This morning I had a bizarre question I wanted to ask of the internet and it may sound like an off-piste one given I’m talking about something that happened to me 18 years ago; but its not, to me, given the context and what happened next. The question I asked was “what happens to a woman’s hormones when she stops breastfeeding for a long time?” In other words, could it have fuelled an abrupt change in my life, after it happened? In short, knowing how much hormones have played a very big part in my health ups and downs and how abrupt change of any kind takes its toll on my health much more than for some people (an autism thing), could it have been a rocket-launcher event and what does this help me understand about how my health took an abrupt hit (trip-wiring me into chronic health), like the busting of a monumental dam and its aftermath deluge? It felt like there was something big waiting for me in the enquiry and even the chance to put this all behind me now if I could grasp it.
It came into my mind because I came across my old video camera last weekend and a a sudden burst of nostalgia, though I have pushed past its storage case countless times before with no interest, made me purchase a charger so I could fire it up to see what the cassette it was loaded with had “on board”.
Finding the video camera….and the tape in it!….with clips of my parenting life-and-times (quite an eventful year, actually) from end of 2002 – end 2003 has awakened so many feelings and questions in me.
I don’t feature in it per se as I am holding the camera (very much the single parent) but, as my daughter does various things at home, in her dance class, on holiday, stroking animals, trips out, birthday, riding her bike etc, I am chatting away, a lot, and what I hear in my voice has really surprised me compared to what I would have expected, based on how I have tended to picture myself at that time (wrung out, in dire straits, perhaps a little pathetic…you get the idea…it was the year I began divorce proceedings and was in the very midst of an enormous psychological battle with my ex-husband, not to mention wondering how I was going to keep body and soul together for me and my daughter). Yet I can hear it in my voice…I was so together, so strong, so decisive sounding, such a good parent, animated, energised and I find I like and admire that person the more I pour over the tapes. I would even go as far as saying she has qualities I have been missing lately and could do with reattaching to myself, before I slip into something more mundane and accepting of compromises, because this woman sounds like she would get up and make happen anything she needed to have in her life. Dare I say, I could use some of her qualities back before I start acting old and resigned!
So, in a way, this has been the video equivalent of finding the old journal I wrote about that sparked me off at the start of this year.
Its context is interesting to me because, less than a year after the last clip on the tape, my health collapsed (but I probably don’t have that on video…) and the rest, as they say, is history, for all I have had ups as well as downs since. It was the “time before” and in it I find clues back to myself, which is no bad thing to find as I embark on THE biggest healing initiative of my life (see my other posts about The Gupta Program, which is going so very well) and this is a point I find I want to make here; rediscovering old diaries, photos, videos, certificates, anything that harks back to a stronger, more accomplished era, a less harried, more robust time in your life can be a powerful tool to the healing process, re-awakening aspects of self that haven’t gone away…but have, perhaps, been sat on ice for a very long time.
So, as alluded to above, another milestone thing that happened concurrent with the very start of the year-long video cassette; I stopped loooooong-term breastfeeding my daughter. Yes, I was one of those cringy parents that kill a conversation dead and cause people to roll their eyes at each other or look painfully embarrassed because I breastfed my daughter until just after her 3rd birthday, allowing her to give me the clue when she was ready to stop.
Being me, I had read lots of books and alternative research on the benefits of doing this (not at all uncommon outside of the “western” world’ where up to 4 or 5 years old is often the case and the WHO recommends at least till 2) and, as ever, had gone my own way; much as I went my own way about the MMR jab (she didn’t have it; she got the singles instead, as a precaution…and I wonder now if I had an unspoken twitch about the potential for autism in the genes). As a parent (and perhaps this was one of the ways that it rocket launched me into being more true to myself than ever before, instead of kowtowing to what other people did or thought), I didn’t care about other peoples opinions, I went my own merry way to do whatever felt…strongly, instinctively…right and I have no regrets about that in the case of the breastfeeding. I believe it set her up for her excellent immunity, compared to mine at similar ages, and I believe it made us much closer in the long run, even now.
It also, if I’m honest, felt necessary because it became a buffer from the worst years of my failing marriage; a buffer for me and also for her as we were always together as a unit and, somehow, it made us both more resilient in the same household as a man who could be deeply unpleasant to us both. A phrase I just came across in a useful article “I stopped breastfeeding and became a hormone detective” is that it “propped me up”. When you breastfeed, your other female hormones (always a minefield for me) back off and your system is flooded with the feel-good chemical oxytocin. This, for instance, can make it easier for you to make do and mend rather than rock the boat so, I guess in evolutionary terms, it ensures you do what you can to hold the family unit together and patch things up cheerfully; oh yes, I was the master at all that, the very saint of making the best of awful circumstances. It also, apparently, makes you less OCD so, in my case, a powerful tool in my autistic kit to help cope with home circumstances that were fraught with things to obsess and worry about day and night.
But what happens when all that abruptly stops, which happens in a matter of days after the last feed? Well, those female hormones I talked about come flooding back with a vengeance, along with your sex drive, your very drive for life, your lack of patience for untenable circumstances, your rage, your preparedness to answer back. So, what happened to me? Within a few weeks, in fact less than a month, of that breastfeeding transition, I had shocked even myself by drawing on inner resources I hadn’t realised I even had, and which felt like unleashing an internal flamethrower, and pulled the rug from under my pathetic excuse for a marriage, even though I had no “plan” to fall back on. In other words, I had taken the reins of life back into my own hands…and I was bloody-well determined!
And that is the very “me” I find shining out of these videos; perhaps not obvious to anyone else that watched them but I HEAR it in her voice like an old-familiar version of self. My god, I sound together, I sound strong, I sound like I have it all handled, and I did. OK OK, so a year later (but it took a flu jab…and then an unending flu…and a corporate job I wasn’t suited for, the imminent fear of bankruptcy, plus the relentless pain of an old back injury made much worse by desk work and commuting, plus I imagine I was pretty exhausted following the divorce) to push me over that edge, but it is an edge I tend to look back at, now, to agree I needed pushing over…so I could reappraise, well, everything rather than just carry on with a version of life as before, minus a husband. I needed that paradigm shift to happen, was ready for it, ready for all the years spent at home steadily reinventing myself to become, well, more myself than ever…..but, I now also see that, perhaps I left a part of myself behind, just before the crash happened, and I find a remnant of her in these tapes. A “me” that knew strength and confidence and could pretty much take for granted her good health and the ability to show up for things she wanted to do.
And I left behind that determined, confident, “can-do” level of calm and that not-to-be-messed with version of me that speaks up for herself and dares to go her own way (not quietly, invisibly, politely as now but) with flourish when she feels she is onto something. A person who wore her differences and shouted “what the hell”. Who had friends to do things with or didn’t yet bounced along anyway. Who rebounded after the set-backs and friendhsip knock-backs (one happened during the summer of the video tape), her stuffing intact as long as she knows she has been true to her highest values. I was a lioness and yet I was exuberant and funny. It’s the person my daughter (always) sees me as, still…and, though she has never fully left me, I just need her back a little more now, in my everyday life. And if she was super-fuelled because she had tapped into a stock-pile of resources that had been stashed up for three long years of “putting up with things” then just think what resources I have to draw on this time!!
So, I am getting reacquainted with her, via the sound of my own voice, via nuggets of memory that I had long forgotten about, via the (yes) sense of pride I feel when I look back to see how I “stepped up” during that transitional year and really made things happen whilst still being the best parent I knew how to be under any circumstances, not just the ones I was in (time to stop telling myself I was so distracted and compromised and generally rubbish at it…where on earth did that idea come from if not from comparison with others; never a good idea, least of all for someone as a-typical as me).
Its proving to be a powerful exercise and, whereas it once felt like there was a great big hole blasted into the continuity of my life, a whole territory of “history” I preferred not to look at, I sense it is now being bridged over and filled, so that I am able to find the “essence of me” dotted across the whole vast array of different experiences, nothing left out, meaning I can draw upon my brightest and most powerful qualities, the very accomplishments gathered, across all of it, claiming them all and turning back on their lights within THIS version of myself as she grows stronger and more whole by the day. In a sense, its like picking up where I left off…but with the benefit of all the wisdom gathered over the intervening years; a win~win situation leading towards a less-regretful, far more integrated, more hollistic version of me; which is a very powerful, and grounded, place to begin the process of of healing indeed.