Is maternal love a natural, spiritual capability called love, or the result of brain chemicals acting together?

Is mothering an innate capability or the result of maternal brain chemicals acting together? That’s the subject of a recent article published in The Atlantic.

Author Adriene LaFrance writes about the results of a study by Dr. Pilyoung Kim of the Family and Child Neuroscience Lab, University of Denver. The study focused on the changes in the brain that occur when a woman gives birth, especially for the first time. It concluded that mothering actions are a result of chemicals released in the  brain, and a woman is therefore at their mercy. Many scientists think mapping the maternal brain is a key to understanding serious anxiety and depression.

The potential consequence of this study – increased medicalization of motherhood  – could be a slippery slope for a new mother anxious to do her best. Now, she has an extra worry – “Are my brain chemicals at the optimum for perfect mothering? Do I need extra chemicals/medications to enable that perfect mothering, loving formula?”

Postpartum depression is considered to be a serious and growing problem. How we deal with it is at least as much a societal and spiritual issue as it is a physical health problem. In our Western industrialized society many new mothers find themselves increasingly isolated and lonely. Parents and extended family often live hundreds of miles away, and paternal leave for fathers is not extended universally.

A new mother can experience a jumble of feelings – deep protective love, as well as anxiety, joy, sadness, frustration and loneliness. In their need for connection and information, many turn to the Internet as a resource, but it can often leave them feeling even more muddled and isolated.

But women do not need to feel as helpless as this study would have us believe. An interesting point to consider is that some other societies do not experience the same rates of postpartum depression and anxieties that our Western industrialized society experiences. A well-respected study found that strong social traditions and the spiritual support surrounding childbirth can be a wonderful preventative measure for these problems.

However, in societies such as ours, where these human ties don’t exist, real solutions can be found by looking to a more spiritual, maternal source of love.

Today, more than at any other time, humanity is waking to the idea of God as expressing the qualities of both mother and father, and as the very source of tender, unconditional love.

This idea helped me a lot as a new mum. I didn’t have any social support. I too felt that jumble of emotions and thought I was the only one that felt that way. Other mothers seemed to have it so together. I felt pretty useless at this new job, and some days it was hard to feel any energy or joy at all. Conflicting theories from Dr. Spock to more traditional opinions such as ‘let them cry it out,’ left me feeling anxious and helpless. Everyone had a human opinion as to how I was supposed to do this.

However, I had one stable resource that profoundly changed how I saw myself as a mother. Thinking of God as my divine mother, an ever-present source of love from which I was never separate, helped me to move from thinking of myself as the sole provider of love for my baby, or of other people as the providers of love for my support.

One verse from the Bible that describes God in maternal terms never failed to lift me out of that isolated, fearful place to a state of calm: “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings”

That imagery was very powerful. I thought of God as the mother eagle and me as the “young eaglet”, being cared for and protected. The anxiety always left when I turned to this idea. I began to feel increasing confidence and energy.I felt divinely loved and supported. I discovered my own innate mothering skills. After a while it felt natural to find ways to connect with other moms in my community. Pretty soon we had a little support network going with coffee dates and walks.

What I discovered is that there’s really only one Parent – divine Love. Connecting with the source of  unconditional love can dissolve anxiety or depression, revealing the innate maternal love within each of us.

This article was published in the Vancouver Sun HERE