3 October "Life is a Mystery"Heart and Humanity

The Moment I Fell in Love My Eyes Began to See

The calculus I used to determine whether or not to become a parent was unusual.

Many of my friends had always wanted to be parents. They married and bought houses in good school districts and with room for a nursery. My husband and I had not. We bought a home in a neighborhood where bars seemed to outnumber playgrounds ten to one. In my heart I knew we, my husband and I, were not a good match. In my heart I hoped being within walking distance of a bar would prevent driving home from one. Our choice of home and our lack of progeny seemed appropriate given our circumstances.

And yet, call it my biological clock sounding a warning alarm, at thirty-three, I began to question my childlessness. I imagined myself at eighty. Would that woman-I-would-be wish younger-me had made a different choice?

Unfortunately, my marriage lacked awesomeness. Many days I felt as if I already had a child in man form. Which is not to say I had no responsibility for the state of our relationship; marriages are a mutual creation. Despite everything, there was a kind of love sprinkled amongst the anger, fear, and sadness.

Despite my suspicions that our marriage would not last, I realized I didn’t want to leave this life without having experienced parenthood. Before my thirty-fourth birthday I said the words: Let’s have a baby.

Having been told most couples would need six months to conceive, I nonetheless felt a sense of disappointment when months passed without pregnancy. But, I needn’t have worried–roughly six months from the day we made the decision to have a child I was pregnant. I walked to the gym that first day, the news still a secret between me and the stick I’d just peed on, with butterflies in my belly. As I worked out, I felt the weight of the decision we’d made. Nothing would ever be the same.

My pregnancy was not particularly notable except in how detached I felt. I’d heard my son’s heartbeat; I’d felt him move. But I didn’t know how to love him. Some women–maybe most–say they felt love and connection to the little being inside them from day one. I didn’t. I watched my swelling stomach and felt my back aching, but I didn’t feel love. Curiosity maybe, but not love.

As the day of delivery approached, I worried. I’d told my husband he was not to touch alcohol for the thirty days prior to my due date. I warned him, “I’ll never forgive you if you’re drunk on the day our baby is born.” The threat, in this case, worked. When my water broke, he came home from work and drove me to the hospital. On the way there I said the thing you’re not supposed to say to someone you love; the thing that can’t be taken back. “You know,” I said, “I think this might be easier if I was doing it on my own.”

Shocked, he turned to me, “What?”

“Nothing,” I replied. I knew it was true, but I also knew my timing was terrible. My defenses and my mental filter were not operating at maximum capacity. Nevertheless, the truth of our marriage, the dynamic sum-total of our experiences together up to and including this one, broke open like a cracked egg: Life would be easier if I was doing it on my own.

Though we both sat stunned by my admission, the moment passed. For the next twelve hours I labored. My husband snoozed as I watched Nick at Nite, waiting anxiously for this kicking, heart-beating bundle to take his first breath. Even then I felt curious–anxious even–but no higher emotion.

Something shifted at around five in the morning. The hours of waiting were over; the moment had arrived. The red-headed creature with legs, arms, and toes in appropriate numbers arrived. The nurse laid him in my arms. Perhaps it was the hormones coursing through my body, but the love I felt in that moment was incandescent. I couldn’t stop repeating the phrase, “He’s so amazing!” with breathless abandon while tears coursed down my cheeks. No one, not my husband nor the medical staff, could intrude on this moment. I was inexplicably, undeniably devoted to this being with every fiber of my own. The locus of my universe had shifted away from myself to the space between my child and I.

Now it was not me, but us.

This shift from person to parent is obviously not unique to me. Mothers and fathers the world over experience it at different moments when a new child enters a family. And each time it defies description. It pricks at the eyes, and radiates from the skin. It’s not an emotion so much as a state of being. Loving a child has no end and seems as if it had no beginning.

Now, nine years after that moment–after divorce and remarriage; hard work, suffering, and joy–I cannot imagine life without the gift of my son. Becoming a parent opened a secret well of empathy and compassion, of vulnerability and strength, within me.

This realization of love helped me manage through divorce with kindness. It helped me ask for help when I needed it, and to be grateful when it arrived. I learned to love without strings attached.

But this love also taught me to be vigilant. Ego, whether mine or someone else’s, is the enemy of love. It drains the wellspring and I must watch it closely. Love has helped me correct myself when my ego wants its way no matter the cost.

Where my new universe began with two occupants, myself and my son, my definition of “us” has since expanded exponentially. I meet people and often–though not always–feel a type of love the Ancient Greeks called philia.  Loving my son gave me access to an affectionate regard for others as part of one human community. I now understand that the multiplicity of our interconnected relationships form the real definition of “self.”

I am to you a different me than I am to any other human on earth. We create each other. The space between us, not either of us alone, is the magic.

When my son was born, like all new babies, his eyes could see nothing clearly. With time they gained focus. As the weeks passed, he began to see that which his developing brain recognized as essential; faces, for example, or movement. Like my newborn son, I’d seen only what mattered most to my survival at the time. Becoming a parent changed the myopic vision I held of the world and my place in it.

The great mystery of this love, of course, is that it had always been there; I just hadn’t had the eyes to see.

 

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Angela Noel Lawson

Angela Noel Lawson lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her son, husband, and elderly golden retriever. She writes personal essays and short fiction, occasionally working on a novel or two. You can find her at You are Awesome. Or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

17 Comments

  1. Beautiful essay, Angela, and your transparency is refreshing. Thank you for sharing your story. When I became pregnant with my first I was SO nervous. I was so nervous about the pregnancy, becoming a mother, about how my life was going to change, and all of the unknowns. I, like you, went through pregnancy with a sort of fascination about what was happening inside of my body. I didn’t feel a love for the baby when he was in my belly. Instead, I felt more like a little alien had invaded my body. My husband was so excited, but I didn’t share that feeling – all the nerves won me over. This feeling continued through the birth and into the first few weeks when my son was finally with us. I felt like I was just going through the motions to keep this little being happy and healthy. It took a few weeks for that feeling of love to peak through. But now it shines in all its glory. The love we hold for our children is something special – a gift. Thanks for sharing your awesome story!

    1. And thank you for sharing your story, Erin. Absolutely, yes to the alien. I know pregnancy is supposed to be a “normal” part of our human experience, but it’s definitely odd. It’s incredible and amazing that our bodies can do these things, of course. Sometimes love grows slow like a tulip pushing up through the earth. Other loves hit like a lightening strike. But no matter how it comes, it’s just as you say–such a gift. Thank you, friend.

  2. I remember my pregnancies and births. Both boys are a joy and I love having them in my life. It’s funny how your priorities change once you become a Mom. I’m so blessed to have such an incredible bond with my boys. <3 Thanks for sharing your story with all of us!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I know many wonderful people who haven’t become parents yet still found this kind of deep and abiding love to give to others. I wonder if I’d have ever been one of their number without this experience as a catalyst. But, as it is, like you, I’ll count my blessings and admire any and all people–regardless of how they arrived at loving–for their ability to give so much goodness to the world. Thank you so much for reading, and commenting.

  3. Angela – thank you for sharing your story so beautifully. Finding our voice can be so tough — but it is often when we are faced with the stark reality that our choices can so deeply harm one far more innocent than we are – that kicks us into gear. Finding our voice is the first step to acting courageously. I hope that your story might spark courageous in another person who needs to find their voice.

    1. I love how you put that. It is about finding my voice and using it. Actions don’t always follow words, but there is something about the declaration of admitting the truth out loud that feels so freeing. I often think about Harry Potter’s Voldemort. Fear of a name, or fear of naming our fears, is the first oppression–and we do it to ourselves (with a lot of help from societal and other pressures.) I’m so grateful for your encouragement. And if any person out there reads my words and they offer a light in the darkness, then this thing I do is worth doing.

      1. Angela, not sure if you saw my post on “If I Made a Difference” but I think the hope that our words make a difference is important to helping us speak (or write) our truth. What you do is worth doing!

    1. Hi Jeff. Thank you! I’m so glad you found the message relatable. And I’m glad you mention the “even from a man” thing. This falling in love business and opening up to a much bigger world isn’t exclusive to any of us–it’s for all of us.

  4. Wow. There are lots of things I recognise here. For me I was desperate to be pregnant and the moment I had a definite blue line I felt connected to the little prawn inside. This happened at the cost of my relationship. Despite it being a planned pregnancy, my then husband didn’t want to talk about it for two weeks (there were a lot of these defined no-talk spaces in our marriage!!) and so we had a total disconnect from there. There was the first definite incident of violence towards me within a few weeks, and we almost split up at that point, but went for counselling instead. When my daughter was born, I had another rush of love, and with heightened protectiveness because I saw that she didn’t move him in the same way. It was such an emotional time for so many reasons – intense love and intense disappointment; feeling utterly fulfilled and utterly abandoned; feeling connected and feeling severed. Your blurting out in the car made me laugh in horror, as those were exactly my feelings. I went on to have another baby with the same man and that really did break the relationship good and proper! I was on a high for six months after separation because parenting was so much easier alone. There is still a co-parenting relationship to be managed, but on a day-to-day basis I suddenly felt as though I wasn’t parenting with my hands tied behind my back.
    Sorry Angela, I did not mean to write you an essay, but your piece really resonated!!

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. The instinct to “stick” is so strong, it’s hard to know when to let go. At least that was true for me and my ex. No one wants to let go of a marriage, but sometimes it’s just necessary and right to do just that. And that revelation that we both had–what Janet Mary Cobb, another commenter–called finding a voice is so powerful. Yet, it’s magic sometimes works slowly. You write so beautifully, even in a comment. I’d read ten pages or more just to see what you had to say.

      1. That is such a lovely thing to say, thank you Angela. Your posts always make me think. You are a gifted storyteller. Yes, the desire to make things work, and especially not to break up a family is strong. There were a couple of incidents that woke me up; when I saw the look on my daughter’s face and a straight-to-the-point comment, in the way four year olds have! Once I made the decision though I have never had a moment’s doubt. It is like I had a new battery pack inside me and could function properly again.

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