When being a parent hurts your heart

When I found out that I was pregnant with my firstborn, a good friend sent me a beautifully written essay that she had copied from a magazine.  I still have it in my son’s baby book.  The author recounted a conversation in which she conveyed to a friend the emotional, life-changing experience that parenting is, emphasizing that “the physical wounds of childbearing heal, but becoming a mother will leave an emotional wound so raw that she will be forever vulnerable.”

It has been seven years since I have become a parent, and seven years since I have been able to process news in the way that I once did.

I was never insensitive in the past.  I was always grieved to hear of sorrow in the world.  It hurt me to learn that another was hurting.  But at the end of the day I was able to  shake off the sadness and proceed with my day, or lay my head down at night and sleep well.

That changed, I think, the first time I had an ultrasound and heard the amplified swoosh-swoosh-swoosh of my son’s fetal heartbeat.  That turned all that I thought I knew on its ear, and things will never turn back.

Now I process every bit of bad news, every story of children losing parents or of parents losing children, stories of shootings, and stories of disasters … as if my own heart were tenuously connected with those hearts of families I have never met.

And when I hear of a parent’s devastation, I wish that I could somehow take on just some of their pain, just a little, to ease their overwhelming burden, or that maybe we could each siphon off a bit of their heartbreak to help make them whole again.  And then I want to turn away but I can’t, because there is nowhere to turn that this knowledge is not pressing in on me, no way to escape the fact that my heart is now laid open, receiving the shock of tragedies with stunning regularity, and will remain so as long as I live.

When we say, “our hearts go out to you,” it may sound tired, but it may be the only way to manage expressing the profound sadness that we feel upon contemplating a parent’s worst nightmare realized.

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About Joyce

40-year-old university advisor, 10-years married with two small children, trying to do it all and have it all and still manage the occasional social interaction through the wonderful world of blogging.
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13 Responses to When being a parent hurts your heart

  1. I feel the same way. Thank you

    • Joyce says:

      Thank you for reading, Christie.

      • Sorry I was so terse, I was trying to get Hugo to sleep. It occurred to me yesterday that I had no connection with the OK city bombing that killed so many children when it happened but now that I’m a mom I go absolutely insane when a child dies. You state it so eloquently. I hate reading books or seeing movies with dead babies, I just can’t get rid of it. And I do know exactly how they feel – it’s like someone ripped the soul out of their body. I wonder what possible advantage these feelings gave mothers in our species’ past.

      • Joyce says:

        Oh, you were not terse at all. I’ve had those exact feelings about the bombing as well. I try to avoid a lot of the stories out there as well. It’s just tooo much.

  2. Beautiful and true. Here is a piece I wrote when I couldn’t “shake off” a school shooting: http://definingmotherhood.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/some-hugs-are-tighter-than-others/

  3. I hear you. That OK tornado and the resulting deaths is really heartbreaking. Nothing is adequate or truly expresses the sorrow. So, saying my heart goes out to you sounds perfectly on target to me.

  4. Oh, this is such the truth! Tragedies have a whole new meaning to me as well. It’s amazing how much motherhood changes us as a person in so many ways.

  5. Valerie says:

    I feel the same way! It’s so emotionally hard to hear of sad events now. You know just how deeply the members of the family must be taking it. 😦

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