WHAT IS ON A MOTHER’S MIND

Mother is the embodiment of care and love. There can’t be a caregiver better than a mother. Many things a mother does for her child, she would not do for anyone, including her. A mother is born the day her child is born.

What is on a mother’s mind? Behavioural neuroscientists have been trying to find the answer to this question. They want to understand how mothers think, how hormonal changes regulate mood, how cognition changes. They want to know what the long-term effects of mothering are. They say the amygdala is very important for mothering because the amygdala mediates emotion. Does one need to give birth to become a ‘mother’? Research says that mothering doesn’t necessarily have to come from a mother. Studies have shown that exposure to a baby over time can create the same mothering effect. They say any person who can raise a child is a mother. One needs to be sensitive and responsive to become a mother. One view says that the love for a non-biological child is not the same as the love one has for the child born out of one’s own flesh and blood. Some say it takes years to develop real connectedness. Why is the quality of love in the two cases different? Why is there an apparent delay in the formation of the instant bond? If they are different, is it due to genes? Does the adopted child need an additional measure of love to make up for the losses due to genes? Many adopters think they are not sure if their love is different, but they feel their feelings are different. Some others feel the quality of love between parents and nonbiological children has more chance of being better if the birth child arrives later than before. Another view says that the parents who have already given birth are usually better placed to work in a relationship with a non-biological child because they have been through that. They say that those who have their own baby and then decide to adopt a child have a different motivation for adopting a child. There is yet another view that thinks that those parents who have not experienced adoption have missed so much; “You’ve missed the wonder of meeting a fully formed human being that is your child, complete with all the unspoken possibilities of that relationship.” The reality of life is that there is a difference between ‘creating’ and ‘acquiring’. One is more like nature and the other is more like nurture.

A mother’s love for her child is self-love. The conflict between a mother and her child is quite likely. The intrusion in the mother-child space is natural. The mother-child conflict starts unconsciously long before the child is born. This ‘parent-offspring conflict’, according to behavioural scientists, is due to the fact that the mother does not want to give everything the child want. The child wants to maximise its chance of survival and expects the mother to meet all the demands. Nature has so beautifully resolved the unconscious mother-child conflict. It should not be difficult to resolve the conscious or unconscious conflict, if there is any, if there is an understanding between the mother and the child, that this conflict is natural. The child may not need the mother’s safety net, but they know that to fulfil their emotional requirement there is no better place than the mother’s lap.

For nurturing proper understanding between the two human beings, an open and inviting space is essential. This fundamental human understanding adequately explains the bond between a mother and her child. The mother-child bonding that begins prenatally is vital even after birth. Empathy with the child and the ability to see things from a child’s perspective are key factors that stimulate the mother-child bond. The mother knows the child much before the child is born. They have tools to make their child a happy child. Mother’s steady heartbeat reassures the child that all is well.

The responsibilities of parenthood are immense. Scientists are now saying that mothers can be brain enhancers. The hippocampus, a part of the brain, is strongly associated with forming, connecting, organizing, and storing memories. Hippocampus’ size has been linked to the capacity to manage stress. The researchers have found that preschool-age children whose mothers actively support them during a stressful incident later show greater volume in the hippocampus. The studies indicate that kids who receive warm, supportive parenting are better at coping with adversity and at completing cognitive tasks later in life. Although the studies were conducted primarily with mothers, researchers expect that this effect pertains to the primary caregiver (the provider of nurturance) whether it is a mother, a father, a grandparent, or others.

Mother-child bonding isn’t just for brains; it is also a matter of the heart. The heart cells not only contract and expand rhythmically to pump blood, but they also communicate with fellow cells. Perhaps this is why most mothers instinctively place their babies close to their hearts. Scientific evidence indicates that a mother’s heart stimulates a newborn’s heart, thereby activating a dialogue between the infant’s brain, mind, and heart. This heart-to-heart communication helps the mother too. It activates dormant intelligence in the mother. This is nature’s way of keeping a mother’s intelligence awake. Research in neuroscience has shown that touch is necessary for human development. All mothers seem to know this instinctively. Newborns are born expecting to be held, handled, cuddled, rubbed, kissed, and maybe even licked! “In nature’s nativity scene, mother’s arms have always been baby’s bed, breakfast, transportation, even entertainment.”

There is nothing like mother’s milk. This watery thing is the mother’s pride. It changes its composition to satisfy the needs of the child. The nutritious liquid that a mother produces for her newborn child is a source of all nutrition, emotional gratification, and a sense of fulfilment. Mother’s milk can’t be replicated, nor can its price be paid. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A pair of substantial mammary glands has the advantage over the two hemispheres of the most learned professor’s brain in the art of compounding a nutritious fluid for infants.” The Darwinian theory of evolution suggests that infant feeding should benefit both the mother and the child. In other words, “an infant should be breastfed as much as possible to maximise its chances of survival, whereas a mother must balance her current metabolic investment in milk production with her potential investment in future offspring”. It means that maximum evolutionary gain is obtained when protein and energy levels in breast milk are just high enough to prevent prohibitive infant mortality rates, but low enough to spare the mother.

Many decades ago Donald Winnicott, the British paediatrician and psychoanalyst, said that there’s no such thing as a baby. The point Winnicott wanted to convey was that there is never “just” a baby. There is a baby and her mother. And, more broadly, there is the baby, her mother, her family, community, and a whole host of relationships that are critical to babies growing, learning, and realizing their potential.