Here is the web address for a film you’ve got to see– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfqKDSinees–about the new findings about stress in modern society. This link brings you to Part IV of the video, but I’m highlighting this particular section because it discusses the Dutch Hunger Winter children. Studies show that stress in mothers who were pregnant during this horrific time, a time of famine when Holland was occupied by a “merciless” German army during World War II, affected the health of the mothers’ fetuses and that this early stress still affects their health even now as they are in their 60s. According to researcher Dr. Tessa Roseboom of the University of Amsterdam, these people still bear “the stress of war.” They are more at risk for cardiovascular disease, “more responsive to stress,” and in poorer health generally than those born before the war and those born after. She goes on to say that stress hormones in the mothers’ blood triggered a change in the developing nervous systems of the fetuses as they struggled with starvation . . . “Six decades later, the bodies of these Dutch Hunger Winter children haven’t forgotten.”
The film also features the work of Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University. According to him, the Dutch Hunger Winter children’s brain chemistry was altered. Early stress affects “capacity to learn, to respond to stress adaptively rather than maladaptively, how readily you fall into depression, how vulnerable you are to psychiatric disorders, yet another realm in which early experience and early stress can leave a very bad footprint.”
Of course, these findings have me thinking about stress and pyloric stenosis, the condition with which I was afflicted shortly after birth. Is pyloric stenosis caused by extreme stress in the mother? Does the early starvation of babies suffering from pyloric stenosis affect their brain chemistry and, therefore, their ability to learn, adapt to stress, and steer clear of depression later in life? I have done reading in these areas, but this film has renewed my interest and inspired me to learn more, especially about neuroscience and child development.
Why isn’t more attention paid to understanding the cause of pyloric stenosis when 3 – 5 in 1,000 babies are diagnosed with this disorder? Surgery can successfully correct this condition these days (not always without complications later) and even non-surgical intervention is often successful (though is not encouraged in America). Are these “cures” reasons not to get to the bottom of the problem with the intent of preventing it? The disease is stressful for all involved even if it can be managed–for the parents because their baby is intensely ill and the condition not often readily diagnosed for a variety of reasons and for the baby who is starving, undergoing acute stress, and experiencing adverse physiological changes. Furthermore, surgery is extremely stressful, especially for those of us who never received anesthesia. (This situation thankfully is no longer the case in America, as I understand it.)
How did early illness and consequent surgery affect my neurological development? How did it affect my ability to handle stress? my ability to learn? my ability to cope? Have there been studies of adults’ lives who underwent infant surgery? I’ll leave you to ponder the findings of the first study I learned about years ago. (Sorry I don’t have any details about the study. I’ve been searching for this article so I can read it!). A friend who is a pediatric nurse told me that in graduate school, she was required to read a psychological study that found that the one factor that all the adults hospitalized in the participating psych wards shared was that they all had been patients in critical care units as infants.