Monday, April 27, 2009

How we know ourselves from sociopaths

The beloved Oxford English Dictionary has variously defined a sociopath as
"Someone with a personality disorder manifesting itself chiefly in anti-social attitudes and behaviour"; the newly edited definition (March 2009) is "Originally: a person who performs criminal or antisocial acts as a result of a moderate degree of mental deficiency (disused). In later use (also hyperbolically): a person affected with sociopathy; a psychopath".

What neuropsychologists now know is that a sociopath seems to be hardwired differently, missing (and this is my simplification) a response of distress or anxiety when seeing other creatures in pain.

That we are generally hardwired to experience a distress response makes perfect sense. Humans though lacking many predators are fundamentally (and comparatively within diverse species) underdeveloped to protect ourselves well. We therefore need to fend not just for ourselves but also for each other. A reaction of extreme anxiety to one of our fellow tribe (and this could include the animals we shared floors, work and companionship with for centuries) is our way of knowing to wake up and check, to protect each other from danger and ensure our lone and group survival.

A baby particularly is woefully underdeveloped to fend for itself upon birth, and in fact does much of its useful development (strengthening its neck, being able to roll, being able to direct arm movement) in what some call “the fourth trimester’, or it’s first three months post-womb.

But still it’s not much in the way of survival tools, so my baby is programmed to program new responses into my brain through its cries.
There are many baby cries:
HUNGRY! In my bub this has a lament wa-wa-wa-wa sound
POO- how dare there be POO in my nappy? This sounds outraged beyond belief!

And many more….
But there is one that we all fundamentally know.
It is the cry of a beloved human in deep sadness, the cry of newborn animal we’ve taken into the home as a pet or a distressed older animal that is sick.
It is the cry that says “help, I feel very alone and scared and confused". It is the cry that calls for immediate touch, though sometimes we don’t realize that as immediatley as we should.

It is the cry that sets a flash of hot electric blue light pulsing round our head. It is the cry that hurts! We can’t ignore it, we must wake up, get up, attend.
Parent or not we all know that cry.

And in our response lies the essence of being both human and humane.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Birthing Finn

I thought I wasn’t going to write about it, but now feel the urge to push out the experience, probably because now that my son is here and sleeping soundly as I write I can make the space to ponder my labour.

Facts: all was doing well after two days of false labour. This involved regular close contractions that would start to come the requisite five minutes apart that warrants heading for hospital. But then they’d suddenly stop for a few hours so loving husband and I would do stuff.
We finally went to hospital late night Saturday March 28th, because I’d had a bright bleed, and this can be of concern to Doctors. In hospital the contractions continued and they gave me some painkillers. Chris and I drifted off and awoke to again realize labour had stopped. We made the decision to head home again to sleep in our own bed…
Four hours later on early Sunday morning we were back, admitted to the birthing suite, and as planned I asked our lovely midwife Esther, a warm Jewish woman, to run me a huge bath.
I spent much of the day working through contraction in that bath, and then as things progressed began sucking back on the gas I was using as pain relief.
In early evening it seemed I was getting no further along, and a Doctors check indicated I’d stopped dilating at 8 centimetres (you need to be at 10 to start the pushing part). Finn was still inside but becoming distressed with a slight drop in heartbeat. The doc attached a clip to his head that allowed them to monitor his heart rate, and this is where more intervention began.
He was slightly tilted against my cervix and struggling to move further down, a midwife was called to rupture my waters to try and speed up birth, to no avail.
The docs kept checking, Finn and I kept struggling to move into the next phase, known as transition, and people started to get concerned.
I was then given an Oxytocin induction, and not five minutes after it labour really began- I heard myself grunting like a wild animal and finally called for Pethidine pain relief but it was too late- had I been given it it would have passed right into Finn’s system and further risked a slow heart-beat.
We were on.

I grunted and panted and clamped down on the gas- it was taken away as it was making me too groggy to push. I shut my eyes and we went deep under.
I was a huge bulb trying to push forth that one shoot towards light. All was pressing down on me, I was not in a room (though occasionally opening my eyes I saw more and more people as Doctors and midwives rushed in to help) but I was under heavy earth. Death and life were alongside us- the only other human connection my husbands voice: “it’s ok, he’s coming, push love, push, nearly there…”

I was not scared. I had a job to do and it was very hard work bringing us both up from the earth to the light. I heard animal noises- was that me?
They helped us by using the vacuum suction cup on Finn’s head- still I had to push us forth into being.

Then finally the strange slithering sensation- the gasps around me. Then silence.
“Where is he? I can’t hear him! Bring him to me now!”
Then this tiny wet-rag of a being was laid on my chest as I pushed again to birth the placenta. There was stitching being done because I’d had an episiotomy.
There was this blood-covered being wailing against my breast. He was here. My husband weeping over us and whispering in my ear. “ I love you so much, well done, well done”.

Do not be scared by this tale, though it be all true.
I am recovered, all is healing well, we are here and we are three.
And Finn sleeps as I write.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

and baby Finn makes three...

about birthing I'll say nothing, thus joining the great conspiracy amongst women to protect one another from the most primal and animal experience one can conceive of...

Finn was born at about 8pm on MArch 29th. When they put his slimy wriggling little self onto my chest for the first time all the pain made complete and perfect sense.

Now we're one week in and just starting to find some rhythms and not live in a constant state of terror!
All control, all 'knowledge' and all assumptions have been rolled up with the dirty nappies and thrown in the bin as we tussle with a highly scheduled routine of preparing for feeds, feeding, burping away Finn's hiccups then getting him to sleep. Just as this routine ends its starts again. It's compelling, all-consuming, exhausting and yet marvellous...

Somehow in there we find the time to feed ourselves and enjoy little moments: congratulating each other on good work and slight successes (like dressing a squirmer!), lying on the couch listening to Goldfrappe's 'Seventh tree' as a sunbeam falls over the face of my little boy and his mouth curls in a mysterious Mona-smile, tucking him into a crisp-sheeted cot and hearing him sigh as his eyes rolls back and sleep starts, or watching his eyes take in the huge morning sky as I take him outside for air-time.
The house moves to new rythms, breathes in smells of baby and glows with nightlights as we grope about learning. My cats twine around my feet, delighted with the smell of rich breast-milk that clings to me.

A house of love.