+”MOTHER! WHERE ART THOU?” — RESPONDING TO AN INFANT-CHILD’S CRY OF NEED

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I did not intend to write about what found its way out the ends of my finger tips on this keyboard today.  Degrees of deprivation of a young human’s developmental needs cause degrees of deprivation adaptations to happen – translated by the tiny growing body as degrees of trauma – as they build the body from its start. When mothers cannot, or will not provide the necessary care to their infant-children during their critical early developmental stages some degree of Trauma Altered Development will occur.

‘Response-ability’ – are mother’s losing their ability to adequately respond to the needs of their offspring?  Is our society losing its ability to respond to the needs of mothers so that they can no longer adequately respond to the needs of their young?  My mother was simply on the far end of the infant-child deprivation of need spectrum.  How many other mothers share this offspring-deprivation spectrum with her?

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Humans are presented at conception with a package of material that is our portion of our species’ memory contained within our genetic material.  Within our DNA is the information needed to send and receive signals of communication within our growing self in relationship to the environment outside of us.  Within this DNA package we were also given abilities to accomplish an impressive range of flexible adaptation to and within our first environment.

By the time we are born our genetic memory as contained within our DNA, including the memory of what to DO with this DNA, has already accomplished an impressive amount of remembering work.  If we are fortunate, all has gone well and we appear into our next arena of development healthy.  Whatever adjustments we needed to make in order to survive and grow within our first environment were made efficiently and well.

We carry all our communication and flexible adaptive abilities right out of the womb with us, along with the rest of the package of our DNA material.  But being born has nothing to do with us having completed all of the most critical stages of our early development.  Nature was faced with two interconnected problems:  How to make an increasingly complex human being even though if left in the womb too long it would be too big to get out without killing its mother, and how to provide continued required nurturing for the infant while it completed the rest of its critical early development.

Nature solved these two problems through a sophisticated maternal preparation process that genetically and hormonally gives mothers what they need to not only carry the unborn but also to be prepared to care for the newborn as it passes through the rest of its early body-brain critical-windows of developmental stages.

All this probably sounds common knowledge to the point of, “Ho!  Hum!” until we begin to understand that HOW the mother cares for her offspring continues to determine the course of its development post-birth just as profoundly as it did pre-birth.  The mother IS an infant’s universe, and it is to THIS universe that an infant’s DNA-communication-adaptation package is going to continue to respond to in its development.

Certainly there are usually other caregivers present surrounding a newborn.  All the interactions an infant has with these significant others are important, but it is to women, the females of our species, that Nature gave the specific biological, physiological nurturing abilities an infant requires to continue its postnatal development in the best way possible.  Any deviation from what is best for an infant will result to it having to make some form of alteration as it adapts to a less-than-best environment.

Deprivations signal to the infant’s growing body that stress exists in the world it is being made for.  Changes that happen in an infant’s course of development depend on the degree of deprivation it is exposed to during the critical windows of its early growth stages.  These changes can and will be made because the original DNA package the infant received at conception contains information that not only tells the infant what conditions of its world ARE less-than-best, how to detect them, but also HOW to adjust to them in order to survive.

Depending on temperament and personality of an infant as contained within its DNA, there are allowable degrees of deprivation to which infant-children can adapt without noticeably altering the direction their overall development has to take.  Results from many years of twin study research has shown that while 50% of temperament and personality stem directly from DNA the other 50% comes directly through the experiences a developing infant-child has within its environment.

In the sophisticated juggling act that an infant-child engages with in interaction with its early primary caregiver, the margin for allowable deprivation-before-adaptation is much smaller than we might think.  I believe that we have reached a point in civilization where the given boundaries of what an infant can flexibly adapt to without having to fundamentally CHANGE itself for survival in a malevolent world can be usefully identified.

In line with the adage that “When a disease appears so will its cure,” it is now, at this point in our evolution, as women make major changes in their lives that affect the quality of care they provide to their young offspring that we must understand how these changes are impacting infant-child development.  Just because cultures allow women increasing opportunity to change their lives during their childbearing years does not in any way mean that the critical needs of developing infant-children can or will change in equal measure.  If these needs are not met, trauma-based changes will occur within the developing body-brain that will last a life time.

Advancing attachment research and increasingly sophisticated findings from the field of development neuroscience are beginning to show us in detail exactly what the best early caregiving environments are that meet the needs of young infants in the best way possible.  If mothers are no longer prepared to take care of offspring the way nature designed them to within a benevolent world in the first place, their little ones are going to suffer changes in their own development as they adapt to the deprivations present within their early environment.

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I am obviously not simply writing today about the long term and permanent adaptive adjustments an infant-child body-brain has to make to survive a severely abusive malevolent early environment as it prepares for a lifetime of living in the same.  I am talking about the universal human needs of children.  Any deprivation of basic need an infant-child suffers exists on a continuum of severity, as do the developmental changes these deprived little ones will experience and suffer from for the rest of their lives.

We have to ask ourselves, “How much deprivation of an infant-child’s fundamental human needs is OK?  How much deprivation is allowable?”  Given the 18 years of severe maltreatment I suffered from birth and throughout my childhood, I am sensitized to concern about the developmental needs of human infant-children from the far end of the maltreatment continuum.  At the same time, it is because I have been forced to learn about the permanent adaptive changes a developing little one will have to make to deprivations that I can stand on the line of this continuum and see how these degrees of deprivation cause changes all the way along its length.

I have thought long, hard and deeply about the topic of human infant-children’s fundamental needs during their early developmental stages.  I have honed my thinking to the point where what I know about the topic appears to be fact.  Best-possible human development requires that certain fundamental human needs be met adequately or some degree of deprivation-trauma will cause adaptive changes to occur during these developmental stages that create corresponding degrees of deprivation of best well-being for a lifetime.

When a society loses sight of the critical role mother’s play in the quality of their offspring’s development that society is in a state of decline.  This slide will take such a society past ‘shabby’ right into ‘a shambles’.  With 75% of our nation’s 17-24 year old young adults being currently unfit for military service I would say our national slide is moving quickly into the ‘shambles’ state.  I will also say that I strongly suspect this rapid decline of quality of life among our nation’s youth can be directly correlated with mothers’ increasing exit from their job of providing for the fundamental human developmental needs of their young infant-children.  (Keep in mind, my maniac abusive mother was a stay-at-home mom!)

I absolutely believe that when a mother brings offspring into the world it is her naturally given responsibility to meet the best-possible developmental needs of that infant-child.  If she chooses to pursue her own life away from her offspring, it is her responsibility to know exactly what the needs of her infant-child are, and to make absolutely certain those needs are being met elsewhere.  If mothers cannot or will not take care of their offspring, even with encouragement and assistance, those little ones need to be removed and be cared for appropriately – elsewhere.

In cases such as my mother’s was, it was (or should have been) obvious that something went terribly wrong during her own young development that caused her to adjust in ways that prevented her from being a mother to me at all.  But it is easy to point a finger at such a complete disaster of a mother while at the same time not paying attention to the kinds of deprivations that cause deprivation/trauma-related changes to happen in the body-brain development of little ones in much less obvious ways.

Any deprivation of ‘best’ will create a deprivation-based memory to be built into a human being’s developing body because memory builds our body in the first place.  Every single adjustment away from ‘best’ treatment in a ‘best’ environment is translated by the body into a need to prepare for a ‘less than best’ future.  When these changes happen particularly during the first year of life, they affect all of development from those foundational changes onward in ways that are permanent and can never be reversed.

It is the degree of quality in mothering during the first developmental years of life that causes these changes to happen.

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