Let’s see. In the years preceding and all throughout my current pregnancy, my mom’s advanced cancer got progressively worse. I traveled to Japan many times to help out. On one visit in 2006, she nearly died on the operating table as I waited outside. On the last visit, I crashed their car. And last month, my dad, too, wound up in the hospital. But so far, neither has croaked. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.
Turns out the damage may have been done. Did you see this horrifying story by my colleague Sora Song on Time.com? It says,
Severe emotional stress during the first delicate months of a woman’s pregnancy may permanently impair the neurodevelopment of her unborn child, leading to an increased risk of schizophrenia later in life, new research suggests.
Well, Lisa, it can’t be that bad, you say. We’re all stressed, you say. They must be referring to a specific kind of stress, you say. There’s more:
Now, a new study by British and Danish researchers in this week’s Archives of General Psychiatry examines the impact of stress — the acute, agonizing kind, such as that experienced with death or sickness in the mother’s immediate family, and not the run-of-the-mill anxiety of daily life — on the future psychiatric health of her offspring.
Sickness in the mother’s immediate family! Sora writes that the study followed 1.38 million births recorded in Denmark, from 1973 to 1995, and children were followed from age 10 until their death, their departure from Denmark, the onset of schizophrenia or the end of the study period in 2005.
Researchers determined also whether the birth mothers had suffered extreme stress — due either to the death or illness (heart attack, cancer or stroke) of a first-degree relative — six months prior to and at any time during pregnancy. The data showed that women who experienced a close family member’s death during the first three months of pregnancy had a 67% increased risk of having a child who would develop schizophrenia later in life. Stress before pregnancy or in late pregnancy had no such effect; neither did stress associated with a family member’s illness.
So it’s the first few months of pregnancy that count most, and death in the family that wreaks the most havoc. I think back. Yes, I did travel home during my first trimester, and yes, I did total their Nissan. But like I said, nobody died on my watch. That means my baby won’t be crazy, right? Right?!