(The first part of this post is an excerpt from an assignment in one of the classes I’m taking)
“Remember, when Keplet postulated that the moon effected the tides on earth, Galileo dismissed the hypothesis as ‘occult fancy.’ It involved action at a distance, and, therefore, violated the ‘solid laws of nature’ of that time. Now these laws of nature (as they were understood by classical physics only a century ago) have already been transcended; this progression should gently hint to us that many of the solid laws of our day are beliefs that obscure the otherwise obvious” (Passmore, 168).
I have long been wary of the phrase, “we used to think, but now we know…” usually stated with great conviction and little room for debate.
As Passmore goes on to note, “It is important to make a distinction between ‘progress in science’ and its explanatory power. This power for explanation depends upon the kind of question being asked. History shows that the questions change with changing beliefs/values in both time and space, periods and cultures.” It is exciting to me to consider how much we just don’t know and yet, the world keeps on spinning along, with or without our “knowing” all the facts. I think about this with regard to birth and breastfeeding. How many generations of women have pushed out their babies and fed them at the breast without knowing the exact mechanics of reproduction even, let alone milk production. There are all kinds of historical myths and “rules” about breastmilk and breastfeeding and even ten years ago we used to think the inner structure of the breast was completely different than what we think it is like now. Guess what? Our breasts still made milk and we still fed our babies, whether or not we knew exactly how the milk was being produced and delivered. Body knowledge, in this case, definitely still trumped scientific knowledge. I love that feeling when I snuggle down to nurse my own baby—my body is producing milk for her regardless of my conscious knowledge of the patterns or processes. And, guess what, humans cannot improve upon it. The body continues to do what the human mind and hand cannot replicate in a lab. And, has done so for millennia. I couldn’t make this milk myself using my brain and hands and yet day in and day out I do make it for her, using the literal blood and breath of my body, approximately 32 ounces of milk every single day for the last eleven months. That is beautiful.
The protective impact of a mama
And, on a somewhat related note, several years ago when I read Birth Book, I marked a section about “imprinting” in it (I think it has been fairly well established that there isn’t really human “imprinting” after birth, but when this book was written it was still one of the ideas). Anyway, there was a section about research done with baby goats done to look at the ability of a mother to protect her offspring from environmental stress. They separated twin goats and put some in rooms alone and the others in rooms with their mothers. The only difference in the room was the presence of the mother. An artificial stress environment was created involving turning off the lights every two minutes and shocking the baby goats on the legs. After the babies were conditioned like this, they were tested again two years later. This time all the babies (now adult goats) were in rooms alone and were again “treated” to the lights off and shock routine. The goats who had been with their mothers during the early experience showed no evidence of abnormal behavior in the stressful environment. The ones who had not been with their mothers did show “definite neurotic behavior.” Somehow, the presence of the mother alone served to protect the baby goats from the traumatic influences and keep them from being “psychologically” disturbed in adulthood.
Except for feeling sorry for the baby goats, I thought this information was SO COOL. How magic are mothers that just by being there we can help our babies–even if there is still something stressful going on, our simple presence helps our babies not be stressed by it and continue to feel safe. Magic!
The goat research was included in the book because of the idea that birth may be a stressful environment for a baby and if the continuity of motherbaby is maintained after birth (immediate skin-to-skin contact and opportunity for breastfeeding), the baby does not become stressed or “neurotic.” But…if the continuity for mother and baby is broken by separation (baby whisked away for weighing or whatever), both mother and baby are stressed by this and it may have an impact on their future relationship and behavior. The book also talks about how the sound of the baby’s first cry has a sort of “imprinting” effect on the mother in that her uterus immediately begins to contract and involute after hearing her baby’s first cry, whereas mothers who are immediately separated from their babies and do not make contact with them have a higher likelihood of postpartum hemorrhage (I have no idea if this has been debunked or not since the book was written in 1972, but it was an interesting idea to read about).
Mothering is magic. Seriously.