HOW TO RAISE A CHILD
Vivoli, Repubblica di San Procolo, 2001
Both Hedera and Bruno attend the Messa dei Poveri in Florence
edera has taught us so much. She is Rom, from Romania, has had two babies here in Florence. She cannot read or write, having no schooling. Though she knows her numbers well, the alphabet escapes her. She can copy its letters but not understand that they are sounds which spell words. She is very intelligent and around her one has a sense of beauty, a sense of peace.
In particular, from watching
we learned how to raise a new-born child.
Saturday September 13, 2003
for the first time yesterday seem to suggest
that unborn babies can smile, blink and cry weeks before they
leave the womb.
of foetuses about 26 weeks after conception have
been captured by state-of-the-art scanning equipment now being
employed at some clinics and teaching hospitals.
Experts can now debate whether this apparent grin reflects an
emotional response or is a simple physical reaction, helping
prepare baby for the outside world.
might appear at 26 weeks development, but the new
techniques clearly show limb movements at eight weeks, the
foetus leaping, turning and "jumping" at 11-12 weeks, intricate
movement of fingers at 15 weeks and yawning at 20 weeks.
Obstetrician Stuart Campbell, who has been using the
Austrian-developed equipment at the private Create Health
Clinic, London, for two years, said: "It is remarkable that a
newborn baby does not smile for about six weeks after birth. But
before birth, most babies smile frequently. This may indicate the
baby's trouble-free existence in the womb and the relatively
traumatic first few weeks after birth when the baby is reacting to
a strange environment."
scanner that makes this possible costs two-three
times more than conventional equipment. Prof Campbell thinks
he was the first to use it in Britain. The machine develops
ultrasound so that it can be transformed and shaded to produce
detailed surface features from the foetus which move in real
between parents and baby is enormous. The reaction
is overwhelming especially with fathers, who rarely get involved.
Before they sat in the corner. Now they really show emotion. I
enjoy scanning and looking at babies. It is so informative about
babies and behaviour. Every scan is an adventure."
Hedera and her eight-day old baby were thrown out of an abandoned warehouse into a tempestuous rainstorm, 10 August 2002. We took them in. For a week we were with Hedera as she nursed, swaddled, and sang ‘Alleluia’ to her new-born baby. The little Leonardo never cried. Being held, being swaddled, being nursed, being laid on the bed for his changing with icons beside him, seemed to content him, to soothe him, into peacefulness.
Then Hedera was in hospital in the Maternity Ward. Visiting her we saw Italian mothers standing around while their new-born babies cried desperately in plastic and metal boxes. They were not allowed to feed them except at four hourly intervals. Not allowed to pick them up and hold them. Not allowed to soothe them. The greatest learning occurs at the earliest ages, after that everything slows down - why it is hard for me now to teach thirty-year-old Hedera the alphabet which she could so easily have learned at six. These babies, immediately from the womb, are learning the harshness of the world, deprivation of what is so desperately needed, a sense of safety, of their desire for survival, not being met. They are traumatized their first day of life.
The Guardian today, 4/3/05, in an article on teenagers,
Is there any hormone link to high-risk choices in teenagers? It is likely not to be testosterone, at least not initially, but the stress hormone, cortisol which returns us to deprivation. Stress during early life raises cortisol levels, so increasing behavioural problems (such as hyperactivity), tending to make children more aggressive, less affiliative and more likely to perceive others as threatening. Stress in either pregnancy or in early life permanently resets the stress response of the child, so that there is an increased reaction to stress - it's called hyperarousal. A stressed child, for instance, when meeting someone new (even in a familiar environment) will withdraw and refuse to make eye contact, rather than chat happily. This increased stress response plays out in reduced life expectancies because cortisol affects almost every body system. It is also closely linked with depressive illness in later life.
Hedera always held her baby, for living on the street there could be no cradle, apart from during her brief stay here, and our sending her the one we made afterwards to Romania. Leonardo was swaddled like the Christchild, like the Ospedale degli Innocenti bambini. Hedera and Leonardo were always looking at each other, aware of each other. Our babies are kept apart from us as much as possible, deprived of us, later parked in front of TVs for hours on end. When I visited Rom families at the Campo Masini I had seen family after family living in just a room, sitting on the floor, its only furniture the cradle, the attention of the whole family on the calm baby in the cradle. So we made cradles like theirs. We tried to sell them to Italians to raise the money to help Hedera. But Italians mostly don't buy cradles, using instead contraptions of metal and plastic, adapting their babies to their cars, in which their babies mostly cannot see their mothers. Then, when Campo Masini burned down and those families were removed to the former Ospedale Banti, I gave them back, in a way, their lost cradles, my copies of theirs. The movement of the rocking cradle reminds the baby of being in the mother's womb as she walks and he is calm. We never heard a baby cry in the gypsy camps. Though there were so many babies.
I can remember when babies
surrounded with soft colours, as in Beatrice Potter water colours.
my nursery as a child had a freize of her paintings around its wall
I would gaze at for hours from my crib/cot, the careful observation of
nature, the soft colours, the rounded shapes. We used to give children
music boxes that played Mozart. Today, it is believed babies like harsh
colours and shapes and noises, cacaphonous Fisher-Price toys. Toys,
TV, are now violent. 'Toys "R" Us' proclaim the great warehouses,
by cars, in every American town, filled with cheap plastic and metal
Soon the cars are trashed and junked, like the toys, having the
feel also they are disposable, like their plastic and paper diapers,
made from non-renewable resources and non-biodegradable, yet considered
A cooperative of mothers who sold cloth diapers/nappies showed this image of a National Trust barn in Cornwall, noting the paper/plastic nappies from one baby would fill it and are not bio-degradable.
As these traumatized babies
up they return to the womb with the rock beat in discotheques, losing
delicate hearing. The deprived baby, the one not allowed to suck at the
breast sufficiently, given plastic bottles rigorously four hours apart,
has to suck its thumb, auto-suck, and then will smoke cigarettes,
lifelong with unfulfilled desire. The pain from trauma of these babies
become adults requires them to seek solace in abusing substances,
alcohol and other drugs. Narcissistic, these individuals crave
what they are conditioned by media to acquire, are unable to love,
dependent and terrified of being abandoned, their development arrested,
consumers, not producers, requiring the subjugation of others, the
World as the unseen slave caste, to meet their needs - that never can
met. We have created a population that is a warrior race, ready for the
self-destructing blood and guts of war and all its metal/plastic
paraphernalia, a race disposable like plastic diapers, in plastic body
bags. Not given the hand-crafted toy, or the alphabet block of wood.
the gentle rocking of the wooden hand-made cradle. Nor the mother's
of cloth that gets softer and whiter, peaceably saving her child's
For our babies' sakes, we need
return to home childbirth, breast
diapers, rocking cradles, bicycles.
Then we would be doing less to cause poverty, starvation, in the Third
World, more to create peace and a sustainable universe. The hand that
the cradle is the hand that rules the world.
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