'Maternità', Bruno Vivoli, Repubblica di San Procolo, 2001
Both Hedera and Bruno attend the Messa dei Poveri in Florence

edera has taught us so much. She is Rom, from Romania, has had two babies here in Florence. She cannot read or write, having no schooling. Though she knows her numbers well, the alphabet escapes her. She can copy its letters but not understand that they are sounds which spell words. She is very intelligent and around her one has a sense of beauty, a sense of peace.

In particular, from watching her, we learned how to raise a new-born child.

                                    James Meikle, health correspondent
                                    Saturday September 13, 2003
                                    The Guardian

                                    Images published for the first time yesterday seem to suggest
                                    that unborn babies can smile, blink and cry weeks before they
                                    leave the womb.

                                    The pictures of foetuses about 26 weeks after conception have
                                    been captured by state-of-the-art scanning equipment now being
                                    employed at some clinics and teaching hospitals.
                                    Experts can now debate whether this apparent grin reflects an
                                    emotional response or is a simple physical reaction, helping
                                    prepare baby for the outside world.

                                    The smile might appear at 26 weeks development, but the new
                                    techniques clearly show limb movements at eight weeks, the
                                    foetus leaping, turning and "jumping" at 11-12 weeks, intricate
                                    movement of fingers at 15 weeks and yawning at 20 weeks.
                                    Obstetrician Stuart Campbell, who has been using the
                                    Austrian-developed equipment at the private Create Health
                                    Clinic, London, for two years, said: "It is remarkable that a
                                    newborn baby does not smile for about six weeks after birth. But
                                    before birth, most babies smile frequently. This may indicate the
                                    baby's trouble-free existence in the womb and the relatively
                                    traumatic first few weeks after birth when the baby is reacting to
                                    a strange environment."

                                    The £120,000 scanner that makes this possible costs two-three
                                    times more than conventional equipment. Prof Campbell thinks
                                    he was the first to use it in Britain. The machine develops
                                    ultrasound so that it can be transformed and shaded to produce
                                    detailed surface features from the foetus which move in real

                                    "The bond between parents and baby is enormous. The reaction
                                    is overwhelming especially with fathers, who rarely get involved.
                                    Before they sat in the corner. Now they really show emotion. I
                                    enjoy scanning and looking at babies. It is so informative about
                                    babies and behaviour. Every scan is an adventure."

Hedera and her eight-day old baby were thrown out of an abandoned warehouse into a tempestuous rainstorm, 10 August 2002. We took them in. For a week we were with Hedera as she nursed, swaddled, and sang ‘Alleluia’ to her new-born baby. The little Leonardo never cried. Being held, being swaddled, being nursed, being laid on the bed for his changing with icons beside him, seemed to content him, to soothe him, into peacefulness.

Then Hedera was in hospital in the Maternity Ward. Visiting her we saw Italian mothers standing around while their new-born babies cried desperately in plastic and metal boxes. They were not allowed to feed them except at four hourly intervals. Not allowed to pick them up and hold them. Not allowed to soothe them. The greatest learning occurs at the earliest ages, after that everything slows down - why it is hard for me now to teach thirty-year-old Hedera the alphabet which she could so easily have learned at six. These babies, immediately from the womb, are learning the harshness of the world, deprivation of what is so desperately needed, a sense of safety, of their desire for survival, not being met. They are traumatized their first day of life.

The Guardian today, 4/3/05, in an article on teenagers, mentioned the following:

Is there any hormone link to high-risk choices in teenagers? It is likely not to be testosterone, at least not initially, but the stress hormone, cortisol which returns us to deprivation. Stress during early life raises cortisol levels, so increasing behavioural problems (such as hyperactivity), tending to make children more aggressive, less affiliative and more likely to perceive others as threatening. Stress in either pregnancy or in early life permanently resets the stress response of the child, so that there is an increased reaction to stress - it's called hyperarousal. A stressed child, for instance, when meeting someone new (even in a familiar environment) will withdraw and refuse to make eye contact, rather than chat happily. This increased stress response plays out in reduced life expectancies because cortisol affects almost every body system. It is also closely linked with depressive illness in later life.

Hedera always held her baby, for living on the street there could be no cradle, apart from during her brief stay here, and our sending her the one we made afterwards to Romania. Leonardo was swaddled like the Christchild, like the Ospedale degli Innocenti bambini. Hedera and Leonardo were always looking at each other, aware of each other. Our babies are kept apart from us as much as possible, deprived of us, later parked in front of TVs for hours on end. When I visited Rom families at the Campo Masini I had seen family after family living in just a room, sitting on the floor, its only furniture the cradle, the attention of the whole family on the calm baby in the cradle. So we made cradles like theirs. We tried to sell them to Italians to raise the money to help Hedera. But Italians mostly don't buy cradles, using instead contraptions of metal and plastic, adapting their babies to their cars, in which their babies mostly cannot see their mothers. Then, when Campo Masini burned down and those families were removed to the former Ospedale Banti, I gave them back, in a way, their lost cradles, my copies of theirs. The movement of the rocking cradle reminds the baby of being in the mother's womb as she walks and he is calm. We never heard a baby cry in the gypsy camps. Though there were so many babies.

I can remember when babies were surrounded with soft colours, as in Beatrice Potter water colours. Indeed my nursery as a child had a freize of her paintings around its wall that I would gaze at for hours from my crib/cot, the careful observation of nature, the soft colours, the rounded shapes. We used to give children music boxes that played Mozart. Today, it is believed babies like harsh colours and shapes and noises, cacaphonous Fisher-Price toys. Toys, like TV, are now violent. 'Toys "R" Us' proclaim the great warehouses, reached by cars, in every American town, filled with cheap plastic and metal junk. Soon the cars are trashed and junked, like the toys, having the children feel also they are disposable, like their plastic and paper diapers, made from non-renewable resources and non-biodegradable, yet considered expendable, rubbished.

A cooperative of mothers who sold cloth diapers/nappies showed this image of a National Trust barn in Cornwall, noting the paper/plastic nappies from one baby would fill it and are not bio-degradable.

As these traumatized babies grow up they return to the womb with the rock beat in discotheques, losing their delicate hearing. The deprived baby, the one not allowed to suck at the breast sufficiently, given plastic bottles rigorously four hours apart, has to suck its thumb, auto-suck, and then will smoke cigarettes, afflicted lifelong with unfulfilled desire. The pain from trauma of these babies become adults requires them to seek solace in abusing substances, nicotine, alcohol and other drugs. Narcissistic, these individuals crave insatiably what they are conditioned by media to acquire, are unable to love, forever dependent and terrified of being abandoned, their development arrested, consumers, not producers, requiring the subjugation of others, the Third World as the unseen slave caste, to meet their needs - that never can be met. We have created a population that is a warrior race, ready for the self-destructing blood and guts of war and all its metal/plastic machine-made paraphernalia, a race disposable like plastic diapers, in plastic body bags. Not given the hand-crafted toy, or the alphabet block of wood. Nor the gentle rocking of the wooden hand-made cradle. Nor the mother's washing of cloth that gets softer and whiter, peaceably saving her child's environment.


For our babies' sakes, we need to return to home childbirth, breast feeding, cloth diapers, rocking cradles, bicycles. Then we would be doing less to cause poverty, starvation, in the Third World, more to create peace and a sustainable universe. The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.


Blessed Olive Branch, Kenyan olive-
wood bowl, William Morris Print

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