These hormones have numerous seen an unseen impacts. Any mom who has breastfed can tell you about the nap-inducing qualities of breastfeeding a newborn or about how the sound of her (or any other) baby can can cause an instantaneous ache within her breasts.
Oxytocin is the "love" hormone, and as part of the milk ejection reflex a mother's level of oxytocin remains raised for a few minutes after each feeding. It helps to foster feelings of affection and strengthens the bond between mother and baby.
Parents think and talk a lot about their impact on children. We debate whether nature or nurture plays a bigger role, where to draw the line between permissive and overly authoritative parenting, and which educational approaches will best help our children to flourish. So much is the focus on what we're doing to them, but I wonder if what they do to us is just as profound.
For 40 weeks of pregnancy and for up to years of breastfeeding after, a child creates daily physical changes in his mother's body. The literature out there shows us the huge impacts these changes have on things like reducing risks of some forms of cancers, osteoporosis and diabetes, but I really wonder on a personal, emotional level what being repeatedly washed in bursts of hormones does to a woman.
In her book Why Love Matters, Sue Gerhardt describes how our genes express themselves based not only on our genetic makeup but also based on environmental triggers. Her focus in the book is on how oxytocin impacts growth in an infant's brain, and I wonder about the awakenings that take place within a mother.
A friend talked to me about a book called The Tao of Parenting. While, I haven't read the book yet, the section she spoke about has stuck in my brain. The act of parenting pushes us and refines us in a way that few other experiences do. In the book the author draws a parallel between monks who endure physical hardships as a way of seeking enlightenment with the parent who walks the halls hour upon hour with a crying infant. We are pushed beyond our comfort zone, forced to find a deeper place within ourselves when we truly feel we can't go on for another moment.
Being a mom of three kids has brought me to many places I never imagined I'd go. I've been so angry and overwhelmed that I've needed to walk away before causing physical harm. I've sat holding sleeping children, in tears at the beauty and perfection before me. I've gained an instantaneous bond with women I've never met before when we have nothing in common other than the role of mother.
I never entered the role of mother expecting for it to be a path of such self-development and deep personal change, but it has been. I frequently ponder the path my life would have taken had Nick not entered my life when he did, and I really wonder if I'd recognize that other person I would have become without the changes my children have stirred within me.