When a woman becomes a mother, she undergoes many changes. Pregnancy makes her grow physically, mentally and emotionally. Childbirth continues that growth, in ways that are being explored in more detail, as Adrienne LaFrance learned:
Even before a woman gives birth, pregnancy tinkers with the very structure of her brain, several neurologists told me. After centuries of observing behavioral changes in new mothers, scientists are only recently beginning to definitively link the way a woman acts with what’s happening in her prefrontal cortex, midbrain, parietal lobes, and elsewhere. Gray matter becomes more concentrated. Activity increases in regions that control empathy, anxiety, and social interaction. On the most basic level, these changes, prompted by a flood of hormones during pregnancy and in the postpartum period, help attract a new mother to her baby. In other words, those maternal feelings of overwhelming love, fierce protectiveness, and constant worry begin with reactions in the brain.
This article calls to mind the famous lines of William Butler Yeats in “Easter 1916”, though in a different context. Women who become mothers are…
“All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”
To be fair to babies, I think they are ALL beautiful. The word “terrible” here can refer to those mothers who suffer post-partum depression.
There is more to discover about oxytocin and other hormones. The amygdala and other brain circuits will be analyzed. And this process certainly has its place. But there is another important point here. Men, even without oxytocin, can achieve further neural growth and development just by, as the author puts it, simply caring for the baby.
Dostoyevsky, the famous Russian physician, was right : “Beauty will save the world.”
More posts on The PediaBlog from Dr. Donnelly here.