“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver.
I am the youngest in my family. I found that to be frustrating as a child, as I had no baby brothers or sisters to play with. My mother was unmoved by my requests. She often declared herself to ‘have no maternal bone’ in her body. How you have six pregnancies, five babies and breastfeed all of them without being maternal I will never know. My vision of younger siblings letting me treat them like living dolls would probably be harshly challenged by eldest siblings everywhere. Their reality of having responsibility thrust upon them at an early age when their father promised to ‘be right back’ could not have been the fun-filled adventure that I imagine.
But I found babies wherever I went. My earliest memory involving a baby is of going with my father to visit some of his latest church members in Manchester, England. I was probably only six or so. His new members had not long arrived from Jamaica. He saw the opportunity to reach out to the population of West Indians and invite them into his church. He recognized them as a people who loved to worship, but who were having a hard time settling into a harsh and not very welcoming ‘motherland’. When hired, it was usually in the low paying factory jobs, working night shifts. He added evening and week-time services and prayer meetings to give them an opportunity to maintain both job and church attendance.
Margaret was the beautiful little baby I was allowed to hold. She had big eyes, a soft afro, and four teeth. She promptly grabbed both of my cheeks and bit me square on the nose! Years later I met up with her in Jamaica when her parents decided to return home. She never apologized!
I saw a beautiful cartoon recently, a drawing of the planet and a person. ‘You have two homes,’ read the caption, ‘the earth and your body. Take care of them.’ One thing we have known for many years now, is that a mother’s health directly affects her baby’s health. There was an old wives’ tale that you lose two teeth (or was it one?) for every pregnancy. The theory would seem to say that if a pregnant woman is not taking enough calcium in her diet to support both her and her baby, then it will be robbed from her teeth. In reality it would probably be her bones that would suffer, but the point stayed with me. Nowadays we encourage pregnant women to take supplemental vitamins and minerals to ensure the health of mother and child. We are more conscious of the effects of diet and lifestyle and stress on the development of the baby.
And that does not end when the baby is born. There are parts of the world where the babies are only healthy as long as the mother breastfeeds. Once they lose that rich source of protein and calories, their new diet is unable to sustain healthy growth. And of course the breastfeeding mother needs to be sustained also. It is one of the great shames of the developed world that they have allowed huge industries to make millions with an advertising campaign designed to dissuade mothers from breastfeeding, that bottle is better.
And in the developed world lactation specialists and midwives are still having to try to ‘sell’ mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding. I was fortunate to have grown up in a family where breastfeeding was not considered an option, it was the only choice. It never occurred to me not to breastfeed, even after I went back to work. And that was before the days of breastfeeding stations and other accommodations for nursing mothers. For me it was not only convenient, money saving, natural, it was also a beautiful bonding experience, an opportunity to do nothing but relax with your feet up after a long night at work. Before the distraction of smart phones and social media to make me stare at a screen instead of my baby’s beautiful face.
The urge to mother, to be maternal, does not require that you actually give birth. Many children are lucky enough to have aunts, uncles, fathers, grandparents who serve that role in their lives. Adoptive parents may not even remember that they are not the biological parents of the children they raise. And even when our children are not perfect, most of us cannot sever those ties.
When it comes to Mother Earth, have you checked in with her recently? Her children have treated her very badly; it seems we have done everything within our powers to choke up her oceans with plastic, to cause her glaciers to melt and her hot flashes to go hay-wire. The prognosis is dire. What are you doing to help keep her healthy? Remember, her children’s health is completely interwoven with her health.
Recently I heard a report out of South Florida, of physicians who are seeing more and more patients affected by the adverse effects of climate change. From respiratory disorders due to increased pollutants and allergens; to risk of dehydration during the extra hot days; to anger and stress related symptoms; these physicians are linking environmental health (or ill-health) to human ill-health. In the UK there is an organization called the Center for Sustainable Healthcare. This organization ties in environmental health with human health and wellbeing. One of their projects is to link ‘greenspaces’ with patients, to help people reconnect with the natural world to improve their health. Recently another nice meme that I saw was a recommendation that if you find it difficult to meditate, go for a walk in the woods. Go visit your mother! She not only makes you feel better, she appreciates being appreciated!
On this Friday morning, I am thinking of mothers everywhere – and hope you are taking care of yourselves. We especially need to cherish Mother Earth, for as she goes so we go. Whether it is by reducing your use of plastic, by being mindful of reusing and recycling whenever possible, by saving energy whenever you can, even small steps can be a start. And take care of yourself. You cannot take care of others when you are depleted.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! May you reconnect with nature, find a clean deep breath of air to sustain you, and may you dance!