The Wall

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He wasn’t supposed to have been born that day.  His due date was in January, and he therefore had no business arriving in early November.  The birth didn’t come as a surprise.  I had been on hospital bed rest for ten days after being rushed to the labor and delivery floor when my water broke at 29 weeks.  I had already beaten the “statistics” and had managed to stay pregnant those extra ten days, meaning my son would only be 9 weeks early versus 11.  Those two weeks were a huge bonus.  Yet, I still didn’t feel ready to deliver a baby – because babies aren’t ready to be born when they’re 31 weeks in utero.

At three pounds, six ounces, he was bigger than most 31 week preemies, yet, there were complications. For the first seven days of his life, I held my breath in uncertainty.

I spent as much time as I could in the NICU.  Yet, as much as I was physically present, emotionally, I felt an odd detachment from not only the situation, but from him.

I was so scared that my son was going to die, that I was afraid to love him, for my fear of losing him, and believing that the pain of potentially losing him would be too great for me to bear.

The thought of losing my son was a pain so unthinkable, that I tried to build a wall around my heart to protect myself.  I rationalized that if I never allowed myself to love him, losing him wouldn’t hurt quite as much.  At least, that was my thought process at the time.

My resistance didn’t last long.  I remember one morning, getting ready to drive to the NICU, and catching myself in my “lie.”  When it dawned on me what I had been doing, I sunk onto my bed and cried.  I cried out of love and I cried out of fear and I cried out of being ashamed at my behavior.  My son needed my love more than I needed to protect myself.

Many of us build walls out of fear. Maybe we’ve been hurt before by something or someone and we vow that this place of hurt is a place where we never want to return.  Yet, the problem with the wall is that the wall keeps out “the good” as much as it keeps out “the bad.”

With every wall comes a lie.

I can’t handle this.

That doesn’t matter to me anyway.    

I will never allow myself to feel that way again.

Getting attached means getting hurt.

I can’t trust anyone.

and the list goes on.  Maybe one of these lies looks familiar to you, or maybe you have a lie of your own.    

The problem with the walls and the lies that result from the walls is that we wind up resisting our feelings.  In turn, we resist and betray ourselves, and we don’t live life fully.

Not loving the hell out of my baby every day that he was in the NICU was not living my life fully.

Last week, when I spent more time resisting difficult emotions versus feeling them, dealing with them, and letting them go, I was not living my life fully.  Furthermore, it took more energy for me to resist the feelings than it would have to embrace them and to accept them and to make my peace.

Yoga Class

Some people believe that “yogis” are able to face any situation with a lesser degree of emotion, that we’re “neutral.” This is simply not true.  Yoga is about staying present and aware.   Ideally, in this awareness,   I would be able to identify and face feelings as they come and let them go.  That’s what being present is about, not holding onto the past, and not projecting into the future.

We can honor the past and respect what we have learned and who we have become from our past, but we don’t have to live there.

We can plan for and work for a beautiful future, noting the mistakes we have once made and trying not to make the same mistakes again, but we have the freedom to do this in positivity.

Just because something bad happened once doesn’t mean something bad is going to happen again.

Trusting the outcome can be as painstakingly difficult as tearing down a wall, both literally and figuratively.

When  the dismantling of those bricks gets difficult, I try to remind myself, that the light gets in much more readily through open spaces.


This post is dedicated to the awesome-in-every-way Alexa from No Holding Back as was inspired by her recent post, Change, the Only Constant. This post, and so much of what Alexa writes reminds me to face life, with all of its joys, triumphs, fears, and tragedy, with an open mind and heart.


The Wall — 68 Comments

  1. Ilene! Oh my gosh. This is so beautifully written. I was already crying as I read this post and relived NICU hell myself, but then I read your last paragraph and totally lost it. I’m so glad I found you. I’m glad we’ve met in person and I can honestly say you are not only in my blogging tribe, but you are in MY TRIBE. I’m thinking of you as you go through this next stage of big changes, and I look forward to coming to visit once you’ve settled in! Thank you so much for this amazing gift. TEAR down that wall! (Now can you hear President Reagan: “Mr. Gorbechev!…”) I had to end with humor. HUGS and more hugs.
    Alexa recently posted…Living with Chronic PainMy Profile

    • And I am so glad I found you too – and yes, you are in my TRIBE too! Meeting you in Charlotte and having the time to get to know you was such a joy. I am so honored to call you a friend. And yes! Heck yes! You are coming to visit and we are drinking wine and talking until we are all talked out (could that ever happen, I wonder? Talking until we are all talked out that is???) xxxooo

    • Thanks, girl. That was taken a few years ago but I just love that photo. It’s “him,” you know? Happy and enjoying the world. And yes, the preemie survivors ARE amazing. It’s like he *knows* and has this really deep appreciation for life as a young child. It awes me.

  2. What a great message in your story!! I lived through a NICU experience when my 2nd was 6 weeks early and remember very well the many emotions of that time.
    Thanks for sharing what you learned through your experience.
    Kim recently posted…My Running StoryMy Profile

    • Kim, hugs to you my fellow NICU mama. It’s such an emotional time and a trying time, but I am fortunate that have a healthy 7 year old son and a much deeper appreciation for those “things we take for granted” due to his early arrival and those complications. I bet you can relate!

    • Thank you Joi. I appreciate that we build our walls for protection – and may be needed as such in certain circumstances – but then they wind up blocking out the good. I think once we recognize what our “lies” are, we have that awesome opportunity to take down a few bricks. For those of us who can see the lies, we really are quite lucky.

  3. This is so amazing Ilene! I wanted to cry reading this. I know it was a difficult time…thankfully everything turned out wonderful and look at what a great kid he is! I didn’t have a NICU baby but I went through a period of time when my son was a little over 1 when he was passing out (and turning blue because he would stop breathing) on a daily basis. I was an emotional wreck. They struggled to find what was wrong with him and every time it happened I thought I was going to lose him. It was the most difficult thing I have ever been through.
    Michelle recently posted…Fresh Air Fund…A Life Changing ExperienceMy Profile

    • Oh, Michelle, that must have been awful. Especially with such a little baby. And every day! Were they ever able diagnose the problem?

  4. Oh wow. Yeah. I spent something like 22 years building walls. I was a very, very good wall builder. When I met Scott, I had never dated (not entirely my walls, but yeah), lived on my own because I couldn’t handle the thought of a roommate invading my space after 16 years of sharing a room with my sister, and hated every professor but one in grad school. I was heading for a manic edge that bordered on dangerous because I really wasn’t aware of the potential dangers of the things I was doing. (Trying to climb on a roof via a thin balcony to throw down books, for example. And that’s one I remember because Scott interrupted me and I climbed off the balcony before I freaking fell.)

    And I was absolutely gobsmacked and blindsided by falling in love. Walls are meant to be dismantled brick by brick, and when you send a wrecking ball through the side, the damage is great. Holy shit how I crumbled.
    Jester Queen recently posted…Sex EdMy Profile

    • I agree with you that dismantling brick by brick is the way to break down walls. Slowly. That wrecking ball can wreck havoc on us every way possible.

      When you go into recovery for alcoholism or drug addiction, and if you are single, you’re advised not to get into a relationship for a year, because once your “wall” is gone, ie, your drug of choice, it’s feared you may not be able to handle the emotions surrounding a new situation like that. That’s just a really good example of what you say about the wrecking ball. Take the bricks down slowly.

      And the more I hear about Scott and you and Scott, the more I love him and you and him as a couple. Plus, he’s clearly someone who cares for you, loves you for you, and respects the places where you have walls and the places you don’t.

    • I can’t even imagine the pain you went through at the time, not only over the molestation but your mom choosing to stay with the abuser must have felt like a huge betrayal. I completely understand needing to build walls after being in that situation. But I am happy that you have been able to let go – like you said, for your own peace.

  5. Ilene, I can’t even imagine what it was like for you. The detachment is probably more natural than actually tearing down those walls, and deciding to love him fiercely anyway. And you did that. You did that for him. For you. You’re both amazing.
    Alison recently posted…Thoughts, and a RecipeMy Profile

    • Thank you my sweet friend. I needed to be “stoic” to get through those months, to just be able to show up every day and listen to the doctors reports and make the right decisions. But I’m glad I shifted my thinking and allowed myself to love him fiercely at the same time. He needed it. I needed it.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Just stopping over from Mommifried and will be back again! When my oldest daughter was born, there were a few moments before she started to cry, and the nurses whisked her out of the doctor’s hands. It was only a few seconds before she started crying, but those were some of the longest moments of my life. I can only imagine how that feeling would be multiplied by weeks in the NICU. I love the message in your post, especially the powerful reminder about the light shining through when we dismantle the walls we’ve built up.
    Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama recently posted…Sharing The Joy of RunningMy Profile

    • Nicole, first of all, it’s so nice to meet you, and yes, I can only imagine how long that moment was before your baby cried. Life is so precious and there is no greater reminder of that than when something is “off” with our kids. I’m so glad your baby was OK.

  7. I really needed to hear this part, especially. “Just because something bad happened once doesn’t mean something bad is going to happen again.”

    I think I have lived every day of my life terrified for as long as I can remember. It’s not easy to stop trying to protect yourself, no matter how futile. Especially when you don’t know how.

    • I think the dismantling of the bricks is a life long process. Like Jessie said above, it’s not advisable to do it wrecking ball style. I think it can begin in one of many places, trusting ourselves more, trusting our circumstances more, being in the moment more, and realizing that moment to moment, everything is OK. Slow and steady. Sending you much peace and love, my friend. Today and always. xo

    • That was the theme of my week last week – and when I finally let go of the resistance, life just flowed again. It never ceases to happen and it never ceases to amaze me. So glad it spoke to you today and I loved writing this for Alexa!

  8. What a difficult time that must have been! I can understand why you put those walls around your heart. I went four weeks early with my first, and she weighed only 5 lb 6 oz. Oh my gosh-can’t image 2 lbs smaller! What a teensy slice of heaven your son was and is. There is something eminently precious about the little ones that come right out of the gate fighting!

    As usual, beautifully said. <3
    Kim recently posted…Three Ideas to Help Guide You to the Right DecisionMy Profile

    • Thank you, Kim. He never lost that bit of scrappy that he needed to fight in the early days. I’m glad I got those walls down enough to love him the way he needed it and the way all of our kids need it. I am convinced that being a NICU preemie is part of what has molded him into the kid he is today. Loving life. Full of spunk and spirit. He reminds me every day what a precious gift this life is. xo

    • Thank you, Kim. I think that 99% of the time, the good far outweighs the bad. I’m willing to risk taking some walls down for more good. And you are right. That good is wonderful.

  9. I read this early this morning when I was nursing and delirious and found it so awesome, I couldn’t possibly give you a comment out of my 6:00 am brain. It just wouldn’t be fair.
    The line about the light getting in more readily is just so good, I want to make bumper stickers and t-shirts out of it.
    I have had similar experiences – walls – not with Des for some reason, but in so many other instances of being afraid to love something or someone I could lose. It’s so powerful. And of course those expanding Mama hearts engulf ALL in their paths. Fiercely. xoxo.
    Tamara recently posted…This is Big Time, Baby.My Profile

    • I can so relate to your comment. This is not the only instance where I’ve resisted loving someone or someone for fear of loss. But it’s certainly the most powerful example I have – my son. But yes, the mama heart took over, fortunately, and you’re right. Those mama hears do indeed engulf everything in their paths. xo

  10. Ilene, you are one of my FAVORITE bloggers. The honesty in each line is breathtaking.

    “I was so scared that my son was going to die, that I was afraid to love him, for my fear of losing him, and believing that the pain of potentially losing him would be too great for me to bear.” Soo honest and true that it’s something like a painful beauty. There is obvious pain in admitting that you held back from loving someone you thought you’d might lose, but there is beauty in admitting the truth of the matter. It is liberating not only to admit the truth but to share your story. I give you many props for being able to share and in sharing heal yourself and maybe others. I love this post! Thank you for sharing…Andrea
    Andrea recently posted…He’s Had BetterMy Profile

    • Andrea, thank you so much for this beautiful and thoughtful comment. This is why I blog. Not for the “props,” but for that connection and understanding and community that a post can create – whether it be my post or someone else’s post, I love when there is that “aha” that brings the reader and the writer closer together in understanding. I’m grateful I felt compelled to share this story. If it inspires one person to dismantle a few bricks, then my work is that much more worth it.

  11. I think you just blew my mind.

    Because you’ve just described how nonattachment allows us to attach, to love, to be completely open to the experience of life. Attachment, in its own way, IS in the letting go.

    I tell myself so many lies. And I think they allow me to let go, to not care, but what they do, really, is make me hold on.

    Astonishingly beautiful.
    Justine recently posted…NaBloPoMo: The Listserve, and TruthsMy Profile

    • Your comment gives me chills because you have just encapsulated this post in a very succinct way and at the same time, you’re making me look at the situation through a slightly different set of eyes. Yes. YES! Letting go DOES allow us to be attached. Exactly. And isn’t it so true that the “not caring” just keeps us hanging on. Because we have to put energy into that “not caring,” sometimes more energy than if we just admitted that we actually cared. A friend suggested something earlier today – about my trying to “let things be” versus “let them go” because sometimes I’m in such a hurry to let things go! I want to be done with them. I love the idea of letting things be. Allowing them to stay around – not to take up space in my mind or heart but to peacefully coexist with them and how they’ve affected me. It kind of goes along nicely with the idea of nonattachment.

  12. I can’t imagine the emotions you felt going through this…I appreciate you being so honest about this b/c I think we all would feel the conflicting feelings that you did. Again just wow…I can’t say that enough. You really have a way with words!
    Natalie recently posted…Random Thoughts WednesdayMy Profile

    • Thank you so much Natalie. Conflicting feelings is the key phrase here – but so many of life’s pivotal moments are full of those conflicting feelings, right? I’d like to think I’ll manage those moments with more poise after this experience.

    • You nail it when you say life is scary and uncontrollable but also beautiful and amazing. And I’m willing to take a little bit of scary to get to the beautiful part, even if it means dismantling a few bricks.

  13. I’m not sure which is my favorite miracle. That he survived, and thrived? That his mother recognized the walls she put up, faced her fears, and surrounded him with love? Or that she could recognize the entire process, then have the gift to write it in such a compelling way to share with all of us?

    We all have these walls, and you’ve helped to definite them for so many of us. It’s not easy to break them down, because the lies sometimes are cemented into them like iron rods. But knowing they’re there and help us break through around them.

    A beautiful post.
    Eli@coachdaddy recently posted…5 For Friday: Go Ask Daddy About DaVinci Paintings, Salmonella Spritzers and Fishy Sensory IssuesMy Profile

    • The thing about those lies we tell ourselves is that a lot of the time, we don’t even realize that they’re lies or that they’re even there for that matter, because they’re so embedded into our belief systems, that we simply accept them as truth.

      I can’t tell you how many decisions I’ve made over the course of my life based on these lies. I am so very, very lucky in that I’ve had opportunities in recent years to separate myself from them and become aware of least some of them. And when that happens, it can be the beginning of something great.

    • Thank you Kristen. You said it perfectly, it was the happy ending of a continuing story. I can’t be more fortunate to have both!

  14. I’ve spent a lot of time hiding behind fear and not really living. This year has been the year that I’m starting to break that down. And it is hard and scary and sometimes really painful. But I am finding those beautiful moments too when I’m being open and connecting and I’m so grateful for those. Beautiful and inspiring post, as always!
    Tricia recently posted…Nothing is impossible (and a giveaway!)My Profile

    • I feel like I’ve been witness to some changes within you this year, and I’ve seen you take some chances. As my old boss used to say, slow is fast. Slow growth is real growth. Brick by brick. I think you’re doing great.

  15. Oh, wow, I know the wall you speak of!

    My youngest was born at 32 weeks and was in the NICU for a month. I tried so hard to distance myself from what was happening, but I had to finally admit that no amount of wall would keep me from being destroyed if something went wrong. I think I broke down at some point (me and my husband both did), and just did what I needed to do. I loved her with everything, and hoped for the best. I knew that if I didn’t do that, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

    Deep down, I knew she’d be okay, but there is nothing more heartbreaking that seeing a helpless babe in the NICU to make a mom feel helpless, too.

    I guess I can see how the wall gets built up in other areas of life as well…I come from a dysfunctional upbringing, and I think the fear that I’ve been carrying around had a lot to do with how I dealt with my premie.

    I’m still working on how to face life and actually LIVE in the moment. It’s a process.
    Julie recently posted…Food is Pretty.My Profile

    • I think we all have automatic responses and defense mechanisms, whether we created them to protect ourselves as children or as adults even – we may have adopted them two decades ago or last week out of self protection – and then we realize at some point that we don’t need the self protection or that the cost of those behaviors is too high – because it causes us to miss out on really good things. I think everything is a process – and learning to live in the moment is a difficult process for many. I am so happy your daughter went onto thrive and that you were able to dismantle your walls for her.

  16. Oh Ilene!!!! Such a powerful post and message!!! This resonates with everyone in some way…
    Yes. The greatest coping skill many have is detachment. Fear is often our greatest barrier in life. We are such a fragile kind. And yet, when we separate ourselves from the investment (whatever that may be), it keeps us from any true blessings we may reap in living. Oh it’s so hard to be vulnerable…

    SO beautiful. So raw. So inspiring. That is always you.
    Chris Carter recently posted…Collective Blog Hop!My Profile

    • It is so hard to be vulnerable in any situation. I think it’s that balance between allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and letting go of outcomes and trusting life. That’s where I want to be.

  17. You have serious talent for writing – just beautiful. Even though every story is unique, there is a thread that everyone can relate to. So glad things worked out. And they always do – just not the way we sometimes think they should work out. And sometimes, that’s a good thing….
    Leah Davidson recently posted…Oh the Places You’ll Go….My Profile

    • Leah, first of all, I am humbled by your words about my writing. Thank you for that. And things always do work out. It’s so true. And if it’s not the way we had hoped, it’s typically because the outcome will be better than we had ever imagined it would be.

  18. So so beautifully written!! My son was born at 32 weeks unexpectedly. I remember it just all felt so strange and not real, he was my third so I had done this before so it just tore at me to leave the NICU and not bring him home with me. Then I had my other two that needed me and I wanted to be with them but I also felt like I needed to be with my son. I think I was on auto pilot most of that time as it was easier that way.

    • Thank you Emmy. I think you have to be on auto pilot in a situation like that. Especially to be “mom” to kids at home and a child in the hospital. I had a 20 month old at home and felt torn the whole time – dividing my time and being worried about my son. I hope your son had a short and uneventful stay – as far as NICU stays go!

    • Thank you my friend. It doesn’t work, does it? It doesn’t work at all. It just takes more energy and emotion in the end to keep those walls up!

  19. Oh is he gorgeous! And this business about erecting and tearing down walls is just the message I need right now. I have many similar lies and I relate to grieving all the energy I use to keep feelings at bay rather than feeling and celebrating them. Here’s to the courageous path of feeling all our feelings! Gorgeous post!
    Mary @ A Teachable Mom recently posted…When Does Parenting Cross the Line From Encouraging to Controlling?My Profile

    • It’s so true! Denying our feelings takes so much energy! I am learning that more and more and surrendering to feeling whatever it is I’m in at the moment. I am so glad that you are on this path with me!

  20. Oh my goodness, Ilene, this was beautiful! I have built so many walls for fearing of getting hurt and letting my vulnerability show. But sometimes, we need to break those walls down and allow ourselves to feel, both the good and the bad, to really live.
    Kimberly recently posted…Focusing On TodayMy Profile

  21. You have done it again, Ilene. This happened to me three times in my life. I built a wall when Nico was in the Nicu. I built a wall when we found out Tommy had CF and I wouldn’t let myself love Gia while I was pregnant with her because I was afraid she was going to die like Rocco and I couldn’t bear to go through that again. But in doing so, I cheated myself and them out of so much. I don’t think I realized what I was doing but you said it exactly how it was. Great job!
    AnnMarie recently posted…Wisconsin Dells 2013My Profile

    • I am right there with you, AnnMarie. For me, love is full out all my heart kind of stuff, and I think it is for you too. At least that’s what I see. Sometimes, the wall feels like my only hope to survive something on an emotional level. Intellectually, I know I won’t die from my emotions, but sometimes it can fee like that. I hope my lesson has been learned and that I’m more apt to give more in the moment, despite my fears.

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