The Wee Hours of Motherhood: Healing After Birth

In an age before antibiotics, rest and sanitary conditions were a new mother’s best chance at recovering from the physical upheaval brought on by childbirth. It made sense to support a woman’s healing through loved ones coming together to pick up her household chores, keep her and the baby clean, and allow her some time to rest and bond. In line with this wisdom, traditional cultures the world over have communal rites and practices that support a new mother’s need for recuperation after the birth of a child.

Traditional societies recognised that birth requires recovery, yet these rituals of rest and attendance to a mother and child may have also signified an ancestral knowledge that the skill of mothering does not happen in an instant. That there is no such thing as a magical, all-knowing ‘maternal instinct’ that just kicks in and makes everything all right overnight. That the move into motherhood happens in a series of small steps, and that we do not touch down gracefully on the landing pad so much as orbit in space a little while, burning through fuel and trying like hell to read our instruments.  

These rituals recognised that while new mothers recover physically, they are also transforming psychologically. And that this profound change is probably best supported by a period of recuperation and compassion.

As Anthropologist Sarah Hrdy points out in her review of mammalian mothering, even in the animal kingdom. mothering does not ‘just happen’ after the birth of a child. Animals such as mice and sheep require the smells of their newborns to kick-start the complicated chemical and behavioural cascade of lactation, grooming and protection that the rearing of young entails. The ‘maternal instinct’ is less a guarantee than a gradual adoption of new behaviours. Behaviours that must be reinforced by practice, and that can be disrupted by challenges in the environment.       

 Human mothering is a much wilder card, with no universal behaviours that new mothers engage in across the species besides perhaps cleaning the baby after the birth, and gazing at its face and body. After that, the way we approach the birth of a child is as wide and varied as the customs and communities of the planet we inhabit. Mothering a child and learning how to seamlessly meet its needs is not hard wired. It’s a learned skill that requires time, space and patience to master.

 As we learn to care for our babies, research has established that between 2-4 weeks and 3-4 months postpartum, our brains are increasing in volume in at least nine known areas. Neurologically speaking, this is a very big deal. Your postpartum brain is learning so much and taking in so many sensations and signals it is actually growing - and quickly.

 But learning new routines is hard. It can feel lonely and chaotic and unclear at first. From a psychological perspective, it’s likely this feels tough because our brain’s favourite thing to do - recognise a pattern and stick with it - isn’t possible. Human beings are creatures of habit. To veer away from a habit and to figure out something new requires our brains to build new pathways, To literally re-wire. This uses up energy the brain would much rather apply to the millions of other tasks it must execute on our behalf. It’s tiring. And to work, it needs rest.

 Today, in our modern towns and cities where so many mothers are away from their extended families, modern life means it isn’t always possible to pull down the shades and retreat from the world along enough to allow our brains and bodies the time they need to learn and heal. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still need the opportunity to do so.

 So what to do?

 It would appear those still dark, wee hours of motherhood have some lessons to offer.

 While it is still dark outside (figuratively and literally), we are forced to accept that we can’t see as far ahead as we might like. We feel the need to find one another and huddle close for warmth. We aren’t running around, ticking items off of lists, and generally tiring ourselves out. We are resting. We are processing information. We are restoring our strength for what lies ahead.

 The oxytocin response of new motherhood directs us to ‘stay and play’ with our new arrivals. It is our body’s signal to us that it is ok to slow down, to worry less, to connect with our new child and to hold her close. There is a deep wisdom in this gentle nudge, The closer we are to our babies in the earliest days - without the light and din of the outside world and all of it’s tempting, familiar pull - the faster we can learn the new patterns that motherhood has to teach us. The sooner we can heal. The better we might feel.

 Wherever you can, listen to this nudge. Make the time to rest, recuperate and simply be with your newborn. Our societies may have forgotten the importance of allowing new mothers enough time and  space to accommodate the enormous task of learning to care for our new charges, but mother nature has fail-safes. If we are not afforded time by others, we can make it for ourselves. By being conscious of the fact that motherhood takes time to learn, and that we deserve compassion and support from ourselves for this process, we can still benefit from this ancient knowledge.

 The wee hours of motherhood are a time to recover, recuperate and learn. Enjoy the stillness.

 

 

Academic sources:

 Duhigg, C. (2014) The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business. Random House.

 Hrdy, S.B. (1999) Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants and Natural Selection. Chapter 7: From Here to Maternity. Pantheon Books, New York.

Kim, P., Leckman, J. F., Mayes, L. C., Feldman, R., Wang, X., & Swain, J. E. (2010). The Plasticity of Human Maternal Brain: Longitudinal Changes in Brain Anatomy During the Early Postpartum Period. Behavioral Neuroscience, 124(5), 695–700. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0020884

Well Made Heroes: Alwyn Hunt

At Well Made Mama, we think we deserve the best experience of motherhood we can create in our new state of ‘being’. Part of doing that requires us to connect with, and celebrate, the special people in our lives; or maybe the barista at your favourite cafe who remembers your name; or the stranger that gave up her seat for you on the train.  Think of it as our own gratitude journal, one written by all of us. Expressing gratitude can do twofold, it’s one way we can pay it forward, sharing the good work done by those around us. And secondly, we believe that positive emotions (that of gratitude in particular) can actually act as an antibody in the face of all the negative effects that stress, fear, anger, etc,. have on the body.

So here is our next Well Made Hero...Alwyn Hunt. He is my best friend. He is the only (grown-up) person I can uninhibitedly share what I really think. He will protect me with his life and make me fabulous meals forever (unless the All Blacks are playing and then it’s a different story.)

He is my Well Made Hero because when I was a mess with a newborn, he would walk in from 14-hour work days and help settle our colicky and crying Son for the next two hours, without hesitation. He is my sounding board, my collaborator, my co-conspirator and my iTunes fixer.

He is helping us raise two lovely boys to be risk takers, to be adventurers, to be lovers, not fighters. He works a day job and then works into the night on his own venture and somehow manages to always and devotedly, read another story to the boys, help me make extra meals for the freezer and work on WMM.  Alwyn is my Hero because he is selfless for the greater good of our family and I am grateful for that, no matter how many times he leaves his underwear on the bathroom floor (lots and lots of times).

 We want to celebrate your Heroes too, big or small. Send your stories to sabrina@wellmademama.com and we will share them with our Well Made Mama community.

Why Oxytocin Might Be Your Brain’s Best Antidote to Stress

Over the course of a year (according to British Household Panel Survey Data), the life event that gives the largest boost to wellbeing in a person’s life is the start of a new relationship. More than money. More than new things. More than anything else, it’s other people (and our connections with them) that give us the largest boost in health and happiness. Positive relationships with other people matter enormously. 

But why? 

It very likely begins with oxytocin, which is the chemical that is released into our bodies and brains when we connect with someone we are fond of. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that is most closely associated with feelings of love and social bonding. It is released into our systems by touch, warmth and empathy.  It has also been shown to be very good for one’s health, improving digestion, growth, mood and healing.  

Yet to understand why Oxytocin is so good for us, it’s instructive to begin with what we know to be bad for us. And that is stress.

When we are stressed, we are primed for two outcomes - fighting or fleeing. Our bodies become filled with a quick jolt of adrenaline and cortisol, instructing our muscles to act quickly. In the process, our body re-directs energy away from unnecessary actions (like digestion and healing) in order to release all available energy into the fight. It’s a very helpful response when it’s critically needed. But it wasn’t designed to be a regular place we find ourselves in. Too much time being stressed can wear down the body’s resources. 

The stress response is critical for survival - but it's far from the only survival strategy we have. To survive, humans also require the support of other humans. We are social - not solitary - animals. Social animals who require the acceptance, protection and generosity of a community of other humans. And to do this well - to make new friends and share techniques for better living - we need to feel drawn to others. Constantly fighting and fleeing are not useful for the day-to-day necessities of life.

Enter oxytocin, which is released in our bodies when our brains know us to be in a place safe enough to slow down and connect with others. When oxytocin is released into the body, our blood pressure is reduced. Digestive processes are helped. Wounds heal more quickly. We are calmer and more inclined to social interaction, trust and generosity. If adrenaline and cortisol move us into the ‘Fight or Flight’ response, oxytocin nudges us into a state that could be labelled ‘Stay and Play”, where our bodies can slow down enough to nourish themselves and their relationships, strengthening these resources for the future. 

Oxytocin gives us the motivation to want to connect with others, make new friends and give others the benefit of the doubt. It is likely the biochemical substrate of what psychologist Barbara Fredrickson describes as the crucial act of ‘broadening and building’ our social networks. As the theory goes, during good times, positive emotions help us to build up goodwill with others. This goodwill, in turn, can see us through more vulnerable times when we need to rely on the generosity and kindness of friends and family. In a social group, where neighbours rely on neighbours, positive bonds and the social warmth they induce are what keeps the community going through both good times and bad.

If there were one neurochemical that seems to associated extensively with Motherhood, it is also oxytocin. Both labor and breastfeeding are characterised by notable spikes of oxytocin in the blood stream.  The acts of holding and nurturing a new baby are filled with opportunities for producing oxytocin in a new Mother. Skin-to-skin contact, warmth, empathy and compassion for your baby throughout the early weeks and months are also all rich sources.

It has been noted that key aspects of the personality of breastfeeding women (who experience regular surges in oxytocin during the letdown reflex) change within days after the birth of their children, with the women studied displaying notably more calmness and sociability. This makes sense, given findings that oxytocin increases social contact in many animal species, and works hand in hand with social support to offer the excellent protection against stressful occurrences in human subjects. 

Oxytocin helps our bodies rest, heal and calm down, all the while encouraging us to reach out and strengthen our bonds with others. When are feeling worn out, run down, and in need of support, how good would a little dose of oxytocin be? And how instructive is it to know that our bodies agree, providing us with many opportunities in early parenthood to cuddle up, calm down and recharge? 

As Mothers, our days can tire us out. But our connections with those we love, and the oxytocin this produces, can be our best antidote. When you are worn out - reach out. Its one of the simplest and most effective antidotes to stress we have.  

 

Supporting academic papers:

Ballas, D., & Dorling, D. (2007). Measuring the impact of major life events upon happiness. International Journal of Epidemiology, 36, 1244-1252.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The value of positive emotions: The emerging science of positive psychology is coming to understand why it’s good to feel good. American Scientist, 91, 330-335.

Heinrichs, K. Baumgarner, T., Kirschbaum, C. Ehlers, U. (2003) Biological Psychiatry, 54, 1389-1398. 

Kosfield et al. (2005) Oxytocin increases trust in humans, NATURE, 673-676 

Nissen, E., Uvna ̈s-Moberg, K., Svensson, K., Stock, S., Widstrom, A. M. and Winberg, J. (1996) Different patterns of oxytocin, prolactin but not cortisol release during breastfeeding in women delivered by caesarean section or by the vaginal route. Early Human Development 45, 103–118. 

Nissen, E., Gustavsson, P., Widstrom, A. M. and Uvna ̈s-Moberg, K. (1998) Oxytocin, prolactin and cortisol levels in response to nursing in women after Sectio Caesarea and vaginal delivery-relationship with changes in personality patterns post partum. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology 19, 49–58. 

Petersson, M., Alster, P., Lundeberg, T. and Uvna ̈s-Moberg, K. (1996a) Oxytocin causes a long-term decrease of blood pressure in female and male rats. Physiology and Behavior 60, 1311–1315. 

Uvnas-Moberg, K. (1998) Oxytocin mediates the benefits of positive social interactions and emotions. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 23, 8, 819-855.  

Uvnas-Moberg, K., Ahlenius, S., Hillegaart, V. and Alster, P. (1994) High doses of oxytocin cause sedation and low doses cause an anxiolytic-like effect in male rats. Pharmacology Biochemistryand Behavior 49, 101–106.

Uvnas-Moberg, K., Bruzelius, G., Alster, P. and Lundeberg, T. (1993) The antinociceptive effect of non-noxious sensory stimulation is partly mediated through oxytocinergic mechanisms. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 149, 199–204.

Widstrom, A. M., Wahlberg, V., Matthiesen, A. S., Eneroth, P., Uvnas-Moberg, K., Werner, S. and Winberg, J. (1990) Short-term effects of early suckling on maternal behaviour and breast-feeding performance. Early Human Development 21, 153–163.

 

 

Oxytocin, And How Your Brain Changes In Pregnancy

So what exactly is Motherhood anyways? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tidy definition of the role you are currently about to embark upon that will forever be a part of your life?

We’re going to skip philosophising and get straight to the nitty gritty: If there’s an aspect of Motherhood that is important to get right, your brain and body will have equipped you for it. The rest are probably details.

As the research suggests, your brain appears to understand precisely what will be necessary to get you and baby through the challenges of parenting. So much so that it spends the pregnancy laying the groundwork for these tasks. And while it is of course very interesting to learn about these changes for their own sake, it is what these changes make possible that can arguably tell us a great deal about what needs to happen in order to help a child survive and grow.

Scientists have often wondered whether the profound change a new Mother experiences in her new role has any neurobiological basis. In other words, can the almost universal shift in a new Mother from “I” to “we”, and all the newness this brings, be explained by developments in the brain during pregnancy?

The emerging answer appears to be yes. And it might just begin with bonding...

In the same way that your body is preparing itself for energy storage and lactation in order to help you feed the baby when it arrives, the brain is now gearing up for all of the tasks it must coordinate to make mothering possible from a thinking and feeling point of view. You might wonder what kind of a Mother you should be - but it may be some comfort to know your brain is busy helping you become the Mother it thinks you need to be.

As a Mother you are now a twisted tangle of love. Your well-being is now forever entwined with that of another. Your bond with your child will leave you both infinitely richer and more vulnerable to heartache. There is nothing halfway about this love. It shakes you, it thrills you and it holds you, for better or for worse. And..that’s right.. it’s just the way your brain designed it.  

The brain both processes information and creates your lived experiences through a rich network of cells that speak to one another through miles and miles of connections. Certain regions and connections within the brain have been studied enough to allow scientists to pinpoint the specific brain chemicals they produce, and the specific experiences these brain chemicals create for us.

As it turns out, even this vast, unfathomably deep blue sea of love we have for our children has a probable origin in our brains.  And that origin is very likely oxytocin.

Oxytocin is our own, home grown love potion. Technically speaking, it is a neuropeptide hormone that works in both your brain and your body, and appears to responsible for all things bonding related. Practically speaking, it’s responsible for giving us the warm fuzzies when we see someone we love. Researchers know this because they have been able to examine what happens to the behavior of animals when oxytocin is introduced (or blocked) in their systems. Introduce it, and animals will engage in all manner of bonding behavior. Block it, and animals can resist caring for even their own offspring.

Oxytocin is primarily released through touch. When oxytocin floods our brains and veins it signals us to move closer to those in our focus. It primes us for approach. Oxytocin asks us to slow down and get to know the person in our gaze. With oxytocin, we are more likely to trust. We move away from guarded “I” and flirt with the more vulnerable but rewarding “we”.  The oxytocin-response is the polar opposite of the stress response. It helps us to relax and to build connections with those we love.   

Oxytocin has been linked to Motherhood for a while. Researchers have long noted its link to the letdown of milk and the pacing of birth. Yet it’s only recently that information has started to be gathered on just how central oxytocin is to the maternal experience.

During pregnancy, the levels of oxytocin in a woman’s body rise steadily, priming her for bonding with her infant. In animal research, as delivery approaches, the MPOA region of the hypothalamus ( a region already rich in oxytocin receptors) notably increases the size of its cell bodies, making the region increasingly capable of oxytocin production. This extra-oxytocin-enriched region then goes on to liaise with the dopamine-producing (reward) regions of the brain, making all of this bonding behavior extra rewarding.

Put plainly, one of the major changes your brain goes through in pregnancy is the laying of the groundwork for an increased sensitivity to (and pleasure taken from) bonding. From a neuropsychological perspective, bonding - on repeat -  is very likely job one of Motherhood. Babies can’t explain what they need. So our brains direct us to keep them close to help figure it out. We could perceive these new arrivals to our world as strangers. We could ignore their entreats for warmth and nourishment with cold indifference. But we don’t. We fall in love with them at first site. And our oxytocin-soaked brains very likely manoeuvre the entire operation.   

Of course, given the many ways the brain can produce Oxytocin, pregnancy is not the only route to bonding with a new baby. Oxytocin is in ample supply during both delivery and breastfeeding. Yet it also comes from simple touch. From holding a gaze with someone you love. From meeting the needs of that person and having feelings of compassion for them. All opportunities in high supply during the early moments of caring for a new arrival. Whether you physically carried your baby or not, early parenthood is brimming with opportunities for genuine, caring connection - and these are the landmarks of oxytocin country.

As we continue to study the brain, one central premise has become clear: It is a model of efficiency. To keep you moving and interacting with the world, your brain has to accomplish a lot in very, very little time. It is unlikely the brain would spend precious resources increasing its oxytocin receptivity during pregnancy if the activities oxytocin supported during early parenthood weren’t crucial.

What this change in the brain suggests is that somewhere in our history, the more we bonded with our babies, and with those around us, the more babies we were able to help survive. This premise is subtle yet profound. Bonding with others is so important to parenthood that our very brains - the core of the fabric of what we know ourselves to be - re-wire in preparation for it.

Wondering how to be the best parent you can be? Take a cue from your oxytocin-revved brain. Slow down. Cuddle your newborn. Engage with her through acts of love and compassion. Trust in the process. On repeat.

Neuroscientifically  speaking  - a big part of parenthood just might be that simple.

 

Supporting academic papers:

Feldman, R., Gordon, I., Schneiderman, I., Weisman, O., & Zagoory-Sharon, O. (2010) Natural variations in maternal and paternal care are associated with systematic changes in oxytocin following parent-infant contact. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35(8) 1133–1141.

Gordon, I., Zagoory-Sharon, O., Leckman, J. F., & Feldman, R. (2010). Oxytocin and the development of parenting in humans. Biological Psychiatry, 68(4), 377–382

Keyser-Marcus, L., Stasso-Sandoz, G., Gerecke, K., Jasnow, A., Nightingale, L., Lambert, K. G., . . . Kinsley, C. H. (2001). Alterations of medial preoptic area neurons following pregnancy and pregnancy-like steroidal treatment in the rat. Brain Research Bulletin, 55(6), 737–745

Kim, S. & Strathearn, L. (2016). Oxytocin and maternal brain plasticity. In H. J. V. Rutherford -& L. C. Mayes (Eds.), Maternal brain plasticity: Preclinical and human research and implications for intervention. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 153, 59–72.

Kim, S., Fonagy, P., Koos, O., Dorsett, K., & Strathearn, L. (2014). Maternal oxytocin response predicts mother-to-infant gaze. Brain Research, 1580, 133–142.

Kendrick, K. M., Keverne, E. B., & Baldwin, B. A. (1987). Intracerebroventricular oxytocin stimulates maternal behaviour in the sheep. Neuroendocrinology, 46(1), 56–61

Pedersen, C. A., Ascher, J. A., Monroe, Y. L., & Prange, A. J., Jr. (1982). Oxytocin induces maternal behavior in virgin female rats. Science, 216(4546), 648–650.

Pedersen, C. A., Caldwell, J. D., Walker, C., Ayers, G., & Mason, G. A. (1994). Oxytocin activates the postpartum onset of rat maternal behavior in the ventral tegmental and medial preoptic areas. Behavioral Neuroscience, 108(6), 1163–1171.

Stolzenberg, D. S., & Numan, M. (2011). Hypothalamic interaction with the mesolimbic DA system in the control of the maternal and sexual behaviors in rats. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(3), 826–847.

 

 

 

 

 

Well Made Heroes: Sarah Hrdy

At any given moment, a country's leader is spending much time and thought thinking about who to ask to lead various posts in government.

These posts include the leadership of bureaus such as the Ministry of Agriculture, so that citizens can look forward to crops; The Ministry of Education, to oversee the up-skilling of young; The Ministry of Energy, to ensure homes are heated and industry is fuelled; and the largest, The Ministry of Defense, to ensure citizens are defended at home and abroad. Crops, skills, fuel, and combat. Hard to not see the similarities between these national priorities and the very strengths that allowed our early ancestors to evolve from sparsely numbered savannah dwellers to the billion-strong species that now inhabits all corners of the earth.

Yet, according to Anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, this wasn’t all there was to the story of early humans. Yes, we eventually became adept and wielding tools, weapons, and seedlings. Yet before that, way back at the beginning of the story, something else changed. About 2 million years ago, our forbears started to do something different than other primates. Our forbears started, ever so slowly, to allow other caregivers, often a sister, aunt or other relative (known as an ‘alloparent’) to look after their children for while, in order to free them up to forage the nutrients needed by a completely dependent human child.

Different to other primates, where juveniles are solely cared for by the Mother for the duration of their ‘childhood’, early humans started to engage in a little parental outsourcing. According to Hrdy, this subtle shift in care-giving practices had enormous implications for the evolution of our species. Because, Mama was freed up to forage food for the family, while the child was kept safe by a relative, she and the child were better fed, survival outlooks were better, and she was able to have another child sooner.

Also, because Mama was sometimes called away to forage, the infant, when left in the hands of an alloparent, would need to be adept at reading the emotional cues and intentions of a wide range of caregivers. The result? These offspring developed increased emotional sensitivity and awareness to make the most of the ‘alloparents’ at their disposal.  

In a nutshell, ‘Cooperative Breeders’ had more offspring. In evolutionary currency, that means they won. The species changed. Cooperation and emotional intelligence became hard-wired. In the process, offspring were kept alive long enough to develop large, clever brains. And so we became a species smart enough to develop tools and wise enough to share our bounty. Look out world.

So while hunting, war, and sex had their place, Hrdy’s perspective is that successful Mothering is clearly the unsung hero in our species’ evolutionary success. Cooperative breeding is the backbone of humanity. Before its advent, we had a hard time replacing ourselves. With it, we our species grew geometrically in strength and numbers. We owe it all to our Mothers and the villages of care they created.

Can I get a collective “HIGH FIVE” from the crowd?

Motherhood is the unsung hero of a nation’s wealth, success and future. It’s the single most important function our species engages in. Its successful practice is the reason we are who we are. So, our next question is, where are our countries’ Departments of Parenting’? We are creating tomorrow’s farmers, scientists, healers and soldiers. Can you imagine a day when a nation attended to creating a better experience for us?

If that day were now, we’d nominate Sarah Hrdy as a candidate for it’s lead. She’s been described as the world’s ‘leading scientific authority on mothering‘ for her research and contributions to our understanding of how mothering evolved in our species. For changing the paradigm about how anthropologists think about Motherhood, we salute her. She isn’t just making the case that Motherhood should get its due. She’s making the case that the intelligence and cooperation of human mothers underpins our species’ very existence.

The aqueduct, the chariot, the sewer, the written page, the microprocessor, the polio vaccine, the sandal, the plow. These extraordinary advancements all came about in a world where Mothers were doing what they always have done, working tirelessly, building cooperative networks, sharing information, working against starvation and disease, looking out for the interests of their children and their loved one’s children, and making sure that, with their best efforts, as many as possible made it successfully into an adulthood where their ideas could then shine.

“Ordinary” mothers are the some of the greatest heroes of the human story.

Thank you, Sarah Hrdy, for showing us the light!

 

To read more about Dr. Hrdy and her work, click here: (1) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/evolution-motherhood.html

Post Image of Sarah Hrdy and her newborn baby

Post Image source: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/

Are Mothers At Risk In The 21st Century - Part 2

Connection

The 20th century continued the global historical trend of transferring jobs and money to cities, far away from the agricultural communities that the majority of the world existed in for centuries. The 21st century will only amplify this. As agriculture and manufacturing become more efficient, more and more young people will need to leave their homes in search of financial opportunity miles away from the friends and communities that that have sustained them.

In my own family, my grandmother (Catherine’s daughter) left Scotland as a young girl and moved away for the opportunity of work. There she gave birth to her own children in a city far away from Catherine’s experienced support. Her daughter (my mother) later left her home for similar opportunities, eventually becoming a Mother in a place very different from the one she knew. And me? Same story. The bright lights of the big city beckoned, and I became a Mother miles away from my own.

At the time, I thought it was a great adventure.  I was in a big city and creating my new life. A new chapter was beginning. Things seemed pretty swell. Except...

I barely knew anyone in my new home of 19 million people. I was disconnected at best - and at risk for outright isolation if I am telling the truth.  Still, I knew that lots of people moved far away from home, for all sorts of reasons. It never once occurred to me that this might be a problem once the baby arrived. The thought of being alone at the most vulnerable period in my life never seemed to be real risk. Until, of course, it was.

Normal life is tough enough without people you can call on for a little laugh or a hug when it’s needed. When you have a tiny life to sustain and haven’t slept more than two hours at a time in six months - solitude becomes painful. Connections with others refuel us and provide a needed respite. In isolation, our worries and pains seem to grow geometrically.  

Above all else, we humans are social. We define ourselves by our connections with others. We all need a tribe - and a new Mother, newly arrived, under-packed and under-prepared, on the shores of an enormous experience, needs a tribe acutely. In our rush to improve and move on from our old worlds - are we paying enough attention to how we’ll build new ones when we need them most?

Expertise

Having a baby today means you are becoming a parent in a time of unprecedented information availability. It can also mean that plenty of well-meaning ‘experts’ are happy to jump in and do the learning for you. Parenting today  - like food production, medicine, home building and just about anything else - has become professionalised. It is as much the realm of rarefied high priests and priestesses, wizards and know-it-alls, as it is the Mothers and Fathers who stumble through it.

As a result of this ‘professionalisation’ of parenthood, and my absorption of our cultural preference for ‘experts’ over my own ideas and industry, my confidence in my innate parenting ability when my daughter arrived was at absolute zero. (And I am a confident gal - so that’s saying something.)  I couldn’t so much as trust myself to figure out how to get my baby to drink milk without deferring to some professional opinion.

As for Britain’s ancient “folkways” and the wisdom of the ages - well…Not only did my early experience with the ‘intensive parenting industry’ make me feel that I had no clue how to care for my child, I was also made to feel that, due to the modern obsession with “new”  -  my  own (very expert) Mother and Grandmother and Great-Grandmother didn’t have a clue either. That it was incredible any of us made it out of infancy at all.  

As a result of all of this well meaning advice from the ivory tower of parenting, I started to feel a little helpless. Me - the great adventurer. That’s not a great place to be beginning the biggest challenge of your life.

Outlook

I was amazed at how much love I could feel for my new daughter. And totally blindsided by how terrifying the world was now that I had to secure her place in it. My guess is that has been a pretty typical feeling for new Mamas throughout history.

But I became a Mama in a unique time in history. I had the internet. And safety warnings on everything I read. Suddenly, everything whispered “you might screw this up”. I quickly learned that the default way to approach parenting should be assume the worst will happen at all times. Not because it actually does - but because there is so much information out there to let you know that it could.  And that’s terrifying. Especially when you don’t have any confidence. So I quickly became a darker, more anxious, pessimist than I had ever been during what should have been a very happy time. Some dark days, the worry shut out the joy. (And remember, I didn’t have many people nearby that I could talk to about this).

So where does this leave our new Mother (a.k.a. me)? Oh yes. Lonely, lacking in confidence, worried and pessimistic (in case you were keeping score.) And no, in case you were wondering, I hadn’t really noticed this change in adventurous, happy go lucky me. Well, at least not in the beginning.

Resources and Resilience

In the practice of physical medicine, an organism’s vulnerability to disease has much to do with it’s physical strength beforehand. The better nourished and rested we are, the more resources we have to call on in our defence and the more likely we are to be resilient in the face of stress.

A year into Motherhood, my maternal mind was not nourished nor was it rested. It was worn down by worry, self-doubt and isolation. And, as happens in any life, things didn’t go according to plan sometimes. I had worked through a litany of stressful events in my life. Yet I had always bounced (or clawed) my way back with my trademark vigour. This time around, I couldn’t seem to scale the wall in front of me. I felt like should have been resilient, but I was not.

My environment had reached its tipping point. On balance, it took away more than it gave. The factors that sustained me were overshadowed by the ones that depleted me. So, instead of bouncing back in a healthy way, I began to crack under the strain.  

In hindsight - this was all completely avoidable.    

Connection. Outlook. Resilience. Expertise. New words, old concepts. Really old. So old, no one bothers to pay attention to them anymore. Until your mind starts to notice. That in the midst of all of this gleaming modernity - its core necessities are lacking.

You should know, a few years on, I am much better. I really am my old self again. Yet it took a lot of introspection and a few years of research to figure out what happened to me in those darkest of days  - and why.

The mind alerts us to unhygienic conditions in the same way the body does. It feels pain. It becomes tired, inflamed and feverish. It withdraws or redirects focus in an attempt to heal. Yet despite these very real signals that an environment is causing us pain, there is little language or protocol available for new mothers to give the problem a name and make improvements.

Change is not new. Humans are adaptable. Yet what feels new today is a growing state of isolation and self doubt as we all work to find a way for ourselves and our families.  

It is hard to know what Catherine would have made of the world today. I wonder if she would ask me: In what do you trust?  What are your lessons? Who is your tribe?  A few years ago I would have told her her I have no idea. That we all make it up as we go along now. So much has been lost along the way.

We doubt she would have found that to be a very satisfactory answer. Neither did we.

So where to begin, sisters?

Perhaps like Catherine, we should put on our spectacles and take a long, hard look at our world through the following lenses:

Connection: For mothers, friendships are big magic, and big medicine. And if the pace of life has taken you far away from your home, the importance of nurturing new relationships is of critical importance. If you take stock of your relationships and feel like they could use a little improvement, follow that lead. Take purposeful  steps by ringing up an old friend, striking up a conversation with a new Mother you meet at the park, or finding a group of like-minded Mamas on the web. You don’t have to hit it off with everyone you meet. Yet by taking your social connections seriously, you are building up a resource that takes on a completely new importance with the arrival of a child. It’s not a vanity. Its crucial.

Outlook: If your outlook is skewed to the negative side, and you find yourself regularly anxious or low as a result, it’s possible you might need to push back a bit. The world is awash in information. For a fair few of us, this can create anxiety as the collective experience of millions is distilled into soundbites and relayed to us in an instant.

Yet, being aware and informed does not need to stand in the way of living an enjoyable life. Each of us has a tendency to either see the glass half empty or half full. And each approach (optimism or pessimism) can lead to valuable outcomes in different ways. Sometimes it pays to be cautious, and sometimes we need to embrace the possibilities in a new situation. The key here is accuracy. Ask yourself if you have evidence for how you are feeling about a situation, and then choose your outlook. 

Expertise:  Parenting is a muscle that has to be built and used. The more opportunity you give yourself to roll your sleeves up and learn, the more confident you will feel about your ability to tackle this - and any manner of challenges the world might bring your way tomorrow. Within the parenting realm, we all know what we’re NOT good at. When faced with a weakness (say..making healthy meals) we can chalk it up to an innate talent deficiency and outsource the problem (hello pizza). Or, we can entertain the possibility that a good dose of old fashioned practice would shore up our skill gap and improve our self-confidence at the same time. For the next couple of weeks, try to commit to getting better at just one thing that has been nagging at you. Give it your all for an hour a day. Read up on the topic. Try it out. Mess up. Experiment. Try again. And then keep trying. Pay attention the the power of practice. Watch and observe yourself as you do get better at practically anything you want to get better at. The practice of parenthood belongs to YOU - not an industry.

Resources and Resilience: Resilience is not a modern invention. It was what helped us cross the oceans and fight off the cave bears. Its no secret that your resilience will be helped by factors much more timeless than your cell phone.

You can’t really know how resilient you are until a challenge presents itself. But you can take an informal inventory of the resources you have to call on, should the world veer stage left. How energising and sustaining are your key relationships? How helpful are your day-to-day attitudes in light of what you are hoping to accomplish? How confident are you in your abilities to handle what the world has in store for you? What aspects of your environment tire you out - and which ones sustain you?

By now, you might be starting to think about the crucial role your mind is playing in Motherhood. How an understanding of the things we can’t see, or maybe even name (but can nevertheless feel) can have a resounding impact on our well-being. How the world of a Mother is impacted as much by the environment she inhabits as it is by the objects she can acquire. And how wellness can be made by design.

Anywhere a Mother’s mind is not given the same due as her body, Motherhood is not  - yet - a truly healthy endeavour.

Yet we have every reason to be optimistic. As a society, we have the tools and the impetus to get there. One hundred years on from 1915, it’s our turn to push things forward. We think Catherine would approve. 

Read more about bringing together confidence, outlook, expertise and resilience to prepare for this new stage in your life, here.

 

Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B. (2007) Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Edge. Oxford University Press.

Seligman, M.P. (2006) Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind And Your Life. Vintage.

Are Mothers At Risk In The 21st Century?

In 1915, in a coastal quarry town in Scotland, my great grandmother Catherine practiced as a well-respected midwife. When it came to the birth of a child, Catherine’s Mothers-to-be would have done what their Mothers and Grandmothers had done. They would seek out people they knew and trusted and had probably known all their lives. A midwife’s qualifications were typically based on experience, trust and reputation in the community she served.

Catherine was well-respected and would have delivered hundreds of babies in the region over her career. Yet sadly, many women of the age were not as well-cared for as Catherine’s Mothers.

In 1915, women and newborns in the UK were dying from childbirth complications at an alarming rate. (The principal culprit being ‘childbed fever”, brought about by poor hygiene causing sepsis after the birth.) This concerned many government officials, who, in the midst of a World War, fretted over whether current birthrates would be high enough to support the population of the future. The health of Mothers soon became a topic of national attention and security.

As a result, in 1915, the Scottish Midwives Act was passed. The Act made it illegal for a midwife to charge for attending a birth without a formal qualification from one of a handful of approved institutions in the United Kingdom. It sought to ensure access to formally trained midwives for all women and thereby reduce the chances of inexperienced individuals threatening the health of Scottish mothers and their infants. (The Act was preceded by the 1902 Midwives Act in England, an act with similar reformist aims. )

Thanks to the professionalisation of the practice of midwifery, antibiotics and developments in obstetrics, hygiene in the birth arena became job one. The safeguarding of a woman’s health in childbearing became something that Mothers and their families could begin to rely upon with as much assurance as the timeless ‘folkways’ of child-rearing that would help shape their children’s futures.

The future seemed bright. Post-war, the world could now look forward to healthy mothers, healthy babies and healthy families.  

Fast forward to today. At the time of writing this article, it is (historically speaking) a very healthy time to give birth to a child. The World Health Organisation reports a worldwide reduction in maternal deaths from 523,000 in 1990 to 303,000 in 2015. Yet given the World Health Organisation’s definition of health as ‘A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity',  is it reasonable to say that Mothers are afforded as optimistic an outlook with regards to their emotional and societal well-being as they are their physical health?

By expanding the traditional view of maternal well-being from a healthy body giving birth to a healthy child to include aspects of her inner world and the wider social world she inhabits, the acceptance that Motherhood is a presumably ‘healthy’ endeavour in the twenty-first century is arguably less assured.

Long after a new baby is delivered into our gleaming age, it appears that Mothers continue to remain emotionally and socially vulnerable.  Pregnancy, childbirth and new Motherhood are widely reported to be accompanied by intense emotion, swift changes in identity, and extreme demands placed on physical and psychological resources.

New Mothers typically manage the transition to parenthood without significant or long-term impact on their well-being yet up to 30-75% of new Mothers experience some form of the “baby blues” ( a milder form of post-natal depression) in the first week after birth. In some instances (up to 20%) women develop clinical mental health disorders that require treatment.

One could argue that, while ‘life’ is a reliable expectation for mother and baby today in the developed world, the need for an otherwise healthy new Mother to adjust physically, emotionally and spiritually has somehow lost its way.

Paradoxically, while most of us live materially better than our great-grandparents could have imagined, in some key ways, we are less well as a result. Modern affluence has a price: Obesity, diabetes, addiction, anxiety and depression being some of the principal outcomes of societal progress.

A mother in the English-speaking world today will live a very different experience than she would have in 1915. She can vote. Own a credit card. Attend a university. Surf the web. If she has a measure of disposable income, she has choices on almost everything she comes into contact with. And with choices come the three horsemen of modern wealth (psychologically speaking): Anxiety (Have I chosen correctly? Was there a better option? Did I miss out?) Upward Comparison (Does someone have more than me?) And Judgment (What will people think of my decision? And what do I think about other people’s?)

Mothers living in less affluent communities can suffer from the opposite concern - the challenges that have always come from a lack of enough options. In the United States, Mothers in lower income communities can have little to no access to adequate schools, jobs, food, and community health resources. In neighbourhoods where violence and poverty are commonplace, mothers have a dramatically higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression than do the general population.

One overlap that spans the economic strata of American Mothers for example, is the need to balance employment and Motherhood. It is biologically typical to have a baby, and, in the Unites States, with over three-quarters of American mothers in employment, it is also typical for a Mother to work. Yet the United States is the only developed country in the world with no legally mandated parental leave policy for new mothers. Women have babies. Women work. Yet lagging laws mean the burden falls entirely on the mother to figure out how to make this happen. Working American mothers are the most ‘time-poor” members of the population. In an unsustainable crunch, burnout, illness and depression are rarely far behind.

One hundred years ago, it seemed like society fixed one motherhood problem very well. Mothers were dying in childbirth and we hit the challenge head on with better hygiene. Yet is the battle for maternal health really over? Today, we seem to have a different problem.  Mothers are suffering emotionally. Everywhere. Physical hygiene in the delivery setting may be job one (on day one)  - but what about ensuring emotional hygiene for a woman as she ventures forth from the hospital bed and adapts to her new role? What happens when day one turns into day 30? And beyond that?

 Pregnancy, childbirth and new Motherhood are widely reported to be accompanied by intense emotion, swift changes in identity, and extreme demands placed on physical and psychological resources.

 

Most new Mothers are educated on how to care for their bodies after birth. But how many are taught to care for their minds?  Do we feel as comfortable talking about our loneliness, anxiety or fragility as we do about our sleepless nights? Do we know how to recognise what will nourish the part of Motherhood that no one can see - the one that goes on in our heads? Do we know how to build a supportive environment? Are we equipped to see risks to our emotional well-being, and strengthen our resources for fixing them?  

For if a mother’s mind isn’t well - how can she be what she must be for the people who depend on her?

It is difficult to say whether Mothers today are more likely to feel overwhelmed, isolated, depressed or anxious than our ancestors because historical records of maternal mental health were not well kept, and even today, true numbers can be vastly under-reported due the the stigma attached to challenges fought in the mind.

Yet a casual observation of our own experiences and those of our sisters leads us to feel uneasy with the way the modern world is shaping up. We wonder how likely the world’s economic progression is poised to deplete, instead of sustain, its Mothers.

Read part two of this article here

 

Hong, S. & Burnett-Zeigler, I. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2016). doi:10.1007/s40615-016-0311-3

Schulte, B. (2014) Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time. Sarah Chrichton Books. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York.

Figes, K. (1996) Life After Birth. Virago. London.

The Baby Preparation That No One Can See

Sabrina

Almost two years ago I was sitting in bed, texting with a friend who was just about to have her first baby. She wanted my advice on baby preparation and I was all too happy to help. I was expecting questions like, will I feel isolated? What should I do about coping with sleep deprivation? Can I call you when I’m needing a pick me up? Will I question my ability as a Mother? (I can go on…) She didn’t ask those questions. What she wanted advice on was what most likely a lot of us preoccupied ourselves with at the start: which brand of muslin cloth is the best? Should I invest in a good highchair? What toys will help me stimulate my baby?

Then I thought to myself, holy shit, she doesn’t know what’s coming. I want to save her! But then maybe I was being presumptuous - not everyone will find the transition from single person to Mother as hard as I did. And to be honest, the questions I pose now, would not have even played on my mind seven years ago when I was pregnant with my first Son.

I woke up the next morning thinking, although a percentage of Mothers will find adjusting to the changes of pregnancy and Motherhood relatively easy, there is a percentage of us that will be going through a tsunami of emotions and changes that we can’t quite articulate or won’t feel comfortable articulating. And the fact that these changes in our brain (quite literally) are not explored at a significant length in ante-natal classes is unfortunate. Yes, most of us know what Postnatal Depression is and what to look out for, but what about spending more time up front preparing your mind to increase your resilience throughout the ups and downs of Motherhood? How will you cope with stressful situations? What mechanisms will you employ when you are sleep deprived? Physically exhausted? What goals do you have in place for your individual growth? I would have much rather had that discussion than listening to my Ante-natal instructor tell me the benefits of the rebozo band as a way to cope with contractions! The birth itself is such a small fish to fry in the grand scheme of safeguarding and nurturing a HUMAN LIFE.

So that night I called Megan and told her what I was thinking, and the fireworks started going off in our minds….

 

 

Megan

About 8 years ago I decided I needed a little more adventure in my life. So I packed my bags. Put my place up for rent. And left my home for places unknown. When we finally landed, my husband and I found ourselves working and living in London, England. A perfectly excellent place from which to find adventure. Fast forward a few years. I was having a lot of fun, and working hard. And then I learned..somewhere over Paris in an aeroplane restroom..that I was having a baby. Two blue lines. Deep breath. Cool! :)

I sat back down in my seat, trying not to further embarrass the man on to whom the contents of my pharmacy bag and unopened pregnancy test package had spilt onto earlier, and began to write a letter to my unborn daughter. I knew nothing of Motherhood, but I knew in that instance that I had so much to tell her. I asked her in that letter to get cosy and stay. And stay she did. And nine months later, on a foggy night along the banks of the River Thames, she made her appearance. Now, this was an adventure.

The thing about adventures is that most of the time, people try to prepare for what they might run into. They might at least pack a sandwich or two. I was travelling light, but even I wasn’t bold enough to avoid what I thought were the necessary pre-baby preparations.  I read the hypnobirthing book. I was ready for my Baby Moon. I had the car seat and stroller all ready to go. And I enrolled in the parenting class that everyone told me I had to do to learn the basics of baby-rearing. I was as prepared as I could have been.

In my parenting class, I met the best thing that ever happened to me during that time, in the form of two amazing, kindred spirits who were also about to have babies far from home, my life-long soul sisters Sabrina and Sandy. We shared lunch, puzzled over the mysteries of the new place we called home and forged a wicked friendship. I came home that day with no recollection of how to best position the child for breastfeeding, but totally over the moon that I had met these rock star ladies. Looking back, my brain was already telling me what I needed most!

Oh yeah..my brain. So as it turns out, the only thing I didn’t prepare for this adventure was my mind. I didn’t realise this until much later but suffice it to say, enough unnecessary suffering happened in my mind in that first year to make me wonder if a huge part - perhaps THE part - of our preparation for Motherhood had been overlooked. After all, It is in our minds that we become Mothers. And it is the one area of a Mother that there is almost complete Radio Silence on as she prepares for (most likely) the most monumental shift in her identity to date, and possibly ever in her life.

I noticed that my friends, when we talked, and the conversation moved beyond the baby-care troubles, were often grappling with real fears that spanned far beyond the advice in the baby manuals: Fears of the unknown, of feeling so newly vulnerable, of feeling so newly out of control. My background in the field of psychology probably biased me to noticing the emotional and thinking aspects of our struggles, and it definitely biased me to want to do something about it. My friends agreed and luckily Sabrina is someone who makes things happen. And so, Well Made Mama was born.

Well Made Mama is a collaboration of efforts focused on helping women learn about the transition to Motherhood that no one can see - the one that happens in their heads. And in the midst of so much expertise about what Mothers ‘ought’ to do - we wanted to shine a light on what they are already doing, and doing well. We hope you find a place here to settle in and learn about how to strengthen and support the wondrous, vital creature that is YOU. You are our hero..and the content of Well Made Mama was made for you with love. 

Have you read the rest of Volume 1? Peruse the rest of the WMM Journal here

Motherhood - A Fresh Perspective On An Ancient Journey

I was born in a blizzard. On the shores of the frozen waters of the Great Lakes.

The lake that welcomed me here was old. She is the remains of an enormous glacier. Filled with the memories of a time when the great North American plains were much colder. She is a wise old lady lake for sure. I wouldn’t mess with her. Most would say that she was here before me and that she’d be here after me too.

At only a few minutes old, I would have seemed comparatively younger. I hadn’t seen  - nor could I see - much. My mother’s heartbeat, the bleeps of the machines and the waves of the lake being the only patterns I had any experience with. You wouldn’t be blamed for underestimating me. Except...

I was much, much older than that lake.

True, I was freshly minted. Yet I was only the most recent page in a very long, very intricate story. Of heroes and heroines, small triumphs, dead ends, and unrelenting progress. The newest link in a chain that has come down, unbroken, from far before the glaciers rose and fell.   

As I lay there in my little cot, deep inside me,  each of those sparkling little baby cells was re-reading a message in a bottle launched back when the story started. It was a pattern that had spelt out the building blocks of my species for at least 150,000 years. I was a Homo Sapien. A girl child. A modern human.  And the physical expression of one of the greatest plans for survival ever penned: Human DNA.

In common parlance, DNA is our genes. It is the information for building a human body that we inherit from our parents. For the most part, we inherit half of our genetic information from our Mothers and a half from our Fathers. (This is why offspring tend to resemble both parents.) As the result of intermingling and swapping over many generations, our genetic inheritance is a mixture of a very large group of ancestors. This is why no one’s DNA is exactly identical, and why no one will ever feel, look, or act exactly like the one and only you.  

As if this alphabet soup of genetic instructions for us weren’t complex enough -  sometimes the genes themselves also change. This happens because, to make a new human, old DNA must replicate itself. It is this replicant DNA that is passed on to a child. And sometimes - rarely but sometimes - the copying isn’t 100% accurate from the parent’s information. The DNA mutates. The child carries a slight twist on its parents. This is how we might end up with a new physical characteristic in the gene pool. This is how we evolve.

On the flip side, right smack dab in the middle of all this genetic speed dating is a special type of DNA that doesn’t change much at all. (We would expect to see a slight, naturally occurring mutation once every 10,000 years or so.) It's called Mitochondrial DNA. One hundred percent of it comes from our Mothers. And in it - in every cell in every one of us - is written the story of them. The legends of our Mothers and their Mothers and their maternal Grandmother’s maternal Grandmother's. All the way back to a single Mother. Unchanged. For millennia.

When you were conceived, your Mother’s egg was filled to the brim with the mitochondrial DNA that was to become yours. Genetically speaking, the mitochondrial DNA we receive from our Mothers is the EXACT same blueprint our maternal ancestors were working with, back to anywhere from 10,000-150,000 years ago (depending on your specific node in the great human family.)

At that moment, she handed you an unbroken genetic map,  passed down unaltered. You are walking around with ancient maternal DNA. Palaeolithic instructions for building a Palaeolithic body. And it isn’t a tiny portion of you. It is you. Mitochondrially speaking, we are nought but simple cave Mothers.

It's pretty cool. Just think...you are carrying around the molecular witness to every journey, battle, tragedy, joy, and triumph of every Mother in every act, and every scene, that got you here. Every Mother in your long history that scraped by, through cleverness and strength. with tooth and claw, to eke out an existence and keep her babies well. Through drought, delight and darkness. Right up to you. They are all there. Still with you.

It’s a heck of an inheritance.

Practically speaking, it also means that you have the same raw ingredients in you that helped your maternal ancestors make it. Genetically speaking, you’re a tough SOB.  As a human species, life was tenuous for most of our history. Our maternal ancestors had to deal with predators, hostile terrain and little food. Yet they figured it out. We figured it out. Through grit, discipline and innovation. Here and there. The great human story unfolded through its Mothers. And every chapter, every detail, is written there - in your cells.

Mothers are miraculous survival machines. And, despite the nagging of many a modern advertisement, new Mothers already have everything they need for this journey. Right there in their DNA. It's an inheritance of grit and ingenuity, hard-coded, handed down from their Mothers’ Mothers. You’ve got this one covered, thanks.  

But these days, we often arrive at Motherhood oblivious to what our genetic inheritance has already equipped us for. We have stopped listening to our Mothers. Listening to the cues from our bodies and our minds that tell us what is - and what isn’t  - going to help us along the way. Looking inside, and looking back, far before us, to learn how truly awe-inspiring our capacity to survive - and thrive - really is.

As a takeaway, here’s a small glimpse into the lives of the Palaeolithic Mothers we once were.

  1. Your tribe was everything: Early humans lived in groups of around 30 who cooperated and shared resources in order to ensure everyone survived. A Mother would have needed the support of the group sustain herself and her children. Even if predators weren’t an issue, it would have been unlikely she could have foraged enough calories to keep her family fed without the hunted meat contributed by other members of the tribe.

  2. But Mothers pulled their weight (and then some): Women foraged the calories that sustained the group in between the hunts. This meant a new Mother would likely be moving and gathering food again not long after the birth of a child. The group depended on the contributions of everyone. There was little time for prolonged rest.

  3. Beauty and art intrigued: Early human remains are often found with red ochre stains in the graves, suggesting either a mystical or an aesthetic enjoyment for colouring one’s skin. Early humans carved beautiful objects out of mammoth tusk ivory, made necklaces out of shells and painted beautiful figures on cave walls. Beauty could not be eaten, yet even to our practical ancestors, it fed the soul.

  4. Seasons changed you: The changing seasons meant that the herds your group hunted would change migration pattern. Your tribe moved with its food. Every season meant a new home. The weather got colder, you picked up the baby, packed up some things, and you moved on.

  5. You travelled light: When your life is dependent on following game, you can’t carry more than you need. A few tools, the clothes on your back, was all you could allow yourself. Your tribe, the herds you followed, and fresh water. That’s what mattered.   

Social, practical, creative, contributing Mothers, living in the season, planning for the next one, moving on with only as much as they could carry. That’s what’s in our genes.

How much of this experience still echoes in our modern lives? Do the lives we create for ourselves today leave any space for the lessons of our past?

After all, these women are still in all of us. Your story is old Mama. And it whispers to you when you listen. Food for thought in a hectic world.

For a great read on the topic:

Sykes, B. (2001) The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry. W.W. Norton & Company, New York.  

And some great viewing:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/great-human-odyssey.html

 

Mothering In The Modern Era

A long time ago, flowers started to supercharge their pollen with nectar to attract insects. The flowers found this was an effective technology for improving pollination and therefore survival.

Writer Steven Johnson describes the gravity-defying capabilities of hummingbird flight as an unexpected byproduct of this flower upgrade. In an unforeseen response to better pollen, hummingbirds also began to evolve their own new technology. They evolved a wing design that allowed them to hover and scoop the flowers’ newly fortified nectar ahead of the insects. Sometimes an innovation in one area has an entirely unexpected impact on another.

In the case of human beings, our spectacular capacity for tinkering and innovation has solved many ills. Yet it may be introducing many unexpected results. Cue the practice of Motherhood in an era that looks nothing like our species has ever known.

“We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.”  

- Sir Winston Churchill

We are Mothers. Which means we are the newest link in the oldest chain in the universe. Our bodies are not new. We share the molecular properties of both stardust and seawater. Our children are not new. We have been protecting and nourishing our practically helpless young for aeons. The evolution of humans is inextricably linked with a childhood that is far longer than that of other creatures we share a planet with.

This game is old as the hills.

So why do so many of us feel like we are fumbling around in the dark?

We are connected, wired and informed. Yet we have more to fear as result. We are awash with goods and services. Yet we are insecure and preoccupied with our choices. Our bodies are healthier and longer-lived than ever. Yet mental health continues to languish within the population. We have so much. But it can all feel so weird.

Our bodies may be old, but our technologies are not. As our culture evolves in ever-faster ways to keep pace, how will we weave ourselves into the mix in healthy and adaptive ways? How can we make the most of our modern age while respecting the inheritance our time-hewn bodies won’t let us forget?

Well, Made Mama wants to bring a little daylight into the mix. We seek to inform our readers on the science of motherhood. We aim to help them make sense of this ancient journey with up-to-date evidence, fresh cultural perspectives and today’s story-telling.  

We hope to be your tour guides to the modern - and the timeless -  that is you, Mama. We do this in the service of your well-being and in admiration of your intelligence, devotion and all-out sabre-tooth tiger grit.

Welcome to Volume 1 of the Well Made Mama journey. We’re glad you’re here.

Johnson, S. (2015) How We Got To Now: Six Innovations That Made The Modern World. Penguin Publishing Group.