Primal Mothering in a Modern World: Chapter 4
|"All babies look forward to a womb with a view."
Ashley Montagu, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin
For nine months our babies listened to the rhythmic activity of our heartbeats and oh how they love, upon birth, to be placed at our chest where they re-connect to the beautiful sound of mother's rhythmic song.
Human babies need to be held. We are a continuous contact species, biologically designed to feel the warm embrace of our provider, the tactile stimulation derived from touch. Postpartum depression is non-existent for the mother who clings tenaciously to her newborn upon birth. The biological needs of both are intertwined and, when those combined needs are being met, babies don't cry and mothers aren't depressed.
A baby's cry is their only avenue for signaling a need to be held. They cry to be picked up. There is actual physical pain for babies who are deprived of the stimulation derived from touch. Society has a hang-up about giving babies what they need. We've all heard the admonition, "Don't pick the baby up or she'll control you by crying every time she wants to be held" or "Let him cry, it's good for his lungs." Wouldn't such a mentality then suggest bleeding is good for the veins?
The human being is the slowest growing of all species. We're absolutely helpless in the first year, save our ability to communicate needs through crying. When those cries are not heard, are instead reacted to with neglect, abuse, or tangible placebos like food, television, toys and other devices, then our babies learn to bond with an artificial alternative to the human connection.
The consumer industry is filled with products that attempt to be mommy. Don't buy devices to simulate what is real. Rather than wind up a baby swing, let your infant feel the rhythmic motion of your active body as they rest peacefully against you. Recognize the symbiosis between you and your young. A strong bond will take you through rough times.
I remember walking down Main Street at midnight on a snowy Oklahoma night. One-month-old Sarah Lee felt restless and I didn't have the floor space in a 13 foot travel trailer to walk her back and forth. So I put her in the baby sling and the rocking, rhythmic motion of my active body sent her into a sweet slumber while I enjoyed a moonlight stroll. Vimala McClure, author of Tao of Motherhood reminds us, "A mother who gives herself completely to her infant meets herself in the dark and finds fulfillment. In the hours between midnight and dawn, she crosses the threshold of self-concern and discovers a Self who has no limits. A wise mother meets this Presence with humility and steps through time into selflessness. Infants know when their mothers have done this, and they become peaceful."
Bonding to something other than mommy is fertile ground for a compromising childhood, a turbulent adolescence, and an addiction-oriented adulthood. My most vivid memories as a toddler were the many nights I slipped quietly into the kitchen, grabbed a hand full of white Wonder bread and sneaked back to my lonely bed where I sucked on slice after slice until I would lull myself to sleep. Such bonding to food has led me through a myriad of eating disorders throughout my life. We are destined to bond and if not to our mothers, then to whatever is within our reach.
Children have a right to their mothers, and a woman has the right to bond with her children regardless of her financial or relationship status. Unfortunately the term "illegitimate" is still present in the consciousness of our culture. Single women who choose to follow through with pregnancies and end up on the welfare rolls automatically enter the lion's den of social disapproval, and their offspring are considered exempt from needing a full-time mommy beyond a certain age. Being born out-of-wedlock is hardly a disease that taints the potential of our children. Leonardo Da Vinci,age twelve and illegitimate vowed, "I shall become one of the greatest artists the world has ever known and one day I shall live with kings and walk with princes." Let's not forget welfare constitutes only one percent of the annual government spending, and I am personally much more interested in helping single women raise peaceful humanitarians than I am in motivating the
military into building yet another bomb, or encouraging politicians to scout out other planets. In the June 20, 1994 issue of Time magazine the headlines read, "The War on Welfare Mothers: Reform may put them to work, but will it discourage illegitimacy?" Once again, the insinuation is being made that children born exclusively into the arms and lives of their mothers are social deviants.
The only way to discourage "illegitimacy" is to encourage codependency recovery because, in most cases, mothers end up single by virtue of the fact that they repeat patterns in relationships that lead to the same results over and over again. I suggest welfare reform that teaches attachment mothering along with codependency recovery support culminating in a home business training program that includes a start-up grant or guaranteed small business loan making a bridge between welfare support and economic independence.
Not only does society create a wedge between mother and child by day, but night-time is equally influenced by cultural attitudes. The family bed is a concept in bonding seldom practiced in our culture. The western practice of placing babies in their own beds at night is at odds with human nature. Given the fact that infants experience hunger at night as well as during the day, not to mention the fact that emotional security for infants is found in suckling (oral gratification), it only makes sense that physical closeness between mother and child would continue into the night.
Simply rolling over to breastfeed creates convenience for the mother and comfort to her offspring. A friend called me one morning to say that she was completely exhausted from sleepless nights since her baby's birth four days prior. I asked if she was sleeping with her baby. She seemed surprised by my inquiry, as she saw no correlation between her sleep deprivation and the baby's place of slumber. I suggested she bring the baby to bed with her. The next morning she called me and in a most ecstatic voice reported, "It worked! I feel great! I just nursed him right there in bed and neither one of us needed to fully wake up. Thanks so much for the suggestion!"
Our babies naturally root for our breasts when they are hungry or insecure. They might make little grunting sounds in their search, but if we are close by to respond promptly there is no need for them to come fully alert through the distress signal.
The two most popular arguments against family bed go like this..."You might roll over and suffocate your baby" and 'You'll spoil him and never get him to sleep in his own bed." First, the human species would have snuffed itself out by now if infant suffocation was the normal result of family sleeping arrangements. Like all aspects of the modern world, cribs and separate sleeping quarters are new in light of our rich and infinite heritage in nocturnal togetherness. Second, older children eventually get to a point in their young lives when they want privacy during times of slumber. In part, it has to do with their developing sexuality and a desire for private time. When Sarah Lee was ten years old she went through phases where she excitedly created a comfortable bed in her art-room and actually slept there for a few nights, soon to be followed by another dose of the family bed where back came her horsey blanket and angel pillow. Toward the end of her
eleventh year she began spending most of her nights in her own bedroom, yet she was always fully aware of the fact that she was welcome into the family bed whenever she felt the need or desire. It's fun to allow our children the free reign to travel what trails their hearts require. And it's fun to wake up to a bunch of warm bodies who make up the sacred family unit!
And then there's the insidious idea that the family bed is a hot-seat for incest. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have listened time and again to incest survivors describe how an older or adult family member slipped silently into the private bedrooms of these children where nobody was around to protect them from the perpetrator's plan. The safest place for our children is right next to us as we sleep. The family bed gives intimacy a higher meaning as our babies and young children feel our affection AND our protection.
The most common reason why aspiring primal mothers don't sleep with their babies is due to what I call "spousal pouting"...partners who feel threatened by the presence of a baby or child in the "parent's bed". Primal mothering requires the ability to defend the emotional needs and biological rights of our children despite any argument from others. We are not sex or cuddle machines designed to be ready at the call of our lovers. We are hormonal and heartfelt female humans looking after the primal needs of our offspring.
Night-time bonding is easily available because we all go to bed at the end of our day. But the bonding process itself is a round-the-clock responsibility. How do we meet our financial obligations, run errands, clean house, and pursue personal goals while tending to the continuous contact needs of our young? We see pictures of the baby strapped on its mother's back while she works in the rice paddies, but what does that have to do with our modern world?
The concept of baby-wearing in a culture where mother-child separation is the norm creates the need to train ourselves to break past social ignorance, that we may embrace the simplicity and convenience of continuous contact. People will always have an opinion to offer, especially the dangerous notion that we are spoiling our young by not disciplining them to be apart from us. But the truth of the matter is that a most beautiful kind of discipline develops in our babies as they observe the world from their secure place on our body. They are calm, quiet, and alert. That's discipline.
Marsupial mothering, the act of baby-wearing, gives our children a leading edge in intellectual growth as well as a warm, cozy place against our body. For my graduate thesis I interviewed a neurosurgeon at Tulane University who gave me this advice regarding my business of making and distributing baby slings. He said, "Keep beating the path because baby slings offer the single most successful method for optimum neurological development."
The constant rocking motion derived from our active body actually stimulates our baby's brain, especially the part of the brain where pleasure is produced. This explains why baby-sling babies always appear in a state of bliss. They are!
Prior to Sarah Lee's birth I knew nothing about baby slings. My plan was to use a Native American cradle-board. But one night I had a dream that sent me in a new direction. In the dream I was exchanging the wooden cradle-board in for a beautiful piece of purple cloth to be used for wearing my newborn. Acknowledging the message in my dream opened my eyes and my imagination to the ancient art of baby-wearing. With my newborn tucked securely in her purple cloth - her womb with a view - I could easily wash and hang clothes, attend my college classes, lecture at conferences, buy groceries, sew slings for other mother/child couples to enjoy, type up articles, clean my house, prepare meals, exercise and whatever else I needed to do in a given day.
In my cross-cultural research I came to apprecate the physical and psychological benefits of marsupial mothering. Cultures where babies are worn up to three years host higher rates of social peace than societies where babies are relegated to cribs and other non-human holding devices. Studies with premature babies who received consistent rhythmic motion have shown quicker weight gain. Rhythmic motion gave them the chance to feel in-utero stimulus, otherwise denied them as a result of being born prematurely.
My baby didn't cry. She had everything she needed: physical warmth, closeness, skin contact, the sound of my happy heart, nursing access, and the world in which to observe from her safe pouch. I didn't have to stop everything I was doing in order to feed her. I just hooked her up and kept on going. The close proximity of baby to breast allowed for frequent nursings, which in turn resulted in a greater milk supply.
The primary prupose of my home business, The Mother and Child Reunion Project is to establish in mothers and newborns their rightful couple-ship. These past years have been blessed with equipping thousands of women with our affordable COZY CRADLE baby slings, just $17.74 postpaid and receiving beautiful testimonies such as the ones to follow:
"Your Cozy Cradle has saved me from distress. I really can't put into words what the 'cozy' has meant to me and my baby. It seems so simple, so right, so natural to keep my baby close and secure."
"I love my new Cozy Cradle so much! It is so lovingly made with the ribbon and teethings beads, and I wear it everywhere."
"I enjoy wearing my 5-week-old son when he nurses. I nurse discreetly in the mall, in restaurants, wherever! And he sleeps so soundly nestled to my breast after feeding. I've found the Cozy Cradle works great when he's fussy; the movement and my heartbeat seems to calm him right down."
"Carrying my child close to my heart enables me to dive into this young soul's reality and know her needs, while being free to carry on with my own life. It is the best way to ensure mutual respect and love to both mother and child."
"My Cozy Cradle allows me to hold my baby close while I get my chores done. I can breastfeed her, sing to her, and rock her to sleep while my hands are free. She is easily comforted in her Cozy Cradle and prefers to nap in it. I like knowing she is warm, content, and not alone. This keeps us both happy, as she is held close to me where she can see things and I have my hands free, and my arms don't get sore from her weight."
"I can actually wear my twins! Now I don't need to choose one baby over the other. When they both need comforting, I can carry them each in a Cozy Cradle and snuggle them at the same time, while I still have the freedom to walk around and use both my hands. Thanks for making life a little easier."
Happily nurtured babies are content babies. Though there are many reasons why child abuse and neglect occurs, one contributing factor is the stress and intolerance a mother can feel when her baby cries a lot. Sleeping with our babies at night and wearing our babies during the day creates such a peaceful environment there's little room for stress.
One very important beauty of baby-wearing is that we are offering our children a bird's eye view of life. Quiet alertness is their reality as they move with us from task to task. Our hands and arms are free to perform those functions being observed by our infants. At present, our culture chooses one of two options: either a mother gives up trying to accomplish much and just holds her baby while awkwardly attempting a few things, or the baby is relegated to a crib or other artificial holding device so the mother can be productive in various areas of her daily life.
One of my favorite reasons for wearing my babies is so other people don't insist on holding them. Part of the bonding process is for my baby to feel safe in familiar arms, gazing into familiar eyes. With my baby tucked comfortably against me, people admire without insisting on holding my young. If they do ask, I simply tell them, "No, my baby is only family-held."
Postpartum moments/months are so intimate, and we are responsible for respecting that sacred space, regardless the opinions of others. People have accused me of being selfish and overprotective because I don't let anyone outside my immediate family hold my babies until they are several months old; and even then I watch closely for my baby's reaction - taking them back immediatley if they appear the least bit insecure or uncomfortable. These are MY children, and I must follow MY protective instincts.
I once asked a woman who ordered my baby sling what she liked best about wearing her baby. She said, "I like to wear my baby because then I am assured that nobody will steal her." This response was probably instigated by the sad fact that, just days prior at the local grocery store a baby left in his plastic carrier on the grocery cart was stolen while the mother was looking the other way. Such a nightmare could never occur in the life of a marsupial mother.
Plastic carriers and strollers don't give our infants the human touch they need. And for us mothers, it's far more cumbersome to carry one of those plastic devices or to steer a stroller over curbs and through pedestrian traffic than it is to enjoy the physical warmth of a blissful babe against our body. We just never know when having our hands free and our child safely secured to us could help save the life of our family.
A tornado in Oklahoma sent me running for shelter, belongings in each hand while Sarah Lee was safe in the sling. A hurricane in Hawaii found me wearing both of my daughters as I gathered up material necessities with my free hands and sought safety from our home's nearing demise. In both cases, my mental energies were freed up to deal with the situation at hand instead of feeling overwhelmed by trying to keep a handle on frightened, insecure children amidst disaster.
Bonding begins once we decide to follow through with a given pregnancy. On the spiritual and biological levels we begin to form a relationship with our developing child. This is also the time to begin groundwork for maintaining the bonding process after birth. With our baby tucked conveniently inside us we have yet to be faced with the challenge of accomplishing daily responsibilities alongside the moment-by-moment needs of a newborn.
With each of my pregnancies I quickly created a blueprint and worked diligently throughout those months of gestation to build a lifestyle reflective of my desire. With the cornerstone being my commitment to mother/child togetherness, the construction of a lifestyle conducive to primal mothering went smoothly and the finished product was always forthcoming.
For instance, when I moved to Hawaii in preparation for my second birth, I applied for government housing assistance the same day I purchased a tent built for two. I invested in the future while tending to the present. The lady at the housing program informed me their waiting list was at least two years long. Still, I added my name to that list and continued to envision a satisfactory home environment for my expanding family, though at the time I wasn't sure if that meant a cute little cottage or the eventual purchase of a larger tent. Four days before Jasmine was born I received a letter stating my name had reached the top of the list and we were now eligible to move into a two-bedroom home.
All dreams have a price. Maintaining togetherness with my children has meant sacrificing many things. But, not living my dream has an even bigger price. In all decisions I ask myself how I want the story to tell ten years from now - "I wanted to be with you, but..." or "I stayed with you, no matter what."
Primal mothering is a crash course in values clarification. I am faced with making choices at every turn, choices that will mold the future reality of my family. Staying loyal to my policy of togetherness brings about tremendous feelings of confidence, despite the envrionmental discomfort we occasionally know.
A path always seems to be made, so long as I keep true to my commitment. The following message from German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe eloquently emphasizes the attitude I came to adopt, in order to live my dream on a daily basis...
"Until one is committed
there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
Concerning all acts of initiative
there is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas
and splended plans:
That the moment one definitely commits oneself,
then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one
that would otherwise never have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
raising in one's favor all manner
of unforeseen incidents and meetings
and material assistance,
which no wo/man could have dreamt would have come
Many times, what appeared to be obstacles turned out to be opportunities that led me into more enjoyable dimensions of living. During my college days, with two classes remaining to complete graduate school I encountered resistance from a professor who - unlike those professors for two years prior - refused to allow my baby-wearing self into his class. I was placed in a position of making a choice between my upcoming graduate degree or maintaining the mother/child bond. With Sarah Lee at my breast, serenity in my heart, and faith in our future I turned away from the choice to compromise, walked out of the professor's office, glided down the thick wooden steps of the social science building, and strode confidently away from the university.
Three days later, while reading the best-selling book FIT FOR LIFE I learned of a doctoral program in Natural Nutrition that could be achieved, in most part, through correspondence. Upon applying to the Life Science Institute at Austin, Texas and submitting my graduate thesis I soon heard back from the president, T.C. Fry. This honorable man was so impressed with my thesis that he offered me a full tuition scholarship along with a writing assistantship for developing a Natural Mothering curriculum.
My future reality would have been COMPLETELY different, not to mention vividly compromising had I opted to adhere to the condescending demands of that professor and obediently turned little Sarah Lee over to someone else while attending his mandatory classes. Yes, Richard Bach, it's true...the only thing that shatters dreams is compromise.
Another interesting turn of events that came my way via honoring togetherness - the cornerstone of primal mothering - was when I gave up what little help I was getting from public assistance. When Sarah Lee was just a toddler it was mandatory that I enter a work-training program whereby I was to place my daughter in day-care eight hours daily for a week while I was to attend this workshop. At the time I was working diligently on my graduate thesis, building my baby sling business, and writing articles for various mothering publications along with feeding the vision for writing this book. Despite my heroic efforts at developing a solid financial base, the welfare worker insisted my responsibility rested in entering the work-force as soon as possilbe. Sensing the coldness of this women, Sarah Lee crawled into my lap and sought comfort in nursing, to which the worker responded, "And you better wean that child because we ARE going to put you out on a
Our housing was on the line. Without welfare's financial assistance I would not be able to pay rent. I LIKED having a roof over our head, but I LOVED being with my child.
I thanked the welfare worker for what assistance I had thus far received, drove over to the realty office where I gave notice on my apartment, and went home to sew up a hefty supply of baby slings, change the oil in my car, pack up our belongings, and set forth on an adventure that led us through three months of delightful travel. We drove throughout the southwestern states selling baby slings to mother we met along the way. We thoroughly enjoyed the priority of our relationship despite the fact that never once did we have more than a quarter of a tank of gas in the car or $5.00 in my pocket. We were literally fueled on faith, while managing to keep our fruit bowl filled.
We need welfare reform that takes into consideration both the bonding needs of children and the career needs of women. There is great social hostility toward mothers who choose welfare as an avenue of support. Even the welfare workers themselves often exude a condescending attitude toward those of us seeking assistance. Welfare needs to move away from a punitive attitude and instead adopt an encouraging vision for its recipients. For instance, rather than handicap female graduate students by considering them "work eligible" because they hold an undergraduate degree, instead encourage mothers to remain on welfare and pursue higher levels of education that can ultimately place them in higher paying and more rewarding careers. Any financial assistance program holding the idea that a toddler is old enough to be separated from us is not taking into account the true needs of our upright and walking older babies.
A primal mother does what it takes to stay with her young, like that Mexican woman whose collection can was in charge of procuring family finances while her baby held firm to his rightful place.
Perhaps the most joyful benefit of togetherness is the store-house of memories that become inscribed on the family script. Sarah Lee and I are especially fond of the warm, fuzzy feelings we get over the "curb-side canned corn" memory when sometimes that was the only meal we could afford. Our financially hardest times came during those months when we lived on the beaches of Hawaii. Without a sewing machine, I could not make and sell baby sings. Sarah Lee took it upon herself to get up early in the morning, paint beautiful pictures, then go sell them to the tourists who visited the beach near where our tent was pitched. This six-year-old entrepreneur and devoted family member was averaging five follars a day! After replenishing her art supplies, she put the rest in my purse for our daily trip to the nearest store more than two miles away. There, we bought two cans of corn and sat on the curb-side. Using our trusty knife, we opened those prized
packages and proceeded to relish each sweet and succulent morsel of that meal. To this day, the mere sight of a can of corn melts my heart to the core!
Another benefit to following our dreams is the positive impact it inevitably has on others. We become a role model of conviction, a light that shows the way for others who consider living a life of commitment rather than merely an existence of compromise. I often think of my friend who sadly weaned her infant and went back to work as a breastfeeding advocate for the WIC program. She was in a position to make some positive changes for the future of mothers and children had she chosen a path different than day-care. How different the rippling effects would have been, had she tucked her sweet deserving daughter into a sling and reported back to work. Her mothering convictions amidst career competency could have influenced her co-workers, government policy, social consciousness, and thus the world at large. Instead, she fanned the notion that mother-child separation was inevitable. It's a supply and demand world out there. If we demand a society
where the needs of our children are included in all decision-making, then we will ultimately be supplied with an environment conducive to primal mothering. I envision a future where all architectural blueprints include the needs of mothers and their children. Sound-proof enclosures in college classrooms where mothers can hear the lecture while rocking their babies. Public restrooms with little sinks and toilet seats along with changing tables and rocking chairs. Recovery groups with play areas for children of all ages.
How did society get to the place where handing over our babies is the norm? Maybe it's a sad by-product of the way we hand over our pregnancies and our births. Do you remember being told as a child not to disturb the freshly-hatched birdlings, or the family cat with her new litter of kittens? Do you remember why? That the mothers might abandon their young if they smell the scent of another on their offspring...
When strangers surround us during birth and then remove our newborn from our sight, smell, and touch: when still more strangers scrub away the primal scent of our baby's natural sweet covering known as vernix, and when these strangers return our baby to us many minutes or even hours later...this is a gross act of interference with the postnatal bonding process.
As primal mothers we are assigned the task of protecting the mother/child bond through all its stages. Finances are obviously one of the biggest obstacles we face, since the business world does not invite our children to the work-place. A great option to consider is creating a home business. I started my baby sling business by collecting enough aluminum cans to put ten dollars down on a used sewing machine. I sewed up one sling, sold it to a friend who requested it for her infant son, then used her payment to buy enough fabric to make two more slings that sold at the next La Leche League meeting. Within a month the sewing machine was paid off and I had enough profit to pay for an ad in La Leche League's bi-monthly magazine, New Beginnings. Today I am still happily in the baby sling business and have added book-writing, all in the context of raising my three beautiful children.
We live in a time when the mother/child relationship is being crucified at every stage. We need supportive people in our lives, people who agree with us that nothing is more important than the time we spend with our children. During the time Sarah Lee and I traveled the southwest I met with the staff at Mothering magazine in Santa Fe, New Mexico - a business play, by the way, that welcomes both their employees and the children of those employees. When Peggy O'Mara, the publisher/editor of this powerfully nurturing magazine learned that I was living out of my car, and therefore without accesss to electricity for sewing my slings, she offered me her personal office as a place to replenish my supply.
In one of her editorial letters Peggy O'Mara said that, demanding premature independence in our young is like begrudging winter for not yet being spring. But so much of what we do to our children is a repetition of the parenting we received.
Just as a computer will only retrieve what is stored in memory, we must pull up the file on our past, edit where necessary, and re-program ourselves so future generations can enjoy a higher state of self-love and peaceful co-habitation. Each and every one of the baby slings I make hosts a ribbon of seven colorful teething beads representing the Native American philosophy that our decisions today must be based on their overall impact seven generations from now. Will tomorrow be the fruition of humanity's dream to develop into the cosmic beings we are intended to be, or a nightmare that continues to haunt us all?
I once had a nightmare that affected me so much, when I woke up I was drenched in cold sweat and frightened to the core. In the dream it was a rainy night, around midnight. A huge sign was flashing the words DRIVE-UP DAYCARE. I watched a car pull up to the side of the cold, gray building where a large metal drawer opened out. The women in the car deposited her two small, sleeping children into this holding-tank, tore off a ticket stub, rolled her window up against the rain, and drove away into the night. I stood there and felt nausea overtake my entire being. The dark, cold, and wet night seemed to say it all as I wept for humanity's fate.
Dreams give us the great benefit of changing priorities in the middle of the stream. Even a computer will ask if you are sure before deleting a file. Sad outcomes are simply the by-product of repeated treks down paths that deny the necesesary nurturing of humanity. The decision to govern our own pregnancy, enjoy the privacy of birth, remain with our babies, feed them from the nutritious divinity of our breasts, wear them close as we carry on in daily life, sleep together in a warm and secure embrace, and give ourselves over to the primal instinct in all areas of our mothering experience lays the golden bricks that pave the way for a better world to come.