At this exact moment my five year old daughter, who has a voice so shrill I’m sure it could be sensed by whales sounding in the Pacific three thousand miles away, is rushing around my chair screaming, “Give me my heart!!! Give me my heart!!!! Give me my heart!!!! Give me my heart!!!”
Exactly. This is what one is never told in the prenatal and birthing classes, or, if it is, the information is purely pragmatic: “here’s how to change a diaper before the baby pees on you; oh, and also, once you have a child you will never again be completely whole within yourself, because the child takes part of you with him during the birth. Enjoy!”
And joy it is, most of the time, even when the offspring are awful (right now, for instance: my son just sent a sharp potentially lethal object hurtling through the air at his sister’s head; still a bedrock of wondrous love).
But oh, for the occasional…. rest. As most parents know, even when one has “a break,” there really is no break. One could be receiving a two hour pedicure after watching in blessed solitude for three weeks the gentle waves of the Indian Ocean in the Maldives and still the tension of the displaced self would remain. Worry isn’t the name for it. Worry is the frame of the every day: money, academics, marriage, sex, health, aging. Always not enough or too much; the mind makes endless lists of quotidian concerns.
After children, at least in my experience, the DNA and structure of the self is altered. Part of the structure includes a window to infinite compassion and care: this is the gift of motherhood. The shadow of the structure is the intuitive understanding that one’s circumstance, no matter how mindfully addressed and shaped by one’s internal intention, is also forever dictated by an external element: the child. Or children.
The birth of the child, then, is the birth of union and division: union with the child and, in a fundamental sense, division of the self. Perhaps the trick of creating a life and family of wholeness, if there is one, is the acceptance, or even welcoming, of displacement. Buddha taught that the self is illusion; in this way, one’s children are a reminder (constant, often unpleasant, sometimes sublime) of this truth. All existence ephemera. The residue of love remains….. if, ultimately, even that.