12th October, 2008
Dr Fiona Stanley – Outspoken advocate for women and children
A recent ABC television broadcast on Dr Fiona Stanley was perhaps one of the most refreshing documentaries I have seen for a long time. Here is a woman who packs a punch when she speaks, by revealing truths that will often be hard to swallow by many people, but which need to be said.
On October 7th 2008, in a production called Risking Our Kids Dr Stanley, former Australian of the Year, pointed to the poor state of health of Australian children and quoted some alarming statistics about childhood obesity, diabetes, asthma, behavioural disorders, and increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with mental disease. Dr Stanley predicted that unless we do something effective to change the prevailing consciousness about the importance of both nature and nurture in the raising of our children, the next generation will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
Here are some of the grim statistics revealed in the program that were gathered by various researchers that are part of the Perth-based Child Health Research Institute founded by Fiona Stanley and her colleagues in 1989:
40% of children now are affected by asthma,
25% young Australians are overweight or obese (25% of five-year-olds now classified as obese)
25% of children are not ready for school,
one in seven young Australians have mental health problems,
25% 12 – 15 year-olds consume alcohol weekly (40% of parents supply alcohol to their under-age adolescents)
Solutions for these growing concerns do not come easy, as there is a great deal of complexity underpinning each of the problem areas, all of which are showing dramatic increase rather than any improvement.
For example, studies have shown that for the 2 in 5 children that have asthma there is no single cause such as housing, allergies caused by interaction with the environment, diet, television, or computer games. Evidence shows that the dramatic rise in asthma in children is consistent with the increase in affluence in our society, that is, the Western lifestyle.
One significant finding from British study however shows an increase in asthma in those children whose mothers used high levels of household cleaning products over those who didn’t. And there has been an avalanche of different and often toxic chemicals coming on to the market over the past few years that are regularly used in a household.
When looking for causes in problems such as suicide, obesity, alcohol and drug abuse in children there is no easy answer – many of these have developed over a generation or two and can be seen more as life- negating attitudes or that have been passed down. The point is made that from the time a child is in the uterus and in early infant and childhood years many things affect the whole life health of a person – stress levels in household, level of care-giving, the kind of food being eaten, whether the child is breast-fed or not. Research has long proven that mothers who drink alcohol in pregnancy produce infants whose brains may be damaged for life.
According to Dr Stanley, the most common disease in young Australians is depression and suicide, at the tip of the iceberg, has become alarmingly more common over the past 20 or 30 years. We have seen in Australia a quadrupling of male teenage suicides and currently 15% to 20 % of teenagers having a mental health problem that significantly affects their daily lives.
Areas of concern cover all aspects of a child’s development:
How do genes and the environment act to deliver an outcome for a child (nature and nurture)?
How do genes and molecular biology affect the child?
How does the child fit into the family?
How does the child fit into the community?
How does the child fit into the world?
What a sad but timely commentary on the state of children’s health and well-being in Australia in the 21st century. Although the content of her documentary saddened me, I was thrilled to see someone standing up and saying it publicly, without fear or favour.
These are topics that have concerned me for many years. These are the underlying reasons why I wrote my book “The Essence of Woman”. As women’s health is degraded the future of the next generation looks bleaker because children display the symptoms of inherited weaknesses, whether physical or psychological. This is not because nature has let women down. This is because we, as women have let nature down – by moving hard and fast away from our natural biological inheritance, often over-riding our natural bodily systems with synthetic hormones and artificial strategies such as in vitro fertilization, caesarean birth on demand and bottle-feeding. When the female body is supported in its natural state and rhythms a woman knows instinctively what to do and how to do it, from sex through to nurturing her infant. And the baby, along with Mum, is the winner. Nature set it up that way. Babies need to be the centre of their universe and Mums, when they are naturally healthy, derive enormous pleasure from being just that for their infant.
When Mums are alienated from the process they cannot give the baby what she/he needs and the whole motherhood experience becomes a negative experience rather than a joyous one.
Many women stand up and say “oh but I was never a natural Mum and I struggled with motherhood.’ Or “I had to go back to work because I missed the work place” What a sad commentary for these women to have missed the most crowning experience that their gender biology offers them. I am not condemning these women. They are a product of their own nurturing which was undermined by the prevailing attitudes of the fifties and sixties when birthing and motherhood was taken over by the medical specialists (who in most cases were men!).
One prime example was an American named Dr Spock who advocated routine feeding based on artificial time frames. This meant that the parent decided on when the baby would be fed and if she screamed because she was hungry, she was left to cry. In this harsh way the child was ‘trained’ to fit in with the parent. What does that teach an infant about responding to natural urges as she moves into adulthood? Spock’s influence was enormous in the Western world and he has much to answer for in the bigger scheme of things.
Bottle-feeding was once an emergency procedure used when a mother genuinely lost her milk, but someone saw the commercial value in the practice and it was commercialized, by a number of big multi-national companies. They flogged the notion (and the formula) not only in the West but also in Third World countries. It became the norm and breast-feeding was deemed to be out of fashion. Both babies and mothers suffered greatly from this distorted perception.
Women are the stronger sex – that is amply evidenced in recent research. We know what we need, so long as we are willing to step into our power and insist on how we want things to be. At last women are starting to recognize that we need to run our own ship.
There is a tribe in South America that is still functioning today as it has for centuries. Certain rules relating to the governance of the tribe have been in place for many hundreds of years. Firstly, both men and women form the council that governs the tribe. All members on the governing council are entitled to propose ideas and policies to be taken into consideration for the future good. But it is only the women that are allowed to vote on any proposal. This is because it is recognized that only women are able to consider the long-term consequences of any decision being made in the here and now. Only women have the capacity to take into consideration the next seven years, because they are tapped into the future through bearing the children. This profoundly wise policy prevents rash decisions that will not take account of the needs of the future generation and having their best interests at the centre of their society.
As women we are the ones that bear the children and are hormonally driven to nurture and care for them – and we do it as an act of love. I think that it is incredibly appropriate that a woman of high distinction in our culture such as Dr Fiona Stanley, stands up to be counted. I for one, not only agree with her, but I stand with her as a wise woman of the tribe.