The room is dark as I quietly creep in and gaze down at my older daughter’s sweet sleeping face, filled with the peace of a deep slumber. I kneel beside her little bed and touch her lips, pursed in a rare moment of silence, as they have been busy all day forming new words. I stroke her tiny ear, so unencumbered by the hearing aids that rest upon them during waking hours and fill my daughter’s head with all the incredible sounds of the world. My heart is heavy with the weight and depth of the love I feel for this amazing little being.
But sometimes it feels as if love is not enough.
I grew my firstborn inside of me with every ounce of love her small body could contain. My love flowed to her like blood and nourishment, pulsing with the beat of the potential that was her life to come. When she was born into this world, becoming the physical embodiment of that great love, she was pure perfection in every way, except one. On the second day of her life we discovered that she was born with inexplicable hearing loss.
In that moment, it felt like my love was not enough. My love was not enough to grant my child two perfectly working ears. My love was not enough to guarantee that she could effortlessly hear the music that makes our lives sing.
Through the miracle of science and the grace of great clinicians, we quickly got our baby girl fitted with hearing aids to help her fully experience the world around her. At just three months, her little ears blinked with the bionic beauty that let us know that the tweets of birds and rustle of leaves were being amplified and broadcast into her mind. By six months, she was working with the most incredible therapist who made sure she was striving for milestones. And strive she did. As our baby grew into a toddler, and now a little girl, she has amazed us with her ability to thrive in every metric. Her hearing loss, originally diagnosed as mild-to-moderate, faded into the background of our lives as we relished watching our girl grow and learn.
Until a week ago. I sat in the office of our audiologist following a routine screening. The room was loud, filled with the sounds of my own restless children who were hungry and tired and losing patience. I tried to listen as the audiologist explained the results of the test, stating kindly, “It looks like your daughter’s hearing is getting progressively worse. It’s slipping into the category of profound.” My eyes welled with tears and my ears rang as I caught phrases like, “cochlear implants” and “total deafness” and “we just don’t know.”
And in that moment, I was hit again with the realization that my love simply is not enough. It is not enough to ensure that she will one day be able to hear, with her own two ears, the voice of the person she falls in love with or the music that compels her to dance or the sound of her children’s laughter. My love is not enough to ensure that she hears my own voice, right now, whispering how much I love her. And my heart breaks for my girl.
I know I’m not alone. Mommas around the world hold their babies, young and grown, with heavy hearts filled with uncontainable love that spills out onto their children. I know I am a lucky one, for my daughter’s challenge has options and opportunities still; it doesn’t threaten her very existence. There are mommas who stroke their baby’s eyes, with no hope of them ever seeing the beauty of this world. There are mommas who caress delicate legs that will never know what it feels like to run through fields and forests. There are mommas who hold close tiny bodies, waiting to feel their child’s inevitable last exhale. Our stories and our struggles are unique, but we all carry with us the heavy burden that our love is not enough to protect our precious babes from their own fate.
But we go on loving anyway. Because that is the call and the contract of parenthood; to have our love live outside of ourselves. From the moment of conception, we’ve agreed to trust an imperfect world with our most perfect expressions of love – our children. This world will disappoint us, and this world will disappoint them, with the injustice of it all. They will face suffering of all shapes and sizes, and time and time again, our love will fail to save them.
Yet, our love is the only thing that can save them. Our love may not be able to provide health and healing, but it offers glimmers of hope and happiness through the hardships. Our love may not bring a solution to the problem, but it brings purpose to the journey. Our love shows our children that, though life may look or sound different than we had imagined, it is so full of treasures that make the trials worth it. Our love is the strength and the salvation that carries them through it all.
This will be the hardest thing we do as parents – to keep loving in spite of the fact that our love is not enough. This will be the holiest thing we do as parents – to keep loving, in fact, because our love is not enough.
So we face each day with broken hearts; hearts that break open to pour out our boundless love on to our babes. Raw and ragged, the wounds that ail our children seep into our souls, inspiring ever greater love. We carry with us the ache of knowing our love is not enough, and the grace of knowing our love is everything.
As for our daughter, she continues to amaze us every day with the breadth and compassion of her own love. She continues to face each day with wit and wonder. She awakens in the morning and excitedly grabs her “hearings” to ignite her mind with the melodies of life. And she listens, not taking for granted the sounds that others might miss. When she hears something in the distance, she ponders sweetly, “What does that sound look like?” I don’t know what her future holds, in terms of hearing loss or life in general, but I know that I will continue to love her with a wide open heart, and that will be enough.