Anthony Damiani soon realized that the students who had gathered around him to learn meditation and philosophy needed psychological understanding. It was the late 1960s. We sat on lumpy cushions on the floor in the American Brahman Bookstore in Ithaca while Anthony shared passages from Carl Jung, gave examples, and led discussions about shadow, anima, animus, and Self.
I longed to understand these enticing words. Jung called them archetypes or unconscious structuring principles in the psyche. I didn’t quite get it no matter how hard I tried. Instead, I was consumed by Lamaze classes and my first pregnancy.
In late September 1970, hours into labor, I visualized climbing a mountain as I’d done when I was pregnant. Rest. Climb. Relax. Climb. Climb. Climb. Push. Breathe. Climb.
I panted and puffed while Vic timed contractions. He rubbed my back and slipped ice cubes in my mouth. I wanted it to be over. It was taking too long.
“Don’t tell me how many minutes,” I growled. “It doesn’t help. I want it to stop.”
“I wish I could do this for you,” Vic said as he wiped my forehead with a wet towel. I loved him for saying it, but this was my job. I was determined to see it through without drugs.
In the middle of the night, lines from Joni Mitchell’s song “Willy” circled through my head:
…I feel like I’m just being born
Like a shiny light breaking in a storm
There are so many reasons why I love him.
The words pulled me through the pain and magic of the next hours. They were in my mind when I heard the baby’s first cry.
…I feel like I’m just being born
Like a shiny light breaking in a storm…
When we took our baby home, I was blissed out with Mother Love. Unfortunately, angel baby slept all day and stayed awake all night. He suckled and snoozed. Ah… A moment of sweet peace before his little fists clenched, his body stiffened, and his chin wrinkled. Wailing came next. It went on for hours. A frantic colicky baby couldn’t be right. There had to be a solution. I changed him. I walked back and forth. I jiggled and bounced and sang. I cradled and rocked. I nursed him again. I begged him to fall asleep.
Vic had to go to work every morning so I wanted to let him sleep. More important, he didn’t have breasts filled with the magic elixir that soothed until it didn’t. In the middle of one exhausting night when Baby David was two weeks old, I imagined tossing him out a window like a football. My fantasy scared me so I woke Vic up. Vic rocked, sang, and swayed while I slept a few hours. After that, we took shifts at night.
I thought I knew how to put my needs aside for someone I loved, but I had never been tested. Not like this. I loved little David with a fierceness I hardly recognize. I also felt invaded and devoured. My breasts leaked sweet sticky milk in response to his screams even after he nursed them dry. My shirts were soaked with milk and tears. Why would my baby cry like this? Why couldn’t I help him? Why did his cries affect me this way?
Then I remembered Anthony’s Jung classes. Archetype!
This is what Anthony meant when he described being consumed by an archetype. This was Mother Archetype, the one that protected life in every species. It was bigger, stronger, and more complicated than my idealized fantasies. It included kind loving mother and also terrible enraged mother. I was being taught to protect life with fierce love.
Like so many other women, I had become a handmaiden to an archetype. Divine Mother was in charge.
For a story about David at three years old, see Talking Back: Essential Marriage Skills 101. We made it through those first months in fine shape. For more stories about Vic as husband, father, and rescue expert, see My Lover’s Hands. if you’re interested in the world of archetype and Jungian mythology, Jean Raffa and I will co-lead a lecture and workshop on March 11-12 at the C.G. Jung Society of Sarasota (FL) on the ancient myth of Inanna and dreams as guides when facing mortality and grief. I hope you’ll join us.