From a talk given by Pam Dyer Stewart, October 2009
I am going to speak to you as a mother and a midwife. I have 2 memories-2 moments of insight-- that I’d like to share with you this evening.
The day after I gave birth for the first time, I was resting in bed and gazing out the front window. I was still exhausted from a long
and very normal labor and birth.
Our son was peacefully nursing at my breast and maternal hormones were coursing through my system.
I saw an ordinary middle-aged woman
- a stranger-
walking up the street outside my window.
In that moment, I had a sudden and unexpected urge to run outside and fall on my knees before her, in some sort of act of adoration and kinship.
I did not do that, but…………..
“There she is-probably a mother”, I thought. One of the unsung heroes.
She, too, perhaps, had survived the powerful storm of childbirth.
She, too, perhaps, had suffered, had put her life on the line for her beloved, for her child.
She, too, perhaps, had been willing to break open her body and her heart to give birth.
Maybe she, too, had taken part in what I now considered the greatest act of love-giving birth.
That unforgettable sentiment that washed over me on that late September day 28 years ago,
you could say was all about the hormonal state of a new mother………
Or……you could say that it reflected the special capacity of women to understand truth and all that’s at stake in life.
I think both things are true. I was, in fact, at the mercy of my hormones, but it was my hormones that gifted me with that insight.
And so……..as a midwife………. I’m going to tell you about Oxytocin:
Oxytocin was the hormone that had me gripped in her capable hands, and it’s a potent one. It has at least 3 vital functions……….
One, it’s the hormone of labor,
the hormone that causes the relentless waves of uterine contractions in labor,
for hours on end,
resulting in the miracle of a baby’s emergence into the world.
Second, it’s also the hormone that is released into a mother’s system when her baby is suckling at the breast
and creates a loving contentedness in the mother’s heart.
Finally, Oxytocin is the hormone that is released into a woman’s system during love-making.
The release of Oxytocin …..in all these circumstances ……causes a powerful surge
and Communion in a woman.
It truly is…. the Love Hormone,
the Relational Hormone.
It is the Hormone of Peace.
Because of Oxytocin, women know peace on a cellular...body… level.
If world decisions were made by nursing mothers within a few days of giving birth,
our governmental policies would be based ….always
on the preservation of life,
the nurturance of all human being’s needs
and the elimination of war.
A second memory…………
When our youngest son was born,
the Persian Gulf War of 1991 was only days away from being launched.
I remember so clearly,
lying in bed nursing my baby boy, only a few days old,
and feeling Enormous Dread and Unbearable Sorrow in my heart and viscerally……in my gut……
that my precious boy
-newest miracle in my life-
Was born into wartime and would inherit the results of war.
I felt intensely connected to mothers around the world
who shared with me the same profound feelings of love
and protectiveness toward their young.
We call it Mother Bear Love
-fierce and tender and strong.
And I knew that as I cradled my Precious Innocent Boy,
Another American Mother, somewhere, a mother perhaps of a soldier-to-be, cradled her Beauty,
And so, too, did an Iraqi Mother, on the other side of the world, cradle her most Cherished Love.
Every human being is born in innocence,
is the Kiss of God in the world
--- and the innocent victims of war
are not only the civilians who die,
but the soldiers
-on all sides-
who die or are maimed for life.
We are all Innocent Ones
-each one of us born from a mother’s womb.
From the hard work,
the sweat and the tears and the blood of a Woman.
Born from the utter surrender of a woman
to the Power of Labor and the Life Force.
It’s good honest work
and we all start there.
Same innocent newborn life.
As a Woman and a Mother, I say,
Let us protect life.
Let us recognize each one as unique and cherished.
Let us end war.
I close with the wise words of Virginia Woolf
-great novelist, thinker and pacifist of the twentieth century.
She was not a mother,
but she understood that we are all One
no matter where in the world we are born.
“As a woman, I have no country.
As a woman, I want no country.
As a woman, my country is the whole world.”
May we devote ourselves to peace.
Pam Dyer Stewart
When our last child was born, and again I sat on the floor in a puddle of body fluids, and reached out to touch our newborn's long slender body, amazed at his perfection, somewhere from the periphery I heard "Maybe you ought to get that baby covered..." Intrusion. "Who invited her?" I thought with minor irritation. It was only an instant, and we kept sailing along in our dreamland. One of our kids stepped up to help dry the baby, another helped get the hat on. We were in New Baby Land all together. I knew by then how sacred and short that first hour would be, and I didn't let normal life and good intentions interrupt it.
That first hour is precious. All senses, for both mother and baby, are wide open. The luscious softness of the infant's skin is a tactile orgy. The mother's touch grounds the baby in his new non-aquatic environment. When the lighting is kept low, to protect the newborn's eyes from the newly experienced brightness of life outside of the womb, mother and child gaze deeply at each other. Mother notices every detail of the baby's delicate lips and imploring tongue, lapping in expectation; the pattern of peach fuzz over the shoulders and sometimes on the face; the swirl of hair, sparse or thick; the myriad folds of the ears; the arch of the eyebrow; the bow and coil of the hyper flexed legs; every finger, every toe. In her own time, with her partner and perhaps older children, mother discovers the gender of her child. Sometimes it's immediate, sometimes it's thirty minutes later when she pulls the blanket back to take a closer look.
Babies often gaze in still wonder at the mother's face, mesmerized by the familiar voice, no longer muffled by amniotic fluid. On occasion, baby may have some serious crying to do initially. If he was stressed in the last moments in the birth canal or if he has fluid to clear from his lungs, crying will substantially aerate his system, and help him through the transition from intrauterine to extra uterine life. But the more common still point-time out of time-of gazing thoroughly at each other, savoring the primal physicality of skin on skin, as well as the baby's nuzzling of the mother's nipple, all serve to stimulate a resurgence of oxytocin that will cause uterine contractions again, the birth of the placenta, and minimize the amount of blood lost.
The mother often, at this point, finds herself distracted from her baby for a few minutes and perhaps, a little restless. She may want to shift her position or even have someone else hold the baby while she expels the placenta.
When the umbilical cord remains intact during this time, the baby's system has the advantage of receiving a boost of cord blood. This volume of blood carrying with it vital oxygen, can be critical if the baby has been stressed just before emerging, or if for any reason is slow to take his first breath. In effect, the extra volume of blood from the umbilical cord can "jump start" the baby's system. The intact umbilical cord provides the baby with a safety net in his first few minutes of life while his circulation is making the shift from receiving oxygen via the umbilical cord and placenta to receiving oxygen via air in the lungs.
Undisturbed and supported by the pulsing cord, baby will nuzzle and grope until he finds the nipple. Some babies will latch on full within minutes. Some babies will lick and smell, hold and let go of the nipple, in no hurry, experiencing the touch and smell, luxuriating in the presence of the mother. There is no time table in that first golden hour, only mother and baby-one becoming two-protected by privacy, low lighting, warmth and love.
--Pam Dyer Stewart