June 14, 2009

Can We Survive Without Love?

This is a work in progress. It's a topic that I think is very interesting, and I'm dying to write about. But for some reason it's not coming out like I want. So I'll keep changing it as I feel like.

The following quotes are from the documentary "The Business of Being Born".

"One of the things we think happens during the whole labor and delivery process is that the oxytocin neurons start squirting out lots of oxytocin in the brain, which is the bonding, protective hormone. And the oxytocin travels in the bloodstream, down to the uterus to start triggering the contractions of labor. And that's when the switch to the maternal brain circuits, the "mommy brain", gets flipped on, and the whole brain cocktail of hormones and chemicals has for millions of year been developed to keep the mommy absolutely riveted on protection of the helpless infant. One of the things to remember is Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin that you put intravenously in a woman when she's in labor. However, Pitocin doesn't act as natural oxytocin would in the brain. So there's all kinds of things about modern medical intervention; sometimes they need to be done, but they also inhibit this natural maternal aggression to protect the baby and to nourish the baby right after birth that is normal for mammals and for human moms."
-Louann Brizendine, M.D. Author, "The Female Brain"

"Until recently, love was a topic for poets, novelists, philosophers. Today it is studied from multiple scientific perspectives. With mammals in general, there is immediately after birth a short period of time which will never happen again, and which is critical in mother/baby attachment. Until recently, in order to give birth a woman, like all mammals, is supposed to release a complex cocktail of love hormones as soon as baby is born. When mother and baby are together, both of them are under the effect of a sort of ... opiate, natural morphine endorphins. We know the properties; they create states of dependency, addiction. When mother and baby are close to each other, it is the beginning of an attachment. But today, most women have babies without releasing this flow of hormones. I'll just give an example of animal experience. In general, if you disturb the hormonal balance of the female giving birth, it's simple: the mother does not take care of her baby. It's simple. If monkey's give birth by cesarean section, the mother is not interested in the baby. It's simple, easy to detect on an individual level. So you wonder, what about our civilization? What about the future of humanity? If most women have babies without releasing this cocktail of love hormones, can we survive without love?"
-Michel Odent, M.D.

"Today in the United States we know that there is serious increase in minimal neurological problems in children ... in attention deficit disorders, in autism. All of these things are increasing at the same period of time we're increasing all these obstetric interventions. And we don't know ... maybe next year or next decade we'll discover, to our horror, that what happens at birth is very important to the future development of that child."
-Marsden Wagner M.D. M.S. Author, "Born in the USA"

When I first heard that last statement by Michel Odent, "can we survive without love?", I didn't get it. I fully support natural birth, but the sentence struck me funny and I thought the statement was a weak attempt to initiate a response. However, while I was grocery shopping today, I had a revelation that enabled me to understand what I think he is talking about.

There was a newborn, probably in its first or second week of life, that was in an infant car seat, seated in the front of the shopping cart, while the mother shopped. The baby began to cry, and it wasn't consoled by her gentle "shhh". The baby cried for some minutes, and my heart began to ache so badly for it. I just wanted to scream at her, "Pick up your baby!" We went along the same path through the store, so I heard the baby cry on and off for quite some time. After a little while I noticed she had picked him up and he was still a bit fussy. He was rooting, so probably hungry. I had such a strong desire to nurse that baby. All he wanted was to be comforted. Now, I am not accusing the mother of being a bad mom or anything like that. It just struck me odd that I was so much more affected by her child's cries than she was. I thought about this for a while, and recalled that I've developed a strong sort of passion for all babies in the last year. I become very upset when I hear stories of babies hurt, which is typical. But I feel equally upset when I think about a new baby crying in the hands of a doctor after birth, instead of nestled against its mother where it belongs. Or of a newborn being weighed, measured, and wrapped up before ever feeling its mother's warmth. I am heartbroken when thinking about babies that are "crying it out", and being forced to soothe themselves. The baby is scared and helpless, and I don't understand why the general public isn't as concerned about the well-being of a crying baby as I am. I do know great mothers that chose to have c-sections, formula feed, let babies "cry it out" and sleep separately, etc. But as accepted as these choices are in society, they're not normal.

It is very hard for a mother to listen to her baby cry, let alone chose to do nothing about it. Our instincts tell us to care for the crying baby. It's painful for me to think about letting Melody cry and not tending to her. She is completely helpless - what more important role could I have as a mother that to make her feel safe? All an upset baby can think is "Where is my mommy to make everything better?" How on earth has it become acceptable to let a baby cry? Ideas of detached parenting are so prevalent that I can't help but wonder how much of it is caused by the startling number of induced births and cesarean sections. Interventions in birth mean the mother doesn't naturally release the hormones that make her fierce about the protection and nourishment of her baby. I'm not saying that mothers who don't have natural births don't love and care for their children. I am saying that it would make sense if the dramatic rise in the number of medical births attributed to the rise in detached parenting styles. I don't think feeding a baby formula is normal. Neither is making a baby sleep in a crib in their own room, or eat on a schedule, or self soothe. Even though these things are widely accepted as okay, they're not natural. And what happens when we fight biology? These changes in the way we're treating children must be a reaction to the way birth is handled in the U.S., because medical birth directly affects the hormones of the mother and baby, directly altering the biological plan.

Rarely do mothers that choose natural births also choose to formula feed. There is a side to mothering that I think can be altered too easily by hormonal interruptions during birth. And this side to mothering that is being lost is our instinctual, animalistic attachment to our babies. Natural birth is about as common as attached parenting (baby wearing, co sleeping, breastfeeding past a year, etc). Based on the scientific research on the hormones that are released after natural birth, and the fact that these hormones are not released in augmented labor, it seems like the numbers pretty clearly correspond.

There's also the sad truth about the amount of child abuse, neglect, and irresponsible parenting today. I do not believe it was like this a couple hundred years ago, when mothers had babies at home and breastfed. I feel like society was helping you and encouraging you in the proper way to care for your children. Now nobody says anything about another's choice, even if it's true, out of fear of offending them! Mothers were also unable to just "choose to stop breastfeeding". That was the only option, so even though it was more work, maybe it hurt or they didn't get to sleep - it's what they did! Now we have so many options in caring for our children, but is it for the best? In the long run, for the continuation of our species, are these numerous options good for us? Obviously in the rare cases where mother has serious problems and can't breastfeed, or dies, or the baby is adopted, and so on, it's great that we now have a relatively decent alternative available to breast milk. But it's a fact that breast milk is better for the baby. Formula is simply becoming too available, too acceptable, and allowing us to be lazy. In the last 80 years, mothers have forgotten how to sacrifice for their children. "Oh, breastfeeding hurts, so I'll give him formula", or "These contractions hurt, so I'll have some drugs". This is the norm, but research shows it to be unsafe! It is second best to what nature, biology, God intended. We're not making the best decisions for our babies. I wonder if this dwindling desire and willingness to sacrifice in order to give our children the absolute best in birth, security, and nourishment, is another reflection of the damage modern obstetrics is doing humanity. I don't think we are as passionate about the well being of our children as we're supposed to be. We seem more passionate about making everyone feel okay about their choices, good or bad. What is normally accepted in our society as okay is often something that goes against our nature. So what could have allowed us to get to this point - as an entire nation? This hormone (and lack there of) seems to be a possible explanation of the change in our actions as mothers. In this generation, we have some of the most unhealthy and ill-behaved children with detached parents. I believe in biology, so it makes perfect sense.

Now, I am not looking to make anyone mad at me, because I know plenty of great moms who do the things I mentioned that aren't "good for children". I myself was induced with Julian's labor and formula fed him when nursing was too painful. He was in a crib at 6 months old and is a perfectly healthy little boy. But looking back I see things I wish I had known and done differently. I wasn't as educated about what I was doing, I was just playing follow-the-leader. I wasn't taught to believe that my body knew what it was doing and should be trusted. As a society, we have to start being able to admit when we're wrong. As long as we are too proud to accept that our current system isn't working, our children will continue get sicker and have more strange neurological and social problems. The general population's idea that "whatever works for that family is fine" is very flawed and unhealthy, and I think will ultimately be our downfall. As moms, we need to be accountable to others, and to our children. We need to start sacrificing for them again. And we need to stop birthing in hospitals, where our most primitive urge to love and protect our baby at all costs is being lost.

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