A terrifying tale of pregnancy and birth that sounds an alarm about the growing dangers of environmental toxins to parents and their babies.
Biologist and ecologist Steingraber (Living Downstream, 1997) became pregnant at age 38, and determined to tell the story of the birth of her daughter, Faith, from an ecological point of view. Moving gracefully between hard science and tender personal anecdotes, she analyzes and explores the effects on her developing baby of the uterine environment, a “habitat . . . for a population of one.” Describing studies on the development of the embryo, in which all the body parts are assembled and ready to grow by about week ten, her concentration on this “fantastical” process is interrupted by morning sickness. Research reveals that nausea in pregnancy remains a female mystery, like PMS and hot flashes, because “the tools of medical research have never been fully deployed to demystify it.” Nor has research moved quickly to examine damage to the fetus from a deteriorating environment. For instance, the famously protective placenta is not a barrier against damage caused by pesticides, nicotine, PCBs, and other chemicals. A long and moving section on babies born with gross birth defects as a result of mercury in the food chain in Minamata, Japan, and the resistance of both government and industry to remove it, illustrates a recurring theme: that we live in a society that doesn’t know enough or care enough about fetal health. Steingraber carries her concerns past delivery (complaining in passing about the emphasis on medical intervention—like routine episiotomies—in childbirth) to breastfeeding. The rewards are undeniable, but the risks are growing as contaminants in the environment increase, finding their way to mother’s milk and affecting, in particular, the further development of the baby’s brain. An afterword offers a list of organizations active in struggling for a healthy environment and reducing birth defects.
A convincing case that the increasing numbers of babies born with barriers to optimal development are a consequence of environmental insults. Should send parents and would-be parents to the barricades.