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.