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  • Melissa Brunetti

The Effects Of Maternal Stress On The Fetus: Lack Of Support For Birth Mothers Is Key S2E94

Updated: Mar 25

Hey there, Karma Crew thanks for joining me for this episode of Mind Your Own Karma The Adoption Chronicles. I had an interview that was supposed to happen today that had to cancel last minute due to an illness, and I was thinking about what I was going to do for an episode. So here I am because I am contemplating and researching birth mothers and stress hormones and what that has to do with the developing fetus. If you know my story at all you've heard that I was born with bilateral congenital hip dysplasia and what that means in lay terms was that I had basically no hip socket on the right side and a partial on the left when I was born which made me have to be in a cast, a special cast for a year and I couldn't walk or anything like that. And so, as I grew, I had a pretty good hip socket on the left and you know it's shallow they said it was a shallow one on the right. And it really didn't keep me from doing much as a kid and a teenager but as I got older in my 20s after having a couple of kids I was having tremendous pain in my hips and so I've already had a couple of surgeries on my right hip, one was a hip replacement back in 2017 and in probably May of this past year so about seven months ago or so I started having hip pain in the left side. And it felt exactly the same as the right and I was just dreading that I was gonna have to have another hip replacement. Guess what, I need another hip replacement on the other side. And as I'm sitting here contemplating this happening next week, I just wonder what kind of effects the birth mother and what she's going through while we are in utero how that affects us. And so, I did a little bit of research that I want to bring to you. Pretty interesting stuff so here we go.


2:18 So I kind of made a blog for my website about this so I'm gonna kind of just read what I wrote and a lot of it you're going to hear things like possibly and might and maybe because obviously stress and hormone fluctuations in the maternal mother isn't going to necessarily cause any of these things that I found on the Internet, but they are possible. So, you're going to hear those kind of words that it's possible that this can happen and that can happen. So just kind of a caveat there so let's jump right in to what I have found.


2:54 So maternal stress during pregnancy can potentially have various effects on the developing fetus. While each pregnancy is unique and individual responses to stress can vary, there is evidence suggesting that chronic or severe stress during pregnancy may influence fetal development in several ways. It's important to note that the field of prenatal psychology is complex, and researchers continue to explore the intricacies of the relationship between maternal stress and fetal development. Here are some general ways in which maternal stress might affect a developing fetus. And you just under why this has not been a thing? Why have we not researched this more. It's kind of infuriating to me.


3:41 So the first way, is hormonal changes. Stress activates the maternal stress response leading to the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can cross the placenta and reach the developing fetus. Elevated levels of cortisol in particular have been associated with potential negative effects on fetal development. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress and it plays a crucial role in the regulation of metabolism, immune function, and stress response. However, when cortisol levels are consistently high it can have potential implications for fetal development. Here are some ways elevated maternal cortisol may affect a fetus.


4:24 There is a concept known as fetal programming or developmental programming which suggests that exposure during fetal development can have long lasting effects on the individual's health. Elevated cortisol levels in utero may influence the development of the fetal stress response system, potentially affecting how the child responds to stress later in life. And boy, is that a thing. It can affect how the child responds to stress later in life. Maternal cortisol can also impact the developing fetal immune system. Changes in the immune system during fetal development may have implications for the child susceptibility to infection and immune related disorders. And for me, I have immune related disorders so that's super interesting. It's important to note that the effects of elevated maternal cortisol can vary depending on factors such as the timing, the duration of exposure, as well as individual differences in genetic susceptibility and other environmental factors. Well let's just think about it. The birth mother probably had high cortisol pretty much the entire time that we were developing in her womb. Additionally, not all stress is harmful, and a certain level of stress response is a normal part of pregnancy. Well, I disagree with that in adoption circles. But however, chronic or severe stress leading to consistently elevated cortisol levels is what may pose risks to fetal development.


5:56 Another thing is the impact on the placenta. Chronic stress may affect the placenta which causes a crucial role in delivering nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. Changes in blood flow and nutrient supply can influence fetal growth and development. Maternal stress can have various effects on the placenta, the organ that develops during pregnancy to provide nutrients and oxygen to the fetus as well as remove waste products. So, hello! That's a pretty important organ for us fetuses. The placenta plays a crucial role in supporting fetal development and changes in its structure and function can impact the overall health and well-being of both the mother and the fetus.


6:37 Another thing that's can be affected is blood flow and oxygen supply. Which we kind of just talked about. Stress can influence maternal blood flow and changes in blood flow can affect the placenta's ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the developing fetus. Insufficient oxygen supply may have negative consequences for fetal development. Elevated levels of cortisol can affect the placental hormonal environment and balances and hormones may impact the regulation of various processes critical for fetal development.


7:11 Placental structure and function. Maternal stress has been associated with changes in the structure and function of the placenta. These changes may include alterations in the size and shape of the placenta's components, as well as changes in the expression of genes involved in placental development.


7:28 So now let's talk about epigenetic modifications, which this can be kind of scary. Maternal stress may induce epigenetic changes in the fetal genome. Epigenetic modifications can alter gene expression patterns without changing the underlying DNA sequence, potentially influencing the development of various psychological and physiological traits. An example of gene expression is the differential expression of genes in human cells. All human cells contain the same DNA but have very different structures and functions. Liver cells and neurons in the brain contain the same DNA yet are very different in structure and function.


8:08 Neurodevelopment effects. Some studies suggest that exposure to high levels of stress hormones during pregnancy may impact the developing fetal brain. This could potentially affect the child's cognitive and emotional development.


 8:24 Preterm birth and low birth weight. High levels of stress has been associated with an increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. These factors can have long term health implications for the newborn.


8:39 Behavioral and emotional outcomes. There is evidence suggesting that prenatal exposure to maternal stress may be associated with an increased risk of behavioral and emotional issues in children. This includes conditions such as anxiety, attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, ADHD and other neurodevelopmental challenges. It's important to note that the effects of maternal stress on fetal development can be influenced by factors such as timing, duration, and intensity of stress, as well as individual variations in maternal and fetal responses additionally, various protective factors such as social support and coping mechanisms may mitigate the potential negative effects of stress on pregnancy. And I just wonder how many birth mothers got offered any social support, any coping mechanisms and any protective factors that could have mitigated these potential negative effects. I doubt any of those things happened.


9:38 And let me say, I do not think that I am the guru of adoption and that I know what birth mothers are going through or have gone through, but I have heard their pain. And in the next season of Mind Your Own Karma The Adoption Chronicles I really want to bring forth the entire story. Where it begins, which is with the birth mother. And there has to be some trauma, sadness, grief, anger, all kinds of emotions and trauma that she had to go through to be able to give up her child in most cases. And I believe the lack of birth mother support in adoption is central and key to why they had to give their child up. I want to talk about some of the things that some birth mothers might be going through or have gone through. It is important to go back to the very beginning. and it's also important for us adoptees to tell our stories, and I believe it is also important for the adoptive parents to tell their stories. We have all been told stories and some of it isn't true. That includes bio parents and adoptive parents as well as adoptees.


11:09 And so I want to go into a little bit of research that I did on birth mothers and lack of support in adoption for them. And I understand it's a complex and a  sensitive issue with a lot of emotions and psychological implications for birth mothers, and like I said I don't say that I'm the adoptee guru and I know at birth parents and birth mothers went through I don't but I do believe it's important to talk about as well as that we were talking about with the fetus in utero and how the stress affects. Because I don't think there is support out there for these birth mothers. So, I want to bring that to the forefront today as well.


11:54 So emotional and psychological impacts. Many birth mothers experience a range of emotions before, during and after the adoption process. These emotions can include grief, loss, guilt, shame, sadness, and I'm sure the list just goes on and on. The lack of support may exacerbate these emotional challenges leading to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. You think??


12:18 Stigma and shame. Societal stigmas surrounding unplanned pregnancies and adoption can contribute to birth mothers feeling isolated and judged, especially during the baby scoop era.  100%. A lack of support may reinforce feelings of shame making it difficult for birth mothers to openly discuss their experiences and seek help. birth mothers often experience a profound sense of loss after placing their child for adoption. This grief is unique and may not be fully understood or acknowledged by those around them. The absence of a support system can make it challenging for birth mothers to process their grief and move forward. Open and honest communication is crucial for birth mothers to navigate the complexities of adoption. The lack of support may limit opportunities for birth mothers to share their feelings and experiences. Thank goodness for Facebook and some of these birth mother groups. Encouraging open conversation and providing a safe space for birth mothers to express themselves is essential.


13:23 And what also is essential is post adoption support. and it's crucial for birth mothers as they continue to cope with the long-term effects of their decision. Lack of access to counseling, support groups or other resources can hinder a birth mother's ability to address ongoing emotional challenges.


13:41 Advocacy and education. Post-adoption support is crucial for birth mothers as they continue to cope with the long-term effects of their decision. Advocacy for better support systems and education on the needs of birth mothers is essential. This includes promoting awareness about the emotional and psychological aspects of adoption for birth mothers. Education can help reduce stigma and create a more supportive environment for birth mothers. Some birth mothers may face challenges related to legal and ethical issues surrounding adoption. Lack of understanding or support in these areas can compound the difficulties they experience. It's crucial to approach discussions about birth mother support in adoption with compassion recognizing the diversity of individual experiences and advocating for policies and practices that prioritize the well-being of birth mothers throughout the adoption process. and that is just so lacking it's just so lacking the resources.


14:42 And I know more birth mothers are coming out and telling their stories and I just want them to know that Mind Your Own Karma is a safe place to come and to tell your birth mother story. I have had a couple of birth mothers on. I have had Monica Hall, who is also an adoptee, but I've also had Catherine Vogeley who wrote the book ‘I Need To Tell You’ which is an awesome book and one of my favorite adoptee books that I've read. And she's such a great friend of mine now and I gained so much compassion for birth mothers through her story. And I just want to bring more of those stories to the podcast. It’s so important to get the entire story. So, if you are a birth mother, a birth father, adoptive parent, either mother or father and you want to tell your story, please contact me and

and let's get your story on the podcast. That is my focus for season 3. I will still have adoptees on also, but I really want to get the full story from everyone and I can't do that without your help. I promise that I will listen to your story. I will validate your journey and we together will educate the world. As always, take what you need and leave what you don't. And always remember to mind your own karma. I’ll see you next time.


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