I was talking to my husband the other day when, out of nowhere, a thought hit me. “Can you believe that one day our son and there’s nothing we can do about it?” I said to him. It was late at night. We were both lying in bed, and these are the kind of thoughts that find their way to my brain when I’m preparing for rest.
The idea of my son feeling this pain, and it being pretty much inevitable, made it hard for me to fall asleep that night.
It got me thinking about “real love.” The wonder of it, but also the fragility of it. Once we decide to go for real love, we decide to be our most vulnerable, to open ourselves to the greatest possibility of the highest highs and lowest lows.
And when you become a mother, forget it.
You suddenly have a physical manifestation of your love walking around the world, outside of your body. You go from a theoretical idea of what love is—an idea you can reject or hide from if it ever becomes too painful—to seeing love in the form of a little body. In a daughter named Lucy or a son named Jacob. A person you will be tied to forever.
I remember I once asked my mother how I would know if something was real love, and she replied, “You will just know.” A wholly unsatisfying answer.
But one I now understand fully.
You’ll know it’s real love because it feels both exactly like what you imagined and nothing like you expected all at the same time. Like when your knees shake as you stand at the altar on your wedding day, staring into the eyes of your partner. Declaring in front of the world and yourself that you promise to share your life with this former stranger.
You’ll know it’s real love because no matter how terrifying it may seem to do it, the idea of not doing it feels even worse. Like when you sit across from your partner in a coffee shop, squeeze their hand and say, “Are we really doing this? ?” And they say, “Yes.”
You’ll know it’s real love because the world will shift into focus. The colors around you will become brighter, and you might feel dizzy from the sudden clarity you have about the world. Like when you’re looking at two little pink lines on a at five in the morning. Your breath catches, and you run to wake your partner up.
You’ll know it’s real love when time becomes everything and nothing. When 28 hours of labor and three hours of pushing suddenly dissolves into the moment the nurse says, “I see his head. Your baby is almost here!” Every part of you snaps to attention, and the only thing you can think is, I can’t wait to meet you.
You’ll know it’s real love because even when your body is tired and your brain is begging for sleep, and you wonder exactly why you made the choices you did that now leave you feeling so disassembled and alien, your 6-week old will flash a crooked smile, and you’ll think, This is everything. This is my ‘why.’
It transforms you at that moment and other smaller and larger ones throughout your lifetime. Who you will be and the choices you’ll make before love and after love will be very different. Because THIS is real love.
What I want to tell my children is this: Don’t be afraid to let real love in.
Yes, it arrives with the possibility of pain. Yes, it requires a commitment—demanding you give all of you, with no holding back. It requires compromise and grace and facing the unknown. It requires work and communication and sacrifice and empathy.
But the returns, oh the returns.
A life of love is unquantifiable in its riches.
Even when it’s difficult. Even when it ends in heartbreak (and sometimes it will). Even when it frightens you (and sometimes it will). Even when it makes you feel exposed or displaced. Even when you’ve been hurt before. Even when it seems like it would just be easier not to.
It is always always worth it.
Real love will change you. and shift the ground beneath your feet. It will make you float like helium. But real love is immeasurable. It is what we live for, my dear sweet children, and it is what powers us to keep continuing.
It is why we do everything we do.
These are the kind of thoughts that find their way to my brain when I’m prepping for rest. The immense joy of true love my son will hopefully feel one day. The inevitable pain of heartache he’ll feel, too. The rawness of love parenting has brought to my marriage and both the beauty and pain of watching our little guy grow up—right before our eyes. It’s all so wonderful. It’s all so wild. And it’s all most definitely real.