Pregnant Woman In Her Late Twenties

Maternal Fright

The thin Bosnian-Herzegovinian pregnant woman in her late twenties had huge dark circles under her eyes.  Her hands shook even at rest.  When she began sharing her maternal fright, the words and her body poured iconic expressions in every crevice that was once deliberately hidden and avoided.  Maternal fright is contagious she tells me pointing to my shaking hands.   I had just finished intensified learning session with the communities’ elder women which meant dancing the folk round dance (Slavic kolo) and feasting.  I was directed by the women to go to this woman’s apartment immediately afterwards.

Staring out the window, she shares how her husband lost 18 relatives in the Ahmica-Vittez genocide on April 16, 1993 (Anderson, 2015, Christie, Pim, 2012).  While the young couple lives in Novi Travnik, Bosnia, around 5 kilometers away, it appears the trauma inflicted roams across vast distances effortlessly.

Pregnant Woman In Her Late Twenties

After an hour of sharing speaking of her husband’s fears seeping under the covers at night into her pregnant womb, the expecting mother asked what to do to protect her unborn child from her maternal fright.  Seeking a tradition or rituals for Slavs is second nature but for maternal fright coupled with impossibly violent genocide, gynocide and rapes she shouted there was no such practice from which to protect and prevent her unborn child from transgenerational trauma.

Taking a green magic marker from the kitchen table off the art pad I had placed there in the beginning of her sharing, I thought she was going to draw what she could not say in words.   It was not the art paper she drew on.   The green magic marker used her exposed pregnant belly to draw a spiral.    Carefully and slowly, she etched the spiral from her belly button in concentric circles enveloping her swollen belly.   At the end, she pronounced what appears to be Slavic thaumaturgy – miracle making -that she had added to the Slavic oral memory traditions a new ritual and practice to eradicate maternal fright.

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But I have observed many Bosnian mothers and their children unable to circumvent transgenerational trauma nor eradicate maternal fright.   Many young children years later after the Balkan war in Bosnia-Herzegovina display transgenerational trauma as if they were alive during the Balkan War.  Through the years, I did projective art for the grammar school. The grammar school children’s pictures was a display of guns, murdered family members and dismemberment of bodies.    I ask how could these young children know the violence that was in past.

One young child, around 5 years of age stood in the small playground at the bottom of a dull, war weary apartment flat.  She stood alone in the playground as if frozen in the posture of many parents who stand alone and watch the children play.   Her father noticed me looking at his daughter and walked over to me sharing what happened to his daughter’s mother.   Soon after he left for work in the early morning, his wife flew from their flat’s tiny balcony to the pavement below.   Many mothers in Novi Travnik and Travnik like the Bird Goddess artifacts some 4, 000 years old strewn in the former Yugoslavia flew off their balconies to their deaths.  All were listed as accidents.

Maternal fright is given in todays’ wars and violence. 

The Slavic term maternal fright is etched from our modern era of manmade wars and violence, specifically from the forgotten conflict, the Balkan War 1991-93 in the former Yugoslav region (Anderson, 2015, Christie, Pim, 2012, DeMause,).  While traumatic events occurred in prehistoric eras, the difference between natural disasters or crises in prehistoric eras to current era results in the survival memories.  Those survival memories ensured the species life across generations in prehistoric eras but in modern dayis hijacked into a world of violence and wars (Buss, Plomin, 2014). Such heritability in our female biological intelligences from prehistoric to present has shaped DNA through epigenetic processes.

In modern age, conflicts, wars and violence weaponized traumatization honed into the epigenetic processes thus targeting females’ capacity to manifest culture.   Culture’s roots are biological.  The biological is the mother.  Her uterine endowments are nowhere present in the male body and her uterus as an organ is wholly female located. The uterine endowments are such as to carry intricate biological processes interconnected with feeling states, emotional cues to fright/flight responses.  What can be understand about the uterine endowments/environments is how the fright/flight responses continues to ensure the survival of the species but, more importantly, the transmission of her life experiences learned and memories to shape the behavior of genes and genomes for future generations’ evolvement.

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Children remember what their mother remembers.

Given the transmission of her life experiences and memories shaped our species DNA and behaviors, we can observe how her daily life acts and those repeated over time are preserved and served up in oral memory traditions, a science of rituals in sync with biological rhythms and cycles.   Slavic oral memory traditions center on the mother (Anderson, 2015, Christie, Pim, 2012).  It is the mother, who creates culture the transmission of survival and thriving skills are passed down through chants, dance, bioculinary practices, art, to her motherese tongue with her infants developing the child’s language capacity. What is realized is a mega-library of ancestors’ life experiences and memories.

 Bosnian Herzegovinian Pregnant Woman In Her Late Twenties
Bosnian Herzegovinian Pregnant Woman In Her Late Twenties

Taking the epigenetic propensities of the female biology and oral memory traditions what is passed down with the world of violence we live in is maternal fright. Maternal fright is transgenerational inflicting anxiety disorders and a host of mental, physical illnesses and in particular impacting the peri-natal and first year of life development of the child (Singer, ET Al., 2003).  The African saying it takes a village to raise a child expresses the female social collective and inter-related female kinships that has manifested culture as an environment for development and evolving propensities (Rosaldo, Lamphre,Bamberger, 1974  Van Anders, 2014).

However, the manipulation of the epigenetic process has individuals relive the traumatic events within imprisoned isolation thus not held in a female social collective.  The female social collective includes men, never excludes women and remembers the children (Young, 1994).Maternal fright is epigenetic inheritance ofexperienced manmade violence. Catastrophically viral as shown by the genetic variability factors mothers passes on to her along with a chronic environmental factors of wars to violence leaves a legacy of mental and health impacts (Van den Bergh, B. R., Mulder, E. J., Mennes, M., & Glover, V. 2005).  Just as the uterine environment is fragile and absorbingly pliable, the world the mother resides is also based on the same biological alignment with nurture and nature.

The profound fragility and vulnerability in shaping the behaviors expressed by our genes requires the uterine environment not just in the womb but in her home and life experiences. We are noting the inter-relationships that co-exist at all times.  If the mother lives in fear and anxiety it is known to create serious physical and mental issues for both mother and child. Antenatal maternal anxiety and stress and the neurobehavioral development of the fetus and child: links and possible mechanisms. A review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews29(2), 237-258..  The influence of the mother’s  anxiety and stress emitting strong emotional experiences onto fetal and neonatal behavior results in elevated risk for spontaneous abortion and preterm labor to growth retarded babies  and infants with reduced head circumferences (Mulder, Medina, Huizink, 2002).

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My insight of epigenetic inheritance is a part of what I do daily carving out memories.  What would be termed as mundane and ordinary is the stuff of memory sciences and epigenetics (Candau, 2010).  Since what we do daily, basically how we live is the spine of epigenetics and memory science, we can see how is critical every movement repeated by mothers from how they live life and what is their memories are becomes a transgenerational conductor (Anderson, 2015, Christie, Pim, 2012, Ward 2010).  Essentially, the mother is embedded epigenetic process with a complexity sophisticated enough to fine-tune gene expressions (Ollikainen,et al, 2010).

Thus, maternal fright, after researching epigenetics and trauma we learn trauma impacts fits into one word; transgenerational(Demendelssohm, 2008, Elwood, 2008).  Just as epigenetic is transgenerational and rooted in the epigenetic processes, we can see the transmission of trauma passed down through our DNA (DeMause, 2006, Carey, 2013).   The mother’s memories and life experiences becomes what the children remember leading to the tragic consequences in their developing brains and bodies. In other words, the wars and violence perpetrated onto the mother and the environment are unending.

Unending wars are found in domestic violence to sexual assault and homicide with catastrophic statistics but one statistic that stands out is the leading cause of death for pregnant mothers is trauma[i] involving strangulation most often by their partners (Falb, ET AL. 2014, Fildes, 1992).  Coinciding with the 2011 statistic reporting the seventh leading cause of death for women is femicide-the mass murder of women (Wilson, ET Al, 2011, Warner, 2009).  For the African American women and Native American women, femicide is the second leading cause of death (Wilson, ET AL. 2011).

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            It stands to reason with the femicide cycles maternal fright throughout the generations.  Given transgenerational nature of maternal fright, the century of wars for the South Slavic women war crimes and war survivors, maternal fright has become a part of their oral memory traditions and practices to ameliorate the devastating trauma impacts.

For the South Slavic Bosnian women war crimes and war survivors their memories are craved from violent epochs and perhaps, a healing element is added that will be passed to future generations.With three million suitcase refugees in the Balkan War being 80% women, a concentrated and vast female social collective having nothing perhaps just a suitcase, were able to institute beginning steps to heal maternal fright (Mertus, 1997, Anderson, 2015). How maternal fright prorogates an assortment of ills is all down to what our ancestors and your mothers to grandmothers lived that can add to the gene expressions. According to Eric Kandel’s work on the neurobiology of memory, how this was done with layering of new memories over the original memories (Kandel, 2007, Eichenbaum, 2009).  Research has noted the same process in passing down genetic diseases and programming such as Rhett syndrome- severe autism.

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This continues to be observed by the South Slavic women war crimes and war survivors after a century of wars.  Since the life experiences of grandmothers become the lived memories of grandchildren, what we have is an epigenetic process that concentrates in the pre-conception stages of the mother’s and father’s life experiences, the perinatal gestational and early childhood development (Anderson, 2015, Burton, ET AL, 2010).  As a result of the virulent wars, the women survivors expressed how their circadian rhythms were disrupted and unable to return to an adaptive state and then reported an inheritance of maternal fright (Christie, Pim, 2012, Anderson, 2015).   Somehow, through their oral memory traditions (a science of rituals aligned with bio-neurological & epigenetic processes), the women survivors understood their natural circadian rhythms can maintain and even restore health thus eradicating maternal fright.

More importantly their female tacit knowledge intuited our evolved over thousands of years body clock based on light and dark universal to all of us depends on the rhythm and synchronization. Circadian misalignments to our circadian system occur when physiological rhythms are disrupted and interrupted. Havoc is played upon the body from diabetes and obesity-heart problems let alone the epigenetic processes that result in maternal fright (Laber-Warren, 2015.p. 33)

What I have observed and researched in regards to healing trauma for women are the oral memory traditions which are found to be in sync with the maternal biological rhythms (Hannon, Johnson, 2005, Anderson, 2014).  The maternal biological rhythms carve out of oral memory traditionsvia the repetitive life practices and life experiences.   In essence, the oral memory traditions preserve the biological intelligences of conception, pregnancy and birth without written manuals.  What I refer to as female tacit knowledge (Wheeler, 2006, Gifford, 2010).  The structure of maternal biological rhythms and processes entail many lived daily life acts from menstruation to menopause (Bledsoe, Banja, 2002, Bateson, 2001).  But none more so critical to this paper’s topic maternal fright and focus on gestation, birth and raising of children.

Moreover, I noted how oral memory traditions houses a constellation of life experiences, the stuff of epigenetic propensities, neuroscience venues clarifying how female social collectives are distinct from assemblies of traumatized individuals (Anderson, 2014).  It is the female social collectives, the biological roots of nature that are represented in the oral memory traditions practices-a group culture- vastly differing from isolated traumatized individuals (Freudenberg, Jones, 1991).  Yet, the female social collective harbingers of culture not violence oral memory traditions are treated as harmless folklore not worthy of science or governing entities(Giesen, 2004, Grünberg, 2009).   In fact, the female social collectives are to proclaim a nonpolitical status so as to not offend the men and powers that be.

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While inheritance of personality traits, temperament is controversial, behavioral genetics and gene-environmental interaction studies show a correlation to oral memory traditions practices, a science of rituals (Steinberg, ET AL, 2010). We know before the alphabet and words on the page, pre-literate cultures used repetition to pass down storied instructions into memory.I need to define the term maternal fright from a female tacit knowledge approach (Hoffmeyer, 1996, Polanyi, 1966).  Female tacit knowledge are bodily roots of our knowledge to [wom-}man highest creative powers” (Polanyi, 1966, p. 15) based on the biological fact we all are born of a woman.

All the tacit knowledge and life experiences were passed down to future generations orally and through our genes (Wheeler, 2006, Polanyi, 1969). For instance, we know that babies have a programmed inherited fear and instincts (Hodgson, 2004, DeZueta, 2006).

Welldon purported the quality of female biology and body is critical for women’s psychology explaining how violence and wars target female biology and bodies since females birth their own creations (Welldon, 1992, Fonagy, 2010).   For much of one hundred years, the women survivors plugged into their domestic lives and repetitive acts that sustain themselves and their families (Anderson, 2015, Christie & Pim, 2012).   As a result their South Slavic oral memory traditions from a psychobiological perspective proliferated a variety of practices and traditions to heal and attempts to prevent maternal fright from infecting future generations (University of Kansas, 2007, Anderson, 2014).

Since, oral memory traditions is memory preserved and perpetuated into community and community into culture thus future generations (Levy & Sznaider, 2006, Steiner & Zelizer, 1995).   Like culture, oral memory traditions are rooted in our biology.  The Slavic oral memory traditions are chants, dance, agricultural and culinary to herbal and medicinal practices.  During the Balkan War this knowledge of their environment, nature and the land would save many from death and diseases.

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Given the indivisible world of inter-relationships, I cannot side step the maternal uterine environment, which is a female human biological component rarely included in research.  Compelling for me, is how the fetus is by its presence in her womb therefore, open to the elements of the mother’s rhythms of temperature, food/nutrition, maternal melatonin.  For example, it is maternal melatonin which is one of a few hormones that remains in its chemical state without being altered in the blood that synchronizes the fetus’s rhythms to that of the mother (Serón-Ferré, M., Mendez, N., Abarzua-Catalan, L., Vilches, N., Valenzuela, F. J., Reynolds, H. E., & … Torres-Farfan, C. ,2012).   By thriving in the uterine environment, the fetus reaches forward to transition into being a thriving newborn, the future generation.   With maternal fright absent, the uterine environment returns to a state of equilibrium “effecting social change evolving greater cultural evolutionary complexities” (Wheeler, 2006, p. 7).   Culture with its roots in biology is geared towards alignment to that of culture and societies, co-evolving together.   What is effected are evolving and healing practices found in the South Slavic women’s oral memory traditions that is prompted by the uterine environment orchestrated in complex biological systems, ecologies and into human societies via the nature of agency.

Maternal tacit knowledge is based in the body and a female experiential knowledge in the oral memory traditions and associated with the fractal geometry of complex systems (Polanyi, 1966).   Fractal geometry in recent research has shown the vast natural creative forms from coastlines, trees to the body, blood and brains and lungs (Briggs, Peat, 1989, p. 90-91).  For example, medical science studying the fetal brain utilize fractal dimension to measure the increases of in vessels calibers.  The most rapid growth in fractal dimension is in the 6th and 7th month of gestation and is known as an effective tool to measure the structures of the brain vessels (Kedzia, Rybaczuk, Andrzejak, 2002, p. 45-51).

Maternal tacit knowledge, a capacity to self-organize (autopoiesis – focus in hereditary transfers) into natural knowledges, prehistorically existed and is embedded in female collective memory recorded in our gene expression (Wheeler, 2006, Polanyi, 1966, Bertalanffy, 1968).  Prehistorically in that maternal tacit knowledge from millennia of her life experienced evolved our species producing the oral memory practices before the reign of wars and violence, five thousand years ago. (Wheeler, 2006, Eisler, 1991).

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What is so resilient and resourceful within the South Slavic oral memory traditions that is easily perpetuated throughout the generations despite the numerous wars, conquests or other formidable obstacles? (Anderson, 2014, Christie, Pim, 2012).  It presents as another narrative to involve an intensified learning application that if added to modern era academia, education programs and training breeds an extraordinarily different global perspective of conceiving the world as indivisible.   Oral memory traditions hold the biologization of science, an “all open complex adaptive evolutionary non-linear system…systemic evolution of life” (Dawkins, 1976).

An oral memory tradition, the kolo, to be in a circle or a folk round dance is a practice that mirrors the biological rhythms and entrainment for our circadian system to synchronize not just the mother and fetus but the social collective in the dance or circle.   With the Bosnian women war crimes and war survivors, the use of the Kolo was employed when humanity ends signaling the beginning of healing. Since maternal biological rhythm are similar in patterns for fetal and the mothers circadian, it evokes emotional states and are noted in studies.  I posit that the maternal circadian are the maternal biological rhythms that are essential for the developmental fetal brain functions (Reppert, Schwartz, 1984).  Given that the fetus cues from the maternal signals and that entrainment occurs for the circadian system for the fetus which is different from the mothers’ circadian system, conceptually the arrangement of the mother and uterine environment disposes a temporal order during fetal life (Serón-Ferré, 2012).  It is clear how the oral memory traditions and practices sync with the maternal circadian cycles with its incorporation of music-chants, song, instruments, dance, domestic life to self-sustainability.

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In order to eradicate maternal fright, the Bosnian women survivors relied on their oral memory traditions and practices.   With their tacit maternal knowledges understood “life of a complex system is not reducible to its’ constituent parts (the whole is greater than its parts) (Wheeler, 2006, p. 53).   The small domestic life acts highly influenced and sensitive to environments produced large outcomes healing trauma impacts (Anderson, 2014, Christie, Pim, 2012, Polanyi, 1962).

Maddox Smith

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