Lessons Learned: The Practice of Kindness

Today's Lessons Learned essay (see submission guidelines here) comes via my sister Sharon. Thank you, Sharon, for sharing your heart with us today:

I don't know if my lesson will ever fully be learned but it will always be practiced. Eight months ago, I gave birth to my son. He defied all expectations and denied me of the Hallmark-type experiences that I had dreamed of.

He arrived after a frightening night of monitoring and an ambulance ride from Cape Cod to Boston. He was born 2 months early and all of the plans and all of the ideas my husband and I had about how things were going to be were severed with the stroke of a surgeon's knife, which yielded a 2 lb 2 oz shrinkadink of a baby -- fragile to the touch and, admittedly, frightening for me to look at.

As a woman who is proud of her health and strength, I was quickly humbled by the feeling of utter powerlessness as the decision to take him out was based on necessity rather than choice. My bodily strength was quickly dissolved by magnesium, which felt like being burned from the inside out. There was an even fiercer flame of fear that brought me to shadowy places in myself that in my past life made me build brick and mortar around my heart and pounds of flesh around my body. The mask of determination swaddled a scared and angry child.

Every step since my son's birth -- a baby shower cancelled, a birth plan not realized, countless tests and needle pricks into this innocent being, daily knots in my stomach from potential bad medical news forecasts, the relief of letting time do its work, the frustrations of breastfeeding and the battles with thrush, the 70 days in the NICU 100 miles away from my home and husband -- scrubbed away every glorified image I had of motherhood and turned me towards the reality of what was right in front of me: fear, pain, resentment...and eventually joy and relief that my son is alive and healthy, and that our little family is still together after that tsunami.

I have spent many days and nights questioning, blaming and punishing myself over what presented itself rather than what I expected. I felt betrayed by my body and my life.

In yoga there is a term, ahimsa, which basically simmers down to mean non-violence. After the wound of flesh and ego started to scab over, the real lesson of being kind came with the realization that I was killing myself and my family with the bitterness and judgement that came with not seeing the beauty of the small and sacred gifts. In hindsight, these gifts came in the form of each ounce of weight gained, the observation of how once concave flesh now wears soft and fleshy around the sweetest of smiles, the gradual lessening of fear as my husband and I grew more secure handling the fragile shell of a boy connected to tubes and wires, watching those wires go away one by one, noticing bit by bit the strength started to surge back into my legs and body, actually feeling the warmth of my husband's hand holding mine, and how love -- true love -- waited and worked even when we were in the darkest places to come back with hearts unguarded, to face and feel the anger, fear, and suffering of disappointment that has melted with time, communication, tears, and with being kind to ourselves and to one another. This experience, with all of its challenges, awakened the practice of kindness. The practice is the practice. The work to be kind will never end.

Sharon is a yoga and clarinet instructor residing on Cape Cod. All images by Sharon Koh.

Editor's Note (updated 3:39pm): I just learned that Sharon will be participating in the March for Babies, a cause that is near and dear to my heart and that I have supported repeatedly through my platform here at Boston Mamas. You can help Sharon reach her fundraising goal here.

Do you want to submit a Lessons Learned essay? See submission guidelines here.