A Message from our Editor, Issue #57- Mamatoto
The East African language Swahili has a word that captures the inseparableness of a mother and her newborn child: “Mamatoto.” It means “mother-baby,” and it shows us that the mother and baby share an experience as being fundamentally one.
Just moments after my first child’s birth there was an insurmountable feeling of love and awe. We were nestled together in my bed and we experienced each other in the moment, needing no words (and having none then) to describe the feeling. The mama bear in me told me, “He’s mine,” and the experience of mamatoto emerged.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. His father’s embrace was the only substitute for mine. During those months preceding our son’s crawling and walking, he lived in our arms. He sat on our laps when we were seated and lay next to us in bed when we slept. He was secure. I was at ease. We went to class every day to complete our chiropractic education, and for this and everything else that we did, the three of us had each other’s presence.
By this time, we had not read any parenting books and were not aware of the parenting practices of other cultures. We didn’t know about mamatoto. We simply relied on our instincts and decided not to be swayed by the opinions of others. It wasn’t easy thwarting criticisms from people, but we continued this approach for our next five children—14 years of having a newborn baby in our arms while we went about our daily lives.
At times, I was tempted by others to feel wrong or stifled: “You are always holding them.” “Don’t you want some time alone?” “It’s not healthy to be so close to your kids.” Some claimed my children’s independence was at stake, yet we saw no lack of independence or confidence surface. People even came to challenge my feminism. They claimed my mothering choices were disempowering me as a woman.
I sincerely feel for parents today as they struggle against their peers or the ideas of modern culture. I stand beside them, with the assurance that they have neurodevelopmental science to substantiate their inner guidance to breastfeed, co-sleep, or hold their babies. When I had my firstborn child at home, I felt the archetypal wisdom expressed in those moments when we met for the first time. I knew I wanted to learn from that wisdom in any way I could, and that I would defend it if I needed to.
“Maternal responsiveness and close bodily contact lead tothe unfolding of self-relianceand self-confidence.”—Cori Young
The interdependence of all things and the miracle of human connection is being explored in the science of our day, but ironically, it will require a newfound willingness to stand up for ourselves as individuals in order for our full potential as a species to manifest in the world.
Cori Young tells us in The Science of Mother Love, “Our nervous systems are not self-contained; they link with those of the people close to us in a silent rhythm that helps regulate our physiology… However, as a society that cherishes individual freedoms more than any other, we must respect the process whereby autonomy develops.”
She writes, “Children require ongoing neural synchrony from parents in order for their natural capacity for selfdirectedness to emerge...maternal responsiveness and close bodily contact lead to the unfolding of self-reliance and self-confidence. Because our culture does not sufficiently value interpersonal relationships, the mother/child bond is not recognized and supported as it could be.”
I understand that many families today do not have the support structure to encourage these normal physiological human practices. It takes courage and strength to uphold these practices when the current goes against them. Cori Young sums it up well: “As the research keeps coming in and we gain a gradually expanding vision of how mother love shapes our species, we see an obvious need to take steps to protect and provide for the mother/ child bond. We can take heart knowing that all the while we carry in our genes over a million years of evolutionary refinements equipping us for our role as mothers. The answers sought by science beat steadily within our own hearts.”
For the raising of the consciousness,
Jeanne Ohm, D.C.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #57.
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