How motherhood taught me to face my deepest fears

To me, courage isn’t about not being afraid. It’s acknowledging that persistent fear and shoving it aside.

How motherhood taught me to face my deepest fears

Standing on top of the hill, I attempted to secure Emy’s hood for the 5th time since leaving the car.


As the wind whipped around us, I could barely hold onto our sled, much less hear my daughter’s tiny voice over its howl.

“What’s that Em?” I asked her, lifting the edge of my hat as I leaned in closer.

“I SAID, I’m a little, just a bit scared, ARE YOU?” she shouted.

I paused before answering, trying to gain a sense of our surroundings, and a line from an Ani DiFranco song popped into my head: “The sky is grey. The sand is grey. And the ocean is grey. I feel right at home in this stunning monochrome, alone in my way.”

Every surface leading up to the hill was covered in that vaguely whitish, grayish, dull-in-color, sharp-in-texture, deeply packed, oh-how-I-miss-the-GRASS, February snow.

The sky above was layered with slowly darkening clouds as yet another snowstorm threatened.

Just enough hazy sunlight filtered through that I longed for my tinted sunglasses, carelessly left behind on the kitchen counter.

Taking this in through my damaged eyes—eyes that struggle with depth perception and definition in high-contrast environments—I immediately began to regret the decision to take my four-year old sledding.

It appeared as if we were about to plummet into a giant sea of grey nothing.

Was I scared? Damn right I was.

But fear and I are old acquaintances, and as I’ve journeyed into motherhood we’ve only gotten closer.

For years, my husband Josh and I struggled to become parents.

And at some point each month, fear would knock all the hope out of me and take up residence, right smack dab in my uterus, taunting me with the sharp dread that I would never become a mother.

Eventually I’d get sick of my unwanted guest and evict it the best I could, timidly inviting a battered and weary hope back in.

Month after month, year after year, this pattern repeated.

Until the fall of 2009, when after our second round of IVF we were finally pregnant.

As motherhood began, I knew there’d always be something to worry about.

Yet, I tentatively forged a peace treaty with fear, assuming the hardest part was behind us. I was ready to embrace and enjoy every aspect of pregnancy.

On May 27, 2010, fear ended our peaceful treaty with a vengeance. In just a few hours, a dull ache in my abdomen—which I wrongly predicted was the first sign of labor—escalated into the gut-wrenching agony of pancreatitis.

Thirty-seven weeks pregnant, fear gripped my heart when later that same day the words “placental abruption” were immediately followed by “dropping heart rate” and I was whisked off for an emergency C-section.

Upping the assault, fear had only a moment to worm its way into my brain when I briefly regained consciousness and was informed I had given birth to a daughter and was in the ICU suffering several life-threatening complications.

Terror took hold when it became clear that, while not an immediate danger, the most petrifying among these complications was sudden blindness.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, I was encapsulated in a nightmarish world created by fear.

Solely focused on survival, one constant kept me coming back to battle time and time again, healing the best I could in between bouts.

That constant was the joy that is my daughter.

My Emeline Joy.

On the hill, cold and shivering, I looked as directly into her deep brown eyes as my scarred retinas allowed, took a deep breath, and lied.

“Am I scared? Nah, not really. I know it seems scary and a long way down, but sledding is fun. I will keep you safe.”

This is what motherhood makes me do.

I lie.

I live with fear every day. But I refuse to succumb in any way that will put fear or apprehension in my daughter.

I lie to mask my own fear, to remind myself and help Emy to see the beauty in having courage, that pushing past FEAR and trying something new is powerful.

True, there was no way I could see where we were going, no way to avoid any potential bumps or ridges as we careened down the hill.

I would need to completely surrender control to the moment—something I would have to be okay with.

I live with fear every day.

But I refuse to succumb in any way that will put fear or apprehension in my daughter.

To me, courage isn’t about not being afraid. It’s acknowledging that persistent fear and shoving it aside long enough to move forward.

Heart racing, I sat down on the pink plastic sled, Emy secured tightly between my legs.

“Are you ready?” I asked.

Nodding, she replied, “Hold on tight, Mama.” “Let’s do this.”

Pushing off the ground ever so slightly, we began our rapid descent into the great big grey nothing.

And it was exhilarating.

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