Amazing Parents

Sometimes it\’s AMAZING. Sometimes it\’s just A MAZE.

This is What it is to Be Held

I have these two friends. We are really close. I’ve never even met them, but somehow we still tell each other things we do not even confess to our therapists. We have a connection that goes really, really deep. Like there are not words for what we share. Maybe only a feeling that says it all, that says everything you can’t find the words for. Because there are no words. Some things are that scary.

When they can find the words, my two friends write to me everyday. They talk about the weather, their husbands’ jobs, how their kids are doing in school, that the in-laws are coming to visit. The typical daily activities of a mother and a wife. You might not ever realize what these women have experienced in their lives.

Like the lady in front of you at the grocery store who is taking 10 minutes to write out a check, while all the people behind you start to get cranky. What they don’t know, what they will never know, is that two days before, this slow check-writer lost her husband in a car accident on an icy road in the morning while she was in the shower. As he drove to work that day, an on-coming car slipped and crossed the center line. The cars plowed headfirst into each other. The highway was closed for 6 hours as the crews gathered up the metal fragments and soaked up the blood on the road. That driver survived, while her husband slowly bled to death in an adjacent emergency room. She never heard the beeps of machines, or the codes being announced over the intercom. She never said a last “I love you”. She just washed her hair and answered the phone when it rang. And he was gone. Forever. And now she’s standing in line, fumbling for a pen, hands shaking, mind racing with empty thoughts of nothing at all. While ten people behind her only think of themselves and the inconvenience they are currently experiencing.

The fact is, people walk around all day long like this. With pain that we cannot even know. And it’s not only things like car accidents. It’s more than that. It’s infertility. It’s divorce. It’s trouble on the job. It’s mothers diagnosed with cancer and fathers treated for heart disease. It’s children growing up never knowing what it is to be held.

My two friends have one thing in common. Ok, two. First they are both very, very close to me, although neither of them know the other. Second, they have both had babies die in their arms. Their own babies. The tiny, slippery newborn babies they just gave birth to minutes or hours before. They conceived their babies with every hope of giving them long happy lives. The pregnancies went on day by day. Labor pains began. Then the birth, and then the death.

Her milk comes in, yet nobody nurses. The pain is intense. Her uterus continues to contract for days, yet no endorphines to help the pain. She just lays all alone on the floor, bleeding, wrapped up in a ball, crying out for someone — anyone to come and pick her up. She just needs to be held. No amount of sticker charts will get her up off that floor. The pain is too deep, too overwhelming. The sorrow is indescribable and paralyzing. She can’t really even speak the words to say what she feels. She just gets stuck in a primitive state of survival, curled up on the floor screaming — longing for the baby she no longer has inside of her.

If this was an adopted child diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, curled up on the floor screaming, we would call it a tantrum. Many professionals would order a sticker chart or prescribe more strict consequences in order to gain control of the inconvenient situation. This child needs to get up off the floor and start listening. This child needs to quit hurting others with his anger and his own problems.

This is traditional parenting. This way of thinking too easily forgets the pain that these children are carrying with them. They just want to get their problem child quickly out the door to school so mom can do what she wants for the next 6 hours and not have to deal with the “tantrums” he vomits on her everyday.

They want to just move through the grocery line without being inconvenienced.

When really what these children need is to be held. Same with the grocery line lady. Same with my two friends. Just like a newborn baby crying in a crib. You go to it and pick him up and hold him tightly against your chest. This is what our older children need too. This is what all of our girlfriends need too. They need to be held, by big strong, loving arms that are brave enough to stay with them through their pain. It is in that moment that healing occurs. It is that moment when we can finally pick ourselves up off the floor and start putting words to what it is we are feeling.

This can be very difficult for us to do for others because almost none of us were ever truly held like that in our early life. We were never given the blueprint to know when or how to do this, or to feel comfortable with it. Our mothers let us cry ourselves to sleep. Our fathers spanked us when we cried, to “give us something to cry about”. Most of us didn’t have mothers who were strong enough to hold us through our tantrums. Or fathers who were sensitive enough to connect to those feelings. Instead we were punished and made to feel inconvenient and ashamed.

What about you? Do you have hidden pain that nobody in the grocery store would know? Do you remember your mother and your father being emotionally present with you during your most dysregulated moments? If you dig deep enough, the answer is probably no.

How can we then turn around and give it to our children, to our spouses, to our best friends? It’s very, very hard. But it is that moment that a connection is made, that healing is accomplished. So we must, as individuals, and as a society, as husbands and as wives, learn to hold each other. We need to stop thinking that we can control somebody else’s emotions with consequences or charts or rules or limitations. We need to reach out of our comfort zone and hold someone. Even further, let someone finally, sincerely hold us.

Go to your best friend or to your spouse and practice. Sit on her lap and listen to the words of this song as you feel her heart beating in rhythm with yours. Forget about work and about the laundry. Just imagine your mother’s arms and how you have always longed for her to connect to you more deeply. How it hurts you when she criticizes you or judges you all the time, in that little way she always does. You might break down sobbing, not really knowing why. Or you might feel nothing at first, except uncomfortable. But if you stay in that moment, even for just a little bit, something will begin happing inside your brain. A new pathway will be forming. A pathway towards unconditional love. And you will finally really know that this is what it is to be held.

And I’m sorry our mothers and our fathers didn’t do this for us 30 years ago.

Turn up your speakers and click the link below.

This is what it is to be held

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February 18, 2008 - Posted by | A New Paradigm

4 Comments »

  1. sniff~sniff
    thanks for making it all make sense. I get it now.

    Comment by Barbara | February 19, 2008 | Reply

  2. Excellent post. Loved the song, too. I wonder how many generations we’d have to go back to find a generation of mothers who understood this concept. It makes me think of Native American women of a couple centuries ago, who would carry their infants in a cloth wrapped around their own bodies until the babies were old enough to walk. Imagine how close those babies felt to their mothers!

    I’ve also read an article about the elderly who sometimes go for long stretches without being held or touched. How lonely that must be…..how sad that we treat generations on both sides of ours this way.

    Comment by connie | February 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. I’m actually reading a very interesting book right now called The Neuroscience of Human Relatonships. It’s very deep and most of it goes right over my head, but I glean from it what I can and it’s amazing.

    One thing that stood out to me was how long other mammals gestate. If you were to compare humans side by side, we give birth way too early. In fact, if humans were to follow the rest of the mammals in their gestation lengths, human babies wouldn’t be born until around the 24th month. 24 months!

    They believe that the reason humans don’t follow the same pattern is because we are highly civilized, extremely socialized animals. That our entire existence depends on our ability to communicate and exist in relationships. So, to give us each a leg up on survival, we are brought outside of the womb to “gestate” in society. So that, literally, as we are still forming into a human being, we are part of the society that we will live in.

    What that means is, that for the next 15 months, at least, we should be replicating the womb for them after birth. At the same time, giving them the every opportunity to practice communicating: sharing eye contact, responding to cues, talking back and forth, etc.

    If we do this successfully, our babies’ brains will be developing in the optimal way. With every possible communication tool well developed. Their communication skills will unsure their survival, which will make them feel safer in the universe, and as a result they will live happier, healthier lives while really enjoying stronger relationships through out their years.

    What more could a mother ask for?

    Comment by amazingparents | March 1, 2008 | Reply

  4. Beautiful. Very moving!

    Comment by Suzanne | April 17, 2008 | Reply


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