Friday, January 27, 2012

on a personal note

Picture taken yesterday, at the home of friends
Today Noel and I are celebrating 39 years of marriage. Thirty-nine years of shared life is worth noting, and I thank God for this man!

I'm not going to try to delve deeply into personal matters, but I do want to draw attention to the importance of a stable and supportive home base. A midwife who intends to provide primary care for women across the childbearing continuum, including the occasional disruption and uncertainty that come with spontaneous birthing, needs security and stability within her home and family life. Of course this can't be guaranteed - situations can change in an instant.

Most of the women who call our home phone to speak to me get the opportunity to speak with Noel.  He's my gatekeeper when I have been out all night, and need a sleep.  He's my receptionist when I'm out, or when I'm having a shower.  When a mother and baby come for the 6 week postnatal 'show and tell' visit, he usually manages to say hello, and offer congratualtions on the new baby.

Noel's qualifications are in Veterinary science.  His Masters and PhD work at Michigan State University in the 1970s investigated the protective effect of colostrum for the newborn calf.  He demonstrated that a calf who received colostrum in the first days of life was protected against 'scours' - the term used for gastroenteritis in the dairy, responsible for high rates of death of calves.  At that time, newborn dairy calves were removed from the cows immediately after birth, and fed with 'milk replacer' - a substitute milk similar to the formula milks made up for human babies.  Noel's research also demonstrated the phenomenon of 'gut closure': the brief time immediately after birth when macro molecules are able to pass across the intestinal wall directly into the blood.  The time and significance of gut closure in human infants is still unknown. 

I believe I have benefited a great deal from Noel's studies and academic work.  The principle that the natural physiological processes across the childbearing continuum are truly awesome, and truly worth protecting, has strong foundation in my mind.  Those who remember the 1960s and 70s will recall the infatuation in health care with what they saw as science - that science could provide smart alternatives to anything natural, from clothing fabrics to human milk.  Women were being told they no longer needed to be burdened with tedious natural tasks such as breast feeding.  Women could control when they had babies, and what they did for the babies they bore.  Intellectual theorists of the 60s and 70s hailed female-male equality as the new societal standard.

The reality that was ignored in attempts to free women from the burden of nourishing their babies was that being a mother can be GOOD!  That maternal instinct is a strong force, under hormonal direction, that enables a woman to want to stay with her baby; to respond to the baby in a loving and nurturing way; to give the baby access to her breast whenever and wherever the baby is hungry or needs comfort.  Interruptions in physiological processes inevitably interfere with hormonal states, leading to non-physiological and often adverse outcomes. 

I had not learnt about maternal instinct in the midwifery course that I had completed just months before the birth of my first child.  The midwifery teachers were older single women, as were most of midwives in senior positions in the hospital.

I am looking forward to continued learning about the beauty and desirability of hormonally-mediated maternal behavioural patterns. 

Thankyou for your comments

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