the pain of attachment

March 08, 2013 Candace Morris 2 Comments

It not entirely abnormal for me to behave as such, it's just unfamiliar. The majority of my dating life was conducted in this manner.  I am (subconsciously, mind you) distant, detached, cautious, hard-to-get.  My introversion and clairvoyance can be a bit intimidating, and I am sure I have set this up as a coping mechanism somewhere in my psyche - for protection. However, after another person has persisted past my social boundary, the connection is then relatively easy to see and enjoy. The real struggle is the aftermath, the transition from connection to reciprocation and then finally to attachment.

If you are a mother or know one who has become so in the last 10 years, you are aware of the buzz surrounding the word attachment. Apparently, it's buzzing under my bonnet as well, since - quite unplanned- I found myself spending the whole of therapy last week discussing my attachment to Bowie.  I am perplexed by a continued barrage of questions.  Is my attachment healthy?  Should I try to remain more objective?  Can I even have the power to remain objective, and if not, how am I to trust myself to make the best decisions for her?  I have never made that great of choices when I relied solely on instinct and intuition in the past, so how do I balance this?

Of course, like always, no one can answer these questions for me.  Goodness, what I wouldn't give for a cheat sheet on the test "What are all the correct decisions regarding Bowie that will produce a healthy adult female human?".

When B was 2-months and then 4-months old, I wasn't overly bothered during her immunizations.  I wasn't thrilled at her demonstrations of pain and felt almost unbearable pity, but I remained objective, logical, clear, cool-headed.  Often unpleasantness, more likely pain, is required for personal betterment and survival.  You can therefore imagine my surprise when at her 6-month immunizations, I was nearly incapable of staying in the building, much less the room.  How strange this behavior was to myself! Joel told me to leave, that he could handle this.  But how could I ever grow the skin necessary to endure her negative emotions if I didn't have the practice?  

I made myself stay in the room.  Joel, in yet another situation where I envied his objective steadiness,  lovingly restrained her little body as she looked over at me with a grin...unknowing of the future...trusting me.  Then the prick.  She was shocked, and I felt my heart clawing its way from my rib-cage into my throat, gagging me.  I teared up and grasped my chest in an effort to return my heart to its original location.

In seconds we were both fine.  Bowie was happy and I was light-headed from relief, not realizing how much tension I was holding until the anxiety fled my system.  Unfortunately, I feel that same dread stirring and threatening when I think of her next round of shots.

I am attached to her.  It's quite obvious now.  I wasn't sure before, not having shared enough life together to test it, and never having felt the mother/offspring connection.  In her infancy, I could leave her with Grandma or Jess with a regular, manageable amount of concern, but be thankful I was getting a break and would often not think of her when I was out.  Now, when I go out, I feel my guts wrench, as if I left the house without my left leg attached.

This panic reminds me of childhood trips to Disneyland, waiting in the serpentine line for Space Mountain.  I knew I would hate it, and most likely begged not to have to go on it, but my Mom knew I would be fine, and that we could go on to Peter Pan right afterward.  She's right.  I lovehated it.  Most rewarding of all was the post-event empowerment, the thrill of intentionally choosing something antithetical to my nature and surviving!

I will never be able to travel to Paris or try a new restaurant or hang out with friends without thinking about Bowie. On dates or during my alone time, I finding it impossible to shake her. It's like my very heartbeat is dependent upon the bass drum she hits with her foot.  For being biologically written in my DNA, it sure feels unnatural.

I remember when Bowie was a few weeks old and Joel and I went out for Indian Food.  I was so exhausted and emotional, but glad to be doing what we used to do!  You know, back when we were fabulous.  As I sipped my chai, it dawned on me that Bowie was somehow still preoccupying my thoughts and body.  I had become used to her during pregnancy, but assumed I would regain my full physical independence once she was extracted.  Not so, not so.  She still and always will occupy a Bowie-shaped room in my gut. For a woman with a nasty case of caged-bird syndrome and who values independence more than chocolate, this attachment feels dangerous, suffocating.  But that's how she died, the previous version of me...the Candace v34.0.

Panic. Surely it means I am 'losing' myself - my ultimate fear surrounding motherhood.  I am sliding down a slippery slope of one-note conversations composed entirely of sleep theories and teething woes.   Turns out the average person doesn't really care if I wear Bowie in a sling or in the Ergo!  I see their eyes glaze over, and I wonder how I became so boring.  I want to be talking about my research in feminism,  my reading of a new book about introversion, my plans for a new hairstyle, my ambitions as a writer, blog gossip, anything else!  My friends are really tolerant, but enough is enough.

I'm sure it's not that bad, as most fears are only a shadow of the real battle. I am trying to preserve a woman who I won't even remember!  I like the new me, but the old me was great too and she's shrinking at alarming rates.

But that's what it means to become a mother.  Biology demands that you lay down your own identity  and hobbies and relationships and cocktails, as these become secondary to nurturing your young.  It makes you more vulnerable in the wild, as your previous care-free tree swinging is now slowed down, making you an easier target to predators.

But that's biology.  What about evolution?  What about our brains now having enough information to demand that we become MORE than just animals operating on instinct.  Evolution of self demands that I retain my personal happiness as a mother, biology doesn't give a fuck about my happiness, it will always sacrifice me for my child.

My personal evolution recognizes the danger to my emotional well-being in the instinctual attachment of myself to this creature whom I cannot control and with whom I won't live for the majority of my life.  I find myself putting the breaks on the attachment, wanting to keep her at arms length.

If I do this, then obviously it will hurt much less on her first day of kindergarten, or her graduation, or her wedding, or her death (god forbid I should still be on this planet for such an event.  No seriously, god.  FORBID it). Right?

Since I've not been dating for over 10 years now, I had forgotten one key thing about my self-preservation method. It absolutely fails every single time; it never works.  Loss of love hurts just as acutely when repressed as it does when allowed full demonstration, except for one additional blow - the question "Would it have ended had I really given it my all?"

Let me put it another way.

Love fucking hurts when you lose it.

My therapist gave me an apt visual image for any healthy relationship.  Imagine yourself surrounded by a personal membrane of sorts, a semi-permeable membrane.  It is open enough that we can see and act upon the needs of others, but still preserves our sense of self.  The work required to maintain our own membrane is exhausting and damn-near perilous, for it often means we can no longer sacrifice everything we are for someone else, which would be so easy to do.  It's just less complicated to give away everything than to sift through the treasures one by one.  It's much easier to live for someone else than to be painfully in tune with the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute management of our own negative/positive balance.  It's easier to walk on one side of the wall than to walk the tightrope that defines it.

My mind to your mind.
My thoughts to your thoughts.
My membrane to your membrane?

But as my friend clearly put it to me over a bottle of Malbec, "Candace, you are viscerally attached to Bowie, and supposed to be.  You cannot hold back your natural emotions."  He's right.  I cannot raise her solely based on logic, it's not a provision of reproduction for the mother to be objective.  It is for a mother to fight her own war, biology versus evolution, and find a way to wave the white flag of surrender to each side.



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