The Origin of Love
San Diego CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25 No. 4, 2008, pp. 38-39
When my wife was pregnant with our child, the midwives showed us a short movie that was filmed in Sweden. In this movie, a newborn baby was placed directly on his mother's abdomen and, in the following 10 minutes of filmed silence, the baby, in an act of determination, crawled to his mother's breast and began to suckle.
Then the midwives reminded my wife that in deciding to breastfeed she would become a slave to her baby. For the energy that drove the Swedish newborn to crawl to the breast has a consequence: the baby's ferocious determination for the mother's attention. And in those early months it is the mother that matters most to the baby.
A father has a role of sorts during these two years. On occasions, I noticed our baby detach from my wife and tilt his head back to smile at me: I am entertainment. I am that person who makes sounds that steal his mother's attention. I am a slowly evolving source of reassurance, and I am the "other" -- but I am not the source of life. I think a baby sees his mother as an extension of himself. He sees, feels, and believes, on some level, that he and his mother are one and the same life form, and the breast is the replacement for the umbilical cord.
Now this may pose a problem of a certain kind for the fathers of babies who are exclusively breastfed. Sometimes a baby cries because his diaper is wet, or he is sitting on something, or has lost his rattle, or is tired. There are many reasons for the crying; and in most of these cases the father can soothe his child. But there is one cry about which a father can do nothing: the cry for the mama's breast. When this cry commences, a father must accept his complete powerlessness. Fathers can vacuum the carpet while holding our child, we can watch TV, we can look at Web sites; but, on those occasions, when the baby wants the breast, there is absolutely nothing that a father can do. He is powerless. My wife tells me that when she hears our baby cry, she feels a pain in her breast and is shocked at how stoic I can be. I try to explain to her that this is for my emotional survival for there is nothing I can do. There is simply nothing I can do that will stop that particular cry.
A mother has times of complete and utter exhaustion. During the first two years of our child's life my wife did not sleep a full night. I have watched helplessly as she sat nursing at 3 am and 4 am and 5 am and 6 am. I have watched and wondered how my wife can handle this and not become psychotic at the loss of sleep.
When a group of carbon atoms is slightly compressed for a short time, they slip over each other and form the dark, soft and oily substance we call graphite. However, when those same atoms are heavily compressed for eons, they form a different substance, diamonds. The former is dark and opaque; the latter can slice light into color and withstand almost any pressure.
There are those moments when I am concerned about my wife's emotional health, especially in the darkness at 3 am, when the little one is wailing and I can only lie there. At times, I consider reaching out a hand to touch my wife, but I can see her expression even in the darkness, and I do not want to have my hand sliced off. So I keep to myself and lie there and watch the shadows in the room. I wonder about my wife and myself. I have momentary fears in the shadows. The pressure on mothers can be unbearable and unimaginable. I do not think I could sustain it myself. As I watch, my wife's hand moves over the baby and my heart begins to quicken and my pupils dilate to take in every gesture as I feel the tension in the room grow with each new breath the baby takes to continue his wailing. I see the charcoal shadows in the room and sit there motionless as I barely make out the expression of hundreds of years of frustration on the face of this woman who has not had a full night's sleep for nearly three years.
And then that moment comes in the darkness. Just when I thought the lioness was about to devour her young, instead comes a gesture: a small wave of the hand and caressing of the fingers as she slowly soothes our baby and he falls back to sleep. I do not think words are possible to explain this moment to any person who has never seen it. It is a moment in which after having given birth to life, a woman gives birth to love. A woman does not read this kind of expression in a book or hear it in an aria. This moment is the birth of love from eons of pressure that have been building. This one gesture in the darkness suggests the origins of love, for love is not just the opposite of something. Love is born of a mother's self-restraint. Love is the product of the pressure that builds in a woman at 3 am. For, at that moment, one could almost hear the carbon molecules slipping into position in some bedrock hundreds of miles beneath the earth's surface, creating the diamond that is every woman and is my wife.