Love, Children, and the World

Love, Children, and the World

By María José López Álvarez

According to scientists, studies are demonstrating the existence of a marked relationship between how we are treated during birth and the child rearing period and the way we relate to the world as adult individuals.

Michel Odent argues that the mother-child bond is the base from which all other forms of love spring –including the love for Mother Earth–, and speaks of the existence of a critical period during and after birth with long term consequences for the individual’s future capacity to love. Odent’s work has found a relationship between juvenile crime, suicide, and autism, among others, and certain risk factors surrounding the birthing period, such as forceps delivery, the use of anaesthetics, birth induction, and immediate separation of mother and baby.

He maintains that, for millennia, the survival strategies of numerous societies have been based on the domination of nature and other human groups, and that their violent behaviour stems from aggressive beliefs and rituals surrounding birth –in our society, practices such as unnecessary birth interventions and mother-infant separation after delivery. Thus, he believes that, in order to create a peaceful society and to heal the environment, we need a change in the occidental obstetric model as a fundamental prerequisite, i.e. the humanizing of birth and the empowerment of mothers to trust their bodies as powerful and as conceived and designed for bringing life into the world.[1]

Jean Liedloff claims that, due to cultural practices, occidental societies have separated in a very short time-span from the evolutionary continuum in harmony with the environment in which the human species evolved. As a primate, the human baby expects to be carried in arms, to be breastfed, and to sleep beside his/her carer.[2] This is the baby’s continuum or, in Nils Bergman’s words, the infant’s “natural habitat”. When the baby is separated from his natural habitat, he shows a series of responses designed to call for his mother. In these circumstances, the baby is under stress and, in the event that his calls are unsuccessful, he can reach a state known as “dissociation” [3], during which the combination of stress hormones and toxic chemicals produced in the brain may cause the death of brain cells, which can in turn affect the individual’s future behaviour and his vulnerability to mental illness.[4]

James Prescott’s work shows that in different cultures, certain variables of infant affection, such as playing with children, caressing them, holding them or breastfeeding, are inversely related to crime and violence variables, such as frequency of robberies, murders, etc.[5] That is, the more affectionate the adults are towards their children, the less violent that society is.

So, our brain seems to respond to the way we are treated from the moment we come into the world: empathy, compassion, and love are imprinted in it through sensory stimuli such as breastfeeding, touch, skin to skin contact, etc. Joseph Chilton Pearce believes that this is our biological plan as a species (i.e. our brains are designed to be hardwired for love) and that, when it does not happen, it is because culture is interfering with biology.[6]

There is yet another determining factor in the way we relate to our environment: contact with nature. Occidental societies are steering towards a total lack of this type of contact from infancy. As Aric Sigman states: “We’re witnessing the ecological equivalent of an attachment disorder whereby the child’s separation from Mother Nature causes a failure to bond properly with her and to go on to establish and maintain a caring relationship thereafter.”[7]

The relationship is also reciprocal: Richard Louv has adopted the term “Nature-Deficit Disroder” to describe the health problems associated with the alienation we are suffering from nature: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illness.[8] Health problems increase with the time children spend in front of the screen, which, according to recent studies affects learning ability independently of the programme’s content. Occidental society is substituting “videofilia” (love of the screen) for “biophilia” (love of life).[9]

We shouldn’t be surprised if, as human beings brought up in this environment, we find it difficult to build communities which care for others and for the environment: environmental degradation and the severity of war have known no precedent in human history.

Where, then, lies the solution? In my opinion, it is in our very hands and hearts: we can start with informing ourselves, getting support, and advocating for birth with no unnecessary interventions; breastfeeding our children and supporting others who breastfeed; carrying our babies in our arms as much as possible without fear of spoiling them; sleeping with our children, playing with them, talking to them, taking them out to Nature, and reducing their exposure to screen time. As Pam Leo, author of “Connection Parenting” affirms: “How you treat the child, the child will treat the world”.

María José López Álvarez is a former La Leche League Leader, a biologist, and the mother of three beautiful children: Sebastian (7), Clara (5), and Alejandro (2 months).

[1] Odent M, 1999. The Scientification of Love. London: Free Association Books.

[2] Liedloff J. The Continuum Concept.

[3] Bergman N, 2005. The Physiology of Skin to Skin Contact.  II International Breastfeeding Symposium: Kangaroo Mother Care. Bilbao: La Leche League Spain.

[4] Buckley S, 2009. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices. Celestial Arts.

[5] Presscott J.

[6] Pearce JC, 2007. The Death of Religion and the Rebirth of Spirit. A Return to the Intelligence of the Heart. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press.

[7] Sigman A, 2009. Videophilia. Resurgence No. 254, May/June, 16-17.

[8] Louv R, 2005. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Workman Publishing.

[9] Sigman A, 2005. Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives –and What We Can Do About It. Vermilion Press.

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