Spina Bifida Awareness: Causes of SB

Previously, because of what I learned in Biology class, I had thought Spina Bifida to be a genetic birth defect. Through the research for this post, I found out that there is really no single cause of Spina Bifida, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and nutritional factors.

That is a lot like CP in a way, because if you read my CP Awareness posts, you’ll find out that there are many different factors that can cause CP as well.

This took a lot more research on my part than my CP Awareness posts, because since I don’t live with it, I don’t have a lot of first-hand knowledge about it.

So mostly what I have below are pieces of articles that I have quoted from online sources. Read on!

“There is neither a single cause of spina bifida nor any known way to prevent it entirely. However, dietary supplementation with folic acid has been shown to be helpful in reducing the incidence of spina bifida

 “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Public Health Agency of Canada and UK recommended amount of folic acid for women of childbearing age and women planning to become pregnant is at least 0.4 mg/day of folic acid from at least three months before conception, and continued for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Women who have already had a baby with spina bifida or other type of neural tube defect, or are taking anticonvulsant medication should take a higher dose of 4–5 mg/day.

“Certain mutations in the gene VANGL1 are implicated as a risk factor for spina bifida: These mutations have been linked with spina bifida in some families with a history of spina bifida.”     [Wikipedia]


Spina Bifida is most common among hispanic women, and there are increased incidences of Spina Bifida in areas with a large amount of farm land. [Source: Kate. She learned this at the Spina Bifida Association National Conferences.]

That spiked my curiosity. Why would it be more common in areas with a lot of farm land? Why would that matter? If anything I would think it would be less common, because I would think that the people in those areas have better diets and get more exercise. Kate’s theory is that it could be higher due to pesticides. And that totally makes sense. But it makes me wonder why they don’t do more research on the subject. If that’s true, it goes beyond just ingesting something that’s ‘bad for you.’ That’s eating chemicals that could cause your children to have debilitating birth defects; in some cases even life threatening. Scary.

So I looked a little further. This is what I found:

“New research shows that babies conceived in the spring and early summer have a higher risk for a wide range of birth defects, including Down syndrome, cleft palate, and spina bifida.

The reported increase in birth defects was modest, but it coincided with a similar spike in groundwater pesticide levels during the spring-early summer planting season.

These findings suggest that pesticide exposure may influence birth outcomes nationwide, researchers say.

“There appears to be a season of conception in which the risk of having a child with a birth defect is higher,” Indiana University School of Medicine neonatology professor Paul D. Winchester, MD, tells WebMD.

“This study does not prove that pesticides cause birth defects, but we set out to show that they did not and we were not reassured.”” [WebMD.com]

Interested in reading what they found? Click here.

Detection during pregnancy:

“Neural tube defects can usually be detected during pregnancy by testing the mother’s blood (AFP screening) or a detailed fetal ultrasound. Increased levels of maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) should be followed up by two tests – an ultrasound of the fetal spine and amniocentesis of the mother’s amniotic fluid (to test for alpha-fetoprotein and acetylcholinesterase). AFP tests are now mandated by some state laws.

“Genetic counseling and further genetic testing, such as amniocentesis, may be offered during the pregnancy, as some neural tube defects are associated with genetic disorders such as trisomy 18.”

“Ultrasound screening for spina bifida is partly responsible for the decline in new cases, because many pregnancies are terminated out of fear that a newborn might have a poor future quality of life. With modern medical care, the quality of life of patients has greatly improved.


That part made me sad, because, personally, as a disabled person, I’m glad that I get the opportunity to live my life. I would rather live, disability or not, than not live my life because it might be more difficult. Also, having been recently pregnant, I know the tests detect the signs and possibility of defects, but only that, a possibility. The child could be just fine.


“If you are pregnant or could get pregnant, use the following tips to help prevent your baby from having spina bifida:

  • Take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. If you already have had a pregnancy affected by spina bifida,  talk with your doctor about a prescription to take 4,000 mcg (4.0 milligrams). Folic acid prevents most, but not all, cases of spina bifida.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and dietary or herbal supplements you are taking.
  • If you have a medical condition―such as diabetes or obesity―be sure it is under control before you become pregnant.
  • Avoid overheating your body, as might happen if you use a hot tub or sauna.
  • Treat any fever you have right away with Tylenol® (or store brand).”


Do you think pesticides cause SB and other birth defects? If you have SB, do you know the cause? Do you live in an area with a lot of farm land? Weigh in!

Cerebral Palsy Awareness: Causes of CP

During the month of March, I told you I would be writing about information on CP in honor of Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day/Month. Due to some family issues, I was unable to keep up on my posts. I will continue my posts on awareness now 🙂

Cerebral Palsy Awareness: What Causes CP?

Most of my childhood, I thought it was oxygen deprivation during childbirth that caused my CP. In fact, when people ask now, I still tell them that. Partly out of habit; partly because it’s easier than “I don’t know”, or running the list of factors that it could have been. Somewhere along the line I was told that it might not have been that. In 10th grade I did a Biology report where I found out that if a mother’s blood type is Rh negative, and the fetus has Rh positive blood, the mother’s body can trigger an auto-immune response, actually attacking the fetus as a foreign substance in the body, which can cause brain damage leading to cerebral palsy. This is called Rh Factor Incompatibility. Interestingly, my mother has Rh negative blood, and I have Rh positive. I still can’t be sure that is what caused it, because it could have been oxygen deprivation, or it could have been a few other things on the long list of causes.

While you read, please remember that I have no medical training, and this is solely for informational purposes.

Congenital CP

‘Congenital’ refers to cases of cerebral palsy caused before or during birth. This makes up for 85 to 90 percent of cases. [cdc.gov]

Bad habits

It is still unclear exactly what percentage of CP is caused from the mother smoking, drinking, or consuming illegal drugs due to questions not being asked on paperwork or dishonesty on the mother’s part. Personally, I think these are the most preventable causes of CP. I have a good attitude about my disability, and I believe I can use it to make a difference, but I would not wish it on anybody. If you are or you know a pregnant mother who uses cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs, please, find all the information you can on the problems it can cause for the baby and scare them out of it. CP is only one of the many affects it could have on the baby. That is a choice you are making for your son or daughter.

Environmental Contaminants

“There have been a number of specific incidents where the number of children affected in certain geographical areas increased temporarily due to environmental pollution. An epidemic of CP occurred in Minamata Bay, Japan, between 1953 and 1971. This was eventually found to be related to methyl mercury in fish which had been consumed by pregnant women. The discharge of methyl mercury had come from a vinyl chloride acetaldehyde plant.” (Miller & Bachrach) [Cerebralpalsyorigins.com]

Scary, right?

I happen to live near one of the few spots on the map where the government decided to put a nuclear plant. The nuclear plant provides many jobs and a pretty stable economy in the area to this day. They did their bomb testing for a while, about 60 years ago. Since then, it has been a ‘clean-up project’. What does that mean? It means they have thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals and radioactive waste that they’re still figuring out what to do with. They are, or were at one point, held in underground containers. I also happen to live near a very large river. Over the years they have discovered that the chemicals have seeped into the ground and the river water. This river helps supply the tap water for the entire area. It is also a source of recreation. On any given summer day, you can go down to the river and find people swimming, fishing, and boating. I spent every summer of my childhood swimming in that river. According to reports, the amount of contamination is minimal. Of course, side effects can still exist.

One of the possible side effects of fetal radiation exposure? Brain damage.

The area I live in is pretty small. It’s growing fast, but it’s no Chicago. My mom has lived here her whole life. I was born and raised here until I was 13. Then I moved to California with my dad. We lived in a pretty big city that was close to more big cities. From there we moved to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Then I moved to Phoenix to spend time with my grandma. When I was 20, I moved back here. Since I moved back, I have noticed there are more people with CP in this small town than I ever noticed in any of the big cities I’ve lived in. Have you seen Erin Brockovich? This could be the sequel. I would be really interested in someone doing a study to compare the ratio of CP incidents here to that of the rest of the country.

Now that I’ve scared all of my friends and family living in the area, we’ll talk about the other prenatal causes of CP.

Malnutrition – Take good care of your health while you are pregnant. Eat right. Get lots of foods rich in Omega-3 and fatty acids. Olive oil and avocado. Don’t diet. Take your prenatal vitamins.

Multiples – Having multiples increases the chance that one of the babies will have CP. It’s a tight fit in there! But don’t let that scare you. It doesn’t mean they can’t all come out just fine.

Rh incompatibility – This is not as big of a problem as it used to be. Now, if it is determined that there is a risk, shots can be given to prevent problems.

Infection during pregnancy – Chickenpox, Rubella, Meningitis, and other diseases contracted during pregnancy can harm a baby and cause CP.

Maternal health problems/Genetics – Cerebral Palsy is not genetically inherited. But genetic factors, as well as any health issues, like thyroid problems or seizures, can play a role in causing other problems that can contribute to CP.

Incorrect use of forceps/Vacuum/Handling of newborn – Newborns’ heads are very sensitive. They are still soft and forming. You’ve seen the lawsuit commercials? This is what they are referring to.

Asphyxia/Hypoxia – (Oxygen deprivation) Usually due to prolonged labor or a wrapped or pinched umbilical cord.

Preterm/Low birth weight – Babies with a low birth weight are about twice as likely to develop CP.

Jaundice – Severe or untreated jaundice can cause CP.

Acquired CP

Acquired CP refers to CP resulting from brain damage that occurs more than 28 days after birth [cerebralpalsyorigins.com].

Infection – The same diseases that can cause CP in the womb can cause CP as an infant or young child.

Injury – Brain damage from injuries or child abuse.

Hypoxia – This could be from stroke, bleeding in the brain, or other causes of oxygen deprivation.

There are endless reasons that a child can have CP, and an exact cause is rarely pinpointed. Usually there is only speculation. While they are pretty sure that I was born with CP, it could have been Rh incompatibility, oxygen deprivation due to a prolonged labor, environmental toxins, a genetic problem, or another reason altogether that caused it. It is not entirely preventable, but by taking care of yourself and your baby during and after pregnancy, you can reduce the risk of cerebral palsy. For the children that end up with it anyway, I am living proof that it is only a hurdle, not a sentence.

Life is what you make it. I have a CP, but it does not have me.

Life is what you make it. I have a CP, but it does not have me.

Happy Anniversary to Me!

One year ago today was my first day out of the workforce. I teared up on my last day; depressed that I wouldn’t be working at the bank anymore. That I wouldn’t get that promotion, my own office someday, the salary I dreamed of… but also ecstatic about the big plans that I had for my newly found free time. I would have time to keep my house clean! To cook actual meals! Have Romi’s snack ready when she gets home from school! Help out in her classroom! Do Random Acts of Kindness every day! Have polished nails! Play my keyboard and work on my DJ skills. Start that blog? Maybe even write a book that Hollywood makes a movie out of, starring me as myself (big dreams, remember?). But I would start by giving myself a break and taking my first day off, well, off. I had plenty of time to get to all that stuff later.

As you might have guessed, most of that doesn’t happen. There are some things I failed to consider, like the fact that I was pregnant, and I am not a productive pregnant person. Throughout both pregnancies, I was nauseous the entiiiiire time. 24/7, for nine months. I threw up at work more times than I want to admit. Getting off the couch or concentrating on anything only made it worse, so I tended not to.

Another problem was that being pregnant makes everything harder physically. I would imagine this is true for everyone. It was already hard for me to stand up and walk and balance. An extra 30 pounds hanging off my middle wasn’t helping. So I decided my big plans would wait until my pregnancy was over.

Well, the thing about pregnancy is that when it’s over, you have a newborn.

My house is still a mess, and it still seems like I don’t have time to clean it. I blame most of that on that fact that having a second child exponentially increases the amount of laundry, and that I’m lucky if I make it five minutes picking up toys or standing at the sink before I have to sit down. Also, the baby nurses a lot, and seems to only be happy in my arms. Fortunately, I’m a very good delegator, and I no longer have to wait for the weekend to have time to get the house cleaned up.

That whole cooking thing doesn’t really happen either. First of all, I’ve never really liked cooking. I mean, it takes an hour or two to make, twenty minutes for everyone to eat, and another hour to clean up. Total waste of time if you ask me. If I enjoyed it (or could get my husband or kid in on the fun), that would be one thing, but I don’t. Cooking is also very painful for me. It really hurts my back, legs, and hips to be on my feet that long. I’ve tried using a stool, but that doesn’t really work because you have to be back and forth from the stove to the counter to the sink. If only my wheelchair had a hydraulic lift (any inventors out there?). Also, I’m kind of hypoglycemic, and when I’m hungry, I’m hungry now. It punches me in the stomach with no warning, and I’m cranky and impatient and desperate. I do NOT want to spend 5 minutes, much less an hour, making an actual meal.

Also, it seems that every day there is a doctor appointment or a haircut appointment, or grocery shopping, or errands, or visiting a family member, or a birthday party, or something or other. Despite my efforts to plan meal times around these events, it just doesn’t happen. I should point out the fact that if I wasn’t married to a Hispanic guy who’s big on real meals, I would probably live on cereal and PB&J. Sal works nights, and I’m not going to cook a big meal for myself and an 8 year old who’s not gonna eat it anyway, so if I were going to make a meal, I would make it during the day when Sal could help me and eat it with me. Well, all of the afore mentioned events happen during the day, late-morning, because I can’t get around in the morning and he has to be back home early afternoon to get ready and go to work. I’m barely off the couch and around in time to get ready to go, much less cook something and eat it. Since he works late, he sleeps late, so the same is true for him. We have coffee and a little something for breakfast like muffins or bagels. By the time we’re done with whatever errand we had, we’re starving, so we hit a restaurant. Admittedly, we eat out way too often, which bugs me because I don’t like wasting money, but I can only do the best I can. Sal does not share my convictions about money.

As for the rest of those goals: Romi’s snack I usually start preparing when she gets home. And by prepare, I mean get out some crackers and make some chocolate milk. Maybe wash some grapes. Sometimes she has to get it herself. There are not as many opportunities, as it turns out, to help out in class in second grade as there are in Kindergarten or first grade. They’re older and there aren’t as many party days. Luckily for me she has a great teacher who doesn’t mind if I, and even the rest of the family, come to ‘help’ any day we like. I’ve only made it into the classroom a handful of times, but I love that I am able to do it.

Random Acts of Kindness have so far only consisted of the occasional batch of brownies for a friend or family member, just because. Playing the keyboard and working on my DJ skills? Well, between diaper changing, nursing, baths, and him crying every time I put him down, I haven’t worked on that a whole lot either. As we speak, the spots of nail polish left on my nails will continue to dwindle until I have the discipline to use the acetone.  The book writing was something I worked on the days that I couldn’t walk at all, but that doesn’t happen as often now that I’m not working. When I stop writing for a few days, I lose the train of thought I had when I left off, so it’s hard to get back in to.

And I thought not working would mean having time for manicures.

And I thought not working would mean having time for manicures.

The blog, as you see, is one goal that I’m actually carrying out pretty well. But I have to admit that the only reason I finally started was that as dawn rose on the new year, I realized that it had almost been a year, and I had nothing to show for it. Not a clean house, not a 3-meal-a-day menu, not a fresh manicure, and not a blog. I hadn’t started the blog out of fear. Fear that nobody would like it, fear of criticism from family members, fear that it would be yet another thing that I started but didn’t finish, fear that I would unknowingly break some internet law and end up in jail…

I realized it was now or never. Either I had to take the risk and get it going, one step at a time; or my worst nightmare was going to come true: I would spend my whole life doing nothing. Not making an impact on anyone or anything. Sitting in front of T.V. and magazines, living vicariously through my children, no excitement or adventure of my own. That is not where I want to be. I want an amazing life. I want to do amazing things. And I would never get there if I didn’t push my fears aside and take the first step.