A little over two weeks ago my wife gave birth to our first baby. Asha Hope was born after being in her mothers womb only 25 weeks and weighed under two pounds. Having thought that I had another three months to prepare for fatherhood our little girls unexpected arrival was a shock.
We’ve lived through the first crucial days in a premature baby’s life when each breath is a triumph and each challenge is the cause for incredible fear and uncertainty. Asha’s vital signs have now been stable for over a week and yesterday she started breathing on her own, without aid of a ventilator. As her father I too breathe more easily.
As our focus moves slightly beyond the next minute, I have been contemplating life as a parent and how that affects my outlook as an activist. The main thing they told us in our first (and only) prenatal class a couple of weeks ago was that the key to an easy birth was to manage fear and anxiety. Apparently there is a naturally occurring hormone called Oxytocin that helps the body facilitate the birthing process. However, Adrenalin counteracts the effects of Oxytocin so when a mother’s mind becomes fearful or anxious, the fight or flight hormone interferes with what the body is trying to make happen. Although I only attended one class, the lesson plan seemed designed to help us control our fears.
While Asha’s expedited birth didn’t give us time to sweat the birthing process, after my first two weeks as a Dad, the impression I have is that successful parenting (not just giving birth) is mostly about controlling my own fears, opening up my heart and letting my daughter make her own choices. Much of the parenthood literature I have seen focuses on external fears or problems in the world to be cautious about. But so far I think the real boogeyman is the personal fears we cling to. A friend of mine, who is a single parent, described how she “had to confront so much of the chaff that [she] have been holding onto, the baggage dragging behind me and jettison it,” to become a better parent. I’m new at this, but this resonates with me.
Before the recent roller coaster, my biggest fears were related to bringing a child into a world that is poised to go non-linear because of climate change. The kinds of impact the scientists are talking about are unbelievable, hard to even imagine except for in a Hollywood Armageddon genre movie. I was having nightmares about it. But it is not a dream, it is real… it is happening, and much faster than expected.
People are getting scared, myself included. The question is how we respond to this fear. How do we as people (and as change agents) carry on when faced with the potential for the unimaginable? Prior to this experience, I was struggling with what to do. Now the coming challenge doesn’t seem so formidable. Asha has opened up a new channel for me. My wife and I have unknowingly signed up for an advanced course in managing anxiety. Having graduated from phase one, I suddenly feel better prepared to venture out and engage people with hope.
Yet, when I read the newspaper (or look at most NGO websites) it appears that too many people think that the way to get people to wake up and modify the way they live (and vote), to reprioritize efforts to reduce emissions, is to trigger people’s Adrenalin. The dominant approaches are either technocratic (“It’s easy” just do x, y, or z!) or to make people very, very afraid. Neither will work by themselves.
We need to figure out how to trigger the equivalent of Oxytocin on a global scale; only with this will we be able to birth a new society.
But what would a global birth hormone look like? I don’t know specifically, but I suspect that the answer lies somewhere in inspiring hope, in connecting with people emotionally and speaking to that part of most people that yearn for connection with others, that seeks something bigger than themselves.
I’m only just beginning to sort out a path forward. Hopefully we can figure it out together.