“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
This quote. This. Quote. It’s like The Notebook of motherhood: even if we are in the small minority of moms who haven’t posted it on social media, plastered it on a tangible vision board, or memorized it like a religious text, we’ve heard it. We may have even recited it out loud.
But have we thought about it? Like really thought about it? Until recently, I hadn’t, but I have now and far be it from me not to share my musings.
Let’s think about the first part, “Making the decision to have a child…” It is a decision, isn’t it? Sure, sometimes it is… but it’s rarely that simple.
To be blunt, it may not have been a decision for all of us. Sometimes motherhood surprises us; it sneaks out and grabs us when we least expect it, either with a “happy accident” or by becoming a bonus parent.
Other times, the decision is made – let’s have a baby – and then nothing happens. You wait. You agonize. You lose once, twice, or even more. Maybe you pursue fertility treatments, maybe you pursue adoption, maybe you throw yourself into loving someone else’s child – a niece, nephew, godchild, close friend’s little one, or maybe you try and try and just do not give up hope. Those are all decisions.
I guess my point is, that the first premise of this ubiquitous quote is flawed: there’s usually not one decision to have a child or not. There are dozens, hundreds, or more. Big macro-decisions and tiny micro-decisions that pave the road towards motherhood or its absence.
It’s all momentous, though, I’ll certainly agree there. The wanting, the deciding, the having, the not having, the losing… it’s all such a big part of “adulthood,” or, more specifically, “womanhood.” It’s a defining feature of our lifetime, whether or not we become a parent. It shapes, at least in part, our friendships and activities, our professional lives and our romantic relationships.
What would life be like if we did/didn’t have kids? If we were/weren’t a mom? What would/wouldn’t we miss? These questions feel taboo to ask but would we be fully human or fully ourselves if we didn’t wonder what was behind the other door that we didn’t “choose”? It’s like one of those movies where the main character lives their life only to somehow magically have the opportunity to see what life would have been like if they had gone to Target before the gym instead of the gym before Target… at least those are the defining moments of my life.
Finally, what does it mean to have your heart walking around outside your body?
It means fighting the urge to bubble wrap my tiny daughters while encouraging their independence. It means finding joy in their accomplishments while quietly grieving the time gone by. It means encouraging their fighting spirit to tackle the world (even if they use it against me).
It means that their hurts become your hurts, their loss becomes your loss, their joys become your joys.
It means clutching your chest when they’re about to fail but letting them do it anyway; cheering them on when you’re not sure if their next step is the right one; letting them make bad decisions that they’ll figure out were the wrong ones at some point; catching them when they fall.
It means letting go a little, every day.
It means hanging on tight to every small moment.
The two pieces of my heart walking around outside my body every day were both choice and surprise. The products of varying degrees of happenstance and tormenting decision-making. They help define who I am while I help them define who they are. They are in and of themselves as momentous as the “decisions” that brought them to me.