The Power of Positive Thinking Ate My Science Homework

Doesn't it hurt when you are terribly sick with a cold and someone suggests you think yourself into wellness? It hurts me and that is just a cold. It hurts even more when someone suggests the thoughts I had during pregnancy have made my child anxious. I live with an anxious child and he is a complete delight. I'm not sure if I took away all the more troublesome aspects of Henry that he'd be the same person. Should I wish for a different better child? Is he less valuable to our society because his brain works differently? It's not exactly busted. He reads, writes and does math well above grade level. He is a good friend, hilariously funny and a fiercely protective older brother to Theo. Is anxiety always the opposite of happiness? There are birth professionals in my own field who suggests that the way I experienced my pregnancies led me to have either a happy or anxious children. I find that dichotomy troubling. I myself experience anxiety and happiness quite regularly. So do all three of my children, including the one with a diagnosable condition. Is it all so black and white?

I realize there is some very excellent research showing that fetal development is impacted by maternal environment. I've even written about it over here. I've read about it in Time and there is a new book, Origins,  which I will one day read and review. I think the science is there to document the impact environment has on development. In a Salon interview,  Annie Murphy Paul, author of Origins, alluded to people freaking out when new research like this comes out. I am here to say that "the freaking out" has begun. Women are looking at this book and wondering, "Did I worry too much during my pregnancy? Not enough?"  And standing in the wings waiting for them, are people ready to make money coaching them how to do it  better next time - or how to do it perfectly the first time - through "The Power of Positive Thinking."

The book, which is called The Greatest Pregnancy Ever, is not yet released. I will read it. I will get back to you. I cannot fairly review a book that I have not read. I can tell you that I read the overview as published on the website. To me there is much that sounds good enough on the surface, but when look at the flip side, concerns abound. If my stress can shape my baby's personality and I already have a child with an anxiety disorder, then I got what I deserved right? My guess is that authors have take scientific data that is more helpfully viewed through a sociological lens, for example, seeing the ways that race, class, income and war impact maternal-fetal health, and shot it through what I will call The Power of Positive Thinking Tube.

Picture this tube like a digestive track. Take perfectly good scientific information, or simply good self-care practices, such as having a positive outlook, or looking for ways to see the good in life's challenges, and shoot it into The Power of Positive Thinking Tube and frankly, crap comes out the other end.

We take:

the science of fetal development + colicky baby who will not sleep

insert into-> power of positive thinking tube

add the mommy guilt feature * sleep deprivation due to colicky infant

+ dr. google

with the result

= I did this to my baby by having stress during my pregnancy.

The truth is that research shows having a moderate amount of stress during pregnancy is healthful for fetal development. Chronic stress (such as being a black woman in America, enduring poverty) and acute stress (experiencing war, trauma, natural disaster) do have impacts on premature delivery rates. The normal stresses of women who work, parent and read websites about how to have the best pregnancy ever are not the problem. The Power of Positive Thinking Tube personalizes things that are simply not personal. As Bill commented on my previous rant, post:  To paraphrase some guy: “Your tire is not flat because the universe is out of alignment and God is angry with you. Your tire is flat because there is a hole in it and the air won’t stay in.”

In sum, I'm okay with the science. I'm a little concerned about how our society is going to use it to screw with moms. More sensible thoughts on both books, after I've read them. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the difference between positive thinking and The Power of Positive Thinking. How do we compassionately care for ourselves and others when we have not ended up with "the best possible result?" And, who decides what is best?

Karen @


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