By Joleigh Little, Teens for Life Director, Wisconsin Right to Life
Editor’s note. Joleigh’s wonderful story appears in the current digital edition of National Right to Life News. Along with all other columns, news stories, and commentaries, her moving account can be read at www.nrlc.org/uploads/NRLNews/NRLNewsMay2016.pdf. Please forward this story and the link to the entire issue to your pro-life friends and family.
There are truths in the universe – things that have been so since the dawn of humanity, and will remain so until its end. However, these truths are not instantly known to all of us, and even though we’ve heard them spoken time and time again, very often we cannot truly fathom them until live them.
Or perhaps we just can’t understand their magnitude until –and perhaps unless–they have touched our lives in a very real and personal way.
Case in point. We who work in the right-to-life movement know and understand that the unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception. We know that unborn children hear, however muffled they might be, sounds from the world outside. We know that babies can dream and have nightmares. We know that she or he feels pain beginning no later than half-way through her developmental journey.
Put plainly, you don’t have to be a perinatologist to know that a child’s time in the womb isn’t spent in a state of suspended animation. It is just the opposite, a time of learning, growing, and interacting.
I have never been pregnant. So outside of what I teach to teen audiences about prenatal development, my experience with actually developing prenatal humans has been limited.
However where I do have fairly extensive experience is in loving children who were not born to me. Children whose gestations are a mystery – children who very well may have been exposed to all manner of toxins, stress, trauma and other unpleasant things while they were still growing in utero.
For all parents, the day to day task of raising children is both a delight and a challenge. With my two girls, there is an added benefit: as I do my best to shepherd my children into adulthood, I also get to play detective.
Sleuthing about, I am trying to unlock secrets known only to their birth mothers and, albeit unconsciously, to my girls themselves. These secrets have marked my daughters in ways I am still discovering, and probably always will be.
As I have walked this road – first to make these girls my own through adoption, and then to acclimate them to life in a new land, and finally to mold and shape their character and experiences in this life – I have learned many things. These things–these truths–absolutely back up what we’ve been sharing with the public for the last four decades.
For example, children do not magically become themselves when they hit the air of the delivery room. They begin to become themselves at the moment sperm meets ovum – a moment science has recently discovered starts with a spark of actual light.
From the time they start growing, their biology is meshed with that of their birth mother. What she eats, they absorb. What she smokes, drinks or injects into her veins affects their developing bodies and brains. We are learning that the stress she feels shapes them just as much as anything else– and very possibly more.
In trying to unlock the mysteries of my children, I have spent a great deal of time reading and listening to the research of Dr. Karyn Purvis, of Texas Christian University, a leading expert in this field. I was amazed, but not at all surprised to find out that a number of factors shape the way children’s brains develop. These very directly impact their behaviors, their ability to self-regulate; the very way they interact with the world. Included in this list are trauma, abuse and neglect, as well as a difficult prenatal experience, difficult birth and early hospitalization.
I have two girls from hard places. One was abandoned at birth after living her first 29 weeks in squalor with, as nearly as I can guess, inadequate nutrition and God knows what else at play. The other was conceived in a land where her very existence was, more than likely, illegal.
My first daughter spent her first two months after birth hospitalized in a NICU. My second daughter spent her first two years in a family. Both girls, by the grace of God, ended up in orphanage environments that were nurturing and loving.
Here’s where the shock that wasn’t a shock came in. The daughter who has the most issues to overcome in terms of behavior and adjustment isn’t the one who came into my life terrified, kicking and screaming (and hitting), absolutely traumatized to leave her safe orphanage behind. It is the daughter who was deposited in her very good orphanage at the age of two months.
But why? Dr. Purvis unlocks that mystery in a way that makes TOTAL sense to anyone who has spent any amount of time in our Movement. According to her, while abuse, neglect and trauma in early childhood have a huge impact on children, the two primary markers for altered brain chemistry are prenatal stressors and a difficult birth. As a pro-life advocate it makes complete sense to me that prenatal factors should and do play a huge role in who my children – and yours–will become.
But there is hope. The beginning of the journey shapes but does not define their futures. Parents can make up for lost time, as I am with my two daughters. And while what will help to make them two productive adult women began in the womb, if you are parenting a child from a hard place, know that your love and your faithfulness and your constancy can and will compensate.
And the unexpected blessing is that, on reflection, I realize that I have been preparing for this mom gig the last 30+ years. Thank you, Pro-Life Movement!
To anyone considering adoption, knowledge is key. You want to read/watch/absorb whatever you can on this topic. Children from hard places need families to love them and help them heal – and, once healed, they will have an impact on the world that is profound and unmatched.
And to all of you who spend your lives educating the public as to the importance of protecting human life from conception to natural death – you are right on every level. Keep sharing. Keep teaching. Keep encouraging, and for the love of all our children.
PLEASE keep reaching out to moms in crisis pregnancy situations. In each of those settings, you are the face of our Movement. Your hand of hope, your support, your willingness to take whatever weight you can off of that mom’s shoulders may well be the most important thing that is ever done for the child she is carrying.
It came as no surprise to me to learn that what we right-to-life advocates have known all along is true. Life begins at conception. Experience begins at conception. Every child’s future begins at conception.