a lifetime of mama bear pain


Emerson had her first real accident on Saturday—of the scary, heart-stopping variety, complete with a bloody face and piercing screams. Though I realize accidents and injuries are totally normal and unavoidable, I can’t help but secretly hope there is some sort of childhood loophole my baby can step through so she never gets really hurt. That silly hope is my way of coping with the (still new) reality of parenthood.

I’ve had to process and accept my role as a mama, bit by bit, since the day Emerson was born. It would be far too overwhelming, otherwise. One of the most difficult realities for me to accept, by far, has been the fact that my child will get hurt, physically and emotionally, sometimes terribly so. It started with having blood drawn from the sole of her tiny, tender foot when she was two days old. I hated every minute of that. Emerson was terrified and sobbing (though she was in my arms) and I wanted to punch the man who was doing it to her. The next stage began when Emerson was four-months-old and learned how to sit up on her own, meaning she began to fall and get hurt on a regular basis. I couldn’t stand watching her head smack into the floor, over and over, but eventually we both became more resilient and less upset about her bonkers (as we call them in our house). This weekend, though, we moved past bonkers and into the realm of accidents and injuries, and I would be lying if I said I was okay with any of it. 

Then there’s Alex. He has been able to maintain an even-keel about all of this for the majority of Emerson’s life. He doesn’t get wrapped up in overwrought emotion when Emerson gets hurt, as I tend to do. He sees the big picture, and tries to remind me that every human being gets hurt, and feels afraid as a result. He reminds me that Emerson will be better, stronger, more resilient and complex for having experienced and dealt with pain. He asks me if I think I’d be the same person if I had remained miraculously unscathed by life. And I can’t deny any of his points, I can’t fault him for believing our child will be fine even after he’s seen her face bloody and covered in mud. But, I am a mama bear.

I am a mama bear, and every instinct inside of me says, “protect this child, soothe this child, scoop this child up and unleash your claws in the direction of anyone, or anything that threatens her.” I am a mama bear, and it took me hours to calm down after Emerson’s accident. I could not stop replaying it in my head, nor could I stop myself from having a highly emotional reaction every time I looked at my baby’s scrapped up face. I am a mama bear, and it will require time and practice to be able to let go while knowing that my child is a human being who will grow into an autonomous adult and will meet her fair share of bumps and bruises, heartache and rejection, roadblocks and failures along the way. 


The most difficult part of all of this, for me, is that I thought I knew pain before I became a mother. But, my child’s pain feels more painful than any of my own. My pain was dulled with that one last excruciating push that gave way to a new life nine months ago. And now I must watch as my heart begins to wander farther and farther away from me until I no longer know its exact location on the globe each and every day. 

As difficult as this reality is for me to come to terms with, my husband is right (and somewhere he’s gasping and wondering if I can print this sentence on a banner so we will always remember the day that I said it). Great things can originate from pain. Take Emerson’s life—it began in the midst of pain. Pushing her out of my body was the most physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually challenging experience of my life. It was also the most significant, enriching, beautiful, and unbelievably exhilarating experience of my life. And I wouldn’t change anything about it. I wouldn’t change the fact that I had to wait three (uncomfortable) weeks longer than I thought I would to give birth. I wouldn’t change the fact that I labored for three days, or pushed for three hours, or had to change my plan. I wouldn’t change that I had to re-experience my childhood traumas in order to birth my baby. And I wouldn’t change that I endured great physical pain. Because, all of that is mine and it deeply changed me in ways that I am grateful for. Given the choice, I would not want to be the person I was before I experienced all that pain. 

So then, would I want to deny my daughter the moments that will ultimately define her? 

No.


Here’s what happened: Emerson fell from a moderately high height down onto her head, splitting open her face on our stone steps. The snow outside had been melting in the sun all morning, giving way to a thick layer of mud underneath it, which ended up completely covering her face.  I leapt after her as soon as she fell, but by the time she was in my arms there was blood streaming from her nose, lips and mouth. As scary as this was for us, I realize that this may not be a life-defining moment, but it meant something to me. Processing it has felt like a nod, from me to the Universe, saying, “okay, I understand my role and know I can’t stop the inevitable.” 

I’m not saying that I want Emerson to get hurt, or that it will EVER be easy to watch. But, philosophically speaking, I know that it’s not going to break her.

And so, I will think about how proud I am of my already strong, resilient girl as I apply Neosporin to her wounds. I will remember how well she handled herself in what was the scariest moment of her life thus far. I will smile knowing she has two supportive parents who will be there when she needs us. And, little by little, I will continue to let her go.

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