The hardest part of being a mom is not the late nights with inevitable early mornings. It’s not the fighting between the siblings that needs to be refereed. It’s not even the complete frustration with being unable to keep complete work life balance. The hardest part of being a mom is how much we love our children. The love is so strong that it literally makes my heart hurt when I think about it. Especially if I think about something to happening to either one of my boys. The PHYSICAL pain I experience from just the thought made me start wondering. Why does it literally hurt sometimes to love my kids?!
A Mother’s Love: Raw, Complicated…and Painful?
When my youngest son was 2 months old, I brought him into his 2-month check-up. It was a normal appointment. We were having his weight checked, getting his first set of vaccines, and asking all my normal mom questions. Even though I’d had a baby before, I still had to ask the same questions to be reassured once more that everything was normal.
Except it wasn’t.
During the exam, they kept listening to his heart and checking his breathing. He was breathing fairly quickly – due to the stress of the exam, right? They attached a pulsometer to his little finger, but the nurses couldn’t get a reading since he was so small, and this was stressing him out even more. Me as well.
Then they proceeded to ask me questions. Does he always breathe this fast? Only when he’s stressed, or when he’s eating- he was a gulper.
The results were not to the doctors liking and they immediately referred us to Children’s Hospital for a chest x-ray.
My 2-month old was getting a chest x-ray.
Now, to be completely transparent, I am not a low-stress kind of person. Never have been, and I don’t really ever see that changing. It’s just an ingrained part of my personality. This incident though? It ratcheted that stress to a level that had me feeling like I might have a heart attack. My chest got tight, my heartbeat accelerated, my stomach tightened and churned, palms got sweaty. Anxiety attack. Nothing new for me, but this was not something I’d experienced before. This was my baby! This could be really serious!
I physically hurt from the stress and worry, and it was completely exacerbated by the amount of love I had for this very tiny human being.
How can such a beautiful emotion such as love have such a detrimental effect on the physical body?
During my research into this question, I found a very interesting study looking into this very thing. You can find it here. It links emotional pain and physical pain as being in the same part of the brain, which can cause your body to actually be in pain when feeling very strong emotions. It helped me in so many ways to realize that what I was feeling, while painful, was completely normal and expected.
Emotions Play a Starring Role in How the Body Processes Love
While I was in the hospital with my son, I was close to hyperventilating. I could hardly breathe due to the worry and what-if’s going through my head. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m crying just remembering the surge of emotions and adrenaline that were going through my body.
Luckily through all of this my mom was with me. Without that emotional support, I believe my own emotions would have been even more out of whack – if that is even possible. But even with her support, I could not help but look at my tiny son with his little curled hands and pursed mouth around his pacifier. What if I lost him? What would I do?
Just thinking those words made my heart break. Love is such a strong emotion and so incredibly beautiful. But the thought of it being taken away in an instant is enough to make my chest ache and make me feel like I want to cry.
Photo Credit to Chad Knight: @chadknight and @marcelkatzart on Instagram. Representation by: @theartplugagency and @theartplug
This picture by Chad Knight is a direct depiction of a parent’s love for a child. When we have a child, we give up bits of ourselves to that child. That child then OWNS so many parts of us. They ARE a part of us. And no, I’m not talking about biology.
When you have such amazingly strong emotions centered around someone, you give pieces of yourself to them. That’s the absolutely remarkable thing about love. It grows and just keeps growing every day.
However, when they say, “love hurts”? Holy crap, they aren’t joking.
I was sitting in that waiting room for what seemed like forever but was actually only about 15 minutes before we were called back for the x-ray. I had to watch as they strapped my 2-month old to an infant insert on the x-ray table. Luckily, he’d fallen asleep at this point and didn’t realize anything was happening. But I knew. Boy, did I know.
Did I mention my heart felt like it was trying to run away? I think I forgot to mention that.
It was pounding so hard and I was shaking and tearing up but trying to be so strong for my son. That is so incredibly hard. As moms, or parents, we feel we must be strong for our children no matter the situation. Even at 2-months old, I knew that he would sense that something was up, and I was trying so hard not to lose it. As he was sleeping on the table during the entire scan, hopefully, I was a little successful in my efforts.
The scan itself took less than 5 minutes, but as soon as we left the wait began. In my post on how I became a single mom, I explain that I’m not a patient person. I like to know things right now. Not in 3 days, or, you know… whenever. I like to know now. Having to wait for the results of this x-ray was going to be painful. I’ve just explained how the part of the brain that processes pain and emotions are the same. So when I say painful? Yep, literally. It seems so dramatic when I put it that way doesn’t it? But when it comes to a mom and her baby (no matter the baby’s age) those emotions are always going to be front and center, and sitting right on a nerve ending.
Mental State Can Have a Direct Affect on How the Body Processes Love
Mental state is so like emotional state, but at the same time there are definite differences.
Mental health is how our brain takes in information, rolls it around, and decides how to handle that information. Emotional health is the way we then experience and express the feelings that we get from the information that’s been managed by the brain. My body had definitely been on an overload of both at this point.
On the way home from the hospital with my mom driving and me in the back seat with my son, I was once again struck by the what-if’s. They are still so painful, even 2 years later to think about. So, I don’t. I haven’t even thought of this event in so long and I’ve come to realize that it’s my brains way of trying to mentally protect me against the hurt.
The Brain and Processing of Emotions
The brain is a fascinating, wonderful, confusing, and complex organ. So many different stimuli are processed through our brain, and depending on a few different factors, it can then start doling out it’s perceptions to how our body needs to react.
The most amazing thing about our brain is its seeming direct connection to our heart. Yes, it controls how the heart functions in some ways, but I mean in a more figuratively speaking kind of way. The brain can sense when to kind of numb or dull some of the emotions that have happened in the past as a way to enable the mental state to remain more stable and thus allowing your emotions to do the same.
This coping strategy while extremely helpful in the long run, does not necessarily do anything at the time of a stressor actually occurring.
A Mother Loves with the Whole of Their Being: Physically, Emotionally and Mentally
One hour. That is how long the doctors took to call me with the results of the chest x-ray. I am so incredibly grateful to those doctors for realizing that as parents we cannot handle the not knowing for longer than necessary. When I answered the call, I was holding my breath and crossing my fingers while I waited for the verdict.
All is normal!
Those 3 words were such incredible balms to my very rattled nerves. Immediately, I was able to breathe again, and then started crying once more just in relief. That night I stayed up almost all night just looking at him and enjoying him waking up every few hours to eat. I never thought I’d be so relieved to have my newborn wake up so often. That night, he could have woken every hour and I’d have dealt with it happily.
Love is NOT a Bad Thing
With the story I’ve shared it may sound as if I’m saying love is a horrible emotion and only causes pain and anguish. Oh, but it gives so much more.
The physical response isn’t always a negative thing. When we are happy, or even just on a regular day, the love we feel can cause a swelling of emotion that fills our chest and makes it ache with joy. Such as when I watch my sons giggle as they are playing together or run to me as I come home from work. The happiness I feel when their little hands wrap around my neck or when their sticky lips kiss my cheek cannot be contained and I would not regret or trade any of this for a fear of the what-if’s that could happen.
The emotions I feel while with my loved ones is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. It would be so much easier to protect ourselves from ever feeling the pain. But by protecting ourselves from experiencing pain, we are limiting ourselves from ever feeling the love that comes from living.
The Mother, The Child, The Unending Love
Even with all the pain, guilt, fear, irritation, confusion and sheer anxiety I feel as a mom, I would not give up being their mom for anything. NOT feeling these emotions would be worse as it would mean that I did not have my kids in my life to be angsty about. That is unacceptable.
Although, I wouldn’t mind a little less angst to be honest. A nice relaxing day with no fighting, yelling, or stomping of feet would be lovely. From either the kids or myself!
Just remember; one minute, one hour, one day, one week at a time. Try not to stress the small stuff as it can and will add up, and then will just cause you emotional pain when it starts to overflow. If you need some ideas on getting a little more sanity in your life, you can see my post here for some tips!
Hopefully this helped to put some things into more perspective for the times when emotions get a little more intense and you start getting those aches and pains! I’d love to hear your experiences and mechanisms used to cope during the negative emotions as well, if you’d like to share. I really enjoy having different strategies in my head for future occurrences. Please leave a comment below or send me an email.