When I was pregnant with Catherine my first child, I worked as a nurse in a very busy pediatric hospital in downtown Toronto. It was here I was the most perfect parent, before I had my own kids, and for the most part, when I was surrounded by people were making mistakes with their own. Things I promised myself that I would never do. We liked to say our ward saw everything (it was actually nicknamed “Nam”, as in Vietnam) and even now I don’t think we were too far off. There were so many worst case scenarios, shaken babies, cancer, home births gone wrong, babies born with AIDS (when it was new and unknown), abuse, neglect…. for me they all were warnings about what not to do. There was one baby, Sheeva, that I will always remember. Her mother was beaten so badly during her pregnancy that the baby had seizures before she was born, and her short life afterwards was little more than seizure after seizure resulting in increasing brain damage until she died. Heartbreaking, and terrifying. When I was pregnant I would take just about every normal prenatal symptom as a sign of something dire, and I drove myself insane with worry. One evening shift Catherine was hiccuping or kicking or just jerking around as fetuses are apt to do, but I was taking care of Sheeva that night and was terrified my baby was having seizures. I was not my most rational when I was pregnant, and when it comes to my children, I’m still slightly manic. I turned to Emma, a nurse with two young children, and asked in a semi-panicked state if she thought my baby was having seizures. She said, in a very Emma like fashion, “well, she might be having seizures, OR it could just be hiccups”. Somewhat calmed I asked her how she coped with the constant worry that I was experiencing and she gave me the best piece of parenting advice I have ever received, “Get used to it”.
Get used to it. There would be no magic day, birth, grade 1, adolescence, adulthood that a parent gets to say, whew! that’s it I don’t have to worry any more, there would always be something new to worry about. Am I reading the right books to them? Should I let them eat fast food? Do I make them clean their plates? Do I let them cry themselves to sleep? When do I wean them? Is so and so a good enough friend? What about piercings? tattooes? sex?? and will I screw them up forever if I make a wrong decision along the way? What if I’m doing everything wrong? What if ??
When I was five months pregnant with Catherine I had a routine blood test come back as positive for spina bifida. Actually, it was a could be positive and more testing would be required. Again I had taken care of some extremely disabled children with spina bifida and in my young “all knowing” mind had decided that I could never “deal with it” in my own child. Things were so much easier, so much more black and white when I was younger and knew the answers to everything (like all of those “should I?” parenting questions that became much fuzzier with each baby). So they sat us down and explained our “options”, which were, level 2 ultrasounds, amniocentesis, and termination of the pregnancy (we lived in Canada where termination is a medical decision), and there I was, my previous black and white world turned upside down by a blood result. Everything I has regarded as unchangeable fact was now up for interpretation. It was excruciating. In the end I wouldn’t even take the risk of amniocentesis, and opted for the ultrasounds, and my daughter was born healthy with an intact spine. The prenatal worries I had were, mostly, erased by the time Catherine was a a couple of weeks old, but now I was on to a whole new set of worries, and I realized how true Emma’s advice was.
Get used to it. Yeah, well that really sucks.
I was sitting the other day thinking I just had to get through the next two months with my son and then I would get a break, and then it occurred to me that the worries would not end when (if) he got to boot camp, that if anything I would find a whole new set of things to worry about, and when (if) he finishes there was another set of even bigger worries waiting for me. Get used to it. Damn.
So this is life when you love. You are open, and it will hurt, it will hurt a lot, and the answer is not to close yourself up in hope of protecting yourself from the pain, the answer is to stay open, to be hurt, to be heartbroken over and over again, because this is what will help you be kinder, gentler, more empathetic, and able to deal with life’s heartache, because you don’t get to be alive without heartache. Closing yourself off and hiding from life’s worries and pains makes you hard, brittle and frightened. I know, I’ve tried, and it was horrible.
“The term “kintsugi” means ‘golden joinery’ in Japanese and refers to the art of fixing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold. Chances are, a vessel fixed by kintsugi will look more gorgeous, and more precious than before it was fractured. Some say we need to cherish the imperfection of a broken pot repaired in this way, seeing it as a creative addition and/or re-birth to the pot’s life story. Others say that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.
And so are we, more beautiful with our wrinkles, our cracked and fractured hearts, and with our worries. This is life, get used to it.