I once read a quote that referred to the maternal heart being made up of equal parts steel and cornmeal mush. I always thought that was beautifully accurate. Since becoming a mother, I’ve noticed how strong and yet how feeble my heart can be. This past year, I really wanted to rely on that steely strength of my mama heart. What I learned instead is this: “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalms 73:26 NKJV).
In January, I gave birth to the sweetest blonde-haired, blue-eyed, baby boy. We named him Bowie. After a few months of tummy issues, we found out in May that Bowie had Hirschsprung’s Disease. It’s a condition where the colon lacks the ganglionic cells to allow stool and gas to pass effectively. Surgery was the only answer, but Bowie continued to be sick on and off until his surgery was scheduled in June. It was a scary time. Watching your child suffer has to be one of the hardest things anyone has to witness and endure. It’s a helpless and horrible feeling.
There was one particularly difficult night shortly before his surgery when Bowie was in so much pain that he passed out. I held him in my arms and watched his body go limp and his eyes roll back. I thought I was losing him and it was more than I could bear. I completely broke down. I handed Bowie to my husband and collapsed on the floor in the fetal position and sobbed. After some time passed, Bowie returned to normal and was doing alright, but I was not. I somehow shook off the terrible wave of emotion that had overcome me and pulled myself together enough to nurse Bowie to sleep. I could not sleep that night as the images of Bowie slipping from consciousness kept replaying in my head. The next morning, I looked in Bowie’s eyes and instinctively knew something was wrong inside his body. The room started to spin and I felt like I was going to pass out. I was breathing deeply but felt like I wasn’t getting enough air.
It was my first panic attack.
At the time I was terrified about what was happening to me but I was more fixated on the thought of getting Bowie to the hospital. We rushed to the Children’s Hospital even though my husband tried to convince me that I was the one who needed to go to the ER. No, I shook my head, as I tried to calm my breathing. My mind was telling me that I was dying, but I needed to quiet that feeling just long enough to make sure Bowie was alright. The trip to the ER for Bowie ended successfully as the doctor was able to relieve the pressure in Bowie’s belly. As soon as Bowie was better, my panic subsided. I was back to normal again and quite relieved that the thoughts in my mind were back under my control. The episode still haunted me though.
It humbled me to know that when Bowie really needed me to be strong that day, I failed him. To this day, Bowie still has bouts of sickness related to HD. Every one of his flare-ups causes an immediate emotional and physical response in me. The vise grip on my chest. The heart palpitations. The hyperventilating. What happened to the nerves of steel that I thought my mama heart could rely upon at times like this? Times of distress have revealed to me that my heart is made up of something very raw, tender, and fragile. Mush. It is a vulnerable side of myself that I despise seeing exposed. I told God that I didn’t have time to waste on dealing with my emotions. I have to care for a sick baby!
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Oh, how I cling to this particular promise from God! It is my battle cry in my most desperate of moments. It is the verse that I whisper to myself throughout the day. Lord, please guard my heart and my mind! Drawing closer to God in times of heavy stress calms me in a way that can only come from the Holy Spirit. I go to the scriptures for comfort. I listen to worship songs to keep me focused on God. In those moments, I feel that the Lord is with me and talking me through the anxiety much like a labor coach through childbirth.
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” When Bowie is sick, I have nowhere else to go but directly to Jesus. Would I have been so quick to run to Jesus if not for Bowie’s sickness? Would I feel this same intimate relationship with my God if I didn’t struggle with anxiety? My fragile heart knows the answers to these questions.
What a year of growth. I reflect on where I was in my walk at the beginning of the year versus where I am now and I am overcome with gratitude. It took Bowie’s illness to bring me to the breaking point. It took my breaking point for God to be able to work in me. I’ve stepped into new territory with the Lord. He is showing me the vulnerability of my heart and mind. He is showing me how to be more compassionate for other mothers. He is showing me how to cope with the anxiety in my life by drawing closer to Him. The Lord is always with me during the peak of an attack and He is with me as my comforter as normalcy returns. How much more intimately do I know my Father in Heaven now? How much deeper is my love for my Creator after the heartbreaks I have suffered through this year? I continue to watch over my sweet baby boy and I remain steadfast in the struggle with my anxiety. The battle is not over, but Bowie grows stronger every day and I will cling to my Lord’s promises daily.
Written By: Jessica Mitchell