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- The Prospective Mother - 10/45 -


Investigators have not come to uniform conclusions concerning the sense of smell and of taste. In all likelihood, smell is not acute at the time of birth. Taste probably is better perceived, yet some newborn babies are said to suck a two per cent solution of quinin as eagerly as milk, though stronger solutions are distasteful. According to the best available information a young infant can detect the difference between a sweet, bitter, sour, or salty taste only when the tests are made with a solution possessing the quality in question to a marked degree. It is common knowledge that babies cheerfully suck the most tasteless objects, and it is not improbable that at first the reaction depends upon the temperature of the object and the feeling it creates in the mouth.

The moment it is born, a baby perceives pressure if its skin is touched. To this sensation, however, some parts of the body are much more sensitive than others; the tongue and lips are most sensitive of all. Heat and cold are probably perceived more acutely by infants than by adults; to pain, on the other hand, babies are less sensitive. An infant is aware of the movements of its own muscles, and also appreciates a change from one position to another, as experienced nurses know very well, and on that account carefully avoid keeping a baby on one side continuously.

The vast majority of movements performed by young infants are reflex acts, that is, the cerebrum, the part of the brain with which thinking is done, is not concerned with their performance. Of these reflexes the most notable are sucking and swallowing, but sneezing, coughing, choking, and hiccoughing may also be observed; stretching and yawning have been recorded in several instances, even during the first days of infant life. None of these movements, we must remember, are produced consciously; the baby cannot reason and does not recognize anyone, even its mother.

HEREDITY.--The transmission of bodily resemblance and of traits of character from parent to child is a broad and complicated subject, whose fundamental principles biologists are just beginning to grasp. The facts thus far established regarding heredity relate chiefly to plants and to the lower animals. There is no doubt whatever that the meager knowledge we possess of heredity in man will be amplified and will ultimately indicate on the one hand the marriages which are advisable and, on the other hand, those which are not. Indeed, the foundations for a science called Eugenics, which purposes to improve the human race in this way, have already been laid. It is barely a decade, however, since our knowledge of heredity has approached that order and system which entitle it to be ranked as a science; and in this brief period great strides could hardly be expected in its most intricate field, that of human inheritance.

The modern teachings of heredity are of interest to us, nevertheless, since they intimate the time when a child's inheritance is fixed and the means by which hereditary characters are conveyed. To understand these fundamental points we must recall that at the moment of conception a male germinal cell combines with a female cell, and that this act, which is named fertilization, brings together vital elements from the two parents. We have seen that the spermatozoon represents the solitary contribution of the father toward the development of the child, and the spermatozoon, therefore, must convey the material basis of paternal inheritance. Similarly we might expect the ovum to be the bearer of the maternal qualities inherited by the child. This is actually true; but much of the evidence is of a technical character and must be omitted. Yet an experiment successfully conducted by Castle and Phillips will indicate, even to those who have no special knowledge of the mechanism of heredity, the important role the ovum plays. These investigators removed the ovaries from an albino guinea-pig, and in their place substituted the ovaries of a black guinea-pig. "From numerous experiments it may be emphatically stated that normal albinos mated together produce only albinos." But in this experiment the result was otherwise, for the albino into which the ovaries of a black guinea-pig were grafted produced only black offspring. The color-coat of her young, therefore, was not influenced by her own white hair, but was determined by the eggs really belonging to the black animal from which the ovaries were taken; in no other way can the result be interpreted. It is certain, moreover, that the mode of transmission of material qualities here exemplified is not exceptional; on the contrary there is no doubt that the ovum always conveys the sum total of the qualities the offspring inherits from the mother.

The germinal cells then contain the material basis of inheritance, and in all probability the substance is located within the nucleus of the cells. This substance had been seen and studied long before its relation to the problem of heredity was suspected. Because it takes a deeper stain than the rest of the nucleus, it stands out prominently when the cell is treated with certain dyes, and this property accounts for its name--chromatin. Under such conditions as prevail just before a cell divides, the chromatic substance is broken up and reassembled in the form of rods called chromosomes. Curiously enough the number of rods is uniform for each species of animal, though different numbers are characteristic of different species; the characteristic number for man is twenty-four.

Unless some arrangement was made to prevent it, the act of fertilization would cause the number of chromosomes in the fertilized ovum to be double the number characteristic of the species. In man, for example, the addition of twenty-four chromosomes from the spermatozoon to an ovum that already contained twenty-four chromosomes of its own would mean that after fertilization the ovum contained forty-eight. Such a result is prevented through the process to which we have referred in the preceding chapter as the ripening of the ovum, and also through a similar process in the case of the spermatozoon. These two processes lead to a reduction in the number of chromosomes, so that finally every human germinal cell contains twelve, and therefore when the ovum is fertilized the characteristic number twenty-four is restored. While we know nothing of the forces which determine, on the one hand, what elements shall be discarded by the germinal cells and, on the other hand, what elements shall remain, it is definitely proved that a selective process always takes place. This fact admirably explains the variation in the characteristics inherited by children of the same family. So far as is known, the traits which will be passed on from either parent are a matter of chance. Whatever these hereditary traits happen to be, the best evidence we have indicates that the problem of a child's inheritance is settled once for all the moment conception takes place.

MATERNAL IMPRESSIONS.--Contrary to all that we know of heredity, the conviction prevails among the laity that the character of a child depends greatly upon the mother's surroundings during pregnancy: this is the doctrine of maternal impressions. As is usual with superstitions, this one emphasizes the unfavorable possibilities and holds that the unborn child may be affected by the mother's unhappy thoughts or maimed by her mental distress if she is exposed to unpleasant sights. For this belief there is no foundation; the cases often cited in its support may be fully explained on the grounds of coincidence.

With the possible exception of such individuals as are spending their lives in solitary confinement, there is scarcely a human being who has not in the course of nine consecutive months some untoward physical or mental experience which engraves itself upon the memory. Prospective mothers are not apt to be exempt from a rule so general in its application, but if by good chance one happens so to be she will hardly fail to hear of the misfortune of others, which, according to the doctrine of maternal impressions, may be equally effective in interfering with the proper development of the child. We should then rightly expect most, if not all, babies to be "marked"-- clearly a situation which does not prevail.

In order to learn how frequently prospective mothers may have disagreeable experiences which they fear will affect the formation of the child, I have lately asked the patients whom I have attended, "Was there any incident during your pregnancy to which you could have attributed the infant's condition, had it been marked?" The babies of all those to whom the question was submitted were normal; yet without exception those whose pregnancies just completed were their first answered in the affirmative. It is also pertinent that one of these patients had lost her brother by a violent and accidental death when she was four months pregnant; a similar bereavement was suffered by another at the eighth month; each was, however, delivered of a perfectly healthy child. Among those with whom the recently ended pregnancy was not the first I found some who could remember incidents popularly believed to have an influence over the development of the embryo; most of them, however, had given the matter so little thought that they could not definitely recall whether such incidents had occurred or not. From a similar series of observations covering two thousand cases, William Hunter came to the conclusion, nearly two hundred years ago, that there was no support for the belief in maternal impressions.

Whenever a child does happen to develop abnormally, it must be clear that, from the very nature of our existence, some incident can be recalled which will satisfactorily, yet unjustly, bear the blame. It may be confidently said, however, that, for every mother whose fears are realized, hundreds are agreeably disappointed in finding their babies perfectly normal. In the face of so many negative instances it is amazing that any person, even though ignorant of medical teaching, should be inclined to attribute abnormal development to something the mother has seen or heard, thought or dreamt, or otherwise experienced while she was pregnant. Yet unfortunately many do believe this. It is worth while, therefore, to supply further evidence, and thus escape any suspicion of unfairness in argument, to prove that maternal impressions are unable to affect the formation of the embryo.

It is found, as a matter of experience, that the superstition regarding maternal impressions generally begins to cause anxiety during the second half of pregnancy; and then such an influence is entirely out of the question. By the end of the second month the form of the embryo has been definitely determined, and subsequently cannot be altered. It is even true that errors in development are most apt to occur within the two or three weeks that immediately follow conception, and therefore occur at a time when pregnancy is not often clearly recognized. Thus it happens that women begin to worry about the influence their minds will have upon the formation of the child long after its form has been established.

Incidents in the life of a prospective mother are in point of fact equally inert so far as their influence upon development is concerned, no matter whether they occur during the earlier or later part of pregnancy. There is never any anatomical means by which maternal impressions could be conveyed to the embryo. Such an influence would have to be exerted through the placenta; and that is impossible. There are no nerves in the placenta to carry impulses from the mother to the child. Even the blood streams of the two beings are kept apart; and though it is unheard of that the blood should carry nerve impulses, if that happened to be the case, it could not prove effective here, for the blood of the mother does not enter the child. It is nourished by food which passes from the mother's blood, to be sure, but there is no more reason to expect this nutriment to exert an hereditary influence than there is to


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