“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” -Elizabeth Stone
I always thought quotes like this were a little over-the-top – exaggerated sentimentality coming from overly hormonal women. (I know – give me grace. I’m an idiot sometimes. And also one of them – those ‘overly hormonal’ women I conveniently judged before becoming a mom.)
But then I had children for myself and realized that it really is possible to feel like they are an extension of you – literally like having your heart live outside your body.
A few days ago I was sharing with a friend about my experience with another friend when I had my second child. It was nothing she did that hurt me. It was what she didn’t do: She didn’t visit the hospital. She never brought a card or flowers or something for the baby. She never dropped by to see us. She didn’t offer a meal or even a phone call. And for months and months whenever I’d see her she never wanted to hold him, even when I would outright ask her if she wanted a ‘cuddle’ and start to offer my baby in her direction.
To see her not wanting to embrace my child hurt more than her rejecting my own friendship. And every time I saw her holding other babies and playing with other children, my heart ached wondering why she seemed to reject mine.
To be fair, it was probably just a coincidence. I’m quite certain she loved our child and was happy for us. I knew it was not due to her wanting a baby of her own since her and her husband were finished having children. And there was nothing else strange about our relationship or any strains in our friendship. So it must have been just a coincidence – a busy time when he was born, a tired day when she didn’t feel like holding a baby, or a scheduling conflict on his first birthday. Really, there must have been a million reasons for all of it, and I’m certain if she had realized how it appeared to me she would have been horrified.
I’ve tried to not take it personally. But as I confessed the experience to my friend I was surprised to tear up as I retold what my other friend hadn’t done. Perhaps that’s when it really hit home: one of the sharpest ways to hurt a grown woman is to reject or hurt her children.
This heart-living-outside-of-your-body thing is not easy, and we haven’t even hit the school stage yet where children are susceptible to bullying or teachers who may misunderstand or judge them or rejection in team settings. I shudder to think how social media and the online world will make my mama-heart burn as I watch my kids grappling with approval and inclusion and acceptance in an age filled with ego-driven sharing and shaming.
When I’m honest I’ll tell you that I’d like to shelter them and protect them and hide them from pain and heart ache and evil, just keeping them right here safe and sound in the shadow of my mama hen wing. But then in the next breath I’ll tell you how I want them to grow strong and sure and humble and kind and generous… and I know these are things that can’t be learned in isolation, removed from relationships and pain and disappointment.
So instead I pray that I’ll have the strength to love them well – protecting and covering, relinquishing and releasing. Knowing when to hold them close and when to nudge them forward.
I’ll have to trust God to care for them when I can’t… and I’ll have to trust God with my heart when I feel like it’s being stretched in ways completely beyond my control.
There’s no turning back now. Those little hearts of mine who walk around in the bodies of the boys I love most? They will continue to grow and live and pump way beyond the confines of the skin I’m comfortable in. I will never be able to tuck them back up safely into my womb or bundle them into a sling, buried in my chest where they can’t be touched or harassed or damaged by the world ‘out there’.
They are mine, but they aren’t.
I have to let them go. Slowly, increasingly, rightfully. I begin to let them go. (It hurts.)
And that’s the way it was always meant to be.
Friends, do you share this sentiment – the feeling that your children are your own heart, walking around outside of your body? Aside from helping them wade through their own feelings and emotions, how do you cope with yours when you see them being hurt or rejected or excluded or overlooked?