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NURTURE FIRST



In his influential book, Life in the Womb: The Origin of Health and Disease, Dr. Peter Nathanielsz writes: "There is mounting evidence that programming of lifetime health by the conditions in the womb is equally, if not more important, than our genes in determining how we perform mentally and physically during life."

Never has the truth of this utterance been more obvious than in my mother's experience, well, as a mother. I was her first-born. And though I wasn't exactly planned, not to the month at least, when my mom found out she was pregnant she did everything she could think of, and read, and hear about, to improve the chances that I would be a healthy and happy baby who would grow into a successful human being. While I was in her womb this included listening to soothing music, persevering in a harmonious relationship with my father, thinking good thoughts and eating the most nutritious food - and the occasional hot dog. 

When I was born she made of me an Adelle Davis baby. For those who do not know Ms. Davis (the author) advised that new mothers like Mrs. Dave feed their infants a thick mixture of kelp and bee pollen and Brewer's yeast and other things that the average human being would find simply unpalatable, but if raised on them seems to cultivate a taste. Which is why I can still stomach food that make other people queasy. And so I grew and flourished. In kindergarten the teacher noticed that I was able to finish my lessons earlier than the other students. When she asked my mother about the secret for my success, my mother simply replied, "I give him love." In other words, she was a conscious parent. She knew what she was doing, knew that her attention and encouragement were even more health-promoting than the funky mixtures the health community proposed. Infants need a nurturing environment to activate thee genes that develop healthy brains. 

Seven months after I was born, while my mother and father were vacationing in Hawaii, my mom got pregnant again. This time around she wanted to see what would happen if she did nothing special, let nature take its course, let it all hang out. And so she ate what she felt like. And probably in the early stages of pregnancy, before she was aware that she was carrying, drank a little and smoked some too. More relevant to the point I am trying to make, my parents began having marital difficulties. On a subsequent trip to India, when my mother was 3 months to term, my father had a spiritual epiphany and left my mother alone in a remote Indian village for much of each day. She felt abandoned, broken-hearted. And when Justin was born, the doctors found three holes in his heart. He was also allergic to my mother's milk. It was as if the environment of her womb had been toxic to the developing fetus, whose health had been severely impacted for the worst. What happened to my mom and my younger brother (may God rest them both) was unfortunate, but much of the process had been conscious at least. 

Unfortunately this phenomenon is not uncommon, for it happens to pregnant women every day all over the world. These would-be moms do not give much thought to the environment of their insides, failing to see what impact their thoughts and feelings and dietary preferences might have on their babies to be. And the influences on a child happen even before it is conceived! In the final stages of egg and sperm maturation, by a process called genomic imprinting, the activity of genes that shape the character of the child yet to be conceived is altered. The events in your life during this process of genomic imprinting profoundly impact the mind and body of your child before your egg and sperm even unite. A scary thought given how unprepared most people are when they find out they're pregnant. All those one night stands... 

And from the moment of conception, writes the author of Pre-Parenting: Nurturing Your Child from Conception, "the experience in the womb shapes the brain and lays the groundwork for personality, emotional temperament, and the power of higher thought." What the mother does affects the child, and what the father does affects the mother. It's all interrelated. And very related to such things as a child's IQ, the genetic component of which is only about 33 percent. In other words it is more nurture (environment) than it is nature (genes) that influences whether your baby will be a super hero or not. 

And so, to quote yet another expert in the field, "you are personally responsible for everything in your life, once you become aware that you are personally responsible for everything in your life." Mothers and fathers in training, consider yourself forewarned.

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