Created Tuesday, February 24th, my Fortieth Birthday, 2009.
I’m forty years old with a four month old daughter, the harried birth of whom brought on a case of “extensive gallstones,” which periodically causes bowling-over pain in my abdomen where I pant like a dog and moan a lot. The whole situation is ridiculous.
To top that all off, last week, the whole family contracted a cold, and since then, my husband has been sleeping in our guest quarters, happily snoring and snorting away. Meanwhile, since I’m the one with the boobs, I’m on duty. Last night, my daughter woke for a feeding between ten-thirty and eleven (she goes to bed around seven). Then, she woke for another feeding at two a.m., and then woke again at four twenty, at which point I tried for thirty minutes while standing in a tee shirt and my underwear to pat her back to dreamland without lifting her up, but her crying finally did me in. I took her to my bed, put her at my breast and she fell right to sleep.
For the few weeks before the colds came on, I thought maybe we were getting somewhere as far as a sleep pattern went; she was only waking up once at night and then again at about six a.m., which seemed reasonable. But with her first cold, she woke herself up far more often, all snotty and coughing. So I fed her, believing the extra antibodies from the milk would heal her infirmity quicker. Now, even though her cold is mostly gone, she’s become accustomed to the extra boob-time, squirming in her crib for my nipple like a tenacious rooting piglet. I watch her for a while, hoping for a miracle that will strike sleep back into her little body, but it doesn’t happen and so, I take her from the crib and put her at my breast. She suckles for a few minutes, then falls right to sleep; me I’m up for another half-hour counting on my fingers how much sleep I can piece together for the rest of the night if she doesn’t wake up again. Four months into motherhood, and I’m coming undone. Against my nature, I’m forced by my daughter to learn to be flexible.
Before my daughter was even a fancy in my mind, for several years, I went to a specialized kind of therapy called Core Energetics. The reasons for the therapy are not important to this essay but if you must know, they include all the run-of-the-mill reasons for entering therapy; dysfunctional familial life, marital problems, low self image, and career dissatisfaction. Also, at the time I started therapy, I had a job where I provided educational support groups to abused and “at-risk” teen girls, so I went to therapy as a form of professional supervision in order to be responsible to my own clients. And besides all that, because I had a “normal job,” I actually had health insurance which paid for at least part of my sessions.
Anyhow, Core Enegetics, as therapies go, is eclectic and varies widely from provider to provider; but generally speaking, each therapist will stew up a mix of Freudian-based talk psychotherapy, body/somatic work and spiritual practice. The basic idea of Core Energetics is that, depending on our life histories (and perhaps, even, our past life histories if your therapist is rather high on the woo-woo continuum) we’ll store energy in our bodies in five possible ways, called “character structures,” in order to protect ourselves from hurt or recurring pain. Once the energy gets stored, the character structure creates blocks and cuts us off from certain aspects of ourselves, so much so that we eventually enter therapy to figure out why we’re so unfulfilled and cut off. None of the five possible character structures sound appealing, mind you, with names like “schizoid,” “aggressive,” “rigid,” “masochistic,” and, the least frightening-sounding of the five, “oral,” is no picnic either.
Turns out my character structure is mostly a mix of aggressive and rigid. When I walked into my first day of Core Energetics, my therapist noted the tight balls around my shoulders and the fact that my hips had all the flexibility of two-by-fours.
“How do you feel inside?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
He raised his eyebrows as if to challenge me. “You don’t know?”
I glowered at him. “Well, fine. I guess I feel a bit angry sometimes. As if the world is out to get me.”
“Ah, the archetypal victim,” he said, stretching his arms and then intertwining his fingers at back of his head. At that moment, I didn’t understand what he meant, though I did notice a feeling inside me that very much wanted to kick him in the shins.
Nevertheless, I continued with this therapist, about every other week or so. After only a few months, I was surprised to learn, nay feel, how much my life traumas were indeed stored inside of me and how much they were causing dissatisfaction in my day to day present. I thought a lot about my life traumas because, compared to the girls I worked with who’d witnessed knife fights in their own homes or had been raped at eight years old by an uncle in the bathroom, my issues were absurdly minor: a kid named Toby pushed me down the PlaySkool slide, I had heart surgery at sixteen, which turned out to be a great thing for my health, and my parents divorced when I was thirty-four yet I still had good relationships with both. “No matter the level of trauma,” my therapist kept telling me, “hurt still gets stored in our bodies and can therefore keep us stuck.” So, with hard work and searching through these bi-monthly sessions, the tensions of my life began to dissolve and heal. I became less aggressive and less rigid.
In fact, I became so soft and flexible that I discovered, at thirty-six years old, yes, I did want to have a baby, even though for the last dozen years of my relationship with my husband, I’d been saying I didn’t want one. But after only two years of therapy all I kept thinking about was a baby and how I could be a mother and how I had the love to give and how I wanted to have a baby with my husband because I loved him too. My husband and I talked a lot about it, and after few years of adjustment for both my him and me to this new fancy now in both of our minds, we decided one frisky morning we’d try. Our baby, who’d been waiting all those years for us to get on it, was conceived then and there.
I stopped going to therapy just before my daughter’s conception. That may have been a big mistake. But, at the time, stopping therapy seemed a reasonable decision; I’d quit my difficult job as a support group provider and now was happily a full time (though poor and uninsured) writer and part time teacher; my relationship with my husband had forged new roads in honesty and openness; and I had come to terms with having to let my parents grow up on their own. Plus, my therapist was far away, an hour and a half commute where I lived and gas prices were headed through the roof. I thought the therapy had done its work and I felt I’d be fine without my sessions.
During my pregnancy, everyone said, “The baby will change your life.” And during my pregnancy, for me, a wonderful nine-month stretch of hormonal-induced euphoria, during which I experienced great creativity and sensual pleasure, I believed the arrival of the baby would be a continuance on the path of glorious illumination and that was how my life would be changed. Ah, the hormones; they also induced delusion. Now I understand what people really meant was, “The baby will change your life by giving you many opportunities for personal growth.”
Since her birth, my aggressiveness and rigidity have raised their snarling heads like old myths, hideous examples not of change, but of the same old, same old. As I write this, I can feel balls as big and tight as Darwin, Minnesota’s largest ball of twine wrapped inside my shoulders, and my hips, stiff and permanently postpartum sore, creak like warped wood boards every morning when I plod to her crib. When my daughter fusses all day or fights going to sleep, which is just about every nap-time and every single night-night, or when my gallstones act up and I find myself throwing up in the toilet while simultaneously losing bladder control from my incredibly weakened insides, I default pretty darn quickly to that archetypal victim. I pull my hair while crying on the pity-pot. Nope, my old character structure is no pretty picture, but this time, I’m not alone.
My daughter, who is quite alert and aware for her tender age has big eyes that shift eerily from brown to green to hazel like mood rings. With these eyes, she stares at me, locking on to the tension and frustration seething from my back and neck, studying my jerky movements when I try to stand up and my hips won’t bend. She sees all this aggression and rigidity and she absorbs it. Sometimes she even starts to cry, a sad, sad cry, which in turn, makes me think I’m a horrible mother who’s causing her to end up with some horrid mix of all the possible character structures that will lead to a lifetime of therapy. But, to paraphrase Freud, there’s no way for a parent to meet every single need of a child, for they are little need machines. So, someday I hope she goes to therapy to feel her feelings and work out her own aggressions and rigidity. Is it wrong that my goal as a mother is to have my child be healthy enough to go to therapy as an adult?