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.
Sarah O says
Beautiful thoughts – that fear is definitely like no other. Thanks for sharing!
Beautifully written… I think I felt the fierceness before I even felt the love.
Molly Makes Do says
“Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements” – I think perhaps Mr. Lewis was seeing the future and addressing our hipster/”Me” generation?
Beautifully put. I haven’t experienced the fear necessarily, but rather an incredibly fierce protection instinct; the kind where I would glad jump in front of a moving vehicle to save my child or even risk dying to bring another child into the world with joy.
As terrifying as it is I can’t imagine my life without this sensation and I never understood Marian devotion until I became a mother!
I didn’t understand Marian devotion until I was pregnant with Benjamin! That’s really how my relationship with Our Lady began.
The timing on this is really strange (for my life, anyhow.) I have been ruminating on these thoughts all day – well, honestly, that’s not unusual – but especially today. Zach and I spent the evening baking semi-failed cookies and talking about this. How dangerous, how dangerous and uncomfortable it is, to love.
I want to hang out and ponder parenthood with you, Amy!
Hi there, happened upon your blog through Pinterest. Great stuff! I too have a 5 yr old son (he’ll be 5 on Labor Day anyway) and a new daughter who’s 6 mos. (and a 3 yr old in-between). I have encountered the exact fear you’re talking about, the kind that only a mother can know. It’s hard being a mom sometimes, but I’d go through all the fears and the tears all over again just to know love like my children bring into my life. ;}
Thank you for stopping by, Ashley! I feel just the same way 🙂 I checked out your blog! I’m also 26, grew up on a cul-de-sac and married to a man with a farmer’s heart. We’re still in the city with an urban garden and some chickens but someday would love to be on a real farm. Adding you to my RSS feed 🙂
Lindsay (Young Married Mom) says
Just read this on altcatholicah. My son is only two, but has severe food allergies, and this resonated with me so deeply. I will need to underline that C.S Lewis quote in my copy of THE FOUR LOVES for next time I am consumed with that special, irreplacable, terrifying, beautiful love you describe. Lovely work–looking forward to looking around here 🙂
Thank you for stopping by, Lindsay! My 3-year-old has some pretty bad food allergies, too (mostly gluten). Not an immediate reaction, but crazy eczema and asthma attacks. Sorry to hear about your little one’s allergies!
I can’t quite remember how I came across your blog, and I normally just lurk instead of commenting, but this post moved me. I didn’t give birth to my stepdaughter. I was not around for the first formative years of her life, where she learned to walk, learned to talk, fell for the first time, hurt herself for the first time. I wasn’t even around for her first day of school or when a kid calling her a bad name broke her heart for the first time. Her mom is still wholeheartedly in her life. But from the moment our relationship changed from my being “daddy’s girlfriend” to “my second mom,” I’ve felt this fear that you’ve described. I worry about her when she’s ill, when I wake up at night and hear her coughing or when she tripped and fell and whacked her head at the playground. Maybe it doesn’t count because she’s not biologically mine, and maybe it doesn’t count because I’ve never understood what it was like to feel this way about a child I had myself. But being a stepparent is such an overlooked job sometimes, and I’d like to think that while she may not have been a part of me from the day she was born, she lodged herself into my heart in a way I would have never thought possible before I met her dad.
Absolutely it counts! Thank you for sharing your mama heart! God bless you.