My Daughter Makes Me Live

Parents know the thin line that separates life and death. However they experience it – through fear, through a stint in the NICU, through a late night visit to the ER, parents have tasted the sickly sweet flavours of mortality. Mothers especially know that fickle space between bringing new life and feeling the closeness of death, either real or figurative. Sometimes death haunts us as new mothers and it the first time we’ve considered, really considered, what it means to be alive and how fragile life really is.

My own experience as a new mother was a dark one, full of fear and loathing. I feared for my life because of the darkness that descended and I feared for the life of my daughter – not because she was in any real danger – except for the imagined dangers that stole my breath in the middle of the night and filled my days with sleepless, crazed busyness. I also lost who I was, and I am still dealing with that fact.

Often I hear mothers say that they live for their children. That their children are their lives. And nothing could be more chilling for me. I struggle, consistently, with the demands of motherhood and being more than a mother – not that one needs to be. What haunted me in the first few days and months of my daughter’s life was the extent to which my life, my identity, was profoundly upended by the fact that I was now MOTHER. Mother is not who I am, but yet it is. This paradoxical reality literally made me “crazy.”

It’s hard to explain this to people who live for their children. I would happily die for my daughter, if such a terrible thing was ever made necessary due to accident or happenstance. But nothing terrifies me more than placing my life in the tiny hands of my beautiful daughter because I know the changing tides of time and the mind, I know the pain of living in a narrow box of one tightly defined identity, I know the darkness that descends when I try to live according to someone’s else’s plan. I already live and die every day in the shadow of her existence. I brought life into the world, it is the dawn of a new day; a new reality.

That sliver between life and death is wonderfully, and so accurately, summed up in Kim Thuy’s beautiful book Ru:

I have never had any questions except the one about the moment when I could die. I should have chosen the moment before the arrival of my children, for since then I’ve lost the option of dying. The sharp smell of their sun-baked hair, the smell of sweat on their backs when they wake from a nightmare, the dusty smell of their hands when they leave a classroom, meant that I have to live, to be dazzled by the shadow of their eyelashes, moved by a snowflake, bowled over by a tear on their cheek. My children have given me the exclusive power to blow on a wound to make the pain disappear, to understand words unpronounced, to possess the universal truth, to be a fairy. A fairy smitten with the way they smell.

Quite simply, my daughter makes me live. I can’t live for her any more than she can live for me. We must bear our own crosses, fight our own battles, win our own wars, stand on our own two feet.

The only difference now that we’ll do it all together because we must.

For I’ve lost the option of dying.

Beause she’s imbued me with [a] new life.