Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's an Ethologic Mom?

Definition of ETHOLOGY (from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethology)

1: a branch of knowledge dealing with human character and with its formation and evolution
2: the scientific and objective study of mammalian behavior especially under natural conditions

I thought that I'd say a few words about why I chose to be the "Ethologic Mom". Ethology is a more recent discipline devoted to studying behavior and social organization through a biological lens. I am not officially an "ethologist" yet I appreciate the theories and the implications for my work (and as a mother of 3 little ones!) In my work as a developmental specialist and NIDCAP Trainer in the Newborn Intensive Care Nursery (NICU), I spend a lot of time formally observing small infants in under the conditions in which they find themselves (albeit not so natural but alas, they are here...). I am fascinated by how well a tiny, premature infant is capable of communicating about his or her need for social interaction, comfort and support to do the hard work of development while outside the womb too soon and in the often overwhelming atmosphere of the NICU. The baby's success in meeting his biologic, social and emotional goals depends on how well his caregivers see and "hear" the message she gives. Parents read the message of the baby intuitively most of the time, so in some ways my role is to be a cultural broker and interpreter between baby/family and the NICU staff. Parents benefit from seeing how the baby communicates differently and exquisitely but differently than the full term infant. And staff benefit from seeing the baby as a unique individual with his own personality, strengths and preferences. The only way to do this sensitively and without adding to the baby's stress is through behavioral observation. Almost universally when I spend time with a new trainee who is learning the NIDCAP method of observation, they are amazed at how much there is to see. Inevitably someone says, "I always wondered what you were looking at for all that time! Now I know, this tiny baby is amazing and at the same time, I feel so bad for all of the times I didn't realize what a baby was trying to tell me and he experienced overwhelming stress." That sort of attunement is what I hope for all babies, all parents, all NICU workers and it begins by standing and watching...