No Casual Love
I waited a long time to have a baby. Not that it seemed that way, from the outside. I got pregnant after seven months of trying, seven months of marriage. The pregnancy was relatively easy, other than the nine months of nausea and morning-noon-and-night sickness that never really abated. So I cannot and do not lay claim to a difficult time conceiving, or any great trouble with pregnancy. But I did wait, my whole life, thirty-seven years, for that perfect gift, a baby all of my own.
I am a school teacher, and I remember wondering, once in a while, if I would find it hard to work all day with children and then come home to a child. Would I have the energy? The patience? I did enjoy my alone time, after all. Then my little girl arrived, and all thoughts of wanting to spend time with anyone else flew out of my head.
This is not a casual love, you see. I know that anyone who has succumbed wholeheartedly to the deep love of a child will understand. This love is all consuming, like a fire that rages up the side of an old building, devouring everything in its path. This love cannot be described by the “love you to the moon and back” of story books, though that comes close.
I watch other moms, seemingly carefree, and wonder how they do it. Every time I am apart from my daughter, while I am of course distracted by work, life, my iPhone, I often feel, deep down, a stab of what if…? What if I drive around the corner to our street and see an ambulance parked in front of the daycare? What if she stops breathing? What if she slips and falls and bangs her head on one of her many wooden blocks, and then dies? The thought of something happening to her is breath-taking in its depth and breadth of imagination. I know I am prone to anxious thoughts, that I find it easier to lay awake worrying than to fall asleep, but this is something on a whole other level.
I understand now, how many of John Irving’s novels are driven by what he fears the most: loss of a child. I understand now, how having a child is like having your heart exist permanently on the outside of your body. What I don’t understand, is how to take this new great love, braided together with this new great fear, and then continue living. How do you assimilate it into your life and move forward?
I assume that all parents feel this, on some level. I know my mommy friends wake up to the slightest hitch in breath, a mouse squeak of a cry, when before parenthood, they could sleep through the garbage truck going by. At my last home, we lived around the corner from the fire station and I tuned out the nightly sirens. Now, the mere suggestion of a potential waking up and I am alert, padding down the hall to peek in the nursery, waiting to see her chest rise and fall.
It started a few days after finding out I was pregnant. I had this idea that the fetus could and perhaps would just fall out, and of course that didn’t happen. This underlying fear is a constant, but it is like a piece of music, lulling into a soft interlude, and then flaring up with brass instruments and drumming. My daughter is fine, strong and healthy, and more independent by the day. If she knew how I felt, and understood it, she would push my hands away and march on, on her incessant quest to do more, see more, play more, with no time for maternal worries.
I can learn from her, her fearlessness, her absolute trust in my ability to catch her and keep her safe. She likes to play “up, up, down,” sitting up and then pitching herself backwards, usually on the bed, but occasionally on my lap. Why did I ever teach her that game? Making a diaper change more fun, one day, and now an unpredictable behaviour, one more thing to worry about.
I don’t want to pass this anxiety to her and so I keep it at bay, ever smiling at her courageous exploration of the world. I am there to offer hugs, kiss bumped head and knees, and cheer her on. I am a soft place to land, not a restraint. She is going to make her own way in the world, supported by the love of her parents, not hindered by it.
Stephanie Burke is an elementary teacher by day, and a writer by both early morning and late at night. She typically writes fiction, but enjoys writing personal essays as well. Her daughter, Nora, is sixteen months old.