Ambivalence, weaning, and a death grip

March 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | Leave a comment
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I am so right-in-the-middle of figuring something out, and hoping I can articulate it here.  I guess it’s obvious I am going to attempt it!

I just got off the phone with a friend, someone who knows me very well and has been there for me through many years of my journey.  We were talking about ambivalence and how troublesome it can be.  Ambivalence.  I know it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as a lot of other things, but when I get stuck there it’s not a pretty picture.

The first time I remember someone using this word in reference to me was when I was weaning Chloe at fourteen months of age, under doctor’s orders.  Nursing Chloe was by then a joy, but it had begun with great difficulty.  With hindsight and acquired-on-the-job wisdom, I now understand that she had something called by the benign name of “nipple confusion” combined with another sanitized understatement called “failure to latch on properly.”  In plain English, most likely because the hospital gave her a bottle and a pacifier on her massively impressionable first day, she spent the first eight weeks of her life outside the womb mashing my almost instantly wounded and enfeebled nipples, and I was in perpetual agony, re-initiated anew at every feeding.

Happily, our perseverance paid off, and around the time she turned two months there was a turning point.  From then on, the process reached a level of infinitely greater comfort on my part, and we began to experience, several times a day, that mutually blissful state of milk intoxication that most nursing mothers reach if they stick with it.  But as the year progressed, I began to have some health problems, and, among other things, was losing too much weight too fast.  With the weight went any semblance of stamina that I might have had.  If I couldn’t fit in a two- or three-hour nap each day I was completely wasted.  Finally my friends and family members asked me to consider weaning Chloe.  I refused.  It was a hard-won battle and now it was working fine.  Until the wake-up call when my doctor finally told me he agreed with my loved ones.

My La Leche League leaders helped me strategize the weaning, and with the loving support of my friend Karen, who had raised (and breastfed) four children, I came up with a plan and moved forward in earnest.  The basic concept was to eliminate one feeding a day for the first week, another the second week, and so on.  Chloe was an every-so-often-when-we-feel-like-it drinker, so it meant we had several weeks of stepping down ahead of us, a fact I found immensely comforting.  This was not going to be anything close to cold turkey for either of us.

All was going well until a few weeks into it, I hit a major stumbling block.  First, allow me to back up a little.  When my doctor, a naturopath whose own children had been breastfed, told me he thought I should wean Chloe for the sake of my own health, I found myself backed up against a wall I had never wanted to know existed.  To save myself I had to deny my own child??? This was not an acceptable choice for me to be facing, and yet it was up to me to make it.  Everyone around me was encouraging me to do one thing and my heart was strenuously insisting on the opposite.  It seemed irreconcilable, a literal deadlock.

As I stumbled around on the battleground, weaving on my feet, a kernel of clarity slowly emerged amid the dust.  What the situation was calling for was for me to take an honest look at the status quo.  It was literally taking too much out of me to nourish my sturdy and thriving child.  Even with a lengthy rest each day, I was still declining.  I had to admit that I trusted my doctor, a man who was not prone to portioning out advice.  I was also willing to admit that I had very little perspective and was in a weakened state, both of which make it hard to reach an important decision alone.  This meant, I eventually reasoned, that I had to turn to other people to help me.  And there they all were, telling me from their hearts what they felt I needed to do.  And – here’s the important part – the moment I consented, I felt myself beginning to recover.  It was reaching the decision, not the physical act of weaning, that caused the tide to start to turn.

So now back to the bump in my road.  We were already down to a few nursings a day when I suddenly reared back on myself, questioning the decision I had made a few weeks earlier.  I spun out into an agonizing place, second-guessing and cross-examining myself at every turn.  I was miserable and anxious, so afraid I was damaging and abandoning my tiny daughter.  In the process, I was making everyone around me equally miserable, including poor Chloe.  I do not remember how long I stayed in that place.  What I do remember is when, gently, my friend Karen said to me, “I think your ambivalence is harder on Chloe than the actual weaning.”  With that single and insightful observation, everything snapped back into focus.  Just as making the decision had given me an immediate sense of greater well-being, the self-torture – the thoughts themselves – had inflicted pain, on me and everyone else.  We resumed the weaning process.  As bittersweet as it is, it was indeed the road to health.

I have recently begun a practice of asking for the gift of acceptance each morning.  The universe, in its infinite wisdom, is teaching me that, in order to accept something, I first have to be willing to see it and acknowledge that it’s there.  Closed eyes and ears, distraction, disassociating, etc. are all forms of denial, at the opposite end of the spectrum from accepting what is, just as it is.  My prayer has already begun to be answered.  I am experiencing more fully the exact place in which I have delivered myself, much of each day, and it is not all pleasant.  My body is in pain.  Standing in the self-created and inequitable courtroom that is my mind, I now find myself facing the same kind of choice I was looking at almost eighteen years ago, though the characters in this scene are different ones.  Down to the way my breath moves in and out of my lungs and the blood flows through my arteries and veins, down to my very cells, I am courting the same impossible question:  Do I hold on or do I let go?  When one has been holding on for dear life for one’s entire life, letting go requires the peeling off of decades of fists, fingers, fingernails, and all manner of strangleholds, each of which has worn the deep grooves of familiarity, strengthened by belief.  I can truthfully say that I have already decided that I must release my hold, as I have seen the laughable futility of my death grip, not to mention the damage in its wake.  My mind is willing, and my heart has been swayed in that direction, but my body has no idea how to do it differently.  My sense is that the physical pain I am experiencing is that of the rope in this internal tug of war.

So after my phone conversation, in which my friend pointed out that it is my ambivalence that is causing my pain, I felt something come together.  (I know what you’re thinking, by the way.  I just told you that my mind is already made up, which does not sound like ambivalence.  And you are right.  In the big picture, I am actually somewhat clear.  It’s in the individual actions that I am still frozen up – shall I do this or that?  Go with xx or stay home?  Practice or meditate?  Is it okay that I said no to that person and yes to someone else?  Can I actually say what I want, even if it isn’t what the other person wants?  I think you get the picture.  Okay, back to my integration moment.)  Here is what my friend, this dear person who has honored my path for almost two decades, reflected to me:  I am already on the path, taking the action. Remember a few weeks ago, when I wanted someone to grant me permission to do what I already knew I needed to do?  It was my own permission I was waiting for.

I just looked up the word “ambivalence” in the dictionary.  Oxford Pocket Dictionary (it would take some pocket to hold this one) says:  “1. the coexistence in one person’s mind of opposing feelings…in a single context.  2. Uncertainty over a course of action or decision.”  I hold on even as I let go.  I pull back even as I move forward.  I am afraid of receiving the very thing I want most.  We live in paradox.  It is not only entirely possible, but almost always true that we have conflicting feelings along the way, even when there is no question of what we must do.  Thank goodness we have each other when the way can be so hard to find.  Even when it’s obvious.

 

 

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