There are times when an ordinary person is able to experience such an overwhelming sense of love that we want to hold on to that moment for ever.
The uncomplicated birth of a healthy baby is a time when love literally abounds. The cup of love fills up and overflows from the mother, particularly, to her infant, her husband and other children, her midwife, and everyone else with whom she shares the intimate experience. In that awesome moment, a mother receives her child to her breast, accepting the work of mothering.
Since as recently as the 1990s, this love phenomenon has been understood as being related to a surge of the hormone of love, oxytocin. Oxytocin is the natural substance that causes the womb to contract in a systematic way that, at the right time, leads to the opening of the cervix and all the complex processes that are summarised in the simple word 'birth'. Oxytocin continues to orchestrate birth, with the successful separation and expulsion of the placenta, the emptying of the womb of all trace of the baby, and the closure of the mother's blood flow through the placental site.
A surge of oxytocin is repeated many times in ensuing days, months, and years, as the baby stimulates mother's breasts and achieves the let down of milk.
A surge of oxytocin is also felt with sustained loving physical contact, building to a peak in sexual climax. Oxytocin supports and directs the normal physiological activities that lead to mammalian conception, pregnancy, birth, and nurture of the young.
In the years since I began to learn to work as a midwife, in harmony with natural physiological processes in the birthing journey, I have learnt to enjoy oxytocin. I have come to a deep appreciation of this wonderful substance in the lives of those for whom I am midwife, as well as in my own life.
As a midwife I see, over and over again, a woman progress through childbirth. I see a woman become a mother, and a couple become a family. I am sometimes privileged to return to that family a few years later when they welcome a new member.
I don't want to sound idealistic about this transformation. While most progress well, I also see some who start out beautifully become hurt and scarred by unrelated events. I see some whose own ability to love has been deeply marred in their early life, and they struggle to trust even themselves, let alone anyone else. I see some for whom illness or fear or destructive social forces hinder the development of strong bonds within families.
Today is Good Friday, and Christians around the world are celebrating a totally different love; love that saves and redeems lost humanity. This morning, as I sat with my family in our Church and meditated on Christ's love, I reflected on the profound difference between oxytocin-love and, for want of a better term, divine love. The elements of bread and grape juice; flesh and blood; a broken body and blood poured out, are symbols representing love that goes beyond any human achievement.
The human physiological love processes directed by oxytocin require flesh to be broken and blood to flow in order for new life to emerge. The symbolic representation of divine love is also in a broken body and poured out blood. New life begins.
The human physiological love processes directed by oxytocin are fragile, easily interrupted. The work of divine love is completed.