Formation of Children

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Natal Science Confirms Catholic Teaching
on the First Nine Months


Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

For a long time the notion that our physical and mental health and well-being are shaped during the first nine months of life in the womb was scorned by science. Such affirmation was considered “medieval,” the position of backward Catholic priests. I am happy to report that this criticism has lost its foundation. Science is catching up with religion, as a new field called “fetal origins” develops and earns credibility among the normally incredulous.

An relief caring of an infant in the womb

Science confirms that trauma and emotions affect the baby in the womb
For example, I have before me the feature article in Time magazine titled “How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life” (September 22, 2010). In it, we see how the burgeoning field of “natal science” is presenting data that shows how the physical and emotional state of a child starts to form before birth. It has long been accepted that diet and environment during pregnancy affects the baby. Now there is evidence that the tiny being in the womb is so susceptible to his environment that a woman’s emotional and mental state plays a role in shaping her baby’s psyche.

“Research indicates that even before birth, mothers’ moods may affect a child’s development," associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Catherine Monk affirms. Based on carefully monitored tests, she found that babies in the womb are sensitive to stress and that their nervous systems are being shaped by their mother’s emotional states.

For example, studies have shown how pregnant women who witnessed the 9/11 attacks or were living in New Orleans when the city was struck by Hurricane Katrina passed their trauma on to their babies. (1) Other research indicates a child’s susceptibility to mental illness and nervous disorders are influenced by the mother’s mental state during pregnancy.

“This kind of research,” says Monk, “is pushing back the starting line for when we become who we are.”

The work of modeling

According to traditional Catholic teaching, the starting line for the formation of a child was always conception. As I demonstrate in my talk From Conception to Birth, the Church understands that the mother has an important work to do during the nine-month gestation period: She is modeling the body and the psychology of her child.

A stressed pregnant woman

Stressed women are more likely to have children with asthma - The Telegraph
This modeling of a child is much more powerful and intense than the sculpture an artist makes in stone. It is a special and mysterious interaction taking place in the body of the woman that is linked to a parallel work of God. The good formation of the spiritual soul of a child, infused by God at the moment of conception, in many senses relies on the body of the child. Therefore, the mother cooperates with God in forming the child’s soul as well as in helping to configure his body.

Since the child is of a woman’s flesh and blood, her psychological and neurological reactions will influence the baby and contribute to his way of being: Her state of spirit can influence her child’s tendency to be calm or agitated, balanced or unbalanced. The nervous problems of so many children who suffer from disorders – from dyslexia to hyperactivity – are usually blamed on the environment of the child once he is in the world. But I am sure that the root of many problems can be that first environment of the child, its first nine crucial months in the womb.

Now the research of modern scientists arrives to confirm this truth. The specialists offer data and test results, but they carefully avoid touching the modern sensibility by advising parents on how to avoid transmitting psychological damage and mental illness to their children. On the other hand, the Catholic Church - before the Council, of course - used to offer sound counsel to pregnant women and their husbands.

A stable marriage

The Black Madonna of Good Delivery

The Black Madonna of the Good Delivery - a very famous devotion in France
What is needed for a good formation of the child in these nine months?

First and foremost, a sound, stable Catholic marriage is necessary so that the mother can be calm and protected.

The father is required to take special care of his wife when she is with child so that she has the best conditions possible to make her “work of art.” Everything that he can do to help his wife avoid great physical efforts, psychological traumas or moral sufferings is highly recommended. He should make a special effort to be kind, to not become impatient, to avoid arguments. She needs him to protect her, to be the secure and stable force so that she can have the optimum conditions to prepare the baby who will be born.

Another positive factor is the spiritual life of the mother. When she follows God’s Commandments and leads an upright moral life according to Catholic doctrine, this will transmit instinctively to the child.

A mother’s vices also transmitted

By contrast, one can see how unadvisable it is for a mother to conceive and have her baby out of the wedlock. In this situation, she is usually under an extreme stress, passing her instability to her baby. This is indisputably a strong reason for unmarried women to preserve their virtue.

A woman’s irregular life after the child is conceived can have grave consequences on the child. If a woman has a nervous psychology, is violent or sensual, these defects will probably transmit to her child. Here also we have the confirmation of science. Today it is being demonstrated that the moral vices of mothers are transmitted to the babies. The babies of women who do drugs - termed “crack” babies - suffer the same neurological damage of their mothers and acquire a tendency toward the same vice.

The best possible environment

My purpose in recalling these counsels of the Church and pointing out their confirmation by modern science is not to add stress or guilt to women. Nor should they be viewed from a fatalist approach: “I suffered trauma during my pregnancy; therefore, my child will inevitably suffer.” God, through His merciful Mother, will give the necessary graces to recover from any bad effects of formation in this period. We should also not forget that each one of us has free will and can follow a different path than the one he is first set on.

These guides were aimed to assist the mother-to-be, to help her in her important work of shaping the body and psychology of the child in her womb.

The Catholic mother tries to prepare the best possible environment for her child so he can lead a life of virtue on this earth and achieve eternal happiness in Heaven in the hereafter. With this supernatural aim, she willingly ponders the effects everything has on her child during the important nine months before birth.
1. A.P. Murphy, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, Free Press: 2010, pp. 45-49.
Posted November 8, 2010

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