Monday, June 26, 2006

"They Wont Remember A Thing"

It's one of those ever-so-useful platitudes that people like to trot out whenever your baby is undergoing some painful procedure like immunisations or being made to dress up like a caribou. Like most platitudes it is supposed to be helpful, alleviate stress and/or guilt, reassure parents that they have done the right thing (well, maybe not the caribou suit) and make the person who said it feel better. Like most plattitudes, it does none of these things except the last, and it isn't true.

Here's the thing: they may not consciously remember their first needle or that time you spilled red wine on them (okay the time I spilled the red wine) or the fact that mum and dad were not getting along too well or the time you left them to Cry It Out, but you cant tell me that it doesnt affect (affect? effect? I never bloody know) them and leave some sort of mark upon their personalities.

Babies' brains are blank slates when they are born, and their earliest experiences shape the physical structure of the brain itself. The process of interacting with its people and its environment stimulates various parts of the brain, impacting not only on the number of brain cells and the number of connections between them but also the way in which these connections are wired. Over-stimulate the part of the brain that deals with stress responses and you will develop a brain that reacts as if a stress response is required even when it isnt.

When I understood this (for I didnt even realise this was the case until a few weeks ago) it had a profound affect on me. For two reasons. Firstly, the realisation that every.single.thing I do shapes Spudly's personality. Everything. Crying every evening because he was starving and we couldnt figure that out: some brain cells were stimulated and others died because of it. Holding him close for the better part of every day and responding immediately to his cries that mean "my butt's all poopy" "I'm gassy" and "I'm unsettled and feel like a grizzle" stimulate the warm and fuzzy pathways. On the whole, I think the warm and fuzzy pathways are winning out, but what a totally awesome (in the true sense of the word) responsibility. Obviously, I understood before that how we treat Spudly affects how he behaves in the world and how he feels about himself and others, but I didn't consider that how we treat him physically changes his brain so that he wont be able to respond differently to how WE hard-wire him. Fuck that's huge.

Secondly, it made me realise some things about myself. Since Spudly was born I've often ruminated upon what life was like in the House of the Mini Panda. My mother has told tales of being home after her 6 week hospital stay (following pre-eclampsia, 7 day labour, emergency c-section, baby born not breathing and not being able to see her for 3 days, and not having any milk to feed her) and being expected by the Husband and the Three Teenage Sons to pick up where she left off, i.e. her rightful position as their personal slave. She cried into the bucket of nappies on a regular basis from what I gather, and had to deal with not only the expectations of four less-than-enlightened males but also a baby who wouldnt stop screaming or go to sleep without the addition of Baby Valium (I shit you not). Knowing my father and brothers as I do, its not hard for me to picture the atmosphere in that house. The tension, the arguments, the screaming (not just from me) and more than likely the physical abuse. Is it any wonder that that baby grew up into a child and then adult with severe anxiety issues? Is it any wonder that she has suffered depression most of her life? Is it any wonder that a sudden loud voice, whether in anger or in fun, sends chills down her spine and does weird squidgy things to her guts?

For so long I put these things down to the things in my life that I could remember. The physical abuse my mother and I suffered from my father, the abuse I suffered from my mother, the violent relationship I ended up in with Fuckhead. The depression and anxiety disorder I put down to me being somehow weak or not made of strong enough moral fibre. I'm not denying the profound effect my remembered experiences have had on my personality, but what a shock it is to realise that the things I cant remember have had the biggest impact of all.

I'm not even sure how I feel about this. Relieved. Disturbed. Angry. Sad. Mostly relieved, I think. It goes a long way towards explaining why now that I'm in a loving, safe and supportive environment I feel like I'm out of my comfort zone and have to continually remind myself that this is a Good Thing. My comfort zone is that which was hard-wired into me in infancy. And its not a place I want to or should stay.

Speaking of the things they wont remember, here's some evidence for later court trials:

Mamma and Spudly do that 'net thing

Spudly says "Lemme see what you're doin..."

In case you cant quite read his t-shirt...


  1. You are doing your best. That's all you can ask from yourself.

  2. tessy6:23 am

    But I really don't think it's ENTIRELY nurture. I do think nature plays a part in there too, ya know?

  3. Felicity9:56 pm

    Welcome to the world of Mother Guilt! It doesnt get any less, and when they are 5 you start to see the effects of your good parenting, as well as some side effects of the not so good parenting! lol. :)

    Its very hard to get on with the job when there is the stigma of a hard upbringing yourself. Im so sorry that it was so aweful for you. :(

    Spudly is absolutely beautiful! You must be so proud, and you sure are doing a great job! Our little bub is 4 months old now, still has to be held all the time, and I marvel that the youngest, smallest, LOUDEST person in our Family of 5 is the one who is, at the moment, calling ALL the shots!

    It certainly is hard with a little baby! Nurture, nature... star signs!

    :) Felicity.

  4. and...once again you read my mind and write my thoughts.

    Thank you for this post.

    Your Spudly will thrive and be a wonderful man becuase of your love.

    and also...what fantastic pictures of you two!! And WHERE DID YOU GET THAT ONESIE OH MY GOD!?!?!?!

    It's surpassed only by you in it's awesomeness.



  5. You are a fabo momma, simply because you think about and care about these very things.

  6. Firstly... you COW!!! You had me guffawing LOUDLY at the office in response to your caribou suit remark! You might want to clarify that for people!

    Secondly... you are a simply divine mom... 'nuff said.

  7. Wow, gee, thanks (or not?!?) for pointing that out! But, look at it this way, how enlightened you are. This little Spudly has the benefit of your "knowing better". You are aware of all that and striving to do the best you can. Which is a great place for the little man. And he, btw, is so cute.

  8. He is so precious! You are doing great!

  9. and all that other stuff that they'll try to deny or 'not remember later like being dressed up like elk or singing koala bears - that's why its our duty to take pictures and blog.

  10. Anonymous2:46 pm


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  11. He is so precious! You are doing great!

  12. Wow, gee, thanks (or not?!?) for pointing that out! But, look at it this way, how enlightened you are. This little Spudly has the benefit of your "knowing better". You are aware of all that and striving to do the best you can. Which is a great place for the little man. And he, btw, is so cute.

  13. You are doing your best. That's all you can ask from yourself.


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