I am in Tasmania on the wild North West coast looking north over Bass Strait. The weather has been rugged and cold but today the sun is shining and all is forgiven as the warmth penetrates my back and renews my sense of Nature at her best.
Did you know that oestrogen circulating in the brain and body of females makes them invested in preserving harmonious relationships?
From the very beginning of their foetal lives a baby’s biology is determining the foundation of her or his personality and behavioural tendencies. If a baby is conceived as a male, six to eight weeks after conception, a surge of testosterone reconfigures the basic body template that he started out with. This hormone inflow that bathes his tiny foetal structure rewires his developing brain and sexual organs so that he will be born a male.
Baby girls however retain their original basic body template and go on to devlop as females in the womb. A couple of months after birth female infants are exposed to a bath of oestrogen that floods their developing brain for a twenty-four month period in a kind of infantile puberty. This means that a female child in infancy and toddlerhood is driven by female hormones that determine specific gender-related behaviour, markedly different to a baby boy of similar age.
So nature, very specifically, differentiates male and female traits from the earliest developmental stages in a child’s life.
Female babies, as distinct from male babies, are imbued with an impulse to make social bonds based on communication and compromise. This is born out by a number of studies that discern a noticeable difference in the way that male babies and female babies relate to their primary carer/s.
I was reminded of this the other day while sitting in a little eating-house in Hobart, casually observing a family that occupied the table next to ours.
There were two little girls, a dad and a mum who was holding a bundle of blankets that clearly contained a baby. Because of where I was seated I could not see the face of the baby and idly speculated as to whether it was a boy or a girl. At one stage, mum handed the baby to dad. Dad jumped the little person up and down on his knees, gazing intently at it while he spoke endearing words, which I could not hear but could read from his body language. From this new vantage point however, I could just see the baby’s face and looked curiously to identify the gender. I checked out to see whether the clothing would give me a clue, but it was unisex, so I could not discern whether it was a boy or a girl.
After 30 seconds or so of the Dad’s interaction with the child I could tell without a doubt – it had to be a boy. As I watched in fascination I could see that for all the father’s enthusiasm in connecting to the baby, the infant looked everywhere else but into dad’s eyes, even though the dad was gazing intently into baby’s eyes. Squirming with delight bub was obviously enjoying the loving play but at no point did he look his father in the eyes. In fact he looked everywhere else rather than return the loving gaze!
My companion and I had been discussing the possibilities and I announced, with a certainty, that it was a boy. He declared that there was no way to tell so he leaned over to the table and asked mum. “He’s a little boy,” she said with evident pride and taking him from his father she stood him on her knee and introduced him to us. He smiled and gurgled and cooed but never once looked either of us in the eye!
I learned on researching the topic that early theories on mutual gazing between mother and baby were female biased, in other words only female babies were used in the studies (no explanation was offered as to why!!). However later studies (where both boy and girl babies were involved) have shown that only females are hard-wired to gaze at faces, and particularly the eyes.
Baby boys, in fact, are hard-wired to do the opposite. They are biologically designed to fix their gaze on things rather than people – mobiles, light and doorknobs – in fact, anything that grabs their attention. The surge of testosterone while in the uterus at around eight weeks that floods a baby boy foetus shrinks the centres for communication, observation, and the processing of emotion in the brain.
Because a baby girl retains the original hard-wiring of the unisex foetal brain in addition to receiving a twenty-four month bath of oestrogen beginning shortly after birth, she is feminised. The hormonal soaking of her brain ensures that she will have a bigger communication centre, greater brain capacity for emotional memory and better acuity for picking up cues from other people. Nature is programming her by this process to develop a capacity for relationships with people.
Baby boy’s brains on the other hand are being biologically shaped for a relationship with things rather than people, and for focus and problem solving. That means that generally little boys are happier playing on their own than little girls, especially if they have stimulating toys and objects around them to keep them amused. This does not mean that baby boys do not need close connection with their mothers and significant others. Pair-bonding is just as important to them as it is to baby girls. However the way that they express their sense of connection and relate to their mother and significant others is very different.
Your baby’s gender will determine how you will relate to him or her. The basic structural variances in male and female brains lays the groundwork for many everyday differences in the behaviour and early life experiences of your child.
And why is it important to understand these things? As mothers, women are in a very close reciprocal relationship with their infant exchanging information through subtle cues that is life-supporting for the infant and life-enhancing for the mother. The more confident in her new role the mother is the more she delights in her baby and the closer the baby bonds.
If the first-born is a girl, as it was in my case, then a positive mothering experience will result in a profound bond being forged through loving gaze and facial expressions exchanged between the two. If the second-born is a boy then the mothering experience will not be the same, because the bonding cues are completely different, even to the point of sometimes feeling less personal for the mother. This apparent lack of connection through gaze caused me to feel as a young mother as if I was not mothering as well when it came to my son. This is because I did not realize that his way of focusing on objects from the security of my arms was the extent that his need for bonding required. Baby boys like to explore the world from the security of the bonding connection.
When a mother understands and recognizes the differences in response between her girl child and her boy child then she is more readily able to foster a loving bond with her son without feeling rejected because the sense of connection is not as obvious. Of course, if the first born is a boy then the mother knows no different, and perhaps will experience a subsequent girl child as a deepening of her mothering skills.