What gives you goosebumps?
January 12, 2018 at 10:24 pm #7354
Reading Martin Amis’s book Time’s Arrow. Freakiest novel I’ve ever read, or probably ever will.January 14, 2018 at 3:17 am #7367
I have had a number of “goosebump” moments in my life, but I will share with you the ones that I think perhaps speak most relevantly to your interest in mammalian neuroevolution. These occurred around my pregnancy and the birth of my child, a time when hormonal and neurochemical factors are particularly strong in their impact on perception, feelings, experience.
My son was born severely prematurely. He was due on March 19, but he was born on December 6. I was barely 25 weeks along. For reference, a normal pregnancy is about 40 weeks. I had just started to show, had just bought my first maternity shirts. Charlie weighed 1 lb and 11 oz at birth and remained in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for three months before I was able to bring him home.
Obviously, that meant that I was discharged from the hospital well before my son was. The first “goosebump” moments occurred when I left the hospital two days after what had been a traumatic and unexpected birth that happened months before it was supposed to. I was a mess, but not just because I was frightened and concerned about my baby’s survival. I mean that I literally felt disconnected from reality. I remember walking to the car with my husband, having walked into the hospital pregnant, now not pregnant, but without a baby, and putting my hands on our car because I had to make sure it was solid, that it was real. That entire day, and for about another day afterward, there was a patina of unreality that hung on everything. I kept having to touch things to reassure myself of their solidity, their reality. It was as though, literally, every fiber of my physical body had prepared for a baby, and when there was no baby, the difference between the reality my body had readied itself for and the reality of what my mind had to accept caused a cognitive disconnect. It took a few days for my bodily experience to match my cognitive experience. I am not explaining it very well, but I have often wondered if other moms who, for whatever reason, had a similar experience to mine, also experienced this sort of short-term hallucinatory state. I was aware at that point of just how powerful hormonal changes can impact emotion and perception.
The second “goosebump” moment came the first time I got to hold my child. Because he was so premature, we could not touch him for the first three weeks or so. His skin was simply too thin, and his neural pathways too fragile. His skin was so thin that touching it could just rub it off, and his nerves so underdeveloped that any stimulation was overwhelming, and could cause cardiac arrest. (Yeah, you haven’t lived til you’ve had to watch your premature baby be bagged and resuscitated several times in one week!) I went to the NICU daily and stayed by his crib, but was not allowed to hold him until he was almost a month old, and even then it had to be done carefully, slowly, in increments, so as not to disturb his breathing and heart rate. The first time I held him was in a Kangaroo hold–that’s what they called it–in which I opened my shirt and bared my chest, and they then placed my son, his chest also bare, against my skin, then covered us both with a warm blanket because at that point, my son still was not able to maintain his own body heat. “Goosebump” doesn’t begin to describe what happened the first time my son and I touched, skin to skin. It was like an electric shock. It literally made me catch my breath; it made me dizzy. I don’t know how to explain that moment of transcendence except to say that I knew him. My body recognized him on a deep, reptilian-brain level. Now, I had been teaching, and working with children and taking care of children, and loving other people’s children, for decades already before having a child of my own, so I knew what it was to hold a baby close, and to feel protective of a child, but this was something else. This was something I hadn’t expected. I knew this child on a cellular level. I honestly don’t know how to explain it, it took my breath away, and completely unbidden and involuntarily, the words that came to my mind were: flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood. In thinking about it later, I was again amazed at the capacity of hormones, neurochemicals, and instincts to influence our perceptions and experiences.
There you have it. Use the information if it helpful! 🙂
Oh, and hi, everyone! I haven’t posted in a really long time. Glad to see you all are still here, and that some of the familiar voices are still around.
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