How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives

By Annie Murphy Paul
(Free Press, Hardcover, 9780743296625, 320pp.)

Publication Date: September 28, 2010

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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What makes us the
way we are? Some say it’s the genes we inherit at conception. Others are sure it’s the environment we experience in childhood. But could it be that many of our individual characteristics—our health, our intelligence, our temperaments—are influenced by the conditions we encountered before birth?

That’s the claim of an exciting and provocative field known as fetal origins. Over the past twenty years, scientists have been developing a radically new understanding of our very earliest experiences and how they exert lasting effects on us from infancy well into adulthood. Their research offers a bold new view of pregnancy as a crucial staging ground for our health, ability, and well-being throughout life.

Author and journalist Annie Murphy Paul ventures into the laboratories of fetal researchers, interviews experts from around the world, and delves into the rich history of ideas about how we’re shaped before birth. She discovers dramatic stories: how individuals gestated during the Nazi siege of Holland in World War II are still feeling its consequences decades later; how pregnant women who experienced the 9/11 attacks passed their trauma on to their offspring in the womb; how a lab accident led to the discovery of a common household chemical that can harm the developing fetus; how the study of a century-old flu pandemic reveals the high personal and societal costs of poor prenatal experience.

also brings to light astonishing scientific findings: how a single exposure to an environmental toxin may produce damage that is passed on to multiple generations; how conditions as varied as diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness may get their start in utero; why the womb is medicine’s latest target for the promotion of lifelong health, from preventing cancer to reducing obesity. The fetus is not an inert being, but an active and dynamic creature, responding and adapting as it readies itself for life in the particular world it will enter. The pregnant woman is not merely a source of potential harm to her fetus, as she is so often reminded, but a source of influence on her future child that is far more powerful and positive than we ever knew. And pregnancy is not a nine-month wait for the big event of birth, but a momentous period unto itself, a cradle of individual strength and wellness and a crucible of public health and social equality.

With the intimacy of a personal memoir and the sweep of a scientific revolution, Origins presents a stunning new vision of our beginnings that will change the way you think about yourself, your children, and human nature itself.

About the Author

Annie Murphy Paul is a magazine journalist and book author who writes about the biological and social sciences. Born in Philadelphia, she graduated from Yale University and from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. A former senior editor at Psychology Today magazine, she was awarded the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Slate, Discover, Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other publications. She is the author of Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives and The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves.

Praise For Origins

eoeExciting, cutting-edge scientific research in the field of epigenetics has changed the way the medical profession looks at pregnancy, and we are fortunate to have Annie Murphy Paul as our guide through this fascinating new terrain. With stellar insight and expansive research,Originsis a thrilling survey of how fetal origins is changing the way we think about the nine months before birth.e e" Dr. Mehmet Oz, author of YOU: Having a Baby, YOU: Raising Your Child, and YOU: On a Diet

"Annie Murphy Paul, a gifted science writer, combines impeccable science, extraordinary tenderness and lyrical prose to produce a truly revolutionary chronicle of pregnancy. In Origins, she shows that pregnancy is not a condition to be endured but the first nine months of being a mother, a time full of far-reaching choices. Origins is sweet, smart and very fresh. You'll never think about pregnancy the same way again."e"Sylvia Nasar, author, A Beautiful Mind

"Origins is, quite simply, a must-read for parents-in-waitinge"and for anyone interested in what makes us who we are.Paul has written a superb introduction to the emerging science of fetal origins. There are still a lot more questions than answers, but this book shows how science is -- at long last -- engaging deeply with the reality that a pregnant woman's lifestyle can dramatically impact the future life of her child." -- David Shenk, author ofThe Genius in All of UsandThe Forgetting

"What goes on during pregnancy is a scientific puzzle as mysterious and fascinating as what goes on inside an atom. In Origins, Annie Murphy Paul probes the murky realm in which our futures as human beings are forged. She combines in-depth reporting on cutting-edge research with a personal memoir of her own pregnancy and the anxieties and insights it produced. The result is an important, elegant piece of science writing."

--Carl Zimmer, author of Soul Made Flesh The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution

"This is a terrific book on a fascinating and largely unexplored subjecte"the mysteries of prenatal development. It is lucid, scientifically accurate and clear and gracefully written. Combining good science and a personal perspective is rare, especially in writing about children and motherhood, but Annie Paul has accomplished it beautifully."e"Alison Gopnik, author of The Scientist in the Crib and The Philosophical Baby

Origins is that rare, beautiful, wonderful bird of a book: As engrossing as a good novel and informed by impactful, cutting-edge research. Origins is an absolute must-read for expectant mothers and everyone who cares about them -- what you learn here could make your baby healthier, stronger, and even smarter. Best of all, the information unfolds in chapters structured around the 9 months of the author's own pregnancy, giving the book the momentum of a personal story (will she have a girl or a boy? how will the birth go?) A thoroughly enjoyable, readable look into amazing research with real consequences.
-- Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me

"As the author delves deeply into the vulnerabilities of the prenatal environment, she comes away with a compelling sense of the importance of how society cares for and supports pregnant women...Paule(TM)s thought-provoking text reveals that this pivotal period may be even more significant and far-reaching than ever imagined." --PW

"Paul is honorable about examining the scientific, social and moral complexities of her subject." --Perri Klass, The Washington Post

"Tobacco, heavy drinking, illegal drugs, depression: We seem to grasp that these aren't healthy for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman. But just what effect do the things that women inhale, consume and experience have on a fetus? In "Origins," Annie Murphy Paul sets out to discover the answer. Along the way she explodes myths, reviews scientific evidence and explores the new frontier of fetal-origins research, the study of how we are shaped in utero by a combination of genes and environment." --The Wall Street Journal

"Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, documents [Annie Murphy Paul's] fascinating journey into the emerging science of fetal origins - and how knowledge made her feel more in control. " --The Toronto Star

A New York Times Notable Book of 2010

"A terrific and important new book . . . offers a new window into the unexpected forces that shape us." --Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

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