30 Jan 2012

The Motherly Art of... Self Doubting

 (originally published in 2011)

Again a mums’ issue to be discussed in this post dear readers. It is an issue that touches me on a deep level not only on the home front but also in my private practice. More specifically, something happened today that completed so to speak the puzzle (more on this later).
Lately, I had been working on the preparation of the Groups for Pregnant Women and New Mothers. I was reading tons of articles, followed forum discussions on the net and visited blogs. Too many blogs...

Initially I was thinking of assigning the title “Mummy Wars!” to this post, but then I reconsidered. I wasn’t so much interested in the phenomenon of the dispute between the 2 basic mum attitudes, but was rather fascinated by the passion with which these women express themselves, the cruelty inherent in their comments and communication, the feeling of “cast” when they are on the same “side”, and generally a very intense feeling that the issues of motherhood constitute a really hot, lava-like domain. I do not wish to exclude myself from this phenomenon. Not in the least. Reading all these blogs and coming face to face with this fiery absolutism, I began to have hot, very hot feelings indeed.
So I stopped, sat down and started thinking. I do have to reveal at this point that “motherhood” has direct and many (Oh so) indirect links to “female sexuality” and to “female identity”.
Please repeat after me:

I suspect that at this point, you probably have an inkling as to where I am heading.
A woman’s attitude towards mothering or motherhood is at the same time a statement and a revelation. She states who she is, how far she can support, feel at ease or live in the awkwardness of her sexual identity, if she is going to be like her mother or not, if she can differentiate herself or remain fused with her family of origin, if she can exist as a person in her own right without the “motherhood” attire, if she “can” reproduce. If, if, if....
All ifs point to one (and boy is it a big one!)

If she is Worthy, - of Worth.

Of worth to whom, or rather for whom? For herself? Her immediate environment? Society?
Worthy according to what standards?

Our grandmothers were “worthy” if they had a tidy house, well-fed and groomed children, food on the table, and a “pleased” husband.

Our mothers were “worthy” if they had us on “timetable” gave us  “formula” and let us cry our eyeballs out in order to avoid spoiling us.

We are “worthy” if we breastfeed for at least 2-3 years, “wear” our children in slings and engage in a good family co-sleeping pattern.

Do you see how times change?


Where is the voice of our grandmother who wanted to educate herself?
Or our mother’s voice who wanted to breastfeed and hold us close to her bosom?
And where is our voice who is thirsty for caresses and oh so accustomed to “rebel” on “schedule” and to find all the answers online?

I believe it is pretty evident that the grandmother’s desire for education became the mother’s goal to go to university/work and thus “schedule” us (the daughters) in order not to stand in her way. How about our repressed need for closeness with the mother? Will it not be passed on to our children? Which set of needs will we burden them with? What goals of ours will they need to act out despite their needs?

At this point, I am directing you to what happened today at the office, concluding with the message I want to convey in this point (.. be patient, good things need to built up!)

Today is the third time one of my patients of 4 years, lay on the infamous psychoanalytic couch. She was feeling “stuck” lately, in a manner of such force that she started having psychosomatic problems, her back, her shoulder her neck. In other words, she was arresting her psychic growth with her body. On my side, I strongly felt that she needed to “lie down”, to let go – and so I made the suggestion of the couch. She took on the “challenge” with great curiosity and expectation, which was soon transformed into a really intense emotional experience. She remembered her mother who was trying to teach her how to swim by dropping her in the water without arm floats , in order for her to “learn” though she could see that the girl was afraid and was crying.... That is how she felt with me now: I was a demanding therapist, impervious to her fear, throwing her at the deep end by changing her habitual form of therapy, making it difficult for her (the patient lying on the couch does not have visual contact with the therapist and feels thus less control of the situation). She couldn’t see me, she had lost her sense of security and my support, she felt lonely and distanced from me.
While she was speaking, I was re-assessing my therapeutic move. Did I do the right thing? Did I rush her? What does my logic say? My intuition? How can I best handle this situation? I need to contain my anxiety, I thought. I believe I took the right course in making this decision, and If I can handle my stress, then so will she. If I am close enough and If I am sensitive to what is happening to her and me then she will be safe. And if the need arises, I will find another solution.
Driving back home, I had a very intense insight. What had really made me angry with all these mother blogs and forae was their “certainty”. The excruciating “confidence” these mothers had for all they do and think. The “not questioning” of it all, the “non self-reflecting”, the unwillingness to hurt their ego or narcissism, the act of not realising one’s mistakes. Do I think they are bad mothers?
I understand them and feel for them. I can be like that sometimes. As mothers, we desperately need to “know” where we stand. To find support for all we do, justify our actions with articles, research, organisations, professionals. We are in great need because we are in the eye of the storm , dealing with unchartered waters, with our own traumas, with the tangible and emotional demands of another human being-in-the-making, who for better or worse is in our mercy.
Our children however are not a matter of seasonal “trend”, and as a Greek mother suggested in the greek version of “Reflections of Motherhood”, Google does not have children  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taDqKWWPDAY.  The best I can do as a mum is to pave my child’s way according to my beliefs and personality, to be brave in my self-reflection and self-criticism facing them head on and to doubt myself, my actions and my motives (but always reach a decision in the end). I intend to learn from my mistakes, to be willing to adjust my course anew, and to leave enough space for my child to express his/her nature.
I am putting thus, wholeheartedly and unashamedly on the table the idea of “Self Doubting”. And I believe with resolve that it is a very important ingredient of the recipe that  makes a mother “Good enough” (Winnicottian term). Or do I?


(originally published in 2010)

In the last few days, it’s got stuck in my head to write about Mother’s Milk. You see, milk is nature and whatever is of nature, holds a special place in our unconscious mind. I am a firm believer in psychoanalysis. And in Nature.

I remember being very proud when during my 8th month of pregnancy I discovered these tiny “miraculous” drops on my breasts. I felt I was ready to receive and take care of my baby, that in some way, we were both connected and that my body was in harmony with my desire and with Nature.

I am re-reading what I just wrote: baby, milk, Nature, woman, desire, mother.....

These are considered “explosive” materials  in psychoanalysis as well as the lived reality of many women....

During my pregnancy, I had attended La Leche League meetings, read articles online, was thoroughly informed of the “bad” formula milk, the “evil” paediatricians and the money hungry maternity hospitals that hinder support for breastfeeding and encourage mothers to give formula milk. I also knew of the trend of mothers my age to “go back” to Nature and give the good old breast.
I witnessed mothers -“experienced” ones- taking out the tit (the word breast is not in the least appropriate to begin to describe the image before my eyes) and offering it to a fully grown child while wearing a self-satisfied “I am now conquering the world” smile. I was also the confidant or better the recipient of stories of women who “could not” breastfeed, who saw “no reason to wake up at night” or who opted for formula since that was the best way for the child (actually a newborn) to “get used to a schedule” (?!).

Really, I didn’t care to judge or support. That came second. What came first was a realisation that was larger than psychoanalysis, nay larger than life.. I couldn’t help but notice that milk is actually MILK! It is a big deal and it arouses anxiety.
When it is our turn to give milk as mothers, we give it mixed with the milk we received or did not receive as children from our mothers..... Am I telling you something you didn’t know?

For me, milk (i.e breastfeeding), was a way not to “lose it” (my mind, not the milk) as I was faced with “swallowing”  a 10 day ordeal of having my first newborn being in the incubator away from me. A first time mother, a new empty hug.  Imagining my baby lying alone in the incubator while I was struggling with my hormones, my fantasies of motherhood, my instincts and my expectations, waiting for this half hour of visiting time each day. I saw him tubed and crinkled moving his arms and reaching for someone in a sterilized environment. I wanted to break, literally break everything like an anarchist on fire....
So yes, it was the milk that saved me from turning into a sociopath. Every 4 hours I expressed whatever little there was in the beginning and I filled small bottles for the small baby to eat when he could. I imagined that my milk was magical and healing and that it would save my baby from the indifferent routine rounds of the doctors. He would drink it and he would fill up with my love, and then he would know that he had come in this world to be held by real arms, warm skin brushing against his.

I had really “worked” hard to make my embrace and my arms real and present for him... And so, when I heard grandmothers and aunts and older women say, “the baby is hungry, is your milk enough?”, I said, “yes the baby is fine and he will eat what is there, and he can eat all the time he likes”. I soon discovered of course that this “privilege” of having to answer to the anxieties of older women within the family was not only mine, but was rather the rule (at least in Greece) most new mothers experienced. We are strange creatures, us women. We can go back and forth in time with ease...

Milk is thus a big case. The "incubator" baby is now 6 months old and I decided as a working mother to combine the usual breastfeeding with formula giving. It is characteristic that in Greece we call formula milk “the  foreign milk”. So I gave him a bit of the “foreign milk” lest he sleeps for more than 3 hours in a row (if he sleeps- I sleep!). My experience was an “eye opener”. I felt so useless, betrayed and cut off from him that I couldn’t believe my reaction!
I was lucky enough to have self-scrutiny in auto-pilot. I realised that there was a narcissistic part of me that was breastfed along with my baby: I felt powerful and needed, but in reality I needed to have this experience through breastfeeding, I was hooked on him as much as he was hooked on me (very normally on his side). I finally took on board the fact that the first of many separations to come was imminent. I had to let this part of me go, allowing my 6 month old baby, his first symbolic separation, his first step towards independence. I had to let go of this part of me and not burden him with my own needs.

This for my constitutes the real MILK.

28 Jan 2012

Mothers can make or break

They feed from our bodies, touch our face, long for our voice, wrap their little egos around us. We are their world. They long for us. No rather pine for us. We constitute their first, most visceral, most basic universe. Do we realise that?
It's been quite a while I've been wanting to write about the power mothers have and  what they can do with it. I am a mother, work with mothers and work with adults, once children of a mother. Time and again the mother comes out as this all powerful creature, tall and monstrous, beautiful and idealized, creepy and exciting, as much corporeal as etherial. I am surrounded by mothers. The mother- patients, the mothers of patients, my feelings as a mother, the mother of the mother, mothers and their babies. I am privileged then to hold my very own mother-kaleidoscope. Looking through it I see the extreme power a mother holds to make or break a human being. I've heard horror stories - a mother beating her child with a chair while the child was asleep, still the child, an adult today sitting opposite me says, "I love her, she is my mum, I have to give her more chances than anyone else in this world". I've heard  selfish love stories about mums breastfeeding way beyond the child needs it to make up  for their own emotional gaps. I've witnessed mixed stories with mothers needing the child to help them deal with their own psychological awkwardness but also giving back attention and love and concern. I've been there helping along mothers who are working hard at overcoming themselves, being weak and human but at the same time heroic in allowing their children to move on without holding back their love and support.
Motherhood is not easy. I've written extensively on that and I will keep on writing.
Just wanted to share with you the amount of responsibility we carry regarding the power we have in shaping the workings of another human being. His or her internal conviction about the Self and the Other, the external manifestations of these convictions. Will he/she be able to love, to care, to risk, to deal with life, to just be without ghosts? Mother ghosts? Can we help them be who they really are meant to be, leaving our motherly mark for better not for worse? Can we give ourselves to be used by them , overcome our limitations for the wellbeing of Another?  Can we do this and still remain sane and alive to teach them that a self that can bend is a self that prevails? Can we do all this and not abuse this immense, consuming power that we have?

I am not done on this subject- just thought of tossing a few thoughts your way tonight...