cultivating the instinct

This morning while it was still dark out, comforting my daughter after a bad dream, holding her close to me, whispering, "It's all right, you're safe, I love you."

When you first have children, people will tell you it's not okay to have your children near as you sleeps. It's not true.

I didn't play "mother" as a child. I had no interest in or desire for babies, not when I was 16, not when I was 23, not when I was 30. I did not have it until I was at least in my mid-thirties, and only then after I had given birth twice and breastfed for nearly three years. I had crushes when young, but I didn't understand about sexual attraction -- meaning I didn't feel it -- until I was well into my third decade of life. I had sex for ten years before finally conceiving. Clearly I'm different from many women; the hormonal process of sexual maturation was delayed or maybe stunted in my body.

Why am I like this? I suspect that at least part of it has to do with my own start to life, with the fact that during my mother's labor I was flooded with her stress hormones -- she spent nearly 19 hours of painful labor alone in a stark hospital room, not allowed to move from the bed -- and that I was removed from her before labor was completed and kept from her for long after the birth. I did not receive the natural opiates, the adrenaline, and the oxytocin I normally would have. That I do not remember this is irrelevant; my brain was imprinted, my body's development set on a particular path.

When I talk about birth issues, and what the potential ramifications are of interfering with the hormonal process, often people pooh-pooh what I'm saying, or they get angry. They gave birth in four hours under bright lights, hooked up to machines, with strangers sticking their hands up their vaginas, why, the baby shot out so fast they almost dropped it! Or, they had a cesarean or traumatic birth or had their babies sleep in nursery for the first 24 hours and they bonded with their children just fine, they are deeply in love and perfectly psychically connected with their children thank you very much.

That's great, but obviously I'm not talking about these people. I'm talking about people like me, or somewhere else on the spectrum, but still on the other end from those whose bodies can forge right on ahead under the most adverse of circumstances, whose bodies are naturally swimming in hormones and for whom the evolutionary advantageous (up until the 20th century anyway) fight-or-flight response never kicks in.

This is why I give birth alone, why for me the risks of doing so are lesser than the risks of birthing in the presense of others (much less a hospital environment.) It's also why attachment parenting practices are so important to me, a book like The Continuum Concept so meaningful. Because I had little to start with in the way of innate mothering aptitude, having my babies close to me, from the first moments of life, literally *made* me a mother, in all that encompasses: the protectiveness, the bond, the affection, the desire to touch and comfort, the desire to breastfeed, the gentleness and compassion. These feelings are chemically induced; it is the hormones that produce them. And they in turn are mechanically induced by certain actions.

Robin Lim writes, "When people sit down to a meal as a family, hold hands, kiss, go for a walk arm-in-arm, make love, pray and yes, when women give birth, oxytocin is released. Each opportunity to experience oxytocin creates receptors, molecules of proteins that on a cellular level are binding sites for this hormone of love. In other words love lays the foundation for more love."

How much is enough? There is no doubt that emotional, social, and sexual development is affected by environment, but there may be quite a bit of leeway there depending on where you're starting from and what you're working with. Some people need all the help they can get, and one of those people is me; and I know this from experience, because I didn't always give birth under ideal circumstances, and I didn't always keep my children close to me. When I did, the differences were so pronounced that they were undeniable.

But I am a unique individual, and while I can speak in generalities about what human beings need, when I get down to the details as they apply to my own life, I know that my needs are determined at least in part by my particular biochemical makeup and psychological state. So I can't speak for anyone else, and I certainly can't judge. I can only know that for me, that ability to wake up in the dead of night and not mind, to have in my heart only concern, to automatically use my body to comfort and my voice to soothe, that is not something that came naturally. It had to be cultivated, and co-sleeping just happens to be something that helped me to do that.

the wilderness of intuition

Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work, risking, and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you discover will be wonderful: yourself.” –Alan Alda

I found this at this blog, which I am finding to be a quiet inspiration.