Wednesday, July 20, 2016

To the mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters and other women who have loved and nurtured children with a mother’s heart, today is intended to recognize your care and investment in our new generations.

We were all born completely helpless, but with a will to live. That we lived is because someone — usually our mother — put us first, ahead of her many other tasks or desires.

In honor of the Global Day of Parents, I would like to address three areas where I think we can find sincere common ground as we think about mothers.

The first point is that during pregnancy, women give even to the bone for their unborn children.

A baby cannot come into being without the all-important sperm of a man and its precious chromosomal contents — but virtually every other part of the baby is created, literally, from the body of his or her mother.

During pregnancy, a woman’s entire cardiovascular system is readjusted. Blood and oxygen nourish the developing fetus, placenta and uterus — so the woman’s oxygen consumption goes up and the amount of blood pumped every minute by her heart slowly increases by up to 50 percent. Her kidneys work harder to filter an increasing volume of blood — this is a major reason why mothers see the insides of so many bathrooms during pregnancy.

Breathing is now being done for two — and it gets harder as the pregnancy progresses and the baby and placenta squeeze up to the rib cage.

A woman even gives to the bone for her unborn child: Growing babies need calcium for their bodies, and will take it from their mothers’ bones and teeth unless she adds calcium to her diet.

We all know about all the other incredible changes that take place in a woman’s body before birth, during birth and after birth. It is indeed a miracle, and we all can say thank you to our mothers for those extraordinary days of self-sacrifice that led to our having life.

My second point about motherhood is that it often transforms women in lasting and beneficial ways.

For anyone who has been in Babyland, there is a perception that women get a little ditzy around child birth — they are forgetful, they get “porridge brain,” “pregnancy brain,” etc. After all, one study found that primary caregivers — i.e., mothers — can lose 700 hours of sleep in their baby’s first year. The expert who told me that added that anyone with that kind of sleep deprivation can go from “Sleepy to Dopey” pretty quickly.

So there is some truth to the “pregnancy brain,” but research also suggests that a woman’s brain fully recovers from pregnancy with a remodeled brain that has lasting cognitive improvements. In other words, becoming a mother is a strengthening experience for many women: They become faster, more aware, more courageous and more resourceful. After all, they are preparing for the mother of all multitasking experiences: raising a child.

For example, in studies of rats, mother rats and “virgin” rat were put in mazes with food at the end. Scientists watched to see which rats were the quickest to find their way to the food. The mother rats dramatically outperformed the virgin rats — in fact, the mother rats who had two or more pregnancies were faster than the rats who had given birth only once.

In an interview I did some years ago with Katherine Ellison, author of the book, “The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter,” she said science had indicated that there were “five attributes of a baby-boosted brain.” These were: an enhanced perception, and greater sensitivity in smell, vision, hearing and physical contact. “Mom radar,” Mrs. Ellison put it.

Mothers enter what can be called a school of love — with classes every hour on how to create growing experiences, handle unexpected changes, manage expectations. Among the lessons mothers teach children are how to share, be industrious, respect themselves and others, and be bold and confident in life. Mother often provide a spiritual example and devotion and love of God. And importantly, they cultivate compassion and love for others

But of course the major way that motherhood adds value to society has to do with raising children to be successful adults.

As Dr. Brad Wilcox has found, both mothers and fathers want their children to succeed, but they approach parenting differently: Mothers tend to be more verbal, affectionate, predictable, comforting — while dads bring excitement and challenge into kids’ lives: It’s like dads challenge kids to get out of the nest, while moms try to make children feel at home in the nest.

Cheryl Wetzstein, formerly a national news reporter, is manager of special sections at The Washington Times

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