Although RAD can frequently be tied to early childhood trauma, there are other things that can cause behavioral problems in children, including RAD-like traits. One of the biggies is stress during pregnancy. When my RAD was being diagnosed, that was one of the things they asked about – how much stress was her bio-mom under while pregnant.
My answer? “A lot”. We didn’t know she was pregnant when we moved from California to Virginia. Starting fresh in a new place where we didn’t really know anybody is stressful enough, but about 3 months in (after we found out she was pregnant), we also learned that HER mothers breast cancer had recurred and spread throughout her body. Over the next 9 months bio-mom made 3 trips back and forth to California to be with her mother. The stress of being pregnant and having her mother dying of cancer was pretty intense and led to orders of bed rest for the last 4 months of the pregnancy. Of course, it’s not like she listened very well considering her mother was bed-ridden herself, and she had an older daughter that she needed to take care of as well. One can only wonder how much affect that had on RAD.
There is also the question of whether RAD was exposed to meth in-utero during those visits. I suspect she was, which would certainly not help matters any. Drug/Alcohol use during pregnancy is another leading cause of future behavioral problems. But I'll touch on that some other day.
This isn’t to say, of course, that just because you’re pregnant and stressed your child is doomed to behavior problems. Researchers have found that two or fewer stressors are not associated with behavioral development, but as you increase that number, you also increase the likelihood of future problems. And they aren’t talking stressors such as what gift to buy your niece for her birthday, or sitting in traffic trying to get to your doctors appointment on time, they are referring to major stressors such as financial and relationship difficulties, a complex pregnancy, job loss and issues with other children. Major life stressors could also include a death in the family or other catastrophic events.
So what can you do? It’s not like you can just put off those major stressors when they come your way. Telling Uncle Bob to please not die until after you have the baby isn’t exactly going to help any either. Instead, if you find yourself feeling stressed while pregnant, try to find ways to minimize that stress. You can:
Try deep-breathing exercises, yoga or stretching.
Get regular exercise such as swimming or walking.
Eat healthy – this isn’t good just for you but your baby as well!
Go to bed early. Think about how hard your body is working to nourish your baby – take care of it and give it the rest it needs.
Put off chores if you can. Take a nap or read a book instead.
If you have sick days or vacation time, take a day or two here and there just to rest and relax.
If you find yourself facing a particularly stressful situation, find a support group if you can. Sharing your burden with others in the same situation can reduce the stress, and the benefit of getting support from others in your situation can be invaluable.
At your breaking point? Find a therapist who can help you minimize your stress and work through it. There’s no shame in asking for help.
Hopefully if you’re pregnant and reading this, it’s not stressing you out. Keep in mind that even if you have two or more stressors doesn’t mean that your child will automatically have issues. A survey by Australian researchers found that more than 37% of women experience two or more stressors during their pregnancy, and a majority of those children turn out just fine.
So go have a cup of tea, put your feet up, and tell hubby it’s his turn to make dinner – your baby will probably never thank you for it, but you’ll know.