Keeping it Real Love

Posted on November 9, 2014



My son, the tiny human being I gave birth to yesterday, just turned 3.

His birthday party was insane. 40 people showed up. We decided to have it at a historic train museum and it was an unseasonably cold 45 degrees. There were crazy wind gusts that blew brightly colored leaves everywhere but the kids still climbed up on the trains and had a good time. There were red cheeks and cold noses when we rode on the vintage railroad. There were rumors, I later learned, that a ghost was responsible for one of the sliding car doors closing mysteriously, a perfect extension of spookiness since Halloween had been the day before.

If you’ve ever been to a little kid’s birthday party, you know the chaos that it is: helium balloons everywhere and pepperoni pizza and kids spilling their sodas and parents mustering up that last ounce of patience to say things like No, no now it’s John’s turn to try that and Please don’t spit on your friends.

Then there’s the ungodly amount of presents to pack up and put in the car and to take home and open.

When it’s done, if you’re a parent, you kind of just collapse once it’s all over. The party was last weekend but I still feel like I’m recovering.

Now that I’ve finished writing the thank you notes, now that all the new toys have been organized on the playroom shelves, now that the leftover Thomas cake is gone, I can relax.

Which is what I’ve been doing today. Just being still.

In the midst of this stillness, I remembered that three years ago today, I was still in the ICU. I almost died giving birth to my son, which, quite frankly, is pretty easy to forget when you’re a mom running around doing the million things that moms do every day.

Today, however, I’d like to remember that.

I’d like to remember looking out of the window in the ICU, on what was also an unseasonably cold day, and seeing the newly-turned autumn trees being blown about by huge gusts of wind. Seeing people holding their scarves tighter around their necks and ducking their heads against the cold and rushing to get inside somewhere warm. That was my view as I was almost dying. I was hooked up to a ton of machines and I was being pumped full of nitroglycerin (which gave me the very worst migraine of my life) but I remember seeing what was there, just outside that small window, and thinking: I want to be out there.  I want to be able to raise my son. I want to be out there, like those people, living. 

Which of course, I now am. But that time, that terrible time, was actually the beginning of my human lesson on what real love is.

I’m not talking about the immense and overwhelming love one feels for one’s newborn child. Because yes, of course, that was there and that was huge and that was real.

I’m talking in this post about another kind of real love. Not the rom-com love or the smitten infatuation we often mistake for love but real love. Messy, hurting, human love.

When I had my son, I was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, which is just a fancy phrase for a kind of severe heart failure that occurs during pregnancy. My heart wasn’t pumping like it should so my entire body swelled up to ridiculous proportions. When I see pictures of myself from this time, I barely recognize me.

In the ICU, I wasn’t allowed to move more than 2 feet away from the bed. Everything had to be monitored at all times and because the cords attached to the monitoring machines weren’t that long, I had to go to the bathroom right next to where I slept. I couldn’t get up by myself because I was so weak. I had to have my husband help me with everything, from getting on the little mobile toliet to changing those gigantic menstral pads you have to wear right after you have a baby.

It was awful and humiliating and humbling. It was also the beginning of my real marriage.

You know how they say you never really know someone until you see them in hot water?

Well, the water was hot, baby. And the man I married found a way to help me through it.

G. spent the days in the hospital nursery, feeding my son, changing his diapers and taking videos of his adorable little self so I could see how he was doing. Babies, as a general rule, aren’t allowed in the ICU. But my husband persuaded some of the nurses into letting him bring up my newborn son up to me every day for 30 minutes so I could at least hold him while he slept.

He emailed our friends about what was happening with me, handled all of the calls and messages, snuck me in real snacks. He stayed with me and slept every night on this ridiculous excuse for a chair so I wouldn’t have to be alone.

The cardiologists mandated as much sleep as possible (a comical prescription to parents of a newborn) in order for me to have a chance at a full recovery. G. took on night duty with a colicky baby and made sure my son had what he needed so that I could rest and get better.


It took me a long time to heal from the cardiomyopathy, physically and emotionally. Most days, walking from my bedroom to the kitchen (100 feet at most) felt like an accomplishment. Standing up without getting dizzy didn’t happen until months later. I’m not so good with feeling weak. Many times I would break down crying because most of the things I used to do without even thinking now took an incredible amount of effort. G. had to do almost everything for me and I hated that.

And yet, this is what real love looks like. This is what real love is.

It’s easy to love someone when they’re pretty and skinny and healthy. It’s easy to love someone when they’re happy and easy to get along with. That’s not real love though. That’s convenient love.

Real love is much, much different. It’s not glamorous, it’s not sexy and it’s not easy. It’s not something you’ll probably ever see in a mainstream movie because it’s not something most of us really want to think about. It’s tough and it’s exhausting and it’s so full of reality.

If you want to live your life, I mean really live your life, you’re going to have to learn real love. You’re going to have to learn sloppy, imperfect, hard human love-how to give it to others and how to surround yourself with those who know how to give it to you. This is the most important thing I have ever learned. This is the most important thing I am still learning. This is what we all, I guess, are being asked to learn

Life is full of shitty things that happen. That’s how it goes, that’s part of the master plan. We might as well accept it. We might as well face it. We might as well decide that perhaps real love is the whole point of us being out here, living.

Posted in: authenticity, Love