Maternal love.

I find these pictures beautiful and moving. Some prudish types may find them “pornographic,” but I don’t, not one bit. They are just so natural and lovely.

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For the record, I don’t find anything wrong with public breastfeeding, and I think we need to get over our discomfort with it.

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This is the post that scared me so much I almost deleted it.

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I have never been so scared to publish a post until this one. I had this set to Private for several days and drove myself crazy trying to decide if I ought to post it. It’s about some of my most vulnerable moments and posting about those is incredibly scary for a person who usually has their guard up. But I longed to post it. Something inside was telling me I needed to and I wouldn’t regret it. I also felt this post was my best written one ever because while writing it I allowed my emotions to flow unimpeded. What to do?

I even wrote a short post asking people if I should post something that made me feel so naked and vulnerable. Ultimately, the decision to make this post public was mine, but the consensus seemed to be that I should.

I read this post over again earlier today from the imaginary perspective of a random reader who just happened on the article and had never seen this blog before. I realized that as this “someone else” it would be something I’d want to read.

So here it is, guys. The post that made me feel like I was going to pass out cold when I pressed “Make Post Public.”

Milk and Open Hearts: Embracing the “Feminine” Emotions

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about vulnerability lately. I’m reaching a point in my healing journey where I can start to allow myself to become more open to my emotions and to sharing the feelings of others. It wasn’t my intention to write another post about crying so soon after my last, but I think my interest is due to something that’s happening inside…

For years I couldn’t cry, but wanted to. I was so numb from all the abuse that I had dissociated myself from my feelings. I felt like I was dead and in hell. Recently I’m finding a lump in my throat or tears starting to well much more frequently–usually because I’ve been touched by something or someone in some way, and it’s usually a pretty simple thing. I realize this is a sign that the long term dissociation within my mind is coming to an end because I’ve gained more courage to embrace my feelings instead of pushing them away or denying their existence.

I remember even during the darkest days of abuse by my psychopaths and narcs, when I walked around like an emotional zombie due to all the abuse I endured, there were rare moments of clarity when truth and beauty shone through the murk of depression and PTSD.

During my pregnancies with both my children (I was pregnant three other times–one abortion which I am writing about next–the child would have been a boy born in 1999–and two miscarriages), my brain’s marination in a continuous bath of pregnancy hormones made me very emotional. Not depressed-emotional–in fact, I was happier than I’d ever been. Things just touched me or made me feel some kind of ineffable euphoria or inexplicable sadness and suddenly there would be tears.

I think the increased emotionality experienced by pregnant and lactating women is the result of nature’s opening our hearts to connect deeply and lovingly with our children from the moment we know we are pregnant. The torrents of female hormones–mostly estrogen and progesterone–help wire our brains to to allow the limbic (emotional) system to run things for awhile. The heightened ability to feel is a gift that helps our species survive because under the right circumstances, emotional openness transforms into unconditional love and empathy.

The hormonal bath continued for some weeks after the births of both my children and I remember getting particularly emotional one dark and cold night as I held my firstborn against milk-swollen breasts, with Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” playing on the stereo. I watched as my son rooted for the nourishment he sought and found it. Latched on tightly, dark pink lips pursed in determination and a primitive and preternatural hunger, my baby son began to nurse. As I felt the milk come down, I was overwhelmed with tenderness and love for this completely helpless creature who so recently had lived inside my body and taken nourishment from my blood, and whose wastes were eliminated with my own, and suddenly my face was awash in tears.

I watched as if through antique swirled-glass windows as my tears soaked my tiny boy’s thistledown-fine hair and ran across a petal-soft pink cheek busily working my milk glands. There was a melancholy underpinning to my overwhelming elation and I allowed myself to feel that sadness too–and realized that melancholy welled up from an awareness of how fragile my tiny son was, how fragile we all are–at any age; and how easily a trusting, childlike soul can be stamped out by hurt, abandonment and abuse. I wanted to protect this child from any harm that might ever come his way. I didn’t realize then my son’s own father would set out to destroy his spirit. Thank God he did not succeed.

At the moment the first drop of salt water touched my baby, opaque dark blue eyes fluttered open and gazed at me, seeming to understand my feelings. Sighing a delicate baby sigh, this tiny human being I had created through my love for a man and sustained and nurtured by my blooming, hormone-soaked body, nestled in closer and suckled harder until swept away in blissful sleep. I marveled at the knowledge this tiny boy would one day be a man, taller and probably physically stronger than me, and that I would play a huge part in his journey to manhood. It scared me to pieces but I felt willing and ready to take on the challenge–because of love, the greatest power we have as humans.

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This wondrous connection–this moment of almost painful sweetness–was so honest and magical I almost dared not breathe. The tears poured down. I didn’t wipe the wetness from my face for that would have disrupted the beautiful connection I felt with my child.

It’s during these moments our hearts are open and we allow ourselves to become vulnerable, that we are fully engaged and connected with life and open to the bliss and pain of pure unconditional love. That kind of love is expressed in tears (often combined with laughter or smiles) because there are no words that could ever express the depth of this sublime emotion–an emotion of such beauty, rarity and truth it nearly hurts.

Tears are the mark of our common humanity and connect us with each other. We are pushed into the world crying, and are (hopefully) cried for when we leave it. Crying marks the most important milestones of our lives, whether they are happy or sad. There are always tears at graduations, pregnancy and wedding announcements, falling in and out of love, weddings, births, baptisms, death and funerals. There are tears wherever there is honesty, intimacy and love.

The happiest people in the world are often people who cry a lot. Their hearts are open, so everything and everyone touches them. They’re not afraid to connect and to empathize. Their love sometimes overflows the confines of their physical composure, and so they cry. I used to know a beautiful young woman who said she cried five or more times a day–just because she was so happy all the time. She wasn’t annoying happy. Honest joy never is annoying. She moved through life regally and with dignity and compassion, appreciating everything and loving everything and being touched by everything, and everyone loved her right back because they knew she was an empath. People wanted to be close to her, they wanted to be touched by her, both emotionally and physically. Her large expressive eyes were almost always wet with tears. At first it seemed a little strange, but soon we got so used to seeing her that way it just seemed normal after awhile. And it WAS normal, more normal than anything could ever be.

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I was so envious of that girl for her emotional openness. But she showed me a great truth about myself. I could be that girl because that was me. I just needed to find a way to knock down my thick concrete walls of fear. It’s getting easier. I still have a lot of emotional blockage, but I no longer feel like one of the walking dead.

In the Stephen King movie “The Green Mile,” John Coffey is an autistic man who nevertheless is an empath. He’s been unjustly sentenced to Death Row for the murder of two little girls because he was the last one seen with them (and probably due to his being black as well). You sense Coffey never killed those girls and in fact you realize how empathic this man really is. He has no defenses against the world due to his inability to hide his emotions (some autistic people have trouble regulating their emotions), and at the same time this very defenselessness gives him unbelievable strength and goodness. Coffey cried almost constantly, feeling the emotions of everyone around him and freely giving unconditional love where none existed.

A couple of years ago, there was a very popular video that went viral. It featured a 10-month old baby girl apparently crying from empathy as she listened to her mother sing. I’m not usually a fan of “cute baby” videos but watching this baby was fascinating because she cried like an adult would have–and the purity of her emotion was an achingly beautiful thing to see.

We are born withour hearts unguarded. When life begins to hurt too much (and it always does), children eventually learn to guard their hearts or in the worst cases (NPD, ASPD and some other mental disorders), dissociate themselves from their true feelings so thoroughly there is no turning back to the emotionally open state we were born with.

It’s a sad state of affairs that all the tender (“feminine”) emotions such as sadness, deep connection or friendship, love in all its forms, joy of the non-shallow type, feeling touched or moved, gratitude, and empathy– have been so devalued in modern society and are often seen as proof of weakness in a person when in fact they show a person who has the strength and courage to leave their hearts unguarded when it matters the most.

It’s interesting that all these softer emotions indicate goodness and purity of heart. They possess enormous potential to eliminate or reduce darkness and evil because they are emotions of healing, love, and our human connection with the Divine.

In a perfect world where all human beings had open, unguarded hearts, an alien from another planet upon first meeting a typical human would see smiles and laughter graced by tears. If the alien were to question what these signals meant, the answer would be “Love.”
The angels in Heaven would tell you the same.

“We Need to Talk about Kevin”: are psychopaths born or made?

Eva Khatchadourian (played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton) is a former travel writer who’s ambivalent about her first pregnancy, and doesn’t seem to be able to connect with her newborn son Kevin, an infant who cries constantly and squirms away whenever she tries to hold him. Eva also suffers from postpartum depression and lack of sleep, which doesn’t make it any easier to connect with her ornery child. Eva as a new mother has the look of a concentration camp survivor. She is utterly tormented by her son–and her inability to feel maternal love for him.

As Kevin grows older, it’s apparent there’s something not quite right about him. Even as a very young boy of three or four, he has an unnerving, soul-piercing stare and never smiles or laughs. Though obviously very intelligent, Kevin isn’t out of diapers until he is 6 or 7, and refuses to engage with others, especially with Eva. He becomes disruptive at home and at school, and is always in trouble. Besides seeming to do things deliberately to upset Eva, Kevin bullies other kids at school, and encourages one girl, who has a severe skin disorder, to pick at her scabs. He’s sneaky and devious and shows no remorse for his bad behaviors. He seems to have only two facial expressions: sullen, or self-satisfied sneer when he’s gotten away with something.

There’s one poignant scene when Kevin becomes very sick and this is the only time he shows any vulnerability and allows himself to be mothered like a normal child. Here, while Kevin’s defenses are down and his mask of impending psychopathy is temporarily disabled, we can catch a fleeting glimpse of little-boy innocence and neediness and some emotion that may even resemble love. This scene makes you begin to question whether Kevin was born evil, or if his psychopathy may have been caused by Eva’s failure to bond with him as an infant.

The rest of the time, there’s an disturbing lack of innocence in Kevin. There’s an unsettling scene when Kevin, about age 3, is sitting on the floor while Eva rolls a ball to him. Not only does he fail to roll the ball back, but he fixes her with his unnerving hateful stare, a look you wouldn’t believe such a young child could be capable of.

As Kevin grows into adolescence (adolescent Kevin is played with subtle and chilling power by Ezra Miller), his misdeeds become more serious, and start to endanger not only his fellow students and teachers, but other members of his own family. At one point he does something unspeakable to his younger sister, Celia (a child his mother wanted and who is temperamentally Kevin’s polar opposite–a sweet and empathetic child), and then smoothly lies about it without showing a shred of empathy or remorse. The strain of raising this difficult child eventually destroys Eva’s marriage to Kevin’s father, Franklin (played by John C. Reilly), who disagrees with his wife’s belief that Kevin is disturbed and naively continues to insist he is a normal, loving child but that Eva’s attitude toward him is cold and unmotherly. Eva herself is torn–she seems to try her best to do and say the right things to Kevin, but it’s clear nothing is getting through to him and the strain is destroying her.

Things come to a head when Kevin commits a shocking crime at age 15 followed by another that is even more heinous. The entire film is told in flashbacks, in the form of Eva’s letters to her husband Franklin (who has left Eva and whose whereabouts are a mystery until the end of the film) and conversations between Kevin and Eva while he is in prison.

Eva tries to come to term with what has happened, to deal with the aftermath and ostracization by everyone the family knew, and most of all, what part she may have played in her son’s crimes. One question that runs throughout the film: was Eva a bad mother who caused her child to become bad, or was Kevin just born bad?

In the final scenes between Eva and Kevin while he’s in prison, it’s possible to see how sophisticated and subtle Kevin’s manipulations of Eva have become. Theirs is a complicated relationship: while he obviously hates her, it also becomes evident he has more respect for her than for his father, who always showered him with unconditional love and for whom Kevin has nothing but dismissive, snarling contempt.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” (based on the 2003 book by Lionel Shriver) is one of the most chilling and thought provoking movies about psychopathy I’ve ever seen, and like other great psychological thrillers, it asks more questions about human nature than it answers.