“Looks great. It’s wide open.”
Those were the words the cardiologist used to describe my 2 month old daugter’s aorta after open heart surgery. It was said with a beautiful relief. Something was as it should be. And we could breathe again.
It also described exactly how I have felt throughout parenthood and even more so in these last few months. I felt as if I was in out in the wide open with a foreboding sense of how vulnerable I am to attack. It became apparent to me since I heard the words “narrow aorta” at my 20 week ultrasound that what matters to me most in this world, my children, are with me in this wide open. They are vulnerable to illness, accidents, and harm. I can try to shelter them but nothing can fully protect them -not all the information, not all the right decisions, and in the end things may harm them and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
During the time my daughter was being assessed and prepared for surgery many people told me how strong I was acting. But I didnt feel strong. I put up some thick walls, I shifted myself into survival gear and I tried my best to navigate each day without falling apart. But I wasn’t feeling, I wasn’t experiencing, I shut down and closed up. I felt the need to protect myself. It wasn’t until I stepped out of that wheelchair and carefully placed my baby girl into the arms of the anesthesiologist that I realized there are no walls that can contain the strength of my love for my children. The doctor asked me to say goodbye and give her a kiss and she looked up at me with her wide eyes. Then the walls came crashing down and I turned towards the wall in the lobby as we waited for the elevators and sobbed. It was when I broke these walls down that I felt more capable of really being there for my daughter. I still cried when they put her feeding tube in after many attempts to get her to eat. I cried as I crawled into her hospital bed next to her when she was in pain that first night. I cried but I felt strong. I felt that I was truly with her and for the first time during the whole experience I didn’t want to run and hide.
Parenting is jumping into the deep end of the vulnerability pool. It puts you in the crossfire of insecurity, fear, judgment, and the ability to lose something you love even more than yourself. It’s gambling with everything you have but also knowing that if you lost it there would be no regrets. This wide open feeling, as scary and breathtaking as it can be, also comes with a feeling of being free, being whole, and truly understanding love. Even when it comes with a numbing fear or immense pain when something bad does happen it is all worth it ten times over. Each smile, laugh, milestone, hug and kiss is worth more in its weight than this fear.
But with this vulnerability comes a freedom only if we embrace it. We are free to love more deeply instead of distancing ourselves for protection. We are free to live more fully if we try to see the beauty in the hard times. At the end of the day this wide open love is there and can heal the deepest of our wounds with our connection to these beautiful creatures that are an extension of ourselves, biologically or not. We can learn to embrace all moments even the ones where we are in the waiting room waiting for the call from the surgical nurse, the ones when our patience is tested by their tantrums, the ones where they’ve come clean about a big mistake, and especially the ones where they are scared and need to know we are there. This wide open love allows us to say what every child deserves to hear, “this is hard, I’m scared too, but I’m not going anywhere.”
So here I am in the wide open trying not to put a shelter around me despite how vulnerable I feel, trying to open myself fully to the intensity of this love for these tiny humans, trying to lean into fear with courage because it only signifies he depths of my love. Parental love is like a wide open aorta, allowing the fullness of the human experience to course through us, to make us breathe, function, and thrive.
I love my children. And this love is scary, and beautiful and risky and fulfilling. And it’s just as it should be, wide open.