The Fragility of Motherhood

“Have I ever cleaned this window in the three years we have lived here?”

It’s the thought that surfaced over a sea of trembling ones as I stood in front of my kitchen sink. I had pulled a carton of grapes out of the fridge to clean, and as the water trickled down their skin I ran my fingers across the stems and thought about that window. I traced each water spot with my mind— wondering which meal preparation or scurried bottle cleaning they came from. Three years of memories had built up in that dirty window. Three years of motherhood and three years of filth— they all came rushing through me as I memorized the pattern of splatter and dust on that kitchen window.

It’s remarkable, isn’t it? The built-in diversion mode that our brains switch on to help us cope with trauma. My trauma in that moment at the kitchen window, was a phone call I had received an hour prior. A phone call that said I may have cancer. And so, my brain— being the clever girl she is, decided to shift my focus to that dirty window of a home full of memories. And in that moment, I felt the full fragility of motherhood.

There is something so vulnerable about being a mother.

When I was younger I felt fearless, invincible— immortal even. It seemed as if things could only graze me, at best. I didn’t fear danger, or life, or death. I just lived. I jumped out of airplanes and drove my car way too fast and slept alone at the beach without telling a soul where I had gone. I can’t say that motherhood changes everyone, but it certainly changed me. Still, I had never fully felt the weight of this change until I received that call. Suddenly I was painfully afraid of death, I was achingly afraid of leaving my children behind.

I spent the next two weeks in a silent panic. It wasn’t the cancer itself that scared me. It wasn’t the idea of chemo or radiation or even dying— though they all crossed my mind. What kept me awake in fear every night, were the people lying right beside me. The idea that my life could end and I would never get to see theirs blossom, was soul crushing. I thought of the people my body would be letting down, like my mom— who is supposed to (potentially) receive a kidney from me in the next year. Would she end up on the donor list for the rest of her life because my body had failed her? I thought of my husband and the tragedy his heart has had to endure. Would he be able to handle this blow?  And my boys— my sweet sweet boys. How would their rambunctious, young hearts be able to grasp that mommy was too sick to play with them every day?

I walked into the hospital and made my way to Radiology alone on Tuesday. Only four people in my life knew I was there. Out of those four, only one knew just how terrified I was. My family was comforted by the odds, but numbers didn’t mean anything to me because I had been that 1 in 10,000 before— I had watched the odds crumble all around me on more than one occasion. I checked in at the front desk and went to text my husband who was out of town, but there was zero cell reception. That’s when I realized I really was doing this alone.

As I walked down the long empty hallway, I thought about how many other mothers had made the same walk of fear as me. I thought of my own mother, and the walks she’s made—from kidney disease to cancer to heart problems. And for a moment, I felt like I knew just how she may have felt when she made her first walk down a long, empty hospital hallway like that one— awaiting a test that would determine whether or not she would get to watch her children grow old. After two exams, the radiologist came in to see me. When they brought me in for the “we need an even closer look” ultrasound after the initial look, my eyes welled up with tears. I prepared my heart for the worst, so when the radiologist opened his mouth to give me a clean bill of health, it took me a moment to process it. He must have noticed my daze, because he repeated the sentence and asked me if I had any questions. That was when it finally registered, and I thanked him for the wonderful news and left.

As I walked out of that hospital building, I felt the weight of two weeks of built up fear flush out of me. I sobbed tears of relief on the steering wheel of my car and grabbed my phone to text Derek. The cell reception was back, and on my lock screen was a message from him that had been sent while I was in the appointment:

“I’m here. Not leaving you.”

Those words ran through my veins and breathed life into me again. I looked at my home screen and whispered to those two little boys who grace the background of it:

“I’m here. Not leaving you.”

When I got home, my mom greeted me and I embraced her in a long hug. I knew that she knew better than anyone, the feelings I had been wrestling leading up to this, and I also knew that she needed that hug almost as much as I did. It was a glimpse into the fragility of motherhood my own mom feels every single day. And as she walked away to grab a glass of water, I whispered quietly to her:

“I’m here. Not leaving you.”