While I held my baby, I learned how to hold my heart.
Everything changed when my daughter was born.
First of all, a baby was born. A new, lovely person to hang out on the old, lovely earth. I wish I could say I watched her take her first breath. And, in a way, I did. I was in the room when she took her very first, true breath. But, I was so awestruck and dumb by the whole event that I had no idea what I was seeing other than a miracle. A human joining earth is a totally magnificent thing.
Other things changed.
The amount of sleep I got in a night. My ability to remember world events, plans, or the word for the thing where you put dirty dishes and push a button and they get washed. My ability to fully follow and participate in the following: an adult conversation, a day at my adult job, an adult day running errands, an adult day with other adults, or an adult day doing anything adult-like. Being responsible for a tiny, brand-spanking new life means I took a serious hiatus from nearly every aspect of the adult world while I tended my little one.
Of course, I knew I’d change. I became a parent. It’s one of those life altering events. I knew nothing would be the same after having a child. But, I didn’t realize how much I’d never be the same.
The very composition of my heart changed. The little blood vessels, muscle tissue, and cells that make up my heart all refashioned themselves. My innards got a makeover and, as a result, the way I connected and carried the invisible parts of myself all changed.
I spent my days holding and listening to this small, non-verbal life. I leaned in, paid attention, took cues from whatever sounds, motions, or moods my daughter seemed to express. I attended so closely to her, my heart started listening to her heart.
In doing this day in and day out, this interesting thing has started to happen. Attending to my daughter’s heart taught me how to attend to my own. I had long grown accustomed to not feeling my heart’s presence, let alone its voice. But, suddenly and shockingly it was there.
The abrupt presence of the small, pink thing felt like I was being interrupted or stalked. It was annoying and unnerving. It lurked at the outer edges of my consciousness. When I continued to not pay any attention to it, it started yelling. It got mad and wreaked havoc. It started rifling through all the parts of my life I’d tidied up and put away. There was an upheaval. My heart was messy, rude, and demanding. I’d neglected her for too long.
Yes, of course my heart spoke of love. This huge, fierce, animal-like love for my daughter that wanted to hold her close and protect her from all harm. It was a sort of bear love that didn’t hesitate to pull out its claws and bare its teeth. That love rose fast and furious. And there was also a slower, more reflective love. The kind of love that witnessed my daughter. That stood by, always keeping a space open for whatever my daughter needed me to hold. A steady loving presence. That love didn’t rise. It grounded down, creating stability and substance.
And then there was something that wasn’t love. And it had nothing to do with my daughter, but having my daughter taught me to pay attention to it. I have come to recognize it as a lack of love. It was all the years I’d shut down and ignored my heart. Ignoring the heart sounds like it might be sad, difficult, or a source of struggle. In fact, it’s shockingly easy. All it takes is going along with the momentum. It’s staying near the surface where the current is strong and sweeping with all its mightiness. It’s not pausing against the swift water, never diving down to where it’s still and murky and feeling around to see what’s there at the bottom. The natural state of the world swept me along. Thanks to my daughter, I figured out how to pause, how to dive deep inwards, and how to carry whatever it is I found.
My heart broke out of the confines I had stored it in. It was small, raw, intense, and battered. It showed me the places where it was weak, soft, and broken. Those broken places were where I was permeated. Where I was able to open to the world and to myself. Having a broken heart allowed me to break open rather than break down.
While I held my baby, I learned how to hold my heart. While I tended to my baby, I learned how to tend to my heart. Holding is not holding it all together. Tending is not fixing. Tending is just holding what is weak, keeping a space to witness what is broken.