“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” – Elizabeth Stone
I can’t remember where I originally read this quote, but I first encountered it shortly after our first child was born. I am not a particularly emotional person. I was so excited when I found out we were expecting, and we were thrilled when we discovered it was a girl. But honestly, throughout my pregnancy, she didn’t really seem like a person. I’m not one of those “Oh, I feel like I already know you, and I’m counting down the days to meet you!” type of moms. Don’t get me wrong – I loved picking out names, designing her nursery, and I even loved being pregnant! But I will admit, I didn’t feel particularly attached to her — she wasn’t really “real” yet.
I remember after delivery, when they first laid her on my chest, I just thought, “Woah, it’s a person.” My husband was the one that got emotional, tear’ing up when he first held her. I was just “like woah.” That shock did not take long to wear off, though.
And as soon as the attachment came, so did all of the worries. If every family is a little crazy (which I really do believe they are!), my family’s crazy runs toward the anxiety and depression end of the spectrum. While I luckily did not develop any sort of serious postpartum depression, I struggled a lot with anxiety in the first few weeks after we brought her home.
I would wonder, “What if my mom is carrying her across the street from the babysitters, and she slips on the ice and drops her?” “What if we drive across a bridge, and it breaks, and we drown?” “What about SIDS?” “What about…” There’s any number of scenarios – likely and unlikely – that ran through my head. Most of the time I could push them away, but usually around the time my husband came home, I’d just start to think, “I just love her so much. I don’t want anything to happen to her.” And then there would be some tears.
After about two weeks, I mentioned it to my husband. I said I was thinking I maybe should talk to someone about my feelings. Surprisingly, just talking to HIM helped, and the feelings mostly passed. I think it was sometime around then that I read the quote, and it was so accurate, so spot-on, exactly what being a parent is. And it was terrifying. And it IS terrifying.
For the rest of my life, my heart walks around – far from me, beyond my reach, and I can never get it back. That is just a terrifying prospect when you think about it.
* * *
A few months later, that quote took on a new reality. The day after Christmas, my sister went out with some friends. My dad went to pick her up late that night from a bar downtown — she made the right decision and didn’t drive.
Someone else did not make the right decision.
My 24 year old sister was killed in a car accident that badly injured my dad but did not take his life. Our family was left devastated.
I try not to think about that night, but occasionally I think of the 4AM phone call — a “butt dial” I answered during one of Lady Bug’s many night-feedings. I could hear in the background someone (a police officer, it was) saying “Do you have someone you can call? Do you have someone who can take you?” My mom then called me back and said, “Ali died.” I told her, very calmly, “No. No.” The rest of that conversation was just unreal. Then at the hospital, when she saw me, she said, “What am I going to do?” When we had to tell my Dad, with his bloodied teeth and tubes everywhere, he said, “No, no, my baby.”
Those are the little bits and pieces that stick out.
Anyway, the fears and anxieties that I had at Lady Bug’s birth were not just abstract fears and anxieties anymore. Now I knew, it could be you.
If you’re lucky – and I was – you live your early life in a bubble that bad things generally happen to other people. They don’t happen to you. And while a part of me always thought, But what if you are the ONE in that million? I was generally able to assume I wouldn’t be. But there we were – we were the one in a million. (Yes, I know it isn’t really ONE in a million — not so fun fact: there are over 10,000 deaths each year due to drunk driving).
My parents’ heart walked around outside their bodies for 24 years, and then one day something bad happened, and there was nothing they could do to stop it or change it. Their hearts were broken. And I was – and very honestly still am – terrified that someday that could be me. Someday my heart could be the one that breaks. Every parent’s worst nightmare, right there.
The thing with life is, though, you just have no control over a whole lot of it. So what are you going to do?
Well, first, I had to deal with my anxiety and grief. (Side Note: I am a huge advocate for counseling and mental healthcare, and I think most people could benefit from learning how to work out their emotions with a counselor of some sort. Seriously, does wonders.)
I also learned to not worry too much about the little things — the fact that I overdrew the bank account that one time, or the dog busted through the brand new window screen. Sure, I still feel a little sick to my stomach thinking I just ate that $32 — but in the long run, for us, it really doesn’t matter. Even things like, I didn’t get the job that I wanted. A year from now – two years from now – I probably am not going to care, so why should I waste my time feeling bad about it now?
But anyway, beyond these little tidbits, I have been “lucky” enough to learn a bigger lesson. We all now have this ever constant reminder– the most important thing you can do today: be here, be present, be in the moment.
You know how old people always say, “They grow up so fast! Take advantage of every minute!” And most of the time you’re like, “Oh yah!” But then there’s the tantrums and the sleepless nights and the “PLEEEEASE STOP CRYING” moments, and a part of you really would like to skip ahead to “better” parts. While I still absolutely have those thoughts — I just thought the other day, it sure will be nice when Little Man can sit up on his own — I also have another voice saying, Don’t rush this moment.
Perhaps it is that voice that also tells me, be with your family, you can have a different life, and it’s not all about money. (Don’t tell that one to my husband — he is all about investing while young). It’s the voice that says, Go to the zoo today. Do something with your family. Put down the phone. Put away the computer.
I’m not perfect – I don’t always listen to that voice. I sometimes work while Lady Bug plays, or I wish Little Man would stop fussing and let me put him in his chair. But more often than not, I know that voice is right – and it’s more important to make funny faces at the infant than plan my next Norwex party or finish that TV show.
Anyway, these are the lessons I learned from my little sister. Because of her, I am a better mom. So thank you, Ali. Happy Birthday, Sissy.