By Mary Ellen Christy
Every May we set aside a special Sunday to honor our mothers. In truth we should honor our mothers everyday of our lives. Very early in pregnancy maternal love makes his presence known as a strong and instinctive force which creates a strong and lifelong bond for mother and child. Most women are healthier during a pregnancy that at other time in their lives. Pregnancy is a natural condition and not an illness. Most expectant mothers get more sleep, eat a healthier diet and commit to a more regular exercise routine.
Once the mother hears a heartbeat and feels a child move within her the desire to love and protect this child becomes overwhelming. Meanwhile, the child within her is listening to the beat of his mother’s heart, the sound of her voice, her rhythmic movements as she walks, the sound of her voice and even her smell. From this instinctive love shared by mother and child the process of attachment begins.
Once a child is born, mother and child begin the process of bonding which ensures a secure attachment. Attachment is so vitally important because it is known to be the longest and most reliable predictor of a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development. Our mothers are our first teachers in so many areas of our development – regulating our behavior and emotions and teaching us to express our feelings, as well as, to respect those of others as we navigate the challenges and opportunities that life presents to all of us.
Maternal instinct has a strong desire to protect and in most of the outstanding mothers profiled below that desire to provide maternal protection extended well beyond their own families and consequently they have made immeasurable contributions to the good of humanity. Good mothers also know that a democracy is not the best social structure for an organized and functioning family. She exercises her executive authority to be a strong leader within her family.
Long before social science was even thought of, Hoelun the mother of Genghis Kahn showed herself to be a good mother with strong priorities and more than a little grit. Despite being kidnapped and forced into marriage with a warring invader, bearing his sons and being cast out following his death, Hoelun managed to nurture her sons, one of whom became the mightiest and most fearsome ruler of the ancient world. Yet when he ordered the execution of his own brother whom he had accused of fermenting a treasonous insurrection, Hoelun ordered him to spare the life of her child and spent the rest of her life as one of his most influential advisors.
Sojourner Truth was born a slave in Ulster county New York. She plotted her own escape bringing with her her infant daughter. When she learned that her five year old son had been illegally sold into slavery, she gathered together the courage and enough resources to bring suit against the white man who had purchased her son and won in a court of law. This happened in 1852, a decade before the emancipation proclamation. She became a legendary spokesperson in the abolitionist movement and spent the later part of her life as a preacher.
When Nancy Edison, mother of Thomas Alva Edison was summoned to her son’s school and told that he was addlebrained and was being expelled. Although dyslexia was something waiting to be defined by future educators, her mother’s instinct told her that he was not only bright and capable of learning but needed to be taught in a completely different way and by different people. She created a home school environment and we can credit her with the concept of alternative learning styles – not to mention the light bulb.
Believe it or not three of Cindy Lightner’s four children fell victim to accidents involving drivers who were operating motor vehicles while impaired by alcohol or narcotics. The first accident caused slight injury to her eldest daughter when she was a toddler, the second which happened to her 10 year old son resulted in severe injuries and permanent brain damage. At the age of thirteen her daughter Cari was struck and killed by someone who had a repeat record of driving while impaired but who like most others had suffered little or no consequences. Out of her grief and anger Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) was born with the stated purpose of increasing awareness of the prevalence of this problem and to promote more comprehensive legislation. She accomplished both.
Irene Sendler was a young, polish, catholic, social worker employed by the Department of Social Services when the Nazis marched into Warsaw. Deeply touched by the plight of the Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto she organized an underground network and personally created temporary false identities for 2,500 Jewish children. With their new identities established she placed them in orphanages, convents and Christian homes. When the little network was betrayed, Irene was arrested and taken to Gestapo headquarters where despite beating, torture and the threat of execution she would not betray the names or whereabouts of any of “her children”. Miraculously they all survived the war including, Irene whose release was secure through liberal bribing of the Gestapo by an unknown benefactor. Irene too survived the war and was a recipient of the Polish Order of the white Feather, one of the countries highest honors. She lived to be an old woman and passed away peacefully in 2008.
I have saved the very best for last, someone for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration, Joyce Sang. When Joyce and her husband, Dusty experienced the devastating grief of losing their beloved son at the age of 24, they made a promise to each other that they would work tirelessly and do whatever was within their power to try to prevent any other families from experiencing this sorrow. As a living memorial to their bright, accomplished and promising young son they created the Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation with two missions: 1) to raise awareness of early onset bipolar disorder which affects 3% of children and youth in the United States and 2) to fund research aimed at finding an empirical test to facilitate early diagnosis and intervention. Working with some of the finest medical minds in this country across many disciplines the Foundation has funded research at John’s Hopkins, The University of Chicago, The University of Pittsburgh Medical School, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Rush University and Northwestern University to name a few. Joyce Sang likes to say that when bad things happen to good people, they are motivated to do good things for others. Joyce and Dusty are certainly living this mission and are dedicated to helping erase the stigma associated with bipolar disorder. “Although we cannot bring Ryan back, we hope that millions will be able to see a brighter day in his memory.” A greater act of love on the part of a parent cannot be fathomed. Joyce, we salute you as an exemplary mother.