This is another post by Felice from the archives, originally written in October of 2009. I love the message of this post, though it also makes me wonder what damage was done during my last pregnancy (in which I endured several months of antepartum depression). Even so, Felice gives us a wonderful reminder that our thoughts and feelings have an impact on the children within our wombs.
I learned a lot about this at my neonatal resuscitation training workshop earlier this month where Karen Strange recommended several books, including Babies Remember Birth (David Chamberlain), Parenting Begins before Conception: A Guide-For You and Your Future Child (Carista-Rosen Luminare), The Secret Life of the Unborn Child (Thomas Verney), and several books by Peter Nathanielsz, MD, PhD, such as The Prenatal Prescription, which explains that “maternal stress during pregnancy has a profound effect on how well or how poorly a child functions psychologically throughout life.”
When a mother’s body is bathed in stress hormones, so is her baby’s body. On the other hand, when her body is bathed in oxytocin and other feel-good hormones, so is her baby’s body. Keep reading to hear more about how important this is and how to bathe yourself and your baby in life and love. -Lani
The Destiny of Your Child
By Felice Austin
There is an old tale from India about a queen who became pregnant. In their tradition they believe the soul enters the womb on the 120th day of pregnancy. On the one hundred and twenty fifth day of her pregnancy she became suddenly and violently ill. She was told by an oracle that she had attracted the soul of a demon who would wreak havoc on the kingdom and her life. Distraught, the queen went to her spiritual guide and asked if there was anything she could do or if she was doomed by karma.
Her teacher told her: “All is not lost. From this day forward, meditate on the name of god, and go out among your people and serve them selflessly, and practice the teachings of the ancient ways.”
So the queen went into the streets where she cooked and cleaned and fed and served the poor. According to legend, when her baby finally came, he came out peacefully smiling. The baby grew up to be not a demon but a saint.
It is possible for women to change or uplift the destiny of their child. And the womb is the place where this happens. I knew this on an intuitive level when I was pregnant, and was not surprised to find a scientific explanation several years later. In Louann Brizendine, M.D.’s book The Female Brain, she explains that the “nervous system environment” that a child (especially a girl) absorbs during pregnancy and her first two years becomes a view of reality that will affect her for the rest of her life. The scientific term for this is epigenetic imprinting. If a mother is highly stressed, or conversely, totally calm, her baby girl incorporates this into her nervous system. “This isn’t about what’s learned cognitively—it’s about what is absorbed by the cellular microcircuitry at the neurological level,” says Brizendine. (p. 20)
Studies in mammals show that this early stressed vs. calm imprinting can be passed down for generations. This may explain why some children born in times of stress have dramatically different outlooks than their siblings.
Therefore, the message is this: Take a deep breath. All that matters is right here, right now.
As you go plan your pregnancy journey, your birth, and the events that you can control in the first years of your child’s life, it is important to minimize stress, and provide a calm, supportive environment. To do this, you do not need money or luxury, merely consciousness. I have interviewed mothers whose situation could not have been worse during their pregnancy (war, extreme poverty, etc.) but they chose to be calm. Being calm is difficult, daily work. Some days you may fail—but only some. This is life.
You already know many ways to reduce stress: meditation, prayer, priesthood blessings, studying the scriptures and other uplifting books, attending the temple, calming herbal remedies, a soothing bath with candles, yoga, a massage, singing, dancing, long walks, and loosing yourself in the service of others. Since none of these are contraindicated, I recommend doing as many as you feel good doing. Take it easy.