My son’s guitar teacher was freaking out the other day over the impending arrival of his first child. Beyond a healthy birth, he was consumed with anxiety over the care and feeding of an infant, all the way up through guiding his child through their teen years. As a parent of two tweens, I shared with him the secret of parenting, what makes the sacrifice not only tolerable but wildly enjoyable, and he calmed, and smiled, allowed his excitement to peek through.
It’s never talked about—that intense, profoundly magnificent feeling a parent gets to embrace the moment their child is born, and forever forward. It’s expected we love our kids, and therefore taken for granted, which is a shame, because the intensity of that feeling is so spectacular and unique.
I’d listen to my contemporaries talk about their children before I had kids. They spoke of the long nights with crying, colic infants, “the terrible two’s,” “the f***ing four’s,” surviving the teen years. Sometimes, they’d comment their Kylie had made Honor role, or that Jordan had just got first chair for his violin, and their entire countenance would light up. But those moments were rare compared to the complaints.
Like most women, I simply assumed I’d have children. I planned to have two kids in my early to mid-30s after I’d established my career and proven my own greatness. But it wasn’t until I was almost 40 that I became pregnant with my son, my first baby to survive after six miscarriages.
Nine and a half months of pregnancy, connected to the infant growing inside, and everyday was fraught with wonder, and fear. Five days of labor, and the moment I held my son for the first time, minutes after delivery, his tiny warm body on mine, a tsunami of humbling awe so overwhelmingly powerful swept through me it literally took my breath away. And as I kissed his downy head, his hands, each finger, I realized the joyful contentment, the sense of energized completeness, that electric connection I felt to him, for him— was love.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the intensity of love that could be attained until having children. I’ve been lucky and had loving parents, a few dear friends, the love I now feel for my husband, passionate and true. But it doesn’t touch the intensity of the love I feel for my kids. Virtually every time I am with my children, snuggle with them, kiss them goodnight, or just see them across a room, I feel that all encompassing love fill me up and consume me with tenderness, compassion and humility. Now 9 and 12, and they still take my breath away. Every day.
People who never have children, or don’t devote their life to raising them— as with adoption— will never know this level of love. In their lifetime, they will never understand the feeling that we call ‘love’ can be this intense. I’ve heard many of my contemporaries say with conviction that they’ve never wanted, and will never have kids, with rationalizations like “I’m just selfish, I guess.” But the truth is they’re only robbing themselves.
Life’s greatest gift is our ability to feel. We all experience pain and sorrow, happiness and joy to varying degrees. The unspoken gift of parenting is getting to feel the fulfillment and richness of that intense love integrated into every aspect of our lives, motivating us to be positive examples, and challenging us to consider others, and the future beyond ourselves.
The price of living with this intensity of love is the amorphic fear of losing it, which is why parents worry so much. Through the tantrums and the tears, the joy and the fears in sharing life with kids, the ultimate reward in parenting is the privilege of loving our children.