Over a year ago, when A. was diagnosed with autism and I took a month off work, I bought a puzzle because it “spoke” to me. It was my goal to finish the puzzle that month. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen: The puzzle was more challenging than I anticipated and I just didn’t have enough time. I stored the partly completed puzzle under my bed and worked on it when I had time. A few months ago, though, the kids had some friends over and they were playing hide and seek – and under my bed was a perfect hiding place. The puzzle was ruined. I packed it up, preserving the assembled parts as best as I could and stashed it away.
A few weeks ago I decided to re-start the puzzle. I started by counting pieces and I was disappointed to realize that I was missing 10 pieces. I counted again. Still missing 10 pieces. How could I possibly think they would all be there? I was saddened, as the message of the puzzle spoke to me and there was something inside of me that felt a sense of disappointment that this puzzle would never be completed and eventually hanging on a wall in my house. I remembered buying it at a local bookstore, so I set out for a walk with baby El to see if they still carried it… but they didn’t. I eventually found it on their website, on clearance for $10, so I snatched it up. That small part of my inner being felt satisfied.
The puzzle arrived yesterday and I was eager to start working on it. I began sorting the pieces and I immediately remembered how challenging the puzzle is. I felt disheartened thinking about all the work I had done before that was now wasted: There was the actual assembly of large chunks of puzzle, but there was also the immense work of sorting pieces. There are only 2 colours: black and off-white, so sorting came in the form of the size of print. Hours of sorting – gone.
With the new puzzle, I knew there was only one place to start – placing everything out in the open. I proceeded to filter out the edge pieces… the only pieces that have a definite position in the puzzle, and the only pieces that are almost predominantly black. And so, I put all the sadness of what I had done and lost previously behind me and I started again. I started with what I knew to be true and I will only work forward from there.
If you google “Oxytocin,” you will learn that it is a hormone that has many functions. Primarily, it is the hormone responsible for contractions during labour, as well as for milk let-down while nursing. It also plays a major role in human bonding – between newborns and mothers, between men and women, and even between friends. It is quite an amazing and versatile hormone, and all of these hormonal effects has me thinking about what can happen when the different hormone effects cross paths and boundaries.
After giving birth 9 days ago, I immediately felt strong feelings of kinship and admiration towards the doctor who delivered El. I found that in the days immediately post-partum, I was sad to think that I wouldn’t be going to see her anymore for my weekly appointments. This seemed like a strange response for me to have, given that most of our appointments were a quick 5-10 min and were really just about the “business” of my pregnancy. I did choose this doctor out of all the obstetricians in the city because she has a good reputation of being liked by her patients, she is one of the few people who does all her own deliveries 24 hours a day, and I also really enjoy learning from her and working with her as a resident. Despite these reasons, my feelings towards her after my delivery felt out of proportion to what they should have been. You could almost say that the feelings I had were bordering on those of maternal admiration, and I was mourning the loss of this type of care and concern in my life.
Interestingly, I don’t remember having such strong feelings of maternal admiration towards her before going into labour. They only started after my delivery. The timing of these feelings got me thinking about how the hormonal changes in my body may have affected my emotional attachment towards my doctor while she delivered El. I also thought about how my feelings and admiration towards my old friend Kay developed after she delivered A all those years ago. Finally, there is the most important consideration in all of this: the lack of close maternal bond and relationship with my own mother throughout my life. All of these factors got me thinking about how the high levels of oxytocin in my body while I was in labour may have affected the “relationship building” pathways in my mind; perhaps my subconscious mind was trying to lay down or replace the maternal bonding-like relationship that I never really had growing up. It makes me wonder if I would have had this response if I developed a normal mother-daughter relationship with my own mother as a child.
I have been trying hard to reflect on how I’ve been feeling in the last week and a half. Specifically, I have tried to separate out logical from illogical feelings and evaluate what would be considered “appropriate” or “inappropriate” in terms of “normal human behaviour. I have also been reflecting on what parts of my subconscious still need work and attention. It is a little disappointing to think that after all my years of therapy trying to overcome the issues surrounding my childhood (and my relationship with my mother specifically), deep down there is still something missing. Perhaps the fact that I am able to identify this change in feeling and attribute it to “something” suggests that I have made some progress in my therapy, but I’m not really sure. Regardless, I will continue to reflect on my feelings and figure out a way to navigate through this mess and make it meaningful – both for my emotional recovery, as well as my future working relationship with my doctor (who will continue to be a teacher and mentor for me in my training).