Friday, December 20, 2013

When love delayed is a good thing.

Downtown Grounds
12oz Soy Milky Way Mocha
Maple(?) Muffin

Let's talk love.  Again.  And baby love.  And depression.

I had heard enough stories of postpartum depression to know that I should not expect some cosmic maternal bliss to hit me as soon as I held my firstborn in my arms.  I knew that I would love him because I already did.  But there is so much nostalgia and romance surrounding that moment of childbirth and first meeting, it is a really novel thought in our society to not expect deep, astounding, irrevocable love immediately.  Too many women feel like there is something deeply wrong with them after they have experienced the long (long, long, long) awaited birth of their child and don't feel the warm fuzzy rainbow glory of maternal love wash over them.

This is a great article about one mother's experience.  I highly recommend you all give it a read -  Just Show Up: A Love Story - if you have not seen it already.

I think I'm lucky to have heard so many honest stories ("I felt like I was babysitting at first...") before I gave birth, because I might have been alarmed at the unexpected feelings I had.  Like I said, I knew I would love him - even if I couldn't feel it.  It was like a tulip bulb in winter - a bright flower that I knew would bloom once the snows had melted.  Unlike the mother in the story above, I trusted that that love was there from the beginning, though even I was surprised at how deep and insulated it was.

What I did feel immediately (other than complete physical and mental exhaustion and pain) was an all-consuming protectiveness.  You kind of know you're going to worry and fret and want to protect your child more than you have ever experienced before.  But the force of that feeling is really astounding...  Just because you grew up with Southern California's Santa Ana winds wrecking some havoc every autumn, that doesn't mean you have a clue what it is to have a Kansas tornado hurl you to Oz.

I have my own theory for why we parents feel this way - because fathers also experience hormonal changes during pregnancy and childbirth.  The more involved they are with the whole process, the more they are affected and the faster and deeper they bond with their newborn.  But in a pre-industrial state of nature, without the intervention of prenatal care and antibiotics and other life-saving procedures, the sad truth is that we lose a lot of babies.  Our brains and bodies are designed, both for that deep emotional attachment, as well as for more frequent loss than we experience nowadays (though we are not without loss now, and my heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one, especially a child).

It seems very logical to me that we should feel that overwhelming need to protect our vulnerable newborn, but also that our love is allowed to grow over time, to give some protection to our heart and mind should we lose that child in its infancy.

The obvious caveat here is that there is a limit to that sense of detachment, and every parent should be aware of the signs of serious mental health concerns.  But the point is to keep perspective on what your emotional expectations should be, because failing to feel what society expects you to feel after giving birth can drive you into, or deeper into, serious depression or anxiety.


While all that preamble directly pertains to parents, it also relates back, a little bit, to my previous rantings about our "soulmate fetish."  Our society's relationship to love is so whacked out I think we are still centuries from having a healthy understanding of it in all its forms.  But one lesson I have learned - the hard way - is about trusting love to grow.  Not exactly the same way it does with a child, but still...

As a child of divorce, I had a lot of anxiety about commitment.  And when I have looked back, I have seen how I have withdrawn too quickly from love that still had a chance because I was protecting myself from possible hurt.  I found reasons - not invalid ones - to shut down the relationship when there was a crossroads, or when I was too absorbed in my own baggage.  (Apologies go out through the Universe to Dave... to Auden... and so on...).

Fortunately for my husband, I had learned some of this about myself by the time we met.  I had learned that if I put an official designation on us too soon, I would freak out on some level that we didn't deserve to be at that point in our relationship.  It had more to do with my mindset about my feelings than about the depth of my feelings.  It's also probably fortunate that we had an entire country between us for almost a year, so that my mind could settle into our relationship before we were close enough to complicate it too much.

For us, that has proved the winning formula.  He may not have needed it, but I did.  And instead of following that stereotypical storyline of wonderful romance at the beginning that declines and settles into the marathon of maintaining a long-term relationship, our love-line ascends.  Like my love for our children, which surprises me how it grows and grows, so my love for my husband grows every day.  Like a tree growing from seed to sapling to a towering redwood or sweet apple tree, love accumulates, ring after ring.

My metaphors are getting too sappy for me.  (See what I did there?).  Time to go.  And to you all I say (as a racier Leonard Nimoy might put it):

Love long, and perspire...

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