To Mom – With your voice in my veins I tell your story. It need not be perfect. My daughters will finish it for us.
The stories of my grandmother, Elsie Gaulton Ronayne and my mother, Ellen Frankie Ronayne that span the years of 1907 - 1962 are works of historical fiction based on facts. These stories are designed to give emotional context to actual events pieced together from documents, photo albums, and family folklore. Beginning with my birth, Under the Ice is my own creative memoir. As with any creative memoir worth reading, the capacity of memory and the demands of narrative battle it out within the prose. This is my story both as I remember it and how it needs to be told. – Dr. Wendy Walsh
Daughters are destined to finish the emotional work of their mothers and even that of their grandmothers. If there is silence around trauma, buried pain always gives rise to unspoken instructions. Like robots programmed with the code of an earlier machine, girls walk through an emotional life unknowingly mapped out for them. In their relationships they go back to the scene of the crime, visiting ghosts in new suits that tormented the women before them. But if a girl is lucky. If a girl uses her head. If a girl is brave enough to visit the past and shine a bright light on the darkness, then the code can be broken. This is what happened to me when I discovered my mother’s secret. But first I did some psychological sleuthing.
It all began when I became a mother myself. There is only one time in our life span, other than during our early life brain development, that the spectacular organ called a brain is poised to grow. After giving birth. A postpartum female brain can expand and acquire new information like toddlers learning three languages. And, at the age of 36, following the birth of my first child, I rode my new brain like a flashy new car. At the end of each new-mother day, numbed by repetitive hits from Barney and The Wiggles, I practically sprinted out the door to study psychology each evening when my kids’ Dad came home. At the time, I hadn’t heard about the research about postpartum brains—that they are miracles of neuroplasticity—but by the time my first daughter, Carrington, was four years old, my evening and weekend escapes had earned me a masters degree in psychology. Then I had another baby and unknowingly took advantage of another boost in brain growth to obtain a Ph.D. I may not have been learning three languages, but I was learning the language of human connection, and it spurred a life mission that I never expected.
While I sat in one-armed desks, the perfect front-row student, I found myself stunned and amazed with each new psychological fact—that our unconscious early life events act as drivers in our adult relationships, or that even traumas from our grandparents, sprout vine-like in our own personalities—my mind kept pounding out an internal mantra. Every woman should know this! Every woman should know this! The fact that this helpful information is kept secret by psychologists and doled out in snippets for $150 per fifty-minute hour made me sad. I wanted everyone to understand how they are being manipulated by inter-generational psychology—and perhaps more importantly, what we can do to change the path of destiny is this lifetime. It was during graduate school that I wrote my first two books for women, The Boyfriend Test, How to Evaluate His Potential Before You Lose Your Heart, and The Girlfriend Test, How to be a Better Date and a Better Mate. But the real science of love was still stewing inside me. The more I learned, the more I began to understand the choices and situations I had found myself up against in the course of my love-life, and the more I wanted to educate other women so disastrous cycles could be broken and healthy choices and habits could take over.
I began to research my dissertation where I looked at romantic attachment style and a woman’s ability to breastfeed. You might think these topics are unrelated until you realize that the breastfeeding relationship is probably the most intimate relationship of a woman’s lifetime. It’s complete with eye-gazing, skin-to-skin contact, a non-sexual arousal that comes with suckling, all for , like, seven hours a day! I don’t know of any other love relationship with that much interface. What I learned is that if a woman has an avoidant attachment style, that is, she fears intimacy, she will be far more likely to fall victim to the “booby traps” in our culture that prevent women from engaging in mother nature’s perfect union, the breastfeeding relationship.
During my research, I began to read deeper into the work of John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory along with other great thinkers, Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main. That led me to the area of ethology, animal imprinting. From there I turned to evolutionary psychology and the great works of evolutionary psychologist David Buss and anthropologist, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, (spelled correctly, I swear) whose research shows us that most human mating behaviors are the same around the world and are ingrained in our DNA. Our cavewoman wisdom is still available to us today, if we only learn how to use it.
Long after my dissertation was defended, I couldn’t keep myself focused on psychology alone. There are just too many influences on relationships. Take, for instance, sociology. One’s romantic attachment style, whether it leans anxious or avoidant, might play out differently in Manhattan in 2014 in a dating pool with an over-supply of successful women versus California during the gold rush of 1848, where women were scarce. Mating success is partly a numbers game. Biology holds clues to romantic bonding, too. For example, people with wide mood swings associated with serotonin uptake in the brain tend to have more divorces if they marry someone with the same brain chemistry. And partners with disparate immune systems tend to have better sex.
Each piece of emerging research in the new science of intimate relationships led me to more writing, more blogging, more thinking, more reading and a greater desire to put this into some logical equation. I was desperate to cast a big, bright spotlight on the science of love. After all, my own genes were at stake. I had been blessed with giving birth to two daughters. I feel it is my job to prepare them for life, and in my mind, the most important skill needed to survive is the skill to produce emotionally healthy offspring who have secure attachment styles themselves. Humans have evolved to bond. But when trauma throws a wrench into the delicate cogs of the wheel of Mother Nature’s perfect plan, a family risks falling out of evolution’s chain. Yikes! I became hell-bent on not letting that happen to my daughters’ descendants because of what had happened to their previous generations.
This is why I wrote UNDER THE ICE, a creative memoir about emotionally transmitted diseases that travel the female line. I hope you enjoy this book and find out something about yourself in the process of learning more about me.