Sleep: Every Modern Parent’s Fantasy
I remember the feeling, the sheer desperation coursing through me as I woke up, as mothers do, anticipating her cry from the co-sleeper next to our bed. I looked at the clock – 3:30am. I had 6 patients booked that day and the demands of my professional life were growing impatient with the myriad excuses for fatigue and forgetfulness brought on by this new addition to our world.
I worked, in both pregnancies, up until the day I birthed my daughters, spoke with an entire day’s worth of patients while I was in early labor during my second. I was back at the hospital for my fellowship after the generous allotment of 6 weeks for my first daughter and back at my desk in my practice 3 weeks after my second. I brought the full force of my masculine, warrior, can-do, get out of my way, energy to the enterprise of early motherhood.
In many ways, this attitude was adaptive for me and my daughters because it compelled me to do things my way, and spared me from conforming to conventional expectations around birth, breastfeeding, and pediatric care. My friends had commented that I’d become like a hippy Nazi. Serious and militant about the rightness of my decisions, I felt that “sleep was important” for me, particularly as a professional.
Hitting the Books
Because modern mothers have to look to books to learn to engage the most primal relationship in the history of living beings, I read every book under the sun about infant sleep, desperate to crack the code of the 12 hour night stretch. It became a strategy of outwitting baby.
While we never did a conventional cry-it-out, the energy put toward achieving independent sleeps and naps was remarkable.
Today my daughters sleep 11-12 hours without a peep.
But at what cost?
The Costs of Professional Parenting
Jean Liedloff attempted, over 40 years ago, to share with us the cost of our modern mothering, in her book The Continuum Concept. On the cover is an endorsement that reads, “If the world could be saved by a book, this just might be the book.” A bold statement, right? I believe it to be true.
Through her time with the South American tribe, the Yequana, Liedloff learned about how we North Americans have gone astray. Our addictions, our compulsions, our sorrow, our stress, our misery, our lives lived in longing for a “better tomorrow”. She asserts the profound driver of our suffering: it’s called the Continuum. And it’s about our several-million-year history as humans on this planet.
We toss this figure around, but pause to really take in what several million means. The yoga I practice has endured some 7-10,000 years by estimates, and I marvel at the meaning of that. Think about the medicine we practice today. Do you think triple bypasses and Prozac will still be the gold standard 8,000 years from now? When a behavior endures, it is for a reason. It is an expression of “rightness”, or adaptation, and of synergy between the human, it’s behavior, and the environment it is meant to commune with.
The Continuum’s Commandments
Liedloff posits that there is a powerful, perhaps the most powerful, force within us that seeks to keep us doing exactly what our bodies, minds, and spirits are expecting us to do based on millions of years of co-evolution with our environment.
It is really another word for instinct and the intuitive knowing that derives from it.
Written in 1975, she laments the reality of the times. That we have, for the first time in sentient history, allowed our intellects to coopt our instincts.
Minds Over Matriarchy
We have allowed ourselves to behave in accordance, not with our native inclinations, but from a space of fear-induced mind-control. From an intellect-based energy that drags us away from our union with each other and with nature. From an energy of dominance over nature and mastery over any perceived challenge, in or outside of our bodies. We must be restrained and constrained by rules, laws, and forced conformity because violation of the Continuum has left us out of touch with our own best intentions.
The thing is, that the Continuum calls. Babies are designed, expectant of, and singularly oriented toward human skin-to-skin contact. In ancestral times and indigenous living, babies are held from the moment they are born until they can crawl (6-8 months) and are not left out of human contact for one minute. Literally. They are dragged through rain and rivers, bounced around, exposed to chaotic noises, sensations, and rhythms.
Helicopter Parenting Makes for Unhappy Adults
These more mobile Yequana babies are then trusted to make their own decisions around self-preservation. They sit next to large holes in the earth, crawl on the edge of wild rivers, and sample their environment. There is no helicopter vigilance instilling in these babies a belief that they do not have what it takes to survive. There is no good baby, bad baby, no histrionic celebrations when they accomplish something. There is a calm investment in their inner compass manifesting life as it should be.
And it certainly is not a life begun in a sterile, quiet bed, alone in a nursery.
In fact, Liedloff states that immediate skin-to-skin contact is so imbedded in the evolutionary mother-newborn dyad, that in the absence of this imprinting, a mother’s physiology begins to prepare for the grief of a stillborn. Tells us something important about the ever-common “Baby Blues” our mothers have come to expect, doesn’t it?
An Unsafe Life Spent Wanting
The price for not fulfilling this expectation is a life lived in insecurity and longing.
A manifesto for attachment parenting, The Continuum Concept turns a precious and unrealistic-feeling, holier-than-though paradigm into a clear and logical mandate – conform to the Continuum or cause lifelong suffering – it’s your choice.
Might it be worth investing 6 months in your newborn’s care if it means that they will lead life from a core stability? Sounds like it to me!
The Continuum Concept: Beyond In-Arms
While she focuses on the critical importance of in-arms parenting, the Continuum applies to all manner of what I have referred to as evolutionary mismatch. This concept speaks to the myriad ways in which we are expecting our bodies to conform to the industrial era:
- Genetic modification of foods
- Processing of foods into food-like products
- Industrial chemicals
- Radioisotopes from nuclear energy
- In-hospital births
- Formula feeding
- Fluoridated water
- Electromagnetic pollution
- Antibiotic and other pharmaceutical exposures
- Indoor living
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Isolated nuclear family living
Reclaiming Ancestral Tools
Now, we know that we can adapt and change in real time. It’s the beauty of epigenetics, and of the microbiome – a dynamic ecosystem that presides over our wellbeing. I know that I can help a woman reclaim her vitality within the space of a few months, despite a lifetime of living against the Continuum.
It is that powerful. All that I do in clinical practice is work to restore the Continuum for my patients. And it is possible to do, and quickly, because the body longs for it that much.
As long as we live against it, however, we will struggle and suffer.
Do you have a sense of longing for something you have trouble naming? Like you are missing something? Do you feel just off-center? Do you feel everything will be ok if only…?”
It is the Continuum you are missing and we are all victims of this desperation.
Give it back to yourself.
Real Touch: Because the continuum drive keeps on keeping on over the course of one’s lifetime, the need for more love persists. Restore affection with family and friends. Hold hands, touch each other’s hair or shoulders if the spirit moves you. Get massages. Hug. Let your naked feet touch the receiving body of the Earth.
Real Restoration: Send your nervous system a signal of safety. Restore the peace that would have been if your body experienced what it was expecting to from infancy until this point. Begin with this Kundalini meditation, just 3 minutes a day.
Real Food: Our most primal connection to our lived environment, the healing potential of real food cannot be overestimated. Choose to restore this relationship.
Real Detox: We are learning that foreign chemicals synergize with each other, persist, and wreak havoc on our systems, poorly adapted for life in this chemical soup. Green your personal care products, your home, your air, water, and electromagnetic fields. I love ireadlabelsforyou and EWG for guidance.
Real Medicine: If we know one thing for certain, it’s that several million years of human continuum did not involve exposure to 5+ pharmaceutical products daily. These chemicals are molecularly structured in a way completely foreign to our body’s architecture and functioning. They force an adaptation as the body tries to reconfigure itself toward balance. They can change your functioning permanently and never get to the root of the symptoms your body is producing as a message to you.
It is worth asking: for everything you put in your mouth or on your body – is this fighting the Continuum or supporting it?
The Divine Feminine
Ever since I began to shift out of my masculine energy, I began to appreciate the we are in an exciting time in human history. The many thousand year old patriarchal paradigm is crumbling. We are beginning to see that our systems of warring against germs, our bodies, the weeds, and the bad guys, are unsustainable. That they are not likely to deliver on their promises. We are moving towards wisdom, ancient knowledge, and compassion. Because what is good for you is good for me is good for the planet. Part of this knowing is developing an appreciation for intuition as a superpower.
The philosopher Alan Watts uses the example of a heron looking out over the water. If it is searching for a fish, darting its head here and there and all around trying to catch the moment of one in it’s sightline, this is the Mind. If, however, it sits easy and calm, and takes in the entirety of the landscape, it will easily zoom in on a ripple in the water when one arises, channel its energy and capture the fish. This is Intuition. It is a powerful gift. It is the Continuum.
Restoring elements of the Continuum puts your body at ease, melts symptoms, and puts you back in your rightful position as master of your domain and your experience. You are not a powerless dependent. Your only authority lies within.
“The point is that the continuum sense, allowed to function throughout our lives, is capable of looking after our interests better than any intellectually devised system could begin to do.”