Channeling the Mama Bear Effect to Fight Child Abuse
My friends and family all know I'm more than a little nutty about keeping my children safe. Our friend in France has a 7 foot high locked iron gate surrounding her house—a feature I've been jealously remembering since we stayed with her two years ago. When my kids go outside to play, I'm right there. I get nervous when we play hide and seek and the little one hides too well. There are few people I'll leave my kids with, and when my cell phone rings when I'm away from them, I clutch my chest thinking who's bleeding? Who's missing? Is everything okay? Before I go to bed, I always go into my kids' room to fix their blankets, kiss their faces, and thank God that we're all under one roof, and safe.
Though I was never the victim of abuse, even as a child, I had a hazy awareness that abuse happened. In the late 1980s, my father, a pastor then between churches, spent a year at the New York City Bureau of Child Welfare, investigating cases of alleged abuse and following up on children who had tested positive at birth for illegal substances. I have a foggy memory of overhearing my dad telling my mom that in a training session, they'd passed around a doll—an anatomically correct doll used to help children talk about what happened to them—and when it got to him, my usually stoic dad broke down crying. Who wants to hold such an object—such tangible evidence that child abuse is prevalent enough to warrant the existence of the doll—in their hands?
I've never been overly relaxed (as a kid, I'd go to the carnival and immediately decide what I wouldn't go on) but having kids really made me a lunatic for safety. My friend Valerie, a counselor, tells me this isn't uncommon; it's something we call the Mama Bear Effect. The first time I took my son out in public, I felt aware of the dangers in the world, ready to be a human shield against every danger, looking around like, who's gonna mess with my baby? And I couldn't bear to hear stories of child abuse: postpartum Oprah viewing was definitely not allowed. When my son was three months, I heard a terrible story of abuse that had led to an infant's death and fled the room bawling to scoop up my sleeping son, bury my nose in his fuzzy little neck and reassure us both that he was warm, protected, loved. The adrenaline surges I experience when one of my children gets hurt or sick is such that I believe those crazy stories of small women lifting automobiles. Mother love—the Mama Bear Effect—is strong stuff.
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