Annie Murphy Paul investigates how life in the womb shapes who we become.
To what extent the conditions we encounter before birth influence our individual characteristics? It‘s the question at the center of fetal origins, a relatively new field of research that measures how the effects of influences outside the womb during pregnancy can shape the physical, mental and even emotional well-being of the developing baby for the rest of its life.
Science writer Annie Murphy Paul calls it a gray zone between nature and nurture in her book Origins, a history and study of this emerging field structured around a personal narrative -- Paul was pregnant with her second child at the time. What she finds suggests a far more dynamic nature between mother and fetus than typically acknowledged, and opens up the possibility that the time before birth is as crucial to human development as early childhood.
“[Babies] are being introduced to the characteristic flavors and spices of their culture’s cuisine even before birth.”
“Even before birth, mothers are warning their children that it’s a wild world out there, telling them, ‘Be careful.’”
“Faced with severely limited resources, a smaller-sized child with reduced energy requirements will, in fact, have a better chance of living to adulthood.”
“Fetal origins research is not about blaming women for what happens during pregnancy; it’s about discovering how best to promote the health and well-being of the next generation.”
“From the moment of birth, babies cry in the accent of their mother’s native language.”
“Learning is one of life’s most essential activities, and it begins much earlier than we ever imagined.”
“We’re all learning about the world even before we enter it.”
“What a fetus is learning about in utero is not Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ but answers to questions much more critical to its survival: Will it be born into a world of abundance or scarcity?”
“When we hold our babies for the first time, we might imagine that they’re clean slates, unmarked by life, when in fact, they’ve already been shaped by us and by the particular world we live in.”