An ongoing series on the joys and challenges of parenting
1001 Heart Attacks and 1001 Heart Breaks: An ongoing series on the joys and challenges of parenting
Written by: Dr. Michael Zepeda- Evans, Psy.D.
My partner and I often joke about the differences in our experience of parenting and of being parents. My partner is, without doubt, our daughter’s primary attachment figure. They have a shared world and connection that I am excluded from and can never truly enter. I am my daughter’s first and primary experience of the Other; that which is separate from the intense bond and unity with my partner. As such, my daughter and I have our own connection and bond that is different, though no less impactful on her development and well-being.
Our daughter often explores her world in a bold and audacious manner. This frequently leads to close encounters with bodily harm. She exhibits a high level of experimentation and a voracious curiosity, though can become overwhelmed with frustration when things do not go as desired. Within reason, I encourage our daughter to test the boundaries of her capabilities. I am also frequently the agent and provocateur of this investigation into her current limits. My daughter’s exploration and my instigation of it, at times, cause my partner a heightened level of stress and anxiety which we have dubbed the “1001 heart attacks” of parenting.
As much as my daughter and I have a connection and bond, it is abundantly clear that I am not the preferred parent. Whenever I am holding her and my partner comes into view, our daughter will immediately squirm to get out of my arms and throw her body towards my partner. My daughter will rarely allow me to soothe her when my partner is available. At night, my daughter will fall asleep in the crook of my arm in our bed. When she notices my partner has come to bed, she will plant her feet on my torso and launch herself towards my partner. I have lost count of how many times my daughter has physically pushed me away when she was in my partner’s arms, as if to say “Get away Papa!”. My partner and I have dubbed these and similar moments of rejection the “1001 heartbreaks” of parenting.
Recently, we had a parenting experience that highlighted and solidified the 1001 heart attacks and heartbreaks metaphor. Our daughter had been running a low grade fever on and off for a few days. For the most part, we had regulated it with Tylenol and Motrin. On this particular day, her fever ended up spiking. She had, what we now know is, a febrile seizure. In the moment, my partner banged on my home office door and yelled for my help. My partner quickly explained what was happening and asked what should we do. We immediately called 911. I held our daughter as she began to convulse, foam at the mouth, and turn blue while my partner wiped the foam and any potential vomit away from our daughter’s mouth. Thankfully, I function well in crisis and fall apart when everyone is safe. Thankfully, my partner operates well over time and distance. Metaphorically, one of us is a sprinter and the other is a long distance runner.
The ambulance quickly arrived and the EMTs assured us that this was a relatively common occurrence, was usually benign, and began to administer oxygen. We reported the timing and duration of her seizure, her previous symptoms, and other details. They asked who was going to ride with our daughter in the ambulance to the hospital. We quickly agreed it would be my partner. They strapped my partner into the gurney while I handed her our daughter. My partner held our daughter in her arms through the ambulance ride, through our daughter’s fever rising to over 103, through the EMT administering a suppository, through our daughter losing consciousness, and through arriving to the ER and getting admitted. All of these moment being prime examples of the “1001 heart attacks.”
I followed quickly after in our vehicle. Once I arrived at the ER, the RN screening people for COVID gently told me that my partner and daughter were safe. Upon hearing they were safe, my body shuddered, my breathing changed to almost hyperventilation, and tears streamed down my face. He also let me know that I would not be able to join them due to COVID restrictions; and so began the heartbreaks. I was isolated outside while my partner had to navigate all the tenuous moments with our daughter alone. We spent the next ten hours or so communicating via text and FaceTime updates on our daughter, talking through decisions to be made, and our individual heart attacks and heartbreaks.
Parenting is full of these experiences on the macro, meso, and micro levels almost daily. Being a parent is humbling, profound, exhausting, and beautiful. We stumble through doing the best we can with the knowledge we have at the moment. There are guideposts on the journey though no perfect formulas or user manuals. It is an ongoing creative process that includes many times of just sheer survival. As our children grow and change, we must grow and change with them. Whether you are a biological parent, adoptive parent, step-parent, or extended family member taking on the role of parent, it makes no difference. All the ways of coming to parenthood are valid.
In this ongoing series, we will explore different aspects of parenting. At times, I will also write on other areas ranging from: self-care, trauma, mindfulness, building resiliency, masculinity, professional development, and addiction issues among others. I am also open to your suggestions. You can reach me at my practice group email of firstname.lastname@example.org. It is my hope that the sharing of my experience and a few insights garnered along the way will support you on your journey.
Till next time, be as gentle and kind with yourself as you can be.
Written by: DR. MICHAEL EVANS-ZEPEDA PSYD, PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSISTANT PSB94024891 WORKING DIRECTLY UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF DR. MARLENE ELIZALDE-PESCHECK, LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST 30285