There is a false belief that women absorb and retain the DNA of every man they have unprotected sex with. This belief has been spread through some articles, but stems from a 2012 research project that showed that the brains of some autopsied women had male DNA. Some who heard this quickly jumped to the conclusion that they must have received this male DNA through sperm.
The truth is, this is called microchimerism and the explanation for the male Y chromosome being found in some female brains is not really that complex.
When women become pregnant, they play host to another human with its own set of DNA. Some of this DNA gets absorbed through the placenta and remains with the woman for the rest of her life. If she has any male children then she will absorb some male DNA which explains why some of the women autopsied (aged 32 to 101) had male DNA in their brains even decades later.
The DNA a mother inherits from her child is often up to 10% of the free floating DNA in her blood stream. Often call foetal origin cells, they have also been found in the mothers skin and all major organ including the heart.
Blood Transfusions and Organ Transplants
When we receive blood transfusions or organ transplants, we are also receive some DNA from the donor. This is known as medical chimerism and is something the medical world has been aware of for a long time. If a woman receives a transfusion or transplant from a male, it is likely she will also absorb some male DNA.
Having an Older Male Sibling
If a woman has an older brother, the chances are her mother has absorbed some male DNA from him during her pregnancy and also passed it along to her daughter. This explains why some of the women autopsied who did not have any male children, blood transfusions or transplants, still had the presence male DNA.
Research suggests that having male DNA passed on to these women doesn’t affect them as far as femininity goes, but that it could have several beneficial effects:
Lower risk of some cancers
Longer life span
Better tolerance of successive pregnancies
Decrease risk of Alzheimer’s
Diminished symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
So while many women have the presence of male DNA, it’s not because they were having unprotected sex. They do not carry the DNA of ex-lovers and thankfully are not bonded to them for life, however, they will be bonded even on a cellular level with their children til death.
Over the next few weeks, I will be covering some information on social-emotional development and mental health for children 0 to 5 years of age. The reason for this is not only because I have my own seven month old son, but because of my new position as a children therapist.
In the last month or so in my new position, I have come across a handful of patients aged 2 to 4 and have had some difficulty trying to figure out the best way to treat them. It’s one thing to work with children, it’s another thing to work with the smallest of children who generally have no idea what they are doing and why they are doing it and their parents have already given up on them.
I’ve seen parents with 2 year old children, reporting signs of hyperactivity, inattention, defiance, aggression, you name it. They insisted that their child was different then all other children, out of control and demanded medication. And I’ve seen these kids, 2 to 5 year old kids who definitely were expressing signs and symptoms not typical of the average child.
In many of these cases, it ends up being the parent that needs the most help, either counseling themselves or parent skill training to learn how to deal with their children and curve unwanted behaviors. Still, in a few of these cases, it was obvious that there had been some type of trauma in the very early years of these kids lives. Trauma that remained unprocessed and so the child was dealing with the trauma in the best way they knew how, acting out.
Most of the time, finding out this information is not easy because the parents either don’t tell you the information or they didn’t even recognize that the traumatic event was actually traumatic for the child. Many parents believe that children 0 to 5 aren’t affected by certain events, especially younger children 0 to 2. In reality, even in utero, children can be affected by stressors their mom goes through.
For instance, when I talk to the moms of many of the children I work with who are 0 to 5, I find out that many of them were in abusive relationships during their pregnancy and afterwards. Many of them got abused regularly in front of their infants and young children, not thinking this would have an affect on them. Many of them yelled and screamed with their partners or other family members regularly with their child in their arms.
These things can have a really big affect on their child which is why I suspect, at least in part, is why their children now are “out of control”. They have experienced a lot of stuff, emotions, things that may not seem like trauma to us adults, but can be traumatic experiences to the child, and they don’t know what to do with it. They lack the ability to communicate like adults so they internalize it and express it the best way they know how which can look like disruptive behavior.
Another two year old I saw, his mom had no idea why he was so “wired” and screamed all the time. She pretty much said he was born that way, but I knew that wasn’t likely the case. After much probing and counseling, I eventually found out that this mom too had been in an abusive relationship throughout her whole pregnancy and afterwards. As a matter of fact, her baby was in a car seat when the father was driving and beating on her at the same time. They ended up getting into a bad car accident where the baby somehow ended up flying unto the floor and stuck under the passenger seat of the car for nearly half an hour until he was freed by firefighters. If that wasn’t traumatic enough, he ended up spending 3 months in the hospital recovering from his broken bones and internal injuries. Yet, this mother didn’t think that this had any affect on her 2 year old childs’ current behavior until I brought this to her attention.
Without going into the neuroscience behind it (at least not at the moment), the brain is always changing and young brains are changing and developing the most. Experiences are the one of the things that change the brain the most, causing the actual brain structure to change.
Everything we experience from sights, to sounds, the people we love, the emotions we feel, event the music we listen to and the books we read, affect the way our brain develops and this is especially true in children 0 to 5.In the next part of this series we will continue to explore behavior, parenting and early social and emotional development and ways parents can nurture social and emotional skills in children 0 to 5.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week which was established by the U.S. congress in 1990 to recognize the National Alliance of Mental Illness’ efforts to raise the awareness of mental illness. It just so happens that last week’s police chase and subsequent shooting and killing of Miriam Carey has brought mental illness and postpartum psychosis into the spotlight.
What Is Postpartum Psychosis?
Many people have heard of postpartum depression, but not many people have heard of it’s evil sister, postpartum psychosis. When I was in graduate school I was so fascinated by postpartum psychosis that I actually did a 20 page research paper on the phenomenon.
It isn’t uncommon for women, after giving birth to feel down, sad or even somewhat depressed. This is what is known as “baby blues” and approximately 70-80% of mothers feel this contradicting negative thoughts and sadness after experiencing the joy of giving birth.
Many women don’t talk about it because they feel guilty or “bad” because of these feelings, but it’s important that they talk about the way they feel so that the “baby blues” don’t progress into something deeper like postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression basically is a much more intense and prolonged feeling of negativity, depression and mood swings when compared to the “baby blues”. This can last weeks, months or even longer.
Postpartum psychosis is the most severe and extreme form of postpartum depression and not only does it typically include the intense sadness, negativity and mood swings of postpartum depression, but it also includes the onset of psychotic symptoms after childbirth.
An example taken from a personal experience I had dealing with a client I diagnosed with postpartum psychosis is that she was extremely depressed at times and then highly erratic and impulsive other times. She was extremely irritable and was having hallucinations which included voices and delusions that her newborn was evil and needed to be killed.
Like a lot of women who deal with the “baby blues”, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, she tried to hide the way she was feeling and mask her psychotic symptoms until it got to the point that she was about to drown her child in the bathtub. It was then she went to her family for help and was taken to the psychiatric hospital.
This particular young lady ended up being okay after treatment which included therapy and a brief period of taking lithium. Her child was subsequently raised by the maternal grandparents although legally this young woman still has full custody and spends time with her daughter often.
Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare which is one reason it is not often talked about and another reason many people who suffer from it try to hide it because they are struggling to try to understand exactly what it is they are going through and may feel alone.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis Include, but are not limited to:
flight of ideas
grandiose thinking or behavior
Other Famous Examples of Postpartum Psychosis
Although postpartum psychosis is rare, some popular cases include Melanie Blocker-Stokes, a successful pharmaceutical sales manager happily married to a physician.
On June 11, 2001 she gave birth to a baby girl and soon developed severe depression, stopped eating and drinking and no longer could swallow just four weeks after giving birth.
She became paranoid and thought her neighbors closed their blinds because they thought she was a bad mother and although she was in and out of several hospitals, was on several medications and even received electroconvulsive therapy, she killed herself by jumping off of the roof top of a Chicago hotel. Her daughter was only 3 and a half months old.
Melanie always wanted to become a mother and it’s a tragedy that becoming a mother ultimately took her life. She had written in her journal before her death: “How can I explain to anybody how something has, literally, come inside my body…I’m no good to anyone. No good to myself.”
She called some her friends and family and left what they now know were her final goodbyes and to her husband she left a note that simply read: “Sam, I adore you, Sommer and Andy, Mel.” Andy was her husband Sam’s son and her stepson and Sommer (Sommer Skyy) was her newborn child.
Her battle with postpartum psychosis helped congress pass the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act in 2010 aimed at increasing research, education and screening of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. Sadly not much has been done since it was passed, but this is the story that sparked me to write my research paper in graduate school and got me interested in postpartum psychosis.
Perhaps most famously there was Andrea Yates whose mental health seemed to deteriorate with each child she gave birth to. She had attempted suicide twice and was urged against not having any more children after being hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital after her fourth child. Never-the-least she gave birth to a fifth child and three months later she was hospitalized again twice and warned not to be left alone with her children.
However, one day she was left alone for only an hour and tragically drowned all five of her children. She’s currently committed to a high-security psychiatric hospital.
Miriam Carey was a 34 year old mother of a one year old little girl. She was a dental hygienist with plans on going to dental school. Last week she made the decision to drive from her home in Conneticut to Washington, D.C. Some reports say that she was mad with President Obama for listening to her phone conversations.
In any case, with her young daughter in tow, she drove to Capitol Hill, crashing into barricades around the White House, police cars and speeding recklessly down Pennsylvania Avenue before she was shot and killed by law enforcement after attempting to use her car as a weapon.
It’s unfortunate that Miriam Carey was shot and killed, especially with her one year old daughter in the car. After listening to her family talk on CNN last week talk about her struggles with postpartum psychosis and a family history of mental illness including schizophrenia, I wish something could have been done sooner although she was apparently taking medication for an unknown mental illness.
It’s possible that although her family knew she was having some mental problems, they didn’t know how severe they were or even what they were because she was most likely keeping them in the dark and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) keeps doctors and mental health professionals from being able to discuss a persons medical and mental issues with family members which helps explain why her family members and friends where all shocked that she was behaving so erratically and reckless especially with her daughter in the car. They were all shocked to learn that she had even driving to Washington, D.C. out of the blue.
They may have known she had issues, but never suspected that they were as severe as they turned out to be.
According to everything I have read as reported by her family members and her boyfriend, her main symptoms were paranoia and delusions. It’s a good chance that her mental health problems existed before she was pregnant and that her pregnancy exacerbated the condition and developed into postpartum psychosis.
For example, she could have been suffering from bipolar disorder or a mood disorder previously and possibly stopped taking her medication to prevent them from having side effects on the baby and then everything just snow balled out of control with the natural hormonal and mood changes that occur with pregnancy.
Many women who develop postpartum psychosis already have other underlying mental health issues
Her death however is not in vain as it helps bring attention to postpartum complications like “baby blues”, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis so that maybe more women who are suffering silently will speak out and reach out for help.
If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression of any kind, have them speak with their doctor. For more information visit http://www.postpartum.net/ or call 1-800-944-4PDD.
In my original post, Is Pretending to be Pregnant a Mental Illness, I discussed a high school teenager I have known for three, now going on four years, who has been “pregnant” every year and has had a “miscarriage” every year as well.
Last year was no different, but for some reason I believed she was pregnant, even when her closes friends did not. Still I remained skeptical, especially as the “pregnancy” went along and she didn’t get any bigger and refused to tell her mom about it.
Then summer came and I waited anxiously to see her when school started, knowing she should be close to her due time. Yet, when I saw her last week, she was no bigger than she was almost three months ago.
She told me that she had also “lost” that baby (big surprise), but now she is pregnant again and this time she isn’t making it up… and I believe her!
Why would I believe she is pregnant this time when she has lied about being pregnant four previous times?
Well this time she told me she told her mom, something she never did in her previous “pregnancies” even when I offered to talk to her mom with her.
Also, I know she has wanted to get pregnant for the past four years and so it was bound to eventually happen for real. I knew she was having unprotected sex with different guys.
And then today she showed me a picture of her getting a sonogram… a real picture this time and so yes, the girl who pretended to be pregnant for four years is finally pregnant.
It’s so sad because at 18 she is lost, she’s barely passing school, is extremely immature, admitted that her baby’s father is no good, that she doesn’t like him and her family doesn’t either, but yet they are bringing a child into this world.
There is no way she is ready to be a mother and yet, if everything goes right, she will be soon enough.
I’m concerned because this is a young lady with obvious mental issues and if she doesn’t get the help she needs she will raise a child who will potential have further issues because of being raised by an ill-prepared mother.
On top of everything, I really think this girl wanted to get pregnant to fulfill something missing in her life, maybe attention, unconditional love, purpose, who knows, and if having this baby doesn’t meet her conscious or unconscious expectations then where will that leave her and the child?
I see many mothers who had children for the wrong reasons (to keep a man, to fulfill a void, to prove that they can accomplish something, etc.) abandon their children physically, mentally or both when those expectations weren’t met.
Many of those parents end up abusing their kids, resenting them or being negligent in the way they raise their kids.
I’m not saying that this is definitely the case with this young lady, who knows? For a very few, having a baby serves as a catalyst to get them to step up and change their lives for the better so that they can be the best parent they can be for their child.
Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Many impoverished, poorly educated, single, teenage moms end up dropping out of school and remaining in poverty.
The psychological issues that made this young girl persistently pursue to be pregnant for years will probably remain after she gives birth so I won’t be surprised if she isn’t pregnant or “pregnant” again and again even after she gives birth for real.
I have two close friends who are both first time mothers to be and although both are in healthy relationships and are overall healthy individuals, both of them are incredibly stressed, so much to the point that they both at times get very dysthymic, have trouble eating, sleeping, being intimate, feeling attractive and are easily irritable.
When asked what exactly they are stressed about, they both answered that they are worried about being good mothers, about being financially secure enough to properly take care of their child, how their child will change their lives and mostly, if their child will be healthy despite all the signs that they are having a normal, healthy pregnancy.
I found that last part to be very interesting. Their biggest concern was that their child is developing normally and that they will have a healthy child, yet the stress that they are experiencing may play a vital role in the health of their baby.
Stress is a Part of Life
We all experience stress and pregnant women often experience stress more than any of us. Often times women who are pregnant are busy trying to run house holds, hold down jobs and balance a busy schedule. While stress is normal, how much stress is too much and does it affect the fetus?
It used to be considered a myth that too much stress affects the unborn child, but researchers, including Dr. Calvin Hobel, a perinatologist (an obstetrician who practices maternal-fetus medicine) in Los Angeles who studies the affects of stress on pregnancy, are providing more and more evidence that stress is bad for pregnant women and their unborn child. Stress not only increases the risk of pre-term labor, but also a number of problems after the child is born.
Women who are stressed release hormones and those hormones “wash” over the fetus. Genetically the fetus is forced to react to environmental cues about how to best construct and respond within the capabilities of that specific gene to what is going on. According to Dr. Pathik Wadhwa, assistant professor of behavioral science, obstetrics and gynecology at University of Kentucky College of Medicine, “The fetus builds itself permanently to deal with this kind of high-stress environment, and once it’s born may be at greater risk for a whole bunch of stress-related pathologies.”
Some of the most recognizable effects of maternal stress on pregnancy: pre-term births and low birth weight.
Baby’s who are born premature (before 37 weeks) are at risk of many complications later such as developmental delays, learning disabilities, chronic lung disease, pervasive developmental disorders, and even death. There is even research suggesting that babies who express stress in utero are more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure as adults. More recent evidence is pointing to stress in utero affecting the baby’s temperament and possibly IQ. Baby’s who experience a lot of stress in utero are more likely to show signs of depression and irritability and are less likely to tune out repeated, unimportant stimuli, a predictor of IQ.
Who the Mother is and What She is Like During Pregnancy Affects Who the Baby Will Turn Out To Be
According the the biopsychosocial model, we are who we are determine in part by biological, psychological and environmental influences. Mother’s who experience a lot of stress and anxiety during pregnancy are bathing their unborn child in those chemicals that affect the baby. Stress causes the mother’s nervous system to stimulate the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine which are stress hormones that restrict blood flow and oxygen to the fetus. Research also shows that the placenta in pregnant women who are stressed, releases more corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) which tells the body how long a pregnancy should last and helps the fetus reach maturation. This is probably largely responsible for the increase in pre-term birth and low birth weight.
How much stress is too much stress?
It’s hard to say, it really comes down to the woman, her personality and how she copes with stress. One woman can work two or three jobs and be fine, while one woman may find herself in trouble just trying to hold down one job. The woman needs to listen to her body, her doctor and even her family member’s if they are worried that she is too stressed or anxious. Studies show that extra help for the mother to relive some of the psycho-social stress as well as work leaves as early as 24 weeks cut down on the risk of premature birth by about 21%
Ways to Relieve Stress
Somethings pregnant women can do to relieve stress include yoga (not strenuous yoga of course), biofeedback, guided imagery and deep breathing techniques. Also, having a great support network is crucial. It is important for the pregnant woman to slow down when she starts feeling stressed, even if that means cutting back on certain things and delegating tasks to others.
Pregnant Women Should Take this Questionnaire!
One way to measure your stress is to take this questionnaire developed by Dr. Hobel. For every question answer “yes”, “no” or “sometimes”. If you answer “yes” or “sometimes” to three or more questions, Dr. Hobel believes you may be stressed enough to warrant talking to a counselor or your physician to help put together an intervention to help protect you and your unborn child from stress.
I feel tense
I feel nervous
I feel worried
I feel frightened
I have trouble dealing with problems
Things are not going well
I cannot control things in my life
I am worried that my baby is abnormal
I am concerned that I may lose my baby
I am concerned that I will have a difficult delivery
I am concerned that I will be unable to pay my bills
I live apart from my partner or spouse
I have extra-heavy homework
I have problems at work
Have you and your partner or spouse had any problems?
What if your 18 year old daughter who is in the 11th grade of high school, already has a two year old child, told you she was planning on having another child by her new boyfriend in order to not be selfish?
Working with teenagers it’s rarely anything I see or hear these days that shock me, however, there are plenty of things I see and hear that leave me dumbfounded, including when one of my favorite teenage clients, who already has a child, told me that she plans to stop taking her birth control so she can get pregnant by her new boyfriend of only about three months. What?!?!
She told me that she thought it was UNFAIR to her son that he didn’t have a sibling and unfair to her new boyfriend that she didn’t have a child by him and that she felt like she was being selfish to everyone by WAITING until the right time (oh, let’s say after she finished high school, started a career, got married) to have another child. I sat listening to her, almost hoping that I had falling off into a daydream and that this was just all part of my imagination, but it wasn’t. This high school junior, soon to be senior, with one child at home already was telling me that she was planning on getting pregnant again as soon as possible! She is already raising this child without the father’s involvement and I shouldn’t say she is raising her child because her parents are actually the ones taking care of her and her current child, yet she wants to go and get pregnant again!
I know part of the psychology of why she wants to get pregnant again is to keep her current boyfriend around. She is thinking that if she gets pregnant by her current beau, they will stay together forever. I am sure she had that same delusional fantasy with her current child’s father who she hasn’t seen in over two years. You would think she would have learned, but the delusional, fantasy world and mind of a teenager is a hard shell to crack, no matter how many times the world gets dropped on it.
As I listened to her, I actually felt a great deal of heartache for her because she was about to go and do something dumb… at least in my professional opinion. The chances of her being 18 with two kids, barely a high school degree, and being successful aren’t in her favor, especially coupled with her history of alcohol and drug use and her impulsive behavior that often leads her to be in dangerous situations.
I tried and hope I spoke some sense into her. I told her that she isn’t being selfish by waiting for the right time (and person) to have another child. I told her that it is OKAY for her to be selfish when it comes to her life. A lot of times we are told so many times about not being selfish that we forget that sometimes being selfish is a form of self-care and self-preservation. I also told her that it wouldn’t be fair to her, her current child or her future children if she once again got pregnant by a man who wouldn’t be around to help her raise the child(ren) they produced together. I definitely tried to convince her that waiting until after high school, after college (which she plans to attend), and hopefully after getting married, would be the time for her to have more children if she so chose to do that. Being a high school senior next year with two kids her and her parents are raising together is not the situation she wants to be in.
I really hope I convinced her that having a child right now, with a guy she’s only known for three months, is not a rational decision, but a large majority of the teenage mind functions irrationally. Their brains are just wired differently at this age and we’ll explore that in a future post. The bottom line is, every high school girl I’ve worked with that got pregnant to keep a boy NEVER ends up with that boy more than a year or so later. Does it happen? I’m sure it does, but I haven’t seen it. Still, it doesn’t stop them from thinking otherwise and even if they already had a child and that child’s father disappeared shortly after the birth of the child, some of them will still be convinced, as this young lady is, that it won’t happen again.
This isn’t the first time I had to deal with something similar to this. Not too long ago one of my high school clients who had a baby less than a year ago, wanted to have another baby right away because that is what her boyfriend (the babys’ father) wanted. A month or so later they broke up because he wasn’t helping her take care of the baby they already had. Imagine if she would have gotten pregnant with a second child like she wanted.