“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
– Elizabeth Stone

My son was 18 months old the first time he couldn’t breathe. The day had been an ordinary one, filled with unfurling toilet paper rolls and drawing on walls. We spent a warm, sunny afternoon at the playground with friends.  Near bedtime, I noticed my son looked flushed and glassy eyed. I was worried enough to check on him every half hour. Around 11 pm, I noticed a strange wheezing sound. About a half hour later he was gasping and coughing. I scooped him up, wrapped a blanket around him and ran out into the foggy night to drive him to the emergency room. Once we arrived at the hospital things moved so fast that now it’s just a blur. Within minutes, the doctors had him on inhaled medication with a tracheotomy tray nearby. The medication started to work. The gasping subsided, his color returned and the tracheotomy tray was put away, unused. My son would be fine, but I was never the same. My son came too close to tragedy for me to relax my vigilance. The asthma that showed itself so dramatically that warm spring night, defined our lives for the next five years. It broke my heart to see my brave little boy walk around the pediatric ward in a hospital gown and cowboy boots, tiny legs exposed above the boots, and an IV attached to his arm. It broke my heart to be unable to protect him from illness.

It is frightening to walk around with your heart exposed, but the alternative is so much worse– to cloak it in indifference.

 

Nobody tells you this. To be a parent is to have your heart broken over and over again. There are the big crises that portend loss, but there are also the many small losses. The infant who becomes a toddler is gone forever, then the toddler becomes a preschooler and the preschooler goes to kindergarten. Each milestone is a reason for celebration, and it’s a loss. And all loss feels sad, if even for a moment. It’s frightening to walk around with your heart exposed, but the alternative is so much worse– to cloak it in indifference. To be a good parent is to walk around with a bruised and tender heart– caring deeply, arms open wide. Here are some practices to help you feel strong and confident enough to accept the whole beautiful package without shutting down.

Let’s Practice.

On The Mat—

We have our feet or knees on the floor when we practice heart-opening poses to ground and connect us to something solid and bigger than ourselves. We protect our lower back by strengthening our core. After warming up, move down onto your back, knees bent, hands down at your sides for pelvic tilts.  Inhale and press the lower back into the floor, exhale and relax. Repeat 6 times. Put hands behind your neck to support it, exhale as you raise your chest and head very slowly while pressing the lower back into the mat, repeat 3 times. Prepare for bridge by pressing the lower back into the mat, hands at your side, palms down, with tips of fingers touching heels. Slowly activate your thighs, lengthen your spine and lift the belly toward the ceiling from the tailbone up to the mid back. Hold for three deep slow breaths. Notice any feelings you have while in the pose, especially resistance, which is common. Press the feet into the mat. Breathe and slowly roll back down from mid back to tailbone. Repeat. Bring your knees to your chest and rock gently back and forth. Take some time in svasana to integrate the pose.

 

Off The Mat—

Notice when you have feelings of sadness or fear. When you are fighting for control.Is there a loss occurring? Observe the way your body feels, especially the heart area. Do you tighten in response? If so, breathe warmth into that area to lessen the grip. Often our brains go into fight or flight because these feelings are a danger signal. We can transform the danger signal by labeling the feelings “caring” which is the layer right under fear or sadness. You can acknowledge, “I care about….” then “I am a deeply caring parent and that is why I feel sad or frightened about…” simply by relabeling the experience we can transform it. Notice if you feel a shift in your body. Can you open your heart and chest and relax your guard? You are the courageous warriors of love. I wish I could give you each a big hug this Valentines Day.

“May we all open our hearts, may we all care deeply, may we all be held in love.”