It was the night that we brought our firstborn home from the hospital and I was crying like my heart would break.
I had a wonderful natural birth, no complications, and a beautiful healthy baby boy. Everything was perfect. Then a storm rolled in. Not a soothing rainstorm, one of those eerie, harsh Texas storms that turn the sky an odd, unsettling color. Our front door was blown open with a bang by the force of the wind. Then we heard that a tornado was near.
My husband, our brand new baby, my mom (who was visiting), and I huddled in the hallway. I can remember so vividly holding my baby against my chest and smelling his intoxicating baby scent. And fear washed over me. A fear I was not prepared for. My love for this tiny, new person overwhelmed me. What if something happens to him! I thought, I just met him! What if he’s taken from me? My desire to keep him safe was so deeply instinctual. It was all I could think about. How could I best shield him from harm? And I felt utterly helpless in the face of that merciless storm.
It wasn’t long before we got the all clear. Trembling, I handed my baby to my husband, walked into our bedroom, and sobbed on the bed. I was exhausted from the emotion of the moment but more than that, I was overwhelmed by the understanding that this terror for the well-being of my child would follow me every day of my life. Because my love for him was so big, so all-encompassing. My mom came in to check on me and I apologized for falling apart. She didn’t need an explanation. “A mother’s love is very fierce,” she whispered to me before leaving me to sleep. How can I bear it? I wondered. How can I live with this love filling every inch of me alongside this paralyzing fear that something might happen to my treasure, my baby?
I think I’m still trying to figure that out.
In the Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes,
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
When my asthmatic 3-year-old is struggling to breathe in a hospital room, I feel just as terrified as I did when I held him during the tornado on his first night home. I haven’t miraculously conquered the fears that accompany motherhood (as much as I’d like to). Fear is just a quiet and constant companion. But it’s not paralyzing anymore. Because I know it’s the love that matters. And I’m struggling to really understand that I am never really in control (as much as I’d like to think I am). I cannot always keep my children safe. I can only love them.
And I look to the example of the Blessed Virgin. She is a model, the model, of maternal love. But she is also Our Lady of Sorrows. I think of Presentation of Our Lord, when the aged Simeon sings his joyful song of thanksgiving for the gift of seeing the Christ Child. But in the midst of that joy, he tells Mary, “and a sword shall pierce your heart.” How deeply she suffered! How deeply she loves. I think as mothers we walk through life with pierced hearts. May God give us the strength to love in the face of fear. Knowing it’s not safe. Knowing that our hearts will at times be broken. But loving all the same. Like Our Lord. Like Our Lady.