What makes us the way we are? Some say it’s the genes we inherit at conception. Others are sure it’s the environment we experience in childhood. But could it be that many of our individual characteristics—our health, our intelligence, our temperaments—are influenced by the conditions we encountered before birth?
That’s the claim of an exciting and provocative field known as fetal origins. Over the past twenty years, scientists have been developing a radically new understanding of our very earliest experiences and how they exert lasting effects on us from infancy well into adulthood. Their research offers a bold new view of pregnancy as a crucial staging ground for our health, ability, and well-being throughout life.
Author and journalist Annie Murphy Paul ventures into the laboratories of fetal researchers, interviews experts from around the world, and delves into the rich history of ideas about how we’re shaped before birth. She discovers dramatic stories: how individuals gestated during the Nazi siege of Holland in World War II are still feeling its consequences decades later; how pregnant women who experienced the 9/11 attacks passed their trauma on to their offspring in the womb; how a lab accident led to the discovery of a common household chemical that can harm the developing fetus; how the study of a century-old flu pandemic reveals the high personal and societal costs of poor prenatal experience.
Origins also brings to light astonishing scientific findings: how a single exposure to an environmental toxin may produce damage that is passed on to multiple generations; how conditions as varied as diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness may get their start in utero; why the womb is medicine’s latest target for the promotion of lifelong health, from preventing cancer to reducing obesity. The fetus is not an inert being, but an active and dynamic creature, responding and adapting as it readies itself for life in the particular world it will enter. The pregnant woman is not merely a source of potential harm to her fetus, as she is so often reminded, but a source of influence on her future child that is far more powerful and positive than we ever knew. And pregnancy is not a nine-month wait for the big event of birth, but a momentous period unto itself, a cradle of individual strength and wellness and a crucible of public health and social equality.
With the intimacy of a personal memoir and the sweep of a scientific revolution, Origins presents a stunning new vision of our beginnings that will change the way you think about yourself, your children, and human nature itself.
Be the first to review this title!
Those of us fascinated by learning and how we are affected by the places where learning occurs find ourselves exploring a wonderfully unexpected learning space in Annie Murphy Paulâs "Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives": the womb. It is Paul's contention, throughout this well-researched and thought-provoking book, that we haven't given nearly enough attention to all we learn and acquire in those critical nine months before we enter the world. "Origins" is a great first step in filling that gap. Organized into nine chapters representing the nine months of the writer's second pregnancy, the book takes us through tantalizing views of the latest research into what we learn and how we are shaped in utero. Her Month Three explorations of how tremendously stressful situations affect mothers and the children they are carrying remind us that significantly less stressful situations can have significant and long-lasting effects on a learner's ability to absorb and retain information. Her Month Six explorations document how a mother's emotional state might have significant lifelong physiological impacts on her developing child. And the concluding chapters leading us to the moment of her second child's birth remind us of a variety of physical and emotional elements that teach the unborn child what to expect upon entering the world--just as we, as facilitators of learning, convey important messages to learners about what they can expect and might accomplish once they leave our learning spaces and re-enter the world in which they live and work and play.more
My expectation from this book was simple: Help me learn the basics of the latest scientific research on how the soon-to-be-born babies are affected by their environment, by their parents behaviors and conditions. The book satisfied this criteria more or less while disappointing in many other aspects.First of all, I don't know whether it was author's general style or she was forced by her editor's commercial pressure but frankly I'm really bored to death with so many personal details and the over-worked narrative structure of the book. Readers of The New Yorker may be buying this sort of story-telling and I'm not against a story told well, however there is neither a coherent nor a very well told story here. A 288 page book could easily be condensed into 100 or less pages without sacrificing any fact related to the prenatal development.The author is free to want a boy as her second child but I'm still wondering what this has got to do with the topic of the book. Does the gender preference of mothers affect the children in any way? I would be more than happy if she cared to provide some research about this after every sentence in which she repeated how much she wanted a boy.Another quite disappointing part was when she mentioned Caesarean section (C-section) only in a few sentences and simply said that this type of childbirth helped her mark her calendar exactly for the day her child will come. How convenient for a busy New York mother indeed! I was expecting at least some discussion against the C-section as well as elaborate arguments supporting it. But maybe I was asking for too much. (Funny thing is that when she writes about maternal leave she mentions a scientist that claims maternal leave "makes good economic sense, since C-sections cost more and require more recovery time for the mother.")The parts where author gives priority to how very young fetuses are shaped by their mother's environment as well as shaping the mother's biology provide lots of food for thought (and in some cases, food for thought is literally meant, the author gives examples on how famines as well as ordinary food choices affect babies long after they have been born). As long as you can supress your feelings during the sections where very irrelevant personal details and political judgments are repeated you'll have the advantage of learning the contemporary landscape of prenatal development research from a popular science perspective.more
I should start this review by explaining what I hope for from a popular-interest science book. I expect an explanation of a theory, discovery, or scientific concept which is accurate, fun to read, well-cited (with citations to scholarly publications so I can read them too), and well-written. I appreciate a little humor, too. Some experiential asides are fine with me, but I don't want to read an autobiography. I prefer my authors to have a science or medical background, but this is not a requirement; I love Mary Roach after all.I was incredibly excited to read Origins. I'm currently pregnant and love reading and researching all of the odd things that happen, all the dictates given by doctors, and I'm fascinated by the history of pregnancy and childbirth. I was the first one in my library to check this out (mainly because the tech services people moved this book to the front of the line for me and gave it to me as soon as they were done). Unfortunatly, Annie Murphy Hall falls far short of my expectations. Her book is 8 parts memoir, 1 part historical overview, 1 part interview recollections. I really don't care about her shopping trips to Whole Foods while she was pregnant. I am curious about the mercury in fish debate. Guess which got more print?Furthermore, she is way too reliant on quotes. It was like reading a freshman's first research paper. She also falls into the same trap that drives me crazy when journalists write about science (though not all journalists)--she cites information found in newspapers and news magazines with the same level of credibility as a scholarly journal.In short, I REALLY wanted to like this book. I love the topic and enjoyed hearing the author's interviews on NPR. But I heard far too much about her pregnancy and far too little about how pregnancy effects us before we're even born.more
Read all 4 reviews