Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives Hardcover – Sep 28 2010
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“Exciting, cutting-edge scientific research in the field of epigenetics has changed the way the medical profession looks at pregnancy, and we are fortunate to have Annie Murphy Paul as our guide through this fascinating new terrain. With stellar insight and expansive research, Origins is a thrilling survey of how fetal origins is changing the way we think about the nine months before birth.” – Dr. Mehmet Oz, author of YOU: Having a Baby, YOU: Raising Your Child, and YOU: On a Diet
"Annie Murphy Paul, a gifted science writer, combines impeccable science, extraordinary tenderness and lyrical prose to produce a truly revolutionary chronicle of pregnancy. In Origins, she shows that pregnancy is not a condition to be endured but the first nine months of being a mother, a time full of far-reaching choices. Origins is sweet, smart and very fresh. You'll never think about pregnancy the same way again."—Sylvia Nasar, author, A Beautiful Mind
"Origins is, quite simply, a must-read for parents-in-waiting—and for anyone interested in what makes us who we are. Paul has written a superb introduction to the emerging science of fetal origins. There are still a lot more questions than answers, but this book shows how science is -- at long last -- engaging deeply with the reality that a pregnant woman's lifestyle can dramatically impact the future life of her child." -- David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us and The Forgetting
"What goes on during pregnancy is a scientific puzzle as mysterious and fascinating as what goes on inside an atom. In Origins, Annie Murphy Paul probes the murky realm in which our futures as human beings are forged. She combines in-depth reporting on cutting-edge research with a personal memoir of her own pregnancy and the anxieties and insights it produced. The result is an important, elegant piece of science writing."
--Carl Zimmer, author of Soul Made Flesh The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution
"This is a terrific book on a fascinating and largely unexplored subject—the mysteries of prenatal development. It is lucid, scientifically accurate and clear and gracefully written. Combining good science and a personal perspective is rare, especially in writing about children and motherhood, but Annie Paul has accomplished it beautifully."—Alison Gopnik, author of The Scientist in the Crib and The Philosophical Baby
Origins is that rare, beautiful, wonderful bird of a book: As engrossing as a good novel and informed by impactful, cutting-edge research. Origins is an absolute must-read for expectant mothers and everyone who cares about them -- what you learn here could make your baby healthier, stronger, and even smarter. Best of all, the information unfolds in chapters structured around the 9 months of the author's own pregnancy, giving the book the momentum of a personal story (will she have a girl or a boy? how will the birth go?) A thoroughly enjoyable, readable look into amazing research with real consequences.
-- Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me
"As the author delves deeply into the vulnerabilities of the prenatal environment, she comes away with a compelling sense of the importance of how society cares for and supports pregnant women...Paul’s thought-provoking text reveals that this pivotal period may be even more significant and far-reaching than ever imagined." --PW
"Paul is honorable about examining the scientific, social and moral complexities of her subject." --Perri Klass, The Washington Post
"Tobacco, heavy drinking, illegal drugs, depression: We seem to grasp that these aren't healthy for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman. But just what effect do the things that women inhale, consume and experience have on a fetus? In "Origins," Annie Murphy Paul sets out to discover the answer. Along the way she explodes myths, reviews scientific evidence and explores the new frontier of fetal-origins research, the study of how we are shaped in utero by a combination of genes and environment." --The Wall Street Journal
" Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, documents [Annie Murphy Paul's] fascinating journey into the emerging science of fetal origins - and how knowledge made her feel more in control. " --The Toronto Star
A New York Times Notable Book of 2010
"A terrific and important new book . . . offers a new window into the unexpected forces that shape us." --Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
About the Author
Annie Murphy Paul is a magazine journalist and book author who writes about the biological and social sciences. Born in Philadelphia, she graduated from Yale University and from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. A former senior editor at Psychology Today magazine, she was awarded the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Slate, Discover, Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other publications. She is the author of Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives and The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves.
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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.
However, what bothered me most was her narrow-minded and somewhat blinded approach. She is an upper-class white woman who is educated and has access to top-of-the line pre-natal care, something which she seems to rub in constantly in her book. She can not separate her research from her own pregnancy, and her bias is made even more evident by her intentionality in doing everything she possibly can to avoid anything potentially harmful to her child. She describes meandering through the isles of Whole Foods, going to yoga classes and meditations, taking her folate and avoiding mercury-rich fish, tossing all of the BPA plastics out of her kitchen, avoiding any and all medications etc, in order to have the smartest and healthiest child she can. But she can not escape her own hypocrisy. She launches into the history of gender prediction, and seems to glorify the ultrasound as an actual window into her womb to see and "know" her unborn baby. Her unwillingness to question the process of ultrasound and its safety is entirely absent. Ironic for a book about how a fetus' experience in utero can have lasting impact. The truth is, though we believe ultrasounds to be safe, we truly don't know whether they are safe. Paul herself points out that DES, thalidomide, and alcohol were all at one time lauded as not only being safe, but actually beneficial to an unborn fetus. Ultrasound, which was developed for use underwater in submarines absolutely impacts marine creatures, and the government itself noted that the sonar caused changes to the reproductive organs and processes of whales and dolphins. We have not yet had a generation of children who received serial ultrasounds in the womb grow up and reproduce themselves, so the truth is that we have no idea if an ultrasound is really safe. But Paul is never really clear if she is attempting to write a scientific book on the impact of fetal origins, or document her own pregnancy and is completely blinded by the glitter and glimmer of determining her baby's gender to put on her objective journalist hat and question (or even discuss) ultrasounds.
Finally, Paul is having a scheduled cesarean section. She briefly attempts to justify that babies experience less stress via a cesarean versus vaginal birth, and even writes that some suggest offering pain medication to babies during birth. This, to me, is the ultimate arrogance of Paul in her book. Again, it suits her own purpose and ego to conveniently decline to touch the subject of how the birth experience impacts the child. This is a gross oversight, but convenient for her in the case of her elective c-section. She might have discussed the impact of narcotics or epidurals on a fetus (and yes, an epidural crosses the placenta so that both the mother and baby are drugged). She might have discussed the physiological process of the baby being squeezed through the birth canal and how it removes fluids from their lungs to help them breathe and adjust to extra-uterine life. But Paul seems completely blinded by her own hypocrisy to actually imply that birth by cesarean is preferable and beneficial to her baby.
I understand that it's an easier read to blend her own experience as a soon-to-be mother; but as she shares her life with us, I am often reminded of her privilege as a Upper-West-Side New Yorker that allows her to make choices (often purely emotional) to ensure the health of her child while many mothers in the US (and even within New York City) can't afford to make. What's troubling about this aspect of the writing - for example - is that she'll clear her kitchen of BPA plastic products because she moved by one researcher's findings on BPA. She continues to write about her fears of BPA which is found in almost all the products we have. As I read this, I start getting antsy, but also helpless and wanting to hear other findings. Ms. Paul cited one scientist who is studying this. What about others? And what about other mothers who can't just throw away all their plastic and afford glass containers and Kleen Kanteen bottles? What are they going to do?
Throughout the book, Ms. Paul highlights certain historical events and other circumstances (ie: living in LA) which can produce a potential threat to an unborn fetus. Again, I start feeling nervous and wonder what I can do. Ms. Paul thinly resolves my concerns by glossing over current research and at times quotes no longer than a sentence from a scientist about their findings. There are too many examples of these passages and they are just not enough information for anyone to make an educated decision on how to move forward. At best I am left with mulling over her own testimonials and guessing it might be the right choice -- but I'm not sure. I'm also not sure about her self created term "Fetal Origins" because much of her book blurs the line between personal experiences and cliff-note science. It's more accurate to rename the title: "How the Nine Months Before Birth CAN SHAPE the Rest of Our Lives." Ms. Paul is no authority.
On the whole, this book will be useful to anyone who has the luxury of being anxious and has the means to take whatever measures they can to birth a healthy child. To a more critical reader, you may only find more substantial information in the NOTES section of the book to figure out what's hype versus fact. I would however, recommend this book to local and national policy makers. Again, Ms. Paul makes a point which should not be ignored: if you want to ensure a productive future for the state, ensure the well being of the most vulnerable -- the unborn.
When I first picked up this book, written about pregnancy by an expectant mother, I expected to put it down and want to purge my cupboards of all foods artificial, buy an air purifier, and join a gym, but the author manages to keep all preachiness and judgement out of her writing, and I simply feel informed and intrigued, eager to follow fetal origins research as the field becomes more mainstream.
I am still glad I read this book because it has helpful information on exercise, nutrition, emotional state, BPA-free and chemical products, difference in babies born naturally vs c-sections, etc. I am 4.5 months pregnant myself and realized it's never too late to adapt any behaviors that might impact my baby. Like another commented, she is from an upper middle class lifestyle and works from home, so she has the time to mull over all kinds of things that many other working moms-to-be and less affluent women just can't take into consideration.
Like other readers have said, this book is still great if you go after the scientific research and just try your best to ignore her own thoughts.
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