Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Before I Am, We Are

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Before I Am, We Are

Article excerpt

It is only a few years since I, a psychologically trained and educationally active father of four came to realize that a baby in its mother's womb is NOT like a little potato, swelling up in the dark until the time comes to rise to the surface, to be cut off from its vine, washed and pruned, to await, in a few days, the opening of its eyes. I was not a backward father out of touch with "common knowledge"; rather, "common knowledge" was until recently out of touch with the facts of this amazing little creature that we call a human baby. From a single cell smaller than a pencil tip, in some 40 weeks there burgeons a self-launching "rocket ship" increasingly ready to monitor its many internal interlocking systems in preparation for the countdown, which normally the ship itself calls for when its internal communications network is ready to operate effectively during its traumatic transition, which we call its birth. Hardly a blind potato in the dark! "Common knowledge" still insists that a baby is born when it leaves its mother's body. Yet if we had not been raised to equate birth with the delivery and earlier had the facts now available on the development of this human offspring, we might well have delayed a baby's actual birthday until a half year or so after the day of delivery. By that time the infant would be self-propelling, self-feeding, and able to travel with its mother like many other newborn mammals.

It is even more recently that another realisation has come into my head full of "common knowledge". A human baby does not start off as an I but as a part of We. I expect that most mothers on hearing me say that would exclaim, "Well, of course! Any mother knows that!" There are cultural subgroups in which persons start off as We and also end up still as We. But in our North American white, male-dominant culture the emphasis has increasingly centered on I, first and last. Not on I and We, but on I and Me (SEE APENDDC). When I was a child, I learned as "common knowledge" that most persons are I-centred by nature. To be generously concerned for others is a morally good attitude to be developed, or instilled by societal pressure. A few years ago, I learned that the renowned researcher into the development of children, Jean Piaget, had derived an axiomatic conclusion confirming "common knowledge", that "the child's initial universe is entirely centered on his own body and action is an egocentrism as total as it is unconscious (for lack of consciousness of the self)." (Piaget and Inhelder, 1969, p. 13) But by that time, I as a father had observed some infants who seemed to be exceptions to Piaget's dictum, in that they could entice me and other adults around them to play with them in joyous interaction. Then I ran across some research findings confirming my sense that infants are quite capable of being part of We. Condon and Sander of Boston University made a remarkable discovery, which they published in 1974. Using microanalysis of high speed sound films of mothers speaking privately to their babies between 12 hours and 2 days after delivery they found that even at this early age, (and it may be as early as minutes after delivery), babies move in synchrony with their mother's voice, as do the mothers, thus executing a sort of dance. Specific body movements are linked with particular sounds, with such regularity that one can learn to predict just how a baby will move when its mother addresses any communication to that baby. A casual onlooker misses this subtle linkage, but the attentive mother does not; rather she is "turned on" by her baby's responses to her.

Commenting on this responsiveness between newborn and mother, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a leading neonatologist of Harvard and Boston, likened it to the "mating dance" of swans (Brazelton, 1976, p. 74). For further confirmation of the reality of We-oriented behaviour by infants, examine these observations by Brazelton, et al. published in 1975:

We are convinced that in a "good" interaction, mother and baby synchronize with each other from the beginning and that pathways may be set up in intrauterine life, ready to be entrained, especially by the mother immediately after birth. …

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