It’s weird the way things shape your life. I knew the big things—marriage, babies—were going to play a huge role. I knew that some of the big things would be bad, but I didn’t think too much about that. Magical thinking, I guess. I was afraid that thinking about bad things would make them happen.
It’s almost impossible to imagine how these big things will change you. Movies and songs and stories shape our expectations. I have heard hundreds of people, maybe thousands, say that the best thing that ever happened to them was having a child. I feel that way too. My daughter has fundamentally changed my world.
But, the how wasn’t what I was expecting. I don’t think you can predict the impact that having a child will have on you, and I don’t think movies and songs can either. Joy feels different than I thought it would. So does love.
I remember the day after my daughter was born a nurse came to my room and told my husband and me that the staff would demonstrate how to bathe a baby. We were interested in learning, and when the nurse asked, I agreed to let them use my daughter for them lesson.
My husband and I had our first proud parent moment: our daughter the center of attention, on stage. Everything went pretty well, for about 3 minutes. Babies don’t really like to be bathed, at least mine didn’t.
She wasn’t terribly happy, and I learned something about being a parent in that moment. When she wasn’t terribly happy, I wasn’t terribly happy.
As the group watched, the nurse demonstrated how to the hold the baby, gently but firmly, how to wash her hair and face. I tried to watch, but a hollow place opened up inside my stomach and I could hear the wind whistle through.
I walked past everyone to the front of the room and straight to the nurse, who was doing her job in a gentle and capable way. I reached out and took my daughter out of her arms. Nothing could have stopped me at the moment. I had to remove my daughter from her, and I wasn’t thinking anything at all. I was just doing.
In the days that followed I felt genuine fear for the first time. I’m sure I’d been afraid before, but nothing felt like this. This fear put me in a desperate place for a while. For the first time in my life the universe had a way to completely destroy me.
I knew in the first week of my daughter’s life that I would do anything I could to protect her and that I would be destroyed if she suffered.
It turned out that love, in those first few weeks of my daughter’s life, felt a lot like fear.
Sometimes it takes awhile to fall in love with your child. For me that “in love” feeling started out like the feeling of a crush in middle school. One day I was staring off into space writing my daughter’s name over and over in cursive. I was enamored. But she was about 9 months old when that happened.
The love-fear or fear-love was like a lightning flash. It just pierced my soul within moments after her birth.
There are times, even now, when I look at her, bent over her homework and I feel that piercing again. A hand reaches into my chest and squeezes my heart.
But mostly, the love has grown and developed. It is focused on a person I know really well. It is specific, and fulfilling. I have grown to trust the universe a bit more.
Still, for me, true fear is linked always and forever to true love.
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