… has been so pleasant lately. Have a listen.
Multiply that by 45 minutes.
It’s why meal times are an absolute eternity right now.
Sweet Lord, give me strength.
… has been so pleasant lately. Have a listen.
Multiply that by 45 minutes.
It’s why meal times are an absolute eternity right now.
Sweet Lord, give me strength.
Over the past year, my blog post about my changing heart rate throughout pregnancy and the resulting increase in total calories burned per day has become the most heavily trafficked blog post on this site.
So I figured I’d tackle postpartum sleep loss next.
Because, guys, postpartum sleep deprivation is no joke. (Except when it is.)
So, here we go.
I gave birth on February 2nd. You can see that in my last days of the pregnancy, I was sleeping around 6 or 7 hours at night (not pictured: the six or seven times that I had to get up each night to pee). I was also taking a nap in the afternoon since my daughter was in daycare and I was wasting my maternity leave by being way beyond my due date. (That wasn’t really part of the plan… But hey.)
Note: Dates are in descending order. That’s the only way FitBit will let me view the data.
The last time that I had some solid sleep before giving birth was Wednesday, February 1st. That night, I finally went into labor around midnight (at 41 weeks, 4 days).
It looks like the next time that I slept was on the day that I gave birth.
Do not be fooled. I was completely incapacitated after giving birth and losing 1200 ccs of blood. The same is true of February 3rd. I was lying in a hospital bed, trying to recover, but not really sleeping.
The next time that I actually fell into a light sleep (definitely not REM or a deep sleep) was February 4th.
That’s a full 72 hours without sleep.
Believe it or not, this was an improvement from my first birth, when I went about 96 hours without falling into at least a light sleep. (Wednesday, August 14th, 6:00 a.m. to the night of Saturday, August 17th)
Even with having the help of my husband and mother, on most days during that first week postpartum, I was getting about 5 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, but only in frustrating 1-hour increments.
There were plenty of times during the day when I could have let my mother do the feedings and caught up on sleep.
But honestly, during that first week, I just couldn’t fully power down. I can’t pinpoint one reason. Was it my fluctuating hormones? Was it racing thoughts? Was the stress of recovering and adjusting to life with a second child?
Sure. It was all of these things. It was probably also the additional stress of feeling like, Oh my God, why aren’t you sleeping! Everyone has everything taken care of! Use your time wisely!
Not the most restful thoughts you can have.
So I was exhausted. I hurt everywhere. The afterbirth cramps were intense. I was still bleeding a lot. Breastfeeding was (once again) complete hell and I was dealing with the emotions of stopping completely. The baby was eating every 2 hours and we were figuring out that, just like his sister, he was allergic to dairy. The house was in disorder. The other child was feeling left out. My husband was trying to keep the ship running.
And every night, from midnight to 6:00 a.m., it was just me and the baby. Although it was emotional and beautiful in its own right, it was also incredibly exhausting.
This is when intense sleep deprivation began to take hold. Not only was I unable to sleep because the baby was eating all the time, but my body began to realize that it had lost its placenta (no more all-is-right-and-good-in-the-world levels of progesterone for me anymore).
This week, by far, was the absolute worst for me.
Some things you cannot do when you’re getting this little sleep:
At the end of this week, my mom (who had mercifully been staying with us after the delivery) returned home. My husband and I looked at each other like, What now? How are we going to get some sleep and not lose our minds?
We made a compromise.
We decided that my husband would take the evening feedings that happened before midnight. I would get the feedings after midnight. I would try my damnedest to get some sleep before my first night feeding. In addition, on the weekends, my husband would take all of the night feedings so I could get some restorative sleep.
And because he was extra awesome, he allowed me to tag him in when I told him that I was seriously losing my mind. Because, quite honestly, sleeping like this is simply unsustainable for weeks on end.
Things you still should not do when you’re sleeping like this:
By some miracle, our baby started to shift towards only two night feedings by this point, leaving me responsible for just one feeding since my husband took the other one. This is not a common occurrence, so if it happens for you, just express your undying gratitude to the Universe. Seriously.
By this point, I had mostly recovered from the pain of childbirth and postpartum blood loss. I had more energy and was able to independently take care of household responsibilities like dishes, cooking, laundry, and vacuuming.
This dramatically improved my mood. I mean, obviously, right?
If you’re getting this much sleep, driving might be possible, but honestly, it’s really best to only drive if you’re getting at least six hours of sleep every night.
After about one month after birth, we started to find our rhythm with taking care of the house, the new baby, and the preschooler. We were still doing night feedings, but they were becoming more manageable.
I need to emphasize at this point that my increase in sleep by four weeks postpartum is a direct reflection of my husband’s willingness and ability to step into his role as an equal caretaker. Without his help, I would still be getting minimal sleep by this point.
So hats off to you, Doug. You kept me from losing my mind.
Okay, first, if you’re trying to make friends with other new parents, don’t ask this question.
But I’m game for it. So…
“Sleeping through the night” was a process for us. Our baby slept ten hours in a row for the first time when he was two months old.
… it was just a one-night reprise from the continuing pattern of night feedings that stretched on well past four months. At five months, he started to want to put himself to sleep. No more rocking or holding him while he got drowsy. Odd, but I acquiesced.
By six months, his eating schedule got all screwy and he started to develop a middle of the night feeding again. And we had had enough of it. He was a huge baby. There was clearly no need for him to be eating in the middle of the night. He was healthy. He wasn’t teething. Coupled with the crushing reality that things were not going to resolve by themselves, we made the decision:
It was time to Cry It Out.
It took three nights, but it was the best decision we made. Hands down. He dropped the night feeding and learned to tank up in his first and last feedings of the day. No one was worse the wear.
Here is what my average number of hours of sleep looked like from February 2017 to December 2017 looked like in summary, with some annotations to help make sense of what you’re seeing.
Keep in mind a few things:
1.) I had lots of help.
2.) I had a pretty long maternity leave (at least compared to most women in the U.S.)
3.) I did not breastfeed.
4.) I committed myself to working out in the morning because it improved my mental and emotional state. This meant that I would get up at 4:30 a.m. on most mornings to exercise before the kids woke up and before I had to get ready for work. Yeah, it was hard, but it made me feel so much better. So I made adjustments to help commit to this goal, like going to bed way early (like 8 p.m.)
5.) There were plenty of bouts of illness, teething, and unexplained fussy nights that were peppered throughout the year.
6.) Our baby did not have acid reflux or prolonged colicky periods or other conditions that made him unable to sleep for long periods of time. With the exception of the dairy allergy, he has been very healthy.
Postpartum sleep deprivation is real and it’s tough.
No way around it.
If you’re reading this while you’re pregnant with your first child, don’t despair. There are some things that you can do to prepare yourself for the realities that await you soon.
1.) Establish clear expectations about care-taking responsibilities with your partner.
Talk openly. Talk honestly. Agree that no one really wants to lose this much sleep, but damn it, you’re in this thing together. Tag each other in when you’re down for the count.
2.) Do not be too proud to ask for help.
You cannot do this alone. You will need help. And lots of it. You are not Superwoman and there is no glory in trying to be. Few, if any, will know of your struggles to simply get through the day. Every woman who has been through this understands the pain and exhaustion that you are experiencing. They are, quite often, thrilled to help.
3.) When it gets tough, remember that you’re not doing it wrong.
You’re not doing it wrong. It’s just plain hard. No one has an easy time of this, and any woman who says it was not that bad is airbrushing reality.
4.) Ask those who are close to you to let you know when they think you’re not okay.
Losing sleep can bring you to the edge of psychosis. If you go days and days without sleep, you will start to lose your grip on reality. And from your perspective, you may not realize that you’re not fine anymore. If you cannot achieve restorative sleep even when you are provided the opportunity, it is probably time to seek help from your medical provider.
5.) Buy ear plugs and a sleep mask. You’ll need them for daytime sleeping.
I mean… obviously.
Good luck on your postpartum journey, Friends.
It’s a crazy way to live and in the hard moments when your head is warm and fuzzy and everyone around you is so blissfully unaware of how LUCKY they are to have slept more than four hours last night… it feels like it will go on forever and you will forever be stuck in the vicious cycle of Never Enough Sleep.
But you won’t.
Please let me know how it’s going for you in the comments below.
Holy Mary, Mother of God…
I’m not Catholic, but this is what I feel like saying when I’ve opened my baby’s diaper lately.
Just… Dear God…
But that’s not where this story starts. No, this story starts way back in a more peaceful, almost utopian, moment in time called “Our Anniversary.”
It was a time of Hotel Bliss. A time of Sleeping In and Room Service. A time of Binge-Watching and Massages. There was even Sex!
Yes, we’ve been married for twelve years.
It was last Saturday afternoon. Snow softly fell outside of our swanky hotel room. We ate a delightful lunch, brought to us on trays and adorned with cloth napkins and adorable bottles of Heinz ketchup. And because I could, I ate that delightful lunch in my bathrobe.
We spend time hammering out several scripts for upcoming episodes for our YouTube channel. (Check it out here).
We talked about the future. Of possible Ph. D. programs and how old we’ll be when the kids graduate.
We talked about politics. Of just how many men in media and politics and business will fall from grace under the crashing wave of sexual harassment allegations. Of the possibility of a pedophile in our U.S. Senate. (Dodged that bullet. Thank God for small favors.)
And of course, we talked about our kids. They’re such good kids, aren’t they? We really lucked out. Felicity has such a big heart. And “my little man”… Oh, I can’t get enough of that face! (taking phone out) I just have to see that face one more time. Oh my God… He is so ridiculously cute. Mama loves you, Big Boy!
It was perfect.
When we arrived home on Sunday afternoon, the Conveyor Belt of Life from which we disembarked on Friday afternoon had accelerated from Challenging-But-Doable to All-Systems-Go.
We still needed to:
This is the point in the story when It All Goes to Shit.
As I was feeding Henry his 3:00 p.m. bottle, Diarrhea was engaged.
Okay. I knew this was coming. My mom (who was watching them while we were away) told me that he was having bad diapers since she picked them up at daycare on Friday (He had an explosion in the highchair… From shoulder blades to knees…)
But we were on vacation.
And Mom had it under control. And when Mom has things under control, everything is fine.
We would come home just as the diarrhea was going away.
Oh, sweet naive little Me.
Sunday evening was unpleasant, but we survived. I explained to Felicity that “the puking bug” that was going around daycare wasn’t something that was going to crawl into her food, like a spider.
“It’s a virus,” I tell her. “It’s a… a… really small germ that can get into your mouth and make you sick.”
Her new saying that she likes to apply to all contexts is, “Well, I was going to…”
So what she said was: “Well, I was not going to eat the puking bug.”
“Good idea,” I told her.
It was early Monday morning.
3:00 a.m. He was crying. A cry that said,
Harmph… What is wrong with me? I don’t like Life. Life blows. Argh… < asleep >
Wait… I still think Life blows… < asleep >
Arghhh! Isn’t anyone going to come help me? < asleep >
As I stared at the ceiling, I kept praying that he’d work it out. That he would eventually go back to sleep. I was going to get up to exercise at 4:30. At least, that was the plan.
I ended up holding him from 4:00 until 5:30 that morning as he softly protested, moaning and groaning, clearly fighting something.
We pulled through. We got them to daycare. We worked. I thought back longingly to the Anniversary Weekend. It felt like that had been months ago instead of the mere 24 hours that it had been. I listened to my co-workers talk about their lazy Sundays of Not Doing Much of Anything.
I was intensely jealous. But I kept it in check. You’re the one who wanted to have kids, my Evil Ego said. Then, there was my Good Ego, saying, Don’t freak out on people who don’t deserve it. This too shall pass.
That evening, the Conveyor Belt of Life kicked into Panic Mode.
We spent an hour just feeding and changing Henry’s diaper. Over and over again. Which doesn’t sound too bad until I tell you what is involved in that process.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Every single time that he poops.
It’s a vicious cycle of, Should I feed him? What should I feed him? He just calmed down. Should I really give him something else? I don’t want him to get dehydrated. But he needs protein. But is soy formula okay? Or not? How many days is this going to go on? Should I call the doctor?
Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday.
A midnight cry that turns quickly into a scream.
It takes a moment to realize, but you do. It starts with unzipping the footed pajamas that you hoped would contain any leakage. (Wishful thinking.)
But it’s on his legs, his belly, even his torso. It’s all over his footed pajamas.
For the love of God, it‘s between his toes.
There’s poop everywhere.
On his sheet. On his blanket.
It’s the definition of Lovely.
Then the screams, the tears, the twisting full-planked baby, fighting your every move to stop you from removing all the shit that is literally everywhere.
It makes you frustrated that you can’t just do the Shitty Job that you have to do.
You have to do the Shitty Job while your ears bleed and you’re tired and you’re angry and you just want to go to sleep and your baby can’t say, Thank you. Hell, your baby isn’t even non-verbally saying thank you by just going to bed.
He’s going to scream way down into the Seventh Circle of Hell while you try to shush and rock and sway him to sleep. You try patting his back and butt the way your husband does (It works every time. He likes it that way.)
All to no avail.
So you leave your baby screaming in his crib, shut the door, and cry in the hallway.
Then, you call in your husband and pray that he’s able to get the baby back to sleep.
It makes you hate your baby.
It makes you sad that you just thought that you hate your baby.
It makes you feel like a failure.
But by the time morning comes, the night terror is a distant memory.
And covered in poop again. (Of course.)
With my hands under his armpits, I carry him at arm’s length directly to the bathtub.
And we try again.
Maybe this will be the last day of this Shit.
To clarify, it’s not like I don’t do anything at work.
But I get to decide what I’m doing.
(At least, it feels like it.)
When I sit down at my desk in the morning and take in a breath, my space transforms. My desk turns into my own little sanctuary from Motherhood, where I can mentally escape from the Tasks that You Do But Are Never Done (dishes, laundry, feeding people, shopping, The Checklist.).
Here, I can finish something.
Here, I can decide to do “That” later.
Here, when the class is over, so are my responsibilities for my students (except for grading. Booooo…). I don’t have to take my students with me everywhere. I don’t have to worry if they haven’t gone to the bathroom in a few hours (I hope she doesn’t need to pee when we’re in the middle of the store). I don’t have to think about when they ate last, or if their runny nose means they’re getting sick (and do we need more Tylenol?)
Here, I can take a break when I want to take a break. I don’t have to eat standing up or devour my lunch in the few minutes before the baby loses his mind about not having the bottle in his mouth.
My good friend, whom I call “Bear,” was telling me about the annoying points of fostering a dog (which he and his wife are currently doing.) The dog whines. The dog makes messes everywhere. You’ve got to worry about what the dog is getting into.
Oh Bear. I love ya, Bear.
Bear is a portrait of me before I had kids.
Sometimes, when I hear him talking, I can almost see myself in 2012.
Look at her in 2012. Going out to dinner. Taking a nap on the weekend. Seeing a New Movie. Sleeping in until 6:30 a.m. Staying up late and drinking too much sometimes.
Bear and I share the pain of the introvert — the person who must have “downtime” away from other people in order to recharge their batteries. But I’ve lost the easy accessibility of recharging mine. I just can’t seem to get away from people for very long. (Maybe that’s why I get up so early to exercise by myself for an hour before the day starts?)
Introvertedness isn’t about being shy (although some introverts are). Being introverted means that you get your energy from inside yourself, not by being around other people. So if you’re constantly surrounded by other people, your energy just goes down, down, down, and down.
Until you just shut down.
Honestly, the scarcity of downtime in parenthood makes me anxious if I think too much about it. I’m a little glad that I didn’t think too much about how this area of my life would change before we had kids. And now that we have two… (Introverted stay-at-home moms… How do you do it?)
Usually, I just think about today. When can I be alone today?
Oftentimes, the answer is: At my work desk.
In between grading and planning and meeting with students, I ferret away time for myself. I check Facebook (because I took it off my phone). I drink something hot (water lately, since I’m cutting way back on coffee). I work a little for this blog (although I often make more drafts than I actually publish. Wonder if this one will make the cut?)
Ahhh… Those two magical words that have become damn near mystical to me.
It really is the hardest part about being a parent for me (right now at least).
Because even when they don’t need anything from you and they’re not interrupting you with feedings, changings, questions, gibberish, crying, or cleverly crafted requests to watch another episode of My Little Pony… (It sure would be nice to see what happens to Pinkie Pie, Mama…)
Even when you can finally sink your eyes into A Dance with Dragons…. You still keep looking up to check whether or not the baby has got something in his mouth that he can choke on (99% of the time, he doesn’t. But that 1%…)
After kids, you need to pay for your Free Time. You want to go out for dinner and a movie? The cost now includes the babysitting bill, which is usually more than the cost of dinner (since we spent all the money on babysitting).
(And if you’re lucky enough to have grandparents nearby that will watch your kids… You lucky dog, you.)
But honestly, we might get to dinner and a movie once per year now. Maybe. What we usually do is go to dinner and then Target. Movies usually happen at home now, but let’s be honest, those movies are usually Carebears and Hello Kitty. If we want an actual adult movie, both kids have to be in bed, so we could start the movie at 8:00, but I would be asleep at 8:25 because I started the day at 4:45 a.m….
You get the picture.
My own mother worked on and off when I was growing up. She was a part-time cake decorator who regularly worked over 40 hours during the months of May and June (graduation and wedding season).
I imagine that she may have had some of the same feelings about working.
Here, I can finish something.
Here, the responsibilities are clear and defined.
Here, I can see be alone with my thoughts.
Here, I can take a break from the Hardest Job Ever.
Silly me, I thought we’d just set up the camera and start shooting whatever we were cooking.
Okay, maybe my husband would get out the little photography umbrellas and some lights, but that’s it.
We are really in it now.
This is how we started out.
I thought this was kind of a lot of equipment.
Oh, sweet naive me.
Here’s where we are at now.
What you’re looking at is the second version of this handmade mounted mirror (much lighter than the first one.) You’ll also notice that we’ve added more lighting on the countertop… and around the cook top in general.
That pot is about to undergo some intense interrogation.
(Not pictured: We also have a fan mounted to the cabinet while recording–to keep steam from condensing on the mirror.)
Why a mirror? The idea is to record the cooktop from above, without getting steam and gunk in the lens of the camera. Thus, the mirror. Then, once I import the video into our video editing software, I can flip the image vertically so that your brain doesn’t feel like something is off as you’re watching us cooking.
All this rigging has taken a lot of trips to Menard’s, Lowe’s, and Home Depot. (And sometimes back to Menard’s ten minutes before they close.) He’s really put a lot of time and effort into this.
But anyone who knows my husband knows that when he does something, he really does something.
That’s the joint garden that we share with our neighbors–all built in the last few months.
Because. You know. He wanted to have a garden.
Notice the gate on the right side. And where he’s standing, there is a removable portion of that fence–so the truck can back up to it and dump the wood chips directly into the garden.
Hey, it makes him happy. And Felicity loves, loves, loves getting in the dirt.
So it’s taking some time.
In the meantime, I’ve been figuring out and articulating our workflow for making the videos.
I’ve also been building my video editing skills (I’m using CyberLink’s Power Director–a solid program.)
Which leads to this conversation that we had last Thursday night.
Me: “I don’t know why but the preview of the video is really choppy.”
Him: “Once you render it, it should smooth out.”
Him: “Your computer probably isn’t fast enough.”
Then Friday, I call him at 5:00 to see if he’s picking up the kids.
I hear him giving someone his name and address.
Me: “Okay. Where are you?”
Me: “Um, okay.”
Him: “I just bought you a computer.”
Me: “Right. I think I saw that coming.”
Him: “It’s so badass.”
Then later, after the kids are home and dinner is finished, we pick up the conversation again.
Me: “So when is the computer getting here?”
Him: “Already got it.”
Me: “Oh. Where is it?”
Him: “In the car. I still have to put it together.”
Me: “What? I thought you said you bought a computer.”
Him: “Yeah. The parts. It won’t take long to put together.”
Then later, he starts bringing in the boxes.
Me: “Two monitors? You bought two monitors?”
Him: “You got to have two monitors.”
Me: “Oh my God…”
Him: “Go big or go home, Sweets.”
Kid in a candy store.
So when can you expect to see some videos?
I think in the next two weeks.
We have some good footage of making steel-cut oats (although we’re figuring out color balance and how to filter background noise). We wanted to produce some egg videos, but we’ve got to wait until our egg supplier is back from vacation. We also ran into some problems with our lighting. Apparently, we’ve been using too much light and it’s washing out the color of the food. So we’ve got to re-shoot everything. Bargh…
Like any creative project, this one has thrown us some curve balls.
But it’s still been fun.
It has given both of us chances to work in our favorite creative roles.
Him: Woodworking, cooking, photography
Me: Writing, storytelling, video editing
And I guess I can add “directing” to that list now.
I wake up at 6:00 a.m.
I roll from my side to my back, feeling the weight of 29 weeks of pregnancy.
I put on some maternity leggings, several layers, and the ever-so-sexy pregnancy belt.
Carrying 27 pounds of extra weight, I walk and jog in the cool darkness, the road lit by the occasional lamp post. I watch my heart rate rise and fall.
I count the political signs.
I run on.
At 6:45, I return home and wake up my husband.
Our three-year-old daughter, still asleep in her bed.
I make her lunch and set out her vitamins.
I eat a bowl of oatmeal, topped with raspberries.
Take a breath.
Climb the stairs to coax the kid out of bed.
She is pissed.
Her voice is hoarse, so I know she’s getting sick.
Through screaming and tears and some negotiation, we get her dressed and vitamin-ed.
Then off to daycare.
In the car, she asks for music. I played her favorite, Grouplove’s Tongue Tied.
Then, she bursts into tears.
Yeah, she’s feeling pretty miserable, I think.
I set out her breakfast once we are in her preschool room. Today, she insists that she does not want milk on her cereal.
She gives me a hug. And a kiss.
Across from daycare, the church is a polling place. There is extra traffic. Turning left without a stop sign or stoplight is a nightmare.
Back at home, I make a second breakfast. Because pregnancy.
Eggs and English muffin. And coffee. Because second pregnancy.
I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition.
Shower. Dress for work. Make-up.
My husband is running behind.
So we decide to vote together.
We have a nice conversation in line for 30 minutes. We talk about last night’s dinner with friends. Our daughter. Our church. His work’s potluck.
Then, we vote.
Because we are Americans.
Because we are parents.
Because we are feminists.
Because time moves forward. Not backward.
We hold hands on the way out. Give each other a quick kiss and hug.
We go to work.
Especially when you’re breaking up with a long-standing, beautiful relationship with…
A two-hour nap.
Oh… The peace. The quiet.
Two hours is a whole movie.
It’s two episodes of Game of Thrones.
And with just one child at home, it’s occasionally a nice time to… Yeah. You know.
One some glorious days, the two-hour nap would turn into a three-hour nap.
But as I mentioned in a previous post, our three-year-old daughter is dropping her midday nap. Her body is shifting to require only ten hours of sleep per day instead of her usual twelve hours.
Unfortunately, daycare isn’t on board. According to State of Ohio regulations, she still needs to spend 1 hour and 45 minutes on a cot during an 8-hour stay at daycare. Now, she doesn’t have to sleep. She could stay awake and look at books.
But she doesn’t. She falls asleep every time.
Her daycare teacher exclaims, “She’s a great sleeper!”
Well, for you, she is.
For us, that lovely midday nap now means that she’s still rockin’ at 9:45 p.m. 10:00. 10:20. I, on the other, am officially done with the day at 9:15. I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted by this time and it’s even harder now because I’m pregnant.
Which is why I’m more than thrilled that my husband is willing to keep vigil after I’ve gone to bed. Just to make sure that she doesn’t escape her room while she is trying to go to sleep.
As I saw Labor Day Weekend approaching, my first thought wasn’t, Ahhh… A relaxing weekend.
My first thought was, Oh my God, that’s three full days without daycare or naps. What are we going to do to get out of the house so I don’t go nuts?
I did research. I amassed a list of things we could do. The county fair. The Renaissance Festival. The Cincinnati Museum Center. Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. Yes. We have options. I can get through this, I thought.
I ran the plans by my husband. His response was:
“I need to get work done outside.”
“What work?” I asked.
“That retaining wall needs to be redone. It’s not level, so it’s causing the A/C unit to shake. That needs to get done this weekend.”
My first thought was, Can’t you do that another weekend? Any other weekend? Please-for-the-love-of-God?
We are not so advanced in potty training and managing temper tantrums that I’m willing to go it alone to any of these places. I need a partner.
I imagine the worst. A poop accident that requires four hands to clean up.
Or an all-out tempter tantrum that requires me to carry her like a bundle of firewood back to the car. And I cannot manage that now that she’s 40 pounds and I’m 5 months pregnant.
But, the retaining wall.
We settle on doing something together on Labor Day, giving him two solid weekend days to re-set the retaining wall.
By 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, I walked out of the house, straight to the backyard and announced:
“I need to get away from her. I’m going to the store for an hour.”
I cried all the way to the grocery store, chiding myself the whole time about making such a big deal out of nothing.
So what happened?
She’s three. That’s what happened.
Sometimes, she’s sweet as pie. Other times, she’s sass-a-frass. And when you’re the only person bearing the brunt, it just. Wears. You. Down.
She’s not that bad. She’s a normal three-year-old. Yeah, she acts defiant. Frequently. But that’s normal.
There’s nothing to cry about. Why are you crying? If you can’t handle this, you really shouldn’t be having another kid.
What are you doing with your life?
What is wrong with you?
I did a slow grocery shop. I took my time. I reminded myself that, hey, I’m 5 months pregnant and my emotions are hard to manage when I’m tired and I have no break.
I forgave myself.
Then, I came home, dropped a medium Wendy’s French fry in my husband’s lap as a thank you for helping out, sat down on the freshly re-set retaining wall, and had a good cry.
He put his arm around me and let me talk.
Then, he sent me inside and said, “Take some time for yourself and come back when you feel better.”
So I did.
I took another hour to take a long bath and shave my legs (finally). When I came downstairs, I was ready to help with dinner.
We ate together and laughed a little.
At 7:00, I was ready to take over again. I sent him back outside to finish the wall. I gave our daughter a bath, read to her, tucked her in, cleaned the dishes, finished the laundry, and vacuumed.
And fell asleep around 9:30.
I heard my husband walk into the bedroom later on. I checked the clock.
But the wall was finished.
Parents of older kids sometimes tell us that, “Things get easier.”
But then they’re quick to add, “Well, some things get easier. Other things get harder.”
They are right.
In exchange for letting go of naps and diapers, we’re entering a new world of possibilities of ways that we can spend our time with our kids. Beyond the kitchen, the dining room, and the playroom.
We go out. We show her new things. She is delighted and her delight is palpable. We can actually enjoy experiences together.
But right now, I feel caught in the middle. She has moved beyond naps, but she hasn’t risen to the level of self-sufficiency that makes me feel comfortable enough to wrangle her by myself. Maybe it’s my personality. Maybe it’s the pregnancy. Maybe both.
Yes, I know. It’s all a phase. One big, giant phase.
But this next phase… It’s turning out to be a lot harder to adjust to than I thought.
December 3, 2005
And so today, I give myself to you, to share our lifetimes together, be it the best times or the worst. And if I ever want out, I promise to you to remember today. To remember you, to remember the first time that I ever saw your face, to remember every tear we shed in joy to cover every tear we’ll someday shed in pain. I promise to never give up on you, on us, or our life together.
When you love someone who is hurting, your first thought is to find a way to make their pain go away. But as you live with someone who is hurting, you begin to understand that covering the pain doesn’t help them. And erasing it is impossible.
The only way out of pain is to go through it.
All you can do is listen.
And be ready with open hands when they finally reach out.
December 31, 2015
We step off the elevators and round the corner.
Maternity Unit, the sign reads.
A hospital employee scans her ID and the doors open for us.
“This way,” she passes another sign. Maternity Triage.
I think, Here? This is where we’re going?
While my nurse prepares a space for me, I sit on a bed across from a curtained area where a woman breathes and moans. It sounds like she is nearly in active labor. When she is silent, I feel jealousy. When she moans, I feel compassion.
“Why are we here?” my husband asks. “Just to kick you in the teeth while you’re down?”
I knew what kind of guy I was falling in love with when we ended one of our first dates by sitting on the monkey bars of his old elementary school.
We were 21 years old, enjoying that hazy week of post-Christmas and pre-New Year freedom. Life was full of movies and eating out and driving nowhere in particular while listening to Radiohead.
We climbed to the top of the bars, our breath coming out in white puffs. The night sky was clear and studded with stars. I was freezing. Absolutely freezing.
And I didn’t care.
We held hands.
Then he said, “I forgot the specific heat of steel was so low.”
I laughed. And laughed.
He was the one. I already knew.
“We just need to get your IV started, draw some blood, and do some paperwork,” my nurse says as she taps away on the computer’s keyboard. She has mercifully moved us to the back of triage, away from the laboring women. “And then you’ll be all ready.”
I lift my hand to my lips and close my eyes. Start an IV… Here we go.
“Are you okay?” she asks in a tone that really means, Are you feeling a lot of emotions right now?
But I’m not thinking about the fact that my baby has died. Not right now. Instead, I’m wondering how hard it’s going to be for her to find a vein.
“So my veins are really small and they roll…” I warn her.
“Let me just take a look.”
She places the tourniquet high on my left arm, rubbing, prodding, tapping. She examines my forearm, somewhere comfortable. Then to the right arm. Repeat.
“Okay, I see what you mean,” she says.
Back to the left forearm.
The cool alcohol swab. The stick. The immediate sting, the burn. I squirm. I yell. The needle pulls away.
I know she hasn’t found a vein.
As I start sobbing, I reach out for Doug and bury my head in his neck. All of my emotions rush forward. All of my thoughts from the past two weeks explode in my consciousness and I let them run wild.
Our baby has died.
Two and a half weeks ago.
I want to let it go.
I don’t want to be its tomb anymore.
Isn’t it enough that I’m ready to let it go?
I don’t want to hurt anymore.
My nurse rubs my knee through the blanket covering my legs. With my eyes squeezed shut, I can hear her sniffing. That is how I know that she is crying too.
Shortly after we started dating, Doug saw his mother for the last time.
Lost to her delusional world of paranoia and conspiracy, she cut everything and everyone loose. Parents. Siblings. Husband. Children. Grandchildren. As she slithered away from everyone who loved her, she curled into herself as a last means of self-protection.
In a last ditch effort, Doug tried to talk to her one last time. That was thirteen years ago.
When it ended badly, I held him and his tears darkened my sleeves. I cried with him as he mourned the loss of his living mother.
It was just one of the first emotional storms that we weathered together.
I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. But after I came to grips with the words no cardiac activity, I was ready to let go.
The nausea left. The fatigue lifted. My metabolism picked up.
But no blood.
My body held on. It refused to let go.
So I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
How do you find your way into a body that doesn’t want to open up?
My nurse re-examines my right arm starting at the forearm. She rubs and prods my arm, moving down until she is gripping my fingers. She rolls my fingers this way and that, my knuckles moving in waves. The cold swab, the sting of the needle again.
So much hotter and sharper.
I yell. I cry.
She pulls the needle out. “I’m so sorry, hon… I’m going to ask someone else to take a look.”
My teeth start chattering. I start shaking. Doug continues to hold me as I heave.
I remember the True Love Waits campaign of my teenage years. Our church’s youth group strongly supported sexual abstinence before marriage.
Sex is the most special gift you can give your partner, a speaker crooned on one of the free promotional VHS videos that our youth group received, along with a catalog to purchase TLW rings and attire. Don’t you want to give your partner the best?, the speaker asked.
As if sex with your spouse is always sacred.
As if sex with your spouse is never selfish or disconnected.
Bullshit, I say.
Sometimes, sex is Oh my God, I need you right now. Sometimes, sex is I love you so much. Sometimes, sex is well, it’s been a while so… Sometimes, it’s we better do it tonight if we want to conceive in this cycle. Sometimes, it’s we’re not going to be able to do it again for the next six days so…
So, bullshit, I say.
Sex isn’t the most intimate gift you can give your partner.
The most intimate gift you can give your partner is your vulnerability. Taking the risk to show the face that you hide from everyone else.
Sex in marriage is a given.
But vulnerability in marriage is not.
A second nurse comes to my bed. She rubs her hands together as she circles me, searching for opportunity. She goes for the crook of my left arm.
Burning, pain, more tears.
Then she goes for the soft underbelly of my left wrist. Hot, searing pain sends me shouting and swearing. My legs and feet brace against each other, rubbing up and down, trying to feel anything besides the searing pain in my wrist until she finally pulls the needle free.
“Is it always this difficult to find a vein?” the second nurse asks sensitively.
I shake my head. “It’s because I’m so dehydrated. I always drink a lot of water before a blood draw, but I had to fast for the anesthesia.”
The nurses talk quietly of calling in anesthesiology.
I wonder if we can just leave. Just pick up our things, get the Cytotec on the way home, and spend the night cramping and making bloody trips to the toilet. Even if my body doesn’t want to do that, at least it would be familiar with the process. At least maybe it would let that happen.
I continue to cry into my husband’s shoulder, where a dark circle of tears grows.
The last time I cried this much was when my father passed away.
On the night before the funeral, I tried to explain to Doug how I was feeling.
It’s like our family has been holding onto this rope for the past ten years and life is spinning us around. Everyone’s letting go, and flying out in different directions. And soon, no one will be holding on anymore. There will be nothing left of this thing that held us together for so long. And it makes me wonder what family really is when you all let go of the rope.
The anesthesiology nurse brings in warm compresses. My first nurse brings in more blankets. Your hands are so icy. Maybe the warmth will help.
More prodding, more rubbing, more tapping, more discussion.
Here? This one looks promising. Oh, what about this one? Wait… is that a tendon? Are you kidding me?
Through my tears, I start laughing. A delirious, dark laugh. I open my eyes to see both of the nurses eyeing my husband’s hands.
“He’s got some nice veins,” I say. “That’s why I married him.”
They chuckle with me.
“Too bad we can’t do him,” one of them says.
The fifth stick—in my right hand.
The sixth stick—underneath my left arm.
My arms are throbbing. My physical pain peaks. My emotional pain flatlines.
Then miracle of miracles—the seventh stick.
The vein that finally accepts the IV, just above my right wrist.
Ecstatic to have finally accessed a vein, the anesthesiology nurse immediately threads it, forgetting to draw the blood.
“Does that mean you’ll have to stick her again?” my husband asks.
My first nurse nods.
He uses his fingers to wipe the sides of my face.
“Let’s give her a break,” my nurse whispers.
The cool IV fluid snakes its way through my veins. The image starts a train of thought.
I think about the anthropology unit that my students were studying just before we left for Christmas break. We learned that in the Mayan world, snakes were symbols of transcendence, creatures that could cross easily between two worlds: the world of the living and the world of the dead.
I wonder how I can become like them.
I wonder why it has been so difficult for me to cross back into the land of the living.
At night, my mind replays and replays the silent, motionless figure, floating on the ultrasound screen. Those definitive words, No cardiac activity.
During the day, I feel the weight of simply living while carrying the dead with me. Everywhere I go.
I think about letting go. The prayers, the wishes, the ways that I have resumed my old life. Wine, coffee, sushi, deli meat.
Hoping the mental clarity would speed things along.
Hoping for blood.
I open my eyes for the first time in thirty minutes. My blanketed legs are covered in empty needle packages, gauze, and tape. My arms are bandaged here and there. My first nurse pulls a new needle from its package and lets it fall among the rest of the debris on my legs.
I don’t even care anymore. I just want this to be over. I give up.
I go slack in Doug’s arms.
But with the eight stick in the right hand, I tense and cry out, “Mother fuck!”
“Look, she can’t do this anymore,” Doug says. “I’m shocked she hasn’t passed out yet.”
Back to my left hand, the ninth stick. It slides in, no sting.
“Okay…” I mutter. I lean back against Doug’s shoulder. “Okay… This isn’t awful. I don’t like this one, but I can do this one.”
A silence in the room.
“It’s not coming out fast, is it?” I ask.
“No, but it’s fine. Just relax,” Doug says.
“Deep breaths, Sharon. Relax,” my nurse says.
A whole minute passes.
“Try making a fist if you can,” she encourages me.
I try, but closing my hand knocks my fingers against the needle. I imagine not having hands or arms. I imagine sliding out of this moment and slipping into the future.
Another minute passes.
I loosen my grip and focus on being empty.
Because that is what this is.
A complete emptying.
Letting it all go.
And hoping that there is something left at the end of it.
To move like a snake, you need to give up your arms, your ability to hold on to anything. That’s how snakes flow seamlessly from one world into the next. They don’t cling to anything.
At the same time, nothing can hold on to them. Snakes need to dodge and evade. They need to slip through fingers. They don’t linger in memory or balk at the future. They exist only in the present. They can move easily between both worlds because they don’t love. Nor can they be loved.
But I have loved. Even if my arms could not hold, I have loved.
This is the pain of miscarriage–to love without reward. There is no newborn cry. No tender face or fingers or toes. Perhaps not even the knowledge of knowing the gender of your child. The pain of miscarriage is to love without the possibility of a future. There is nothing but love and pain.
My journey back to the land of the living will not be seamless. I will not slide smoothly past all of these memories, emotions, doubts, fears, and uncertainties.
Because I have loved.
The challenge, then, is to learn how to move through the pain even though I still love.
“So this is the consent form to have the procedure of dilation and curettage,” my nurse holds a paper on a clipboard. I carefully lift my right IVed hand to sign it.
Dilation. From Latin, dilatare. “The process of becoming larger or wider.”
Curettage. “A surgical scraping or cleaning by a curette.”
Curette. From French, curer and from Latin, curare. “To cure.”
To enlarge and cure.
Staring at the overhead lights in the OR, my anesthesiology nurse clicks a vial of medication into my IV.
“You’re going to start to feel light now.” She rubs my forehead, my hair. Her eyes are bright, but sad. It makes me think she has been through this, too. “You’ve been through a lot, so just rest now. We’ll take good care of you.”
A final tear slips out of my right eye. She wipes it away.
What I think is, This isn’t working. I wonder when this stuff will finally kick in.
Loving is easy. Even natural.
It’s living with love that is hard.
The only way to avoid heartbreak is to choose not to love.
But if you choose to love, grief will take you down into the land of the dead. As you struggle with the grief, you will bleed. If you panic, your struggle will tear away pieces of you. If you panic too much, you will rip yourself to shreds, like an animal caught on barbed wire.
But if you can lift your head when the blood comes, you will see that the bleeding comes from hooks, buried deep in your flesh. Hooks to everyone who loves you. Hooks to your spouse. To your children. To your family. To your friends.
If you can lift your head while you are still bleeding, you can see who is still holding on to you. Then, you can reach up and take the hand that is reaching out for you.
You can move together.
You can climb out.
You will be scarred. You will be stretched. You will be larger, wider, and more flexible.
But the next time you’re caught in grief, you’ll remember to stop and see who is holding on to you.
And who you need to let go.
I know that voice.
“Hey, baby girl.”
His warm hand on my face.
“Hey, Sweets. It’s all over. You did great.”
What I remember is
… to remember every tear we shed in joy to cover every tear we’ll someday shed in pain.
What I think is
…We can get through this. I promised him I wouldn’t give up.
What I say is, “My wedding vows.”
“What? What Sweets?”
“My wedding vows,” I say louder. My eyes flip open. Light and shapes.
“What about them?” he leans closer.
“I meant them.”
He rubs my hand. “Sweets…”
“I meant them. I want you to know that.”
A lot of people quote the Bible for the readings at their wedding. Or maybe a famous poet. I chose “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
If you’re not familiar with the story, like in many children’s book, the toys in the nursery talk to each other. Here, the Horse talks to the Velveteen Rabbit about what it means when the Boy calls one of his toys “Real.”
“Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you… It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or need to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (emphasis added)
I would like to say that I chose this reading for our wedding vows because it was how we felt about each other on that day.
But it wasn’t.
It couldn’t be.
It was my hope for the future of our marriage–that as we grew closer together, we would start to see each other as Real. That even if I fell apart in every conceivable way, even if I were shattered by life, and had nothing left to offer him–not a rockin’ body or clever wit or a pleasant attitude–that he would still be able to see the Beauty of my spirit. That he could look through the prism of my fractured self and see my colors escaping the other side.
I couldn’t think of the words to express this nagging fear that I held close to my heart as I entered into marriage. I didn’t know how to explain it. I mean, I was convinced that he knew everything. I thought that he knew all my secrets. All of my failures and flaws. I was pretty sure there was nothing left to tell him.
But, oh. There was. I just hadn’t discovered it yet.
So let me take to you that night when I became Real to my husband.
It was four days after my daughter was born, a Monday night. I had just finished using the double-breast pump for the first time ever in life. For how long? 50 minutes. (And if you don’t know if that’s a long time, let me tell you–Yeah, it’s a long time.)
And all that agonizing pulling and pumping and pain yielded how much milk?
Half of an ounce. (And yeah, that’s pretty horrible.)
My husband came over to me and hugged me. He helped me stand and I peed all over myself. Because birth. And, oh yeah, my mother and my sister were also there watching this whole messy moment unfold.
So, yeah, talk about destroyed.
My husband helped push me up the stairs so I could have a moment to cry in the bathroom. Once I finally was in the bathroom, I realized that somehow, I was still peeing, so urine puddled around my feet. I turned to see my face in the mirror and I saw this misshapen creature, too-small boobs, too-big belly, dark-ringed eyes, unshaved legs. I was horrific.
I just collapsed on the toilet, buried my hot, puffy face in my hands, and sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed. When I opened my eyes, what did I see? Someone else’s body. Huge, bloated legs, filled with eleven pounds of fluid. Hives on the backs of my hands. Bruises on my left arm from the IV during labor.
I was so ugly. I was so broken. So utterly and completely humiliated.
And absolutely convinced that this was the day that he would stop loving me. Because how could you love someone so hideous and broken?
And this truly broke my heart–that I thought this was the end of us. That because of my failure to stay attractive and “beautiful” or because of my inability to stay strong, he would see that there was really no reason to love me.
Because why love someone who has nothing to offer you?
I blubbered and blubbered to him. I confessed and confessed shit that I didn’t even realize I was keeping in.
And what did he do?
He gave me the biggest hug of my life.
He put my sloppy, snotty, mess of a face into his hands and said, “I love you soooooooo much.”
And in that moment, I felt an unparalleled grace for the first time in my life. A moment of heaven on earth. Even though I had been reduced to this version of self that was so not who he had fallen in love with–that he could still look at me and say, “I love you.”
I had underestimated him throughout all those years. I never fully believed that if he saw who I really could be that he would still want to spend his life with me. And in that moment, I realized that I finally truly Loved him. Loved-loved. Not, “I love you because you love me so much” love–which is how I had been framing it for years. But rather “I see who you are. All of you. And I love that”–that kind of love.
And I cried even more because I was so sorry that, for so many years, I hadn’t been looking at what really mattered.
What I felt next was like a deep spiritual sigh, settling on the room. No words to describe it, so I won’t try. Just know that I felt that I was having an epiphany, that everything had just awakened and come into view. And then a wave of emotion that felt like these words:
Someone doesn’t love you because you have something to offer.
That’s not love.
Love is when someone loves you even though you have nothing to offer.
So just accept it. Don’t start explaining why you don’t deserve this.
Just say yes.
Before that moment, I had still been building the structure of our relationship on the assumption that he loved me for my looks or my intelligence or my congeniality, or whatever else. I probably said “he loves who I am,” but did I really know that?
How could I know that unless he saw a version of me that was completely opposite of how I had presented myself to him for all of these years?
I couldn’t know. Not for sure.
I could only know for sure if he witnessed me in that rawest state of my being. Only if all the flattering mirrors were pulled away and he could see me from all angles and still say, “I love you.”
But, God, this is difficult to achieve. You can’t manufacture experiences that will lead to this level of openness, vulnerability, and ultimately, trust. It happens organically, just as the Horse said, It doesn’t happen all at once. You become.
I think that if you want to reach this stage in a relationship with someone, you need to be able to recognize the moments when you feel like you are trying to keep them from seeing who you really are–and then have the courage to let them see it. All of it. The whole shitty mess.
I know what you’re thinking–But what if they don’t like what they see? What if they leave?
It’s a risk for sure. There are no guarantees of what will happen. But how would you rather live? With fear that someday your partner will see a version of you that drives them away? Or with the knowledge that your partner has already seen those other sides–and accepts them anyway?
So what about you?
Have you ever been Real to someone?
Because let me tell you, once you are Real to someone, so much unspoken–even unacknowledged–fear and anxiety melts away. And you are finally able to see the other person as just as Real–even when you thought you had been seeing them all this time.
It goes without saying, perhaps, that not all relationships reach this level of Realness. It’s not even a given for marriage. Some couples are not Real to each other–and yet they still see their children as Real.
Why is this?
Parenthood–or care-taking in general–opens our eyes to a deeper truth about love that helps us understand why our romantic relationships can be so much less authentic than the relationships that we have with our kids.
While it was (and still is) important to me that my husband love me unconditionally, it is not nearly as important to me that my child loves me unconditionally. I talk about this a bit in my book, but I’ll briefly state here–that I don’t think I immediately “loved” my daughter as soon as she was born. Instead, I felt that I grew to love her. And that because my relationship with her started as caregiver, the love that I have for her isn’t dependent on whether or not she could show love to me.
Don’t get me wrong–it stings if she says she doesn’t want to hug me. Ouch.
But do I break into a cycle of thoughts about, “Oh no! My daughter thinks I’m awful! I’m such a terrible mother!”
Nope. Not at all.
Because my love for her isn’t reliant on how she sees me. I love her even if she doesn’t hug me or tell me I’m amazing. I love her even if she has nothing to offer me.
And it all started in those first weeks of life.
When I nursed until I broke, when I pulled through hours and hours of sleep deprivation to keep going, as I limped about in persistent pain while recovering from childbirth–I did all of this without a thank you from her, or even an intentional smile.
My relationship with her didn’t start with the assumption that I would wait to see what she had to offer me before I chose to care about her. And that changed the whole dynamic of how I experienced love for her. Instead, I loved as many parents love–all-in and with no guarantee that it will be returned.
But, oh, the tears that come when it is returned. I don’t see it as a given. I see it as a gift. And that is how I stay out of that toxic cycle of thoughts of worrying that my child doesn’t love me.
Because I Love her. Love-Love.
To me, she is already Real. Every part of her. She can never become Unreal.
And maybe someday, she’ll see me as Real, too.
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In a different post, I wrote about how love isn’t what mothers feel in those first days of motherhood. I asserted that what I felt when I first saw my daughter was not love—it was euphoria. And that euphoria faded.
When we say things like, “I loved my baby from the first moment that I laid eyes on him,” we drop ourselves into the familiar roles of a Westernized romantic narrative, where the mother is delivered, redeemed, and fulfilled by the child.
1) It’s love at first sight.
2) You are soulmates, meant to be mother and child.
3) The child completes the mother (but does the mother complete the child?)
This is how Westerners tell traditional love stories. Romantic love is the pinnacle of life, a kind of self-actualization. Snow White comes to life when her prince kisses her. Kate Winslet is saved from a bad marriage by Leonardo. Julia Roberts is delivered from her life of prostitution when Richard Gere parades in his limousine with flowers to win her back. (Or how about when he delivers Debra Winger from a lifetime of factory work?)
Through romantic love, a woman is resuscitated, rescued, and whisked away into a life free from financial obligations.
Some romances have moved on and allowed the female protagonists to have high-powered careers and what appear to be fulfilling lives. Until the plot reveals that something is missing.
Oh yes. A man.
Children are often viewed through the same lens. Great marriage. Great house. Great career. Still—something missing.
Instead of viewing children as additions to life, they are sometimes seen as the pieces that fill the gaps. Children become solutions, even comfort.
But those who have been married and who have children can look back on these narratives and find them laughable.
Marriage? The solution to all my problems? Ha!
Children? Complete me? Ha!
We can laugh because we know what happens after the couple marries or the baby is born. We know how the plot continues to march on—in clunky, messy steps. With unexpected, unrewarding, and unfinished twists. There are no more clean arcs to the action. It’s a sticky, messy web of conflict that sometimes has no good solution. Or at least no solution from which everyone benefits.
It is far less glamorous.
It is the stuff of heavy, ponderous dramas that leave you sapped of energy. And no wonder—it’s reality. Just the thing we are trying to escape by watching a movie. Love still exists in marriage and parenthood, but it is all exposition. It’s no longer the conflict, the thing that everyone is watching to see what will happen next. It’s the comfy sofa in every scene.
But through popular media, we unconsciously develop expectations about marriage and parenthood—even if they are unreasonable and impossible to sustain.
Sometimes, romantic love spurs us to believe in the existence of God or the inherent goodness of people. There is a God! I knew it! It’s destiny! We were meant to be.
This is dangerous, too. Because what happens to that belief in God when the relationship ends?
If belief comes from your heart, what happens to that belief when your heart is broken?
What happens when your destiny turns into… a mistake?
God no longer exists. People are no longer good at heart. You are no longer a person worth loving. And you will never find another person who will love you so deeply.
With so much resting on the shoulders of “love,” it’s no wonder so many of us get divorced. Such heights don’t exist without the valleys, and it’s only a matter of time before we find them in our relationships.
Like I said, this line of thinking is dangerous—for how we view marriage and for how we view our children.
If our children are responsible for our life’s meaning, what happens if tragedy befalls them? What if—God forbid—our children die? Does our life’s meaning end?
Having a child isn’t meant to follow this same narrative of love. It’s unrealistic to expect a child to “complete” your life. “Complete” makes me think that you were missing something before they came into your life, when—let’s be honest—before you had a child, you may have felt like things were going just fine. It may have felt like everything was in its right place. It’s only after the child is born that you have this thought of “What have I been doing my whole life?”
When we try to rewrite our stories with our children as the saviors and redeemers of our lives, we raise them to such a height that they are bound to disappoint us. We put ourselves in the center of the universe, and we imagine how the child will grow from our amazing light and energy.
So perhaps it’s healthier to put the child at the center of the universe, where we are replenished by the warmth of our child’s love?
In both of those models, someone’s needs are forgotten. Either the child doesn’t reflect the efforts we’ve invested or we expect our children to be more emotionally rewarding than they really are.
Instead, it makes more sense to acknowledge that you are both traveling, following different orbits, perhaps even warmed by different suns. Sometimes, your paths intersect, you sing in harmony, you see a bit of yourself in your child. Sometimes, your paths are distant. Their actions make no sense to you. You wonder how you can love someone who can hurt you so much.
But in this model, when your child strays, you don’t wonder what you should have done to “complete” them. Nor do you bemoan their distant, remote paths as a reflection of bad decisions as a parent.
Yes, we love our children. But let’s also be mindful about what that love means–and what it doesn’t mean.