As told by persona, Babyheart (Podcast here)
It all started when I was in the womb. I could hear them. Dad yelling at Mom. Mom pouting, burning the dinner. Hamburgers turning into charcoal briquettes. The first Hard Rock Café.
All the yelling back and forth. “Hey, I can hear you!” “Stop it—this is not good for me!” I was already a psychologist in the womb.
Then the pain—Ultrasounds. Yeouch! I tried to push them away. And I know a neuron or a thousand got mixed up on their way home and ended up somewhere else. That’s what I blame for my memory problems. But there’s more, so much more.
There was birth. Was that birth? Knock mom out and use the forceps. Grab and go. Baby yanking. “Hey, that’s me!” I’m forever deformed with a kink in my neck.
I’ve heard that usually the baby gets to decide when to leave the lovely womb and venture into the unknown, and see mom for the first time. If only!
So there I am after birth. Where’s mom? It’s cold, stinky, bright. And who are these people grabbing me, scraping me, poking me? Mom, Mom! Stop these bullies!
Worse, then I’m put in my own room, away from mom. Or rather, I’m alone in a wailing room, a wall of wailing. Wailing, lonely babies in shock. We keep going over what just happened. We were enjoying ourselves swimming and bobbing along with mom, getting a little tight maybe. But hearing her voice as well as her body gurgles. Then all of a sudden mom stops moving, we get a little high—was that pot? Then the big yank. Life started not with a big bang but a big yank.
A yank into obnoxious smells—like smelling salts, rough touches—like sand paper, bright lights—hey, I’m not ready for the stage! Then they poke you and stick you with needles, vacuum, take things out, put things in. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. So stressed. Then the wailing room.
So there I am in the baby wailing room. A wailing wall of unhappiness. And I think, “there go my stress levels.” I knew, because I was already a psychologist then. There go my stress levels: What’s that going to do to my health and longevity? Just thinking about it, they went up even more. I knew that my stress response systems were screwed—for life. The stress response gauge got set to not flight—I couldn’t run away, not fight –what could a teeny weeny me do? My stress response was set to “freeze”—just breathe, don’t move or you will die—for the rest of my life. Whenever the stress response kicks in I can’t think. Just breathe, quietly, or they will kill you.
So in my early hours, instead of cozying up with mom, I’m there all stressed—give me a tranquilizer please! I’m screaming with the rest of them. But then it gets quiet.
Mmm, sugar water! Mmm. Tastes good. Quieter now. Then infant Formula. Oh no, I can’t digest it, ahrgg...dead sleep...if too-deep sleep doesn’t actually kill me.
Hey, formula doesn’t help my brain or body grow! It welcome pathogenic bacteria into my body forever. There goes my immune system too! Thanks a lot, guys!
It was a war zone, that hospital. I could feel a shell of self-protection growing around my heart and my thinking. It’s impairing my intelligence! Yes, I actually thought that. I’m going to be less sensitive, less open, and have a harder time making friends. Thanks a lot, guys!
There goes my confidence. Just like the fairy tale's handless maiden who lost her hands to the greed of adults around her.
Then I had some real gratitude. Oh, thank god I’m not a guy. They were the most miserable babies. Some doctors—I hear even today—right after the boy arrives, take out the knife and get it done, if you know what I mean. Slash, snip. All gone. Boom. I’m not so dumb to believe that doctors intend to harm babies at birth. They actually donate all the foreskins to good causes. It’s not a little shell of protection those boys build then. Nope, it’s a bunker. Wouldn’t you? Love, what’s that? Trust, what’s that? Safety, ae! Instead, they spend their lives looking for safety—building walls, bombs, weapons. Whatever it takes. Danger and pain could be anywhere, everywhere at any time. Stay alert and ready to run or fight.
The boys are deeply wounded just like the fairy tale fisher king who suffers a wound to his deep self life long.
All we babies had been pruned already and we were just born. Have you seen those trees and bushes shaped like Mickey Mouse or Donald duck? That was us. The hospital industrial complex made us into cogs for the great machine. They wanted us to be quiet—whatever it took. Just shut up, says the world.
We got to be born in a way explicitly designed by human intelligence. Huh? Human intelligence-- is that something like military intelligence? Impose stress to make babies stupid and self centered? We have a great future—in the machine, the only place we feel safe with shutdown selves. We can become another dead, dull adult: ‘Don’t feel, don’t be alive, shut up and obey.’ ‘Do your job in the machine, the matrix, and keep quiet.’
When I can’t take the self-suffocation anymore I lose my temper and lash out. I feel the need for power, to boss everyone else like I was bossed and pushed around. I want to be the one in control. I want to be the one separating babies from moms and punishing them for being born. I want to force feed them, force sleep them, force teach them. Force! It’s all about force.
But then I met a baby who was born in a different way. The baby gave the signal and got everything going. And mom was ready and moved around to help her get out. And it was almost fun. They both got high on each other. Her mom welcomed her with open arms. No separation, no scraping, poking, prodding. She got to find her way up to mom’s magical breasts and start feeding. She stays with mom day and night, cuddling and snuggling. They don’t want to let go. And she feeds at will. She’ll be the one smart adult in the world!
Meanwhile, after our traumatic beginnings, the rest of us will spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what we did wrong, and we’ll never feel right.
Ang, Jr., E.S.B.C, Gluncic, V., Duque, A., Schafer, M.E., & Rakic, P. (2006). Prenatal exposure to ultrasound waves impacts neuronal migration in mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(34), 12903–12910.
Harm from medicalized birth practices here
Liu, W.F., Laudert, S., Perkins, B., MacMillan-York, E., Martin, S., & Graven, S. for the NIC/Q 2005 Physical Environment Exploratory Group (2007). The development of potentially better practices to support the neurodevelopment of infants in the NICU. Journal of Perinatology, 27, S48–S74.
Harm from infant circumcision here
Benefits of breastfeeding vs infant formula here
NOTE on BASIC ASSUMPTIONS:
WHEN I WRITE ABOUT HUMAN NATURE, I use the 99% of human genus history as a baseline. That is the context of small-band hunter-gatherers. These are “immediate-return” societies with few possessions who migrate and forage. They have no hierarchy or coercion and value generosity and sharing. They exhibit both high autonomy and high commitment to the group. They have high social wellbeing. See comparison between dominant Western culture and this evolved heritage in my article (you can download from my website):
Narvaez, D. (2013). The 99 Percent—Development and socialization within an evolutionary context: Growing up to become “A good and useful human being.” In D. Fry (Ed.), War, Peace and Human Nature: The convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views (pp. 643-672). New York: Oxford University Press.
WHEN I WRITE ABOUT CHILD RAISING, I assume the importance of the evolved nest or evolved developmental niche (EDN) for raising human infants (which initially arose over 30 million years ago with the emergence of the social mammals and has been slightly altered among human groups based on anthropological research).
The EDN is the baseline I use to examine what fosters optimal human health, wellbeing and compassionate morality. The niche includes at least the following: infant-initiated breastfeeding for several years, nearly constant touch early, responsiveness to needs to avoid distressing a baby, playful companionship with multi-aged playmates, multiple adult caregivers, positive social support, and soothing perinatal experiences.
All EDN characteristics are linked to health in mammalian and human studies (for reviews, see Narvaez, Panksepp, Schore & Gleason, 2013; Narvaez, Valentino, Fuentes, McKenna & Gray, 2014; Narvaez, 2014) Thus, shifts away from the EDN baseline are risky and must be supported with lifelong longitudinal data looking at multiple aspects of psychosocial and neurobiological wellbeing in children and adults. My comments and posts stem from these basic assumptions.
My research laboratory has documented the importance of the EDN for child wellbeing and moral development with more papers in the works (see my Website to download papers):
Narvaez, D., Gleason, T., Wang, L., Brooks, J., Lefever, J., Cheng, A., & Centers for the Prevention of Child Neglect (2013). The Evolved Development Niche: Longitudinal Effects of Caregiving Practices on Early Childhood Psychosocial Development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28 (4), 759–773. Doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2013.07.003
Narvaez, D., Wang, L., Gleason, T., Cheng, A., Lefever, J., & Deng, L. (2013). The Evolved Developmental Niche and sociomoral outcomes in Chinese three-year-olds. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 10(2), 106-127.
We also have a recent paper look at adult effects:
Narvaez, D., Wang, L, & Cheng, A. (2016). Evolved Developmental Niche History: Relation to adult psychopathology and morality. Applied Developmental Science, 4, 294-309. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10888691.2015.1128835
See these for theoretical reviews:
Narvaez, D., Gettler, L., Braungart-Rieker, J., Miller-Graff, L., & Hastings, P. (2016). The flourishing of young Children: Evolutionary baselines. In Narvaez, D., Braungart-Rieker, J., Miller, L., Gettler, L., & Harris, P. (Eds.), Contexts for young child flourishing: Evolution, family and society (pp. 3-27). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Narvaez, D., Hastings, P., Braungart-Rieker, J., Miller, L., & Gettler, L. (2016). Young child flourishing as an aim for society. In Narvaez, D., Braungart-Rieker, J., Miller, L., Gettler, L., & Hastings, P. (Eds.), Contexts for young child flourishing: Evolution, family and society (pp. 347-359). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Also see these books:
Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development (Oxford University Press, 2013)
Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution (Oxford University Press, 2014)
Contexts for Young Child Flourishing: Evolution, Family and Society (ed. with Braungart-Rieker, Miller-Graff, Gettler, Hastings; OUP, 2016)
WHY DO I BOTHER TO WORRY ABOUT HUMAN DEVELOPMENT AND MORALITY? Why don’t I just shut up and do my research, publish papers, teach and make my salary? Why do I take risks connecting the dots? It is because from all signs, the dominant human culture is exterminating itself along with many other species. The planet will survive no matter what we do. The dominant culture has several unusual characteristics in the history of humanity which appear to be caused by culture’s interference in biological development (see EDN below). The strangeness are symptoms of things gone awry. (For a great read on this see the novel, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn.)
First, the dominant culture treats plants, animals and other entities as if they had no purpose of their own but exist only for humanity’s benefit. Second, part of the reason for these attitudes is a basic insensitivity to the communications of other lifeforms. Children are taught to suppress any awareness of a living earth. Third is the desire for domination of nature instead of partnership with it. Fourth, the desire to make everything in the image of a machine, of one superordinate way of being has emerged in the West in the last centuries and now imposes itself on the rest of the world through the combined power of the military-industrial-financial-corporate complex in the West.
All these tendencies arise from the neurobiological misconstruction of a self in early life, coerced by the cultural practices of child raising. Then they are fertilized by narratives that justify the misdeveloped humans (“selfish genes”) and maintaining the destructive culture (“progress”).