected by environmental factors have raised the question of whether some mothers parenting skills may be adversely affected by their DNA. According to a recent paper, RS3, an allele of one of the potential maternal genes, the AVPR1A gene, was linked in a study to lower levels of maternal behavior in women and in more aggressive behaviors in children. Not everyone carries this allele, but it is fairly common in humans and has also been associated with some forms of autism.

The most exciting aspect of these scientific discoveries about the interaction genes with the environment is that one day all prospective parents will have the necessary information to help them make healthy parenting choices. They provide scientific evidence of what most parents already knew—that parenting choices have the power to affect generations to come. Hopefully, this knowledge will be used to create social programs that will educate parents and provide whatever degree of assistance necessary to enable them to use that power wisely.

maternal genes
Maternal Affection Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1861) Signed and dated 1837
baboon animal mother

Matrilineal Baboons: Maternal Lessons from Distant Cousins

“He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.”

—Charles Darwin, 1838

Scientists have long recognized the value of studying some our closest genetic cousins, the baboon animal mother, in gaining information to better understand human behavior. However, few have valued it highly enough to live among them, as scientist and author Robert Sapolsky did every summer for twenty years from the 1970s through the 1990s. The resulting book, A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons contains as much about human behavior in the wild as it does of the behavior of baboons.

According to a review in the New York Times, his observations led him to challenge the view that social dominance was achieved through a combination of high testosterone levels and aggressive behavior. Instead, he discovered that the lowest ranking males were those with the highest levels of testosterone as well as stress. Just as in humans, stress results in a higher likelihood of disease. The males with the lowest stress hormone levels, including the most dominant ones, rather than engaging in frequent aggression, instead engaged more often in cooperative social behaviors such as grooming and other positive interactions.

The Role of the Baboon Animal Mother in Social Hierarchy

The baboon animal mother plays an important role in the social structure of baboon troops, which usually consist of up to 150 members. Baboon families are matrilineal, most troops having approximately nine families. It is the females who create a stable linear hierarchy that can remain in place for generations, while the dominance hierarchy of the males changes frequently. The changes in male hierarchy depend on a large degree to alliances and bonds formed with females.

Matrilineal families within a troop can become competitive, and both short-term and long-term male-female friendships between members of separate families helps reduce conflict. Such long-term friendships also often result in cooperative child rearing practices.

A review of the book points out that the author persevered with his long-term project despite a violent coup attempt in Kenya in 1982, a human attempt at changing the dominance structure of their own society. Sadly, most of the baboons in the troop in which he had come to be accepted as a low-ranking male died from an epidemic of bovine tuberculosis. His important field work and subsequent books about the effects of stress earned many awards, including the MacArthur Fellowship genius grant, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and the Klingenstein Fellowship in Neuroscience.

A Female Perspective on the Social Role of the Baboon Animal Mother

Biology professor Dorothy Cheney‘s book, Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of the Social Mind, contains a vast storehouse of information about baboon animal mother behaviors and perhaps the origins of those of human mothers. One of the most relevant areas of her research is that of competition versus cooperation. Her research revealed that natural selection favored those that were most capable of making decisions regarding when and with whom to compete and when to cooperate.

In an excerpt of the book, readers learn that baboons belong to the genus Papio, and that they are less closely related to humans than other primates, such as chimpanzees. However, the author believes that there are a number of reasons that studying their behavior is relevant to better understanding human behavior. One reason is that their social structures are much larger than those of chimpanzees. Individual baboons belonging to a troop of 100 or more members must learn to create and negotiate a relatively complex social network, much like humans. This requires them to develop a sophisticated set of social skills that includes non-relatives as well as relatives.

Like human society, many of their relationships are simultaneously competitive and cooperative. Cooperative efforts are required to evade predators and defend group resources. Competitive efforts are required to ensure that each group of allies receives an adequate share of group resources. Those resources are dependent upon knowledge of the ecological environment. Studying baboons in the wild, as opposed to those in captivity, provides the opportunity to observe learned behaviors in their natural evolutionary context, and how those behaviors affect reproductive opportunities and ultimately, survival.

One of the reasons that the role of the baboon animal mother is so important is that troops contain more females than males. This disparity in numbers also encourages baboons to form mating bonds and friendships based not just on individual need, but the needs of the group as a whole. Cheney’s research methods and experiments have been lauded as innovative. For example, her research revealed four distinct types of verbal communication or “barks” in response to various environmental stimuli.

While scientific research methods can seem clinically methodical, in the case of baboons, they revealed many very human similarities between the baboon animal mother and the human mother. Creating and maintaining meaningful social connections is vitally important for survival, dealing with the stresses and difficulties of everyday life, and making it enjoyable.

baboon animal mother
Female Monkey Holding Its Baby, Middle Kingdom, ca. 1981–1802bc, Egypt, Amethyst

How Generosity Creates Life and Makes Life Worth Living

“If we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.”

J.M. Coetzee

A History of Generosity

Generosity is so important that it’s now considered a science, and maternal generosity is one of its most studied subjects. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame are working on several projects to learn more about generosity, perhaps the human trait most responsible for the continuation of our species.

In one article written for Mother’s Day, the author points out just how indebted we all are to maternal generosity by describing in detail the physical sacrifices mothers make for their children even before they are born. Attempting to answer the question of what makes humans generous, one author offers a number of possibilities.

The primordial origin of maternal generosity lies partly in the experience of caring for offspring. Neuroscience research conducted by Stephanie Brown and James Swain at Stony Brook University suggests that becoming a parent changes the way human brains are wired. These chemical and biological changes encourage parents to respond more generously to others’ needs. In the human evolution from hunter-gatherer societies in which danger and scarcity demanded sharing among family and tribal members, natural selection favored the characteristic of maternal generosity.

In the past, natural selection worked against those who were incapable of the potential self-sacrifice that was often necessary to guarantee collective survival. As modern technology continues to make the world ever smaller, humanity’s continued survival depends upon its ability to expand that generosity beyond family and tribe to include the entire family of man.

Generosity: Nature and Nurture

Scientific research has shown that much behavior is the result of a complex interaction between biology, chemistry, and environmental triggers. One example of a chemical and biological response to an environmental trigger is that of a mother’s breasts producing milk in response to the sound of the cry of her infant. Maternal generosity is a matter of both nature and nurture.

Some research with primates suggests that instances of sharing behavior between mothers is more frequent when androgen levels are higher. The vulnerability of new mothers and their infants also results in begging behaviors, a form of maternal generosity in times of need which serves as a societal trigger for sharing behaviors of the larger group. Human mothers and infants share that vulnerability, and the generosity of a society is often measured by the extent to which it shares its resources with its most vulnerable members. Children’s survival is largely dependent upon the level of generosity of the culture into which it is born.

The Role of Maternal Generosity in Society

The level of generosity can often be determined by observing social programs in place for women and children. According to one article, in the U.S., seven out of ten children of single mothers live in poverty, as compared to one out of ten in Finland. However, child poverty rates in the U.S., even among two parent families are higher than those of Nordic countries. In the U.K, it is estimated that approximately 25% of children live in poverty compared to approximately 17% in Australia. According to the Hunger Project, an estimated 805 million people in the world today live with chronic hunger.

In humans, the biological production of chemicals which encourage generous behavior has been shown to exist in both new mothers and fathers. Researchers theorize that cultivating generous behavior that resembles maternal generosity may require creating and activating other social triggers that act in much the same way as the cry of an infant. Developing societal triggers that promote generosity is contingent upon routinizing factors that promote and encourage generous behavior. Perhaps the single most important of these routinizing factors is that of parents modeling such behavior.

In the world of research, individual families are viewed as macro cultures which have the power to produce young people who are more generous than other macro cultures. Research regarding the details of what parenting behaviors contribute most to encouraging generosity is difficult because many complex psychological and social mechanisms at work in the parent/child relationship are not empirically observable. In short, observing psychologists are not able to understand or interpret the full psychological effect and significance that something as seemingly trivial as a raised parental eyebrow may have upon a particular child.

Sharing behaviors, however, are entirely observable in individual people as well as governments. Children who observe their parents sharing their resources with the wider community are more likely to adopt that behavior themselves. Despite our continued evolution, our survival as a species is still dependent upon our ability to share resources. Generosity is a one of the traits that most defines us as human. It also serves to help make our lives worth living and affords us all the opportunity to flourish rather than merely survive.

maternal generosity