Two things are True. We are here on this earth for joy, for happiness, for deep gladness. And, we can never find a life of joy, happiness and deep gladness unless we find some way to deal with our pain.
Pain is a tricky thing, like fire. It can enlighten or burn. But because pain is so frightening we often bolt before the light appears.
This truth was brought home to me last weekend. Our daughter and son-in-law were visiting, along with their five month-old daughter. We were there for little Novalie’s home birth and we have seen the beautiful way this infant bonds with her mother, mostly by suckling at her breast. In this intimate exchange she feeds for her life, but nursing is also what calms Novalie’s fears and gives her peace. It’s called “comfort nursing.” She’s not taking any milk, she’s just cuddling with her mother—a deep infant kiss.
You can see where this is going. A five month-old is no different than the rest of us. Once she finds her comfort and peace in another person, she depends on that other one to save her in every moment but particularly when she needs to fall asleep. Bedtime comfort nursing could go on for almost two hours. And when she would wake in the night, it was another hour. The beautiful bond was becoming a shackle.
A good mother knows when the time has come. After plenty of research, Maggy and Andy adopted a new bedtime plan. After the usual bath and gentle body massage, Novalie nurses to her heart’s content and then it is time to go to sleep. Maggy leaves, sits in the next room and listens to her baby cry (while, at first, she cries too). After two minutes, she goes in and briefly assures her that all is well, then leaves. More awful sobbing. Four minutes. Maggy goes back in and places a hand on her chest for a moment, leaves. Again and again. Within one week, Novalie is putting herself to sleep, “self-soothing” it’s called, and healthy babies have to learn how to do it.
When I heard that pediatric term, I thought, This is what adults need to learn: how to self-soothe, how to be happy and find peace within their own hearts, how not to depend on someone else for emotional assurance, not to depend on any substance to soothe anxiety.
To do that we have to be willing to be like my brave granddaughter who at five months was forced to find a place of rest within her tiny soul. Ultimately Novalie had to trust—trust that she was secure, that her mother was always with her even when she could not see her. I want to be like Novalie. I want to sit with my pain long enough to hear what it’s saying. When my back drives me to my bed I want to be able to know how much of the hurt is physical and how much is me worrying about my aging body. When I am fearful and panicky I want to be able to trust that I am held by Love, even when I cannot see her. Doesn’t mean I don’t cry (I said I wanted to be like Novalie). I do, and that is important. The salt water dissolves the hard, protective shell around my heart and makes me more human.