NEXT TO MY HEART

NEXT TO MY HEART

From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Next to My Heart

I looked at this tiny, perfect creature and it was as though a light switch had been turned on. A great rush of love, mother love, flooded out of me.

Madeleine L’Engle

The day I had to stop dead in my tracks in the aisle of a busy supermarket was one of the worst in my whole life.

There I was, pregnant as could be—forty pounds overweight, a whole month past my due date, with wretched “morning sickness” that lasted twenty-four hours every single day. And now I had cramps in both feet so excruciating I couldn’t move.

This wasn’t the way I had expected motherhood to be. My own mother, who had six children, glowed when she was expecting. And her mother, my grandmother, not only joyfully welcomed sixteen little ones into the world—but also ran a busy store the entire time. Looking forward to holding a little one in your arms, they said, and feeling the miracle of life inside you, should make any woman ecstatically happy. And healthy!

In all my magazines, the maternity advertisements showed blissful mothers-to-be in adorable outfits, perfect hairdos—even high heels. And that’s the way my expectant friends were. An office-mate with the same due date as me worked right up till her baby came. My next-door neighbor had done everything she wanted to for nine full months while looking absolutely gorgeous. Neither had been ill a minute. And both of them now had adorable, healthy babies.

Meanwhile, I was still pregnant, still miserable, and so large I had long since forgotten what either my feet or my legs looked like. There was only one outfit I could even get on—a sort of muumuu tent. I’d had to give up work, give up church ministries, almost give up hope.

Why was God allowing this to happen to me? He knew I loved him, my husband and this unborn child. My friends had started snickering: “You were due when?” Even my doctor grumped at me as if it were all my own fault.

And now during one of the hottest Augusts on record, my ankles swelled so badly in our sweltering apartment, I had to keep them in buckets of ice. Going anywhere was torture. But we were out of milk. Just a quick dash to the store, I thought—surely I could do that.

So here I was, frozen in my tracks, stopping carts in both directions.

My face beet-red, I stared at the rows of cracker boxes in front of me, pretending not to notice the angry shoppers whose way I was blocking. And then I heard a little girl’s voice: “Mommy, why does that lady look so funny?”

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to stop sudden tears. Oh, God, please! That’s the last straw! Can’t anyone say anything nice about me for a change? I’m so tired of being a medical freak. Won’t I ever be normal and comfortable and well again? Won’t I ever get to hold this baby in my arms?

Then that mother said something I will never forget: “Dear,” she murmured, “it’s because God has given that woman a tiny baby to carry next to her heart.”

When I opened my eyes, mother and daughter were gone. Eventually, so were the cramps. But those words have lasted a lifetime.

For, oh, they were so true. And such a blessing to me during those final miserable days before I did hold my beautiful firstborn in my arms. During my next two pregnancies as well. A blessing I remembered as my three children grew up and married. A blessing I have been privileged to share with my own pregnant daughters-in-law and many other young women I have known over the years.

For even after our children are born, we mothers still carry those precious little ones next to our hearts. And we will our whole lives long.

Bonnie Compton Hanson

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