As part of my Self-Reg Facilitator’s Program course with The MEHRIT Centre, we are always tasked with responding to a series of discussion questions. For last week’s module, we were asked to reflect and respond to one of two quotes. I decided to share the quote and my short reflection on it.
Reading this quote by Susan Hopkins brings to mind what Dr. Stuart Shanker said about the womb not being a stress-free environment, but rather, a stress-reduced environment. Self-regulation is how we manage stress. Even before we are born into this world full of different stressors, we have already encountered and been exposed to a certain degree of stress (low to high) from and through our mother, while in the womb. This can be due to her adjusting to the changes that come with pregnancy (hormonal, emotional, mood, daily routines), possible existing health challenges, environmental stressors, just to list a few. The fetal brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) is the first to develop during fetal development at about week 3 until full term (see: Sensitive Periods of a Baby’s Development). Our nervous system is what’s responsible for our stress response. So even before we are born, that system has already been actively developing and engaged in the womb, and if there are no complications, should be fully developed by the time we are born. Babies are ready for self-regulation from the time their central nervous system is beginning to develop. A fetus in the womb depends on its mother’s ability to self-regulate (manage the stress and changes that come with life and pregnancy) before they are born. As Stuart says in Reframed: Self-Reg for a Just Society, they are “transitioning from one type of womb to another, an ‘external womb'”. Since babies can’t yet self-regulate on their own, once they enter the “external womb” (the world), they depend on the adults in their lives to help them to do so.
“In the last trimester, fetuses are capable of simple forms of learning, like habituating (decreasing their startle response) to a repeated auditory stimulus, such as a loud clap just outside the mother’s abdomen. Late-term fetuses also seem to learn about the sensory qualities of the womb, since several studies have shown that newborn babies respond to familiar odors (such as their own amniotic fluid) and sounds (such as a maternal heartbeat or their own mother’s voice). In spite of these rather sophisticated abilities, babies enter the world with a still-primitive cerebral cortex, and it is the gradual maturation of this complex part of the brain that explains much of their emotional and cognitive maturation in the first few years of life.”
Children are always ready for self-regulation. There is only and always now.
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