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Motherhood: What endless love feels like

By Elizabeth Strout, Oprah.com
updated 7:17 AM EDT, Wed May 9, 2012
The love of motherhood is a powerful bond.
The love of motherhood is a powerful bond.

(Oprah.com) -- Love?

It can make your mouth dry out so fast your lips stick together. It can make you dizzy in just seconds. It can make you nauseated. It can make you nuts. That's how I felt when I looked out a bus window and saw my baby in a stroller being pushed by her babysitter. I wanted to yell, "Stop! Stop the bus, stop the babysitter, stop the traffic -- let me grab that child and keep her safe!"

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She was 3 weeks old. I was sleep deprived, weepy, and doing a poor job with breastfeeding. ("You're too nervous," the La Leche woman told me serenely.) My mother-in-law had said it was time for me to leave the apartment. "Go do something for yourself," she'd directed. She arranged for a college student to babysit. Dutifully, I had taken the bus to a museum and sat with a cup of coffee in their café. It puzzled me to think of myself, just a few months before, as a young woman wandering happily through this museum alone. Now the place seemed eerie as a tomb. Did I want to go home? I didn't know what I wanted.

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Back on the bus, I looked out the window and thought how everyone on the sidewalk seemed free. Then I thought, "Hey, wait a minute, isn't that the babysitter? Isn't that a baby carriage she's pushing?" I thought, "Wait, do babysitters just take babies out for a walk like they would a dog?" As the bus groaned past, I had a fleeting glimpse of my daughter's tiny face, out in the world of traffic, commotion everywhere.

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I had always wanted children. Partly, I wanted someone else to be more important than me; my Self was a burdensome thing to keep carrying around. But I'd been missing that Self since my daughter's birth. I hadn't known it would be so eclipsed by the constant worry -- had she burped, slept, peed? ("Sleep when she sleeps," the doctor said. I couldn't. I was too stunned. There were moments in those early days that when she cried, I cried too.)

But that day I saw her from the window of the bus, I almost yelped aloud -- not just with worry, with love. Minutes later I sat on the front stoop, and when the babysitter pushed the carriage around the corner, I felt a huge billowing of love that sat like a gigantic, soft helium balloon on my shoulders. I didn't know a person could feel that love, it was so large. But then -- a few weeks later, I watched my little daughter wake from her nap, kick her little feet.

And -- whoosh! -- that feeling of love grew exponentially. This kept happening as the weeks went by, and each time I was amazed. How could love be this big? That enormous, soft helium balloon got bigger and higher, until my love filled the skies. Boundless, as they say.

Where has that left the Self? Oh, hit by some comets over the years. Obliterated, practically. Maybe I should say transcended.

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