“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” – Debra Ginsberg
A year ago I survived one of the most traumatic events my family has ever experienced. What started out as a normal day ended with my brother and I fleeing our home as it burned to ash and rubble. We lost everything. I remember thinking, in the months that followed, how bleak life seemed starting at our own Ground Zero. There is a finality to your past when you no longer have the things you held onto to remember it.
There were days after the fire when I wasn’t sure my family would every recover, but God looks after his children. A month later, I learned what became my family’s symbolic phoenix, our sign that not all was lost. I discovered I was pregnant.
On November 15th, 2014 I gave birth to an amazing little girl. She was a 6 pound 11 ounce miracle, the salvation of a broken-hearted family in desperate need of a fresh start. In honor of the circumstances in which God blessed us with her, we decided to call her Makenna—born of fire.
Pregnancy is a life-altering journey all on its own. I still am baffled by the idea that I carried this being within me for nine months, feeling her kick and squirm, listening to her heat beat and trying to distinguish features on an ultrasound screen. I dreamed of her future, our relationship, and who she would be. Long before she was ever born my heart was changing.
Childbirth was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Now, thinking about what I went through in those 24 hours, I can’t help but compare it to what being a parent has been like so far. At first you think, this isn’t so bad, I can make it through this with no problem. Then everything intensifies all at once. There is an intolerable amount of pain you can’t control, so much so you tell yourself over and over you can’t do this. But what else can you do? It isn’t as if you can walk away. It rises and falls and builds to a point of insanity where your instincts take over to allow you to survive. Then, just when you think that there is no way you can continue, you push with everything you have. All at once your world shifts, there is a moment of pure joy that erases all the agony. All that exists is this moment, and everything you went through to get here is suddenly worth it.
When I first heard my daughter’s cry I was overcome with emotion. The second the doctor laid her on my chest I burst into simultaneous tears and laughter. I had created life, and although I know I am biased, she was perfection. Instantly my desperation and terror of the previous 24 hours began fading, replaced by this all-consuming warmth cuddling against my skin. In that moment I was entirely changed.
Being a new mother is a bit like stumbling into Wonderland, I think. There are parts that fill you with amazement and parts that scare every fiber of your being. A part of me kept thinking, this cannot be real. I will be honest; a newborn seems like an alien at first. They make strange noises and get angry for seemingly no reason at all. Each time she’d make a noise, or kick out her little legs I gawked down at her in mystified wonder. When she began focusing on me I was inexplicably enchanted.
For the first month, adjusting to my new job as mother was extremely difficult but now that she sleeps through the night I am feeling less like one giant nerve ending. Somehow I got incredibly lucky with her. Makenna cries very little compared to other babies her age, she is incredibly easy going, and already sleeps for at least nine hours every night (for this disposition I must thank her father). And when she smiles or coos at me, nothing I went through in the past matters.
This love is unlike anything I’ve ever known and has to be the closest thing to a God-like love that exists in a human life. I would do anything for her and I’ve only just started getting to know her. I’ve been pooped on, peed on, and puked on more times than I can count, but none of it bothers me, which is strange because I always thought it would. The love a parent feels for their child isn’t rational, not in any way. Every other kind of love I’ve felt in my life has seemed, at least in some way, like a choice. Not this. The love I have for her is biological, chemical, reflexive and unshakeable.
Yet with each passing day as my love for Makenna grows, so does my fear that something beyond my control might happen to her. I think this is a key element of the love a parent has for their children. You can’t love them without at least some fear in the back of your mind that you might lose them. Being a parent, to me, is existing in a constant state of duality, about maintaining some control where really you have very little, about loving someone more than yourself even if they can make you so beyond frustrated, and reveling in every moment you have with them even when it could all change for the worst in an instant.
Even though Makenna’s life came out of one of the lowest points in mine, I wouldn’t change anything I’ve ever gone through if it meant never having her. She is my greatest adventure so far. If my heart and soul could take form outside of myself it would surely be her. I have never known a love like this — a love so huge, so pure and painful.
A.M. San Nicholas