Thursday, March 29, 2012

Currently reading

Sorry for the long absence! I haven't been out of town, but the busyness of everyday life has kept me off the computer. We've had some unwanted excitement (Eric falling off a 24' ladder while using a chainsaw--he escaped with just a few bruises and scrapes) and amazing summer-like weather even though it's still early spring. I've been gardening and landscaping and dreaming about this season's vegetables and fruits that I hope to grow.

So here's a brief rundown of what I've been reading lately:

Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, & Abortion by Karen E. Bender and Nina De Gramont. This book blew me away. I can't recommend it highly enough. Some of the stories still haunt me months after reading them.

Bearing Right: How conservatives won the abortion war by William Saletan. This book was written by a journalist, so I expected it to be a compelling narrative. But it actually read a lot more like a dense academic work. While it was well-researched and carefully written, it wasn't exactly something I'd sit down and read at the beach. But it's a great resource for learning more about how abortion groups consciously fashioned their messages and their rhetoric.

This I Believe: On Fatherhood edited by Dan Gediman. A lovely collection of short essays on fatherhood, from the This I Believe project. It would make a great Father's Day present.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids by Kim John Payne. I really liked this book, and much of it resonated with what I already do as a parent.

Hold on to your kids: why parents need to matter more than peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. Even though I enjoyed this book, I didn't make it through to the end. I got interrupted and just never finished it. I might check it out again and give it another go. Once I get through my current pile of books!

The Green Hour: A daily dose of nature for happier, healthier, smarter kids by Todd Christopher. This is a "how to get your kids" outside book. I laughed at so much of it, because hello! Do you really need a book to tell you to go outside and dig in the dirt or collect leaves or look at bugs? Evidently some people do.

I thought I was checking out Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, but I ended up with The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder by the same author. Interesting but nothing all that new (humans need to be outside more).

The Case Against Fluoride: how hazardous waste ended up in our drinking water and the bad science and powerful politics that keep it there by Paul Connet, PhD, James Beck, MD/PhD, and H. Spedding Micklem, DPhil. I only got to read the first chapter before I had to return it. It's written by an academic researcher and looks to be really fascinating. It's a compelling argument against adding fluoride to drinking water, because the practice is not supported by science (although it is heavily politicized). The author notes that fluoride in toothpaste or topical fluoride treatments are a different matter altogether and actually more empirical evidence for their efficacy.

SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an elite Navy SEAL sniper by Howard Wasdin and Stephen Templin. I enjoyed immersing myself in a world that I had never before known existed. The writing was so-so. The parts where the author's voice came out were better than some of his rambling detours, some unrelated to the subject at hand.

The first and second Hunger Games books. They're fun, fast reading. I was a bit disappointed that the second book rehashed much of what happened in the first. But I still can't wait to read the next one.

Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks: amazing, funny, heartbreaking memoir of growing up Mormon in southern California. A fantastic read for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. Seriously. (And it's only $3.99 on Kindle!)

Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom. Fantastic read. A multi-generational, non-linear novel about a Mormon family. Made me cry at the end (and I.don't.cry)--not in a cheesy way, but because the stories were so real, so honest, and so raw in their characters' flaws and vulnerabilities.

Flunking Sainthood: A year of breaking the Sabbath, forgetting to pray, and still loving my neighbor by Jana Reiss. Jana sets out to master 12 spiritual practices--a new one each months--and manages to fail every single on. In the meantime she laughs at herself and learns more about God than if she'd succeeded. A fun, easy read.

And now the last on today's list: Life Before Birth: The hidden script that rules our lives by Arthur Janov, PhD. I received this book from the publisher and was asked to review it. I hope I can do it justice; it deals with enormously complex, important factors: how mental illness, chronic disease, and many other seemingly inherited maladies are tied up in a baby's life in the womb, from its birth experience, or from its early infancy. Let me try to summarize his main points.

Janov argues that a person's basic physiology is calibrated during their time in the womb and during early infancy. If a fetus lives in a stressful environment (i.e., if its mother experiences high levels of stress or anxiety, for example), the baby's basic physiological functions adjust accordingly. The baby doesn't know that abnormal levels of hormones are abnormal; its body adjusts accordingly and resets its basic physiology to adapt to its womb environment. Experiences in the womb and in early infancy can affect a baby its whole life. More and more, we're finding that diseases or conditions thought to be genetic are actually epigenetic--activated by certain prenatal or postpartum triggers. In Janov's words,
A pregnant woman's mood and physiology can produce long-term effects on the offspring...During pregnancy and the first critical months of the baby's life, the mother is downloading a good deal of her neurochemistry into the fetus. Her state of being produces alterations in hormone output that will affect the baby, perhaps for a lifetime. If the mother is depressed, hormones change; if the mother is anxious, hormones change; and the expectation of the fetus is that it will meet the same kind of environment after birth as before. The fetus's whole physiology and neurology changes to adapt to the mother's alterations.
Janov has been a clinical psychologist for many decades and has developed a new kind of therapy that helps people reset their basic physiological functions. This he achieves not through talk therapy, not through words at all, but by helping his patients relive their early formative experiences in the womb or in early infancy--when their bodies adapted to the environment without knowing how to differentiate between normal and abnormal, health and unhealthy. Now, as adults with fully functional and developed neo-cortexes, they can allow their bodies to relieve these basic pre-linguistic experiences and thus "reset" their body's physiology to normal, healthy levels.

If this sounds a bit confusing, it's my fault, not Janov's. I found his book compelling and easy to understand. One of the most fascinating things about his research is that he tracks key physiological markers (including blood pressure, heart rate, and core body temperature) both during therapy sessions and over time. He has seen astounding changes in his patients undergoing his "primal therapy" and has tangible data to back his observations.

I wish I had more background knowledge about psychology and therapy to be able to evaluate his arguments more in depth. It was very convincing to me, although I did feel uncomfortable with how this key arguments could easily turn into mother-blaming. (Diabetes? Chronic anxiety? Depression? ADD? Cancer? Blame it on your messed up mother!) On the other hand, he offers compelling evidence that the maternal environment does have enormous impact on how successfully babies develop into healthy, well-functioning adults.

I still feel like I haven't articulated Janov's key points as well as I 'd like to. My suggestion is to read his book. It's accessible without being overly simplistic and complex without being unnecessarily dense. I think you'll finding fascinating and eye-opening. If you do read it, please send me an email or leave a comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I am so amazed you can get so much reading in with 3 kiddos! That's great!

    BTW, are you on pinterest? I happened to find a way to look and see how many people are pinning stuff from your site, it's pretty cool check it out:

  2. Wow Rixa, that's a lot of books! They all sound good!
    I had a horrible mother growing up, I don't associate with her now, I would love to under go Janov's method! LOL! But it makes sence to me.

  3. Janov's book seems fascinating and scary. I've heard those theories before, but I'm afraid to know what he theorizes is the long term effect. I had severe depression and anxiety with my third pg and I hate to think about what sorts of problems it may have caused for my sweet baby girl.

  4. You amaze me by how much you read. Sigh, it's taken me three months to get through Animal Vegetable Miracle, and I absolutely loved it. Oh well!

    I am very interested in Life Before Birth - my husband has been reading a lot about epigenetics, both in his research in a neuroscience lab, as well as on the side. What he tells me is quite scary.


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