‘The gift that keeps on giving’

Piecing together an end to family violence and dysfunction

I founded and direct one of the several hundred locally based nonprofits in our country, called Birthing the Future, and I need help to address a national and international problem that we see right here in our county.

The issue is twofold: 1) Violence against, and neglect of, children and their mothers – sometimes by their mothers, who are themselves abused and under enormous stress and lacking support. 2) Deeply rooted intergenerational patterns of family dysfunction – which almost always involves substance abuse. I call this problem the “gift that keeps on giving.”

I’m prompted to take time to write because of a woman I know who’s barely coping and whose children are suffering, from the awful combination of abuse and neglect by the children’s father, who appears meek and carries himself like a victim but displaces his low self-esteem and rage on this woman.

He was abused and neglected in his formative years and has been raised in a culture that still approves of male aggression toward women and children. No man starts life intending to grow up to neglect, frighten, humiliate and batter children or their mother. It’s a reaction to our own pain.

Consider just a few of the cultural factors that challenge our mothers and babies in the United States:

The United States still has more than 50 percent unplanned (and often unprepared-for) pregnancies

Babies in the United States develop in the wombs of highly stressed mothers who get no guaranteed, paid maternity leave. Only Swaziland and New Guinea, besides the United States, lack national policy on paid maternity leave.

Babies are directly affected by all kinds of toxins in our environment – one study showed an average of 187 humanmade chemicals, including DDT, in the cord blood of 10 randomly sampled newborns.

Our country has the highest rate of low birth weight and prematurely born babies in the “developed” world, with all of the physical, emotional, family and employer costs that result.

In the United States, a profound lack of respect for – and continual interruption in – the natural process of gestation, birth and bonding is the norm. More than one-third of all our babies are born by cesarean, and more and more women are deprived of even the benefits of any labor. Far too many U.S. births are artificially induced, sped up or aided by epidurals and narcotics. We routinely separate babies from mothers whenever babies go to nurseries or ICUs and again when mothers go back to work just three to 12 weeks after giving birth.

The United States has one of the lowest breast-feeding rates in the world: Fewer than 20 percent of U.S. babies exclusively breast-fed at six weeks, despite all the evidence that human brain, nervous system, gut and immune system development requires a diet of only breast milk for at least six to nine months and delayed weaning until at least age 2.

For most of us, there is poor mother-baby bonding, largely from the high stress women live under, with continual interference in the biolgocal processes that are designed to fully grow the human brain, as well as empathy. Our kids are not learning how to self-regulate their emotions, which is learned from the mother, so we give our babies and toddlers drugs never even tested for their safety in children – for everything from digestive to learning to behavioral problems.

I taught in nursery schools after college, headed one of the first Head Start programs back in the ’60s, then focused my life’s work on ending abuse and violence of all kinds – including war and the violence perpetrated by corporations or one group against another – focusing on how we bring babies into the world, care for the mother-baby as the symbiotic system that they are. For that’s where it all begins: the primal period, starting before conception.

To dramatically lower violence, anxiety, depression, addiction and chronic illness in our children and mothers, I write books, create informational brochures, put on international working roundtables, produce films and speak.

Surely, I’m not alone in daring to work to create a grassroots global movement. There’s no pay for any of us. It’s not a salary but a cause.

I’m looking for the local men and women of any age who get that the place to start is at the start of life; who like connecting the dots between one seemingly random pressing social issue and another; and who have a passion to work creatively for major grass-roots change. After all, systemic change won’t come just from government and other players, although structural and policy changes are necessary. It also requires you and me: a grass-roots effort.

Who would like to roll up their sleeves and help break the cycle of violence, abuse, neglect and hurt that result in women and children who grow to be less-than-good parents? As the new sciences of epigenetics and brain development and attachment show, it’s all about how we hardwire the human brain from pre-conception to age 1.

This nonprofit has some of the answers, and important projects to get involved in are already under way.

Suzanne Arms is the director of Birthing the Future. Reach her at suzannebirthing@gmail.com.

Enlarge photo

Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald