A few years ago, my husband gave me a card on Valentine’s Day. The heart that adorned the front was not your typical valentine heart made of glitter, shine, and shimmer. It was a beautiful patchwork, with sharp lines that splintered it into sections of unique shapes and mismatched designs.
The thought struck me as soon as I saw it: This is a mother’s heart.
The hearts of mothers don’t look like most valentines. They are not smooth and sparkly and perfectly polished. A mother’s heart is a collection of patterns pieced together: delicate florals, vibrant zigzags, muted paisleys, bursts of polka dots, and neat rows of stripes. Each fabric recalls a certain age and stage, stitched together via knowledge, strength, and love.
I was 21 when my heart broke the first time. I’d carelessly given it to someone I knew wouldn’t handle it with care, let alone protect it. The day before Valentine’s Day that year, I drove to the mall and sought out the sexiest outfit I could find: a hot pink, off-the-shoulder dress that fit my then-size six body like a glove, my mind wild with possibilities for the following night. Having decided to spend February 14th with someone else, he never even saw it.
That crack in my heart was the first of many over the years, but each came with a valuable lesson that sutured the pieces together.
That one was simple: protect your heart.
I collided with my now-husband when I was 22. A chance encounter, a sideways glance, an awkward introduction, and a spilled drink (all over his shorts—TWICE!) set the stage for a year-long friendship that blossomed into a long-distance love affair. I was skeptical at first and guarded my heart fiercely. But it softened in the quiet, comfortable moments spent working crossword puzzles, carving pumpkins, and soaking in bubble baths while discussing our future together. My heart skipped a beat as he dropped to one knee and asked me to spend my life with him, and a year and a half later, our two hearts joined as one in a winter wonderland wedding straight out of a storybook.
That was the time I learned to let my guard down.
I was 27 when I peed on a stick that resulted in two distinct pink lines. We’d been trying exactly one month, and though this sudden discovery thrilled me to my core, I suddenly felt crushed by the weight of responsibility for the little heart inside me. How would I protect it? How would I nurture it? How could I ever be for it what my own mother was for me?
Six months later, I faced the frightening truth that that tiny beating heart might be in jeopardy. At 30 weeks pregnant, severe preeclampsia rendered me on strict bed rest, but to no avail, and on the first day of my 32nd week, my daughter, Harper, was born. Three pounds and 10 ounces at birth—and down to three pounds, three ounces at her tiniest—Harper lived at Methodist Hospital for the next 45 days. We celebrated milestones like being able to hold our little girl for more than a few moments at a time, finally dress her in tiny outfits we’d had to rush out and buy, and feed her from a bottle instead of a feeding tube. We marveled at the number of mere ounces she gained from one day to the next and shuddered at the beeping monitors whenever they alerted us that something was wrong. Moving from an isolette incubator to an open-air crib and reaching the five-pound mark were nothing short of miracles to us. If it’s possible to feel your heart crest and crumble at the same time, that’s what I felt every day I walked into the hospital to see my baby’s beautiful face behind the glass and every evening I left the NICU to return home without her.
That was the year I learned to be strong.
I was 34 when my heart shattered. I was 10 weeks pregnant, and so far, the pregnancy had been easy and uncomplicated. Every evening, my darling six-year-old—so excited to be a big sister—kissed my growing belly and told her baby sibling goodnight, and every night we went to sleep dreaming of the days ahead and how much our lives would change come February 10th when we greeted our Valentine’s baby.
And then, it was gone.
A trip to the bathroom and a tiny tinge of pink upon the toilet paper prompted an emergency visit to my OB’s office. My doctor came in after what felt like hours, his warm, familiar grin greeting us as he shook Harper’s hand. I was comforted when he couldn’t detect any bleeding, and as he rolled in the sonogram machine, I quickly set my phone to camera mode and rested it on my swollen belly so I could capture a picture of the screen that would surely confirm all was well.
As you might’ve guessed by now, I never got that picture.
I saw the screen. I saw the little blob. And I saw nothing else. No tiny heartbeat as I’d seen merely two weeks before, no movement. The image on the screen was as still and silent as everyone else in the room. I watched helplessly as my doctor quickly turned the screen away, shielding our view, his brow furrowed and smile fading, and I knew at that moment that something was utterly wrong. “I’m just so sorry,” he said, with a steadiness and sorrow in his voice that told me while he’d repeated these words thousands of times before, they never got any easier. “The baby appears to have passed away about a week and a half ago.”
That was the year I learned to grieve and let go.
Six months later, just after New Year’s, my heart restored itself. On January 3, I picked the word “PEACE” as my power word for 2016, in hopes that whatever happened—whether we welcomed a second child or sailed off into the sunset as a trio—I’d find peace in God’s path for our family. The next day, I discovered that I was five weeks pregnant. My fears—first, of losing the baby to another miscarriage, and later, of developing preeclampsia and experiencing another early delivery—proved to be unfounded when a second beautiful baby girl, Hayes, arrived right on time on her scheduled C-section date, completing our family of four.
That was the year I learned to trust God’s plan whole-heartedly.
In the almost 11 years since I first became a mother, my heart has surged and splintered, cracked and mended. I’ve shrieked over first steps and let teardrops trickle on first days of school. I’ve laughed until my sides hurt, and I’ve lost sleep over their fevers and friendships. I’ve cheered on their victories, absorbed their disappointments, relished in their happiness, and sobbed over their sorrows. My two precious daughters have brought more joy to my heart than I ever thought possible and broken it more times than I can count.
These are the days that I’m learning to appreciate how lucky I am, to have a heart that’s experienced a rich range of highs and lows. It isn’t pretty and polished and without flaw, but my patchwork heart tells a story, stitched up and sewn together by lessons in time, never quite the same as before it so deeply loved and yet never more beautiful than it is today.