“Before it is drinking water, amniotic fluid is the in the creeks and rivers that fill reservoirs. It is the underground water that fills wells. And before it is creeks and rivers and groundwater, amniotic fluid is rain.” – Sandra Steingraber Having Faith: An Ecologists Journey to Motherhood
Water is essential for life. Clean water is essential for health. We know this from Flint, and we are seeing the threats to our water from oil pipelines across the country. Hundreds of oil spills have occurred in just the last several years. For many of these pipelines including Dakota Access Pipeline, this oil is dirty and difficult to refine. There aren’t studies on how this affects the pipelines that run under the rivers and lakes and through wells.
As a midwife, I feel water daily. I palpate bellies where I can feel the baby submerged in amniotic fluid. The ecology of the womb is becoming a hot topic since we are realizing that what is present in the womb has long term consequences for the health of a person. The womb is a microcosm of our world. Yes, that is right, inside the womb, a baby is floating around in an environment. An environment derived from the outer world in which we live. This baby, its thin skin soaking up the water surrounding it, drinks amniotic fluid, sterile water, and then pees this fluid. Water replenishes every cell of its body.
Such tracking of the water cycle highlights the interweaving of the worlds inside and outside the womb. Do people believe that the pregnant body is a magical barrier to the potential harm of the environment? Ok, the placenta is somewhat of a magical filter for most of the pregnancy, but many contaminants can cross that. What about oil and the chemicals used to purify it? Our water is a valuable resource that cannot be replaced. Amniotic fluid was once rivers, lakes and groundwater. It was once rain.
A study published in 1999 took amniotic fluid from different women and tested it for environmental contaminants. Over one-third of the samples contained pesticides including DDT decades after they stopped using it on crops. Today there is evidence of various endocrine disruptors in amniotic fluid, and it may be generations before we see long term health effects. The scientific community already has evidence that endocrine disruptors create imbalances in our endocrine systems, increase allergies and cause cellular changes. Such toxins are affecting wildlife as well. Oil in the water is affecting wildlife. It is affecting our Mother Earth who is gestating us and the generations to come.
As a midwife, it is part of my job to think about how families can limit their exposure to such toxins whether it be in their workplace, household, the use of body care products, or through the foods they eat or the water they drink. Many will take steps to eat organic, whole foods as much as possible. They can take steps to avoid contact with chemical products at home and, hopefully, at work. And it is also through simple drinking water that we support blood volume expansion in pregnancy, and, yes, even create amniotic fluid. And if we envision our child floating in a pool of water, what do we want that pool to contain? It is a question that we must ask ourselves, that must be included in the discourse about the importance of water supply and the future of our health.
Today, I received word that Trump is going to push through with the Dakota Access and Keystone Pipelines regardless of environmental hazards. Our environment matters for the water not just that which we drink, but that which our grandchildren will drink while they are gestating inside of their mother. Let’s take care of all generations including the earth where we live. Stop this madness.
Chen, M. [et al]. “Determination of bisphenol-A levels in human amniotic fluid samples by liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry.” Journal of Separation Science. Jul;34(14):1648-55.
Christensen, D. “Pesticide Exposure Begins Early,” Science News, 156 (17 July 1999).
Foster, W. “Detection of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Samples of Second Trimester Human Amniotic Fluid,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolisms 85 (2000); 2954-57.
Steingrabber, Sandra. Having Faith, An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood. Berkely Books, New York: 2001.