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“OK, now exhale,” the young doctor matter-of-factly stated as I felt the cool metal enter my spine. The nurse laid me down gently and then positioned my arms and legs like I was Jesus on the cross. “Just focus on breathing, through the nose, out the mouth. In and out. It will be over before you know it.”

I offered a close-lipped smile. Never a fan of platitudes when I’m nervous, I focused on holding back my tears while counting white ceiling tiles. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until my husband arrived and sat down next to my head.

“I can’t feel my legs,” I told him, exhaling deeply.

“I think that’s the point,” he replied.

A few minutes later, a team of sixteen medical professionals all seemed to continue saying the same words over and over to me.

“Just breathe, Hon, you’re doing great.”

“Keep breathing.”

“In and out, in and out. There you go.”

I focused on slowly sucking oxygen into my lungs and then releasing it into the overcrowded operating room until we heard first one cry, and then another. And with those breaths in and out, in and out, I became a parent of twins. Sixteen months later, we added a third girl to the mix.

When you have children, moments are made in the breaths we take. The exhilaration and fear of watching their little tummies move up and down in the crib the first night when you place your hand gently on their chest to make absolutely sure they are still breathing. The excited gasp as we watch them take their first steps. The exhale of relief when a high fever breaks. Holding our breaths as we watch our son or daughter shoot a goal or play a solo or recite a speech. Panting as we push their first two-wheeler from behind, and loudly cheering as we watch them cross another milestone off the list.

Sometimes it is an exasperated sigh of disappointment when our child doesn’t meet our expectations. Or, sometimes we can’t catch our breath from the laughter we share from a good joke.

Sometimes we feel their hot breath on our cheek, as we wipe away their tears from a nightmare or belly ache. And sometimes they sense our presence as we hold our breath in the darkness of their bedrooms, leaning over to steal one last kiss before going to bed late at night.

In and out. In and out. The breaths we take carry us through their childhood.

And then these magnificent creatures turn into teenagers. My breathing is often labored trying to keep up with their busy schedules. I gasp in shock when I see a beautiful woman-child in my kitchen staring me in the eye instead of looking down at the dirt-smeared face of a three-year-old tugging on my pant leg. I choke back fears of the monsters they may encounter and dangers that are all too prevalent. I exhale, slowly, before I speak, knowing that my words must count.

The breaths we take in these years are important. The breaths we take matter.

In and out. In and out. Our breaths carry us through the times our teens push us away, and they soothe us when we open our arms to take them back. They give us pause. They calm the chaos. They provide the peace.

So many years of in and out, in and out, yet it seems like it went by in a single breath.

I know there is so much breathing yet to do. I imagine the gasps I’ll make upon seeing my daughters in a wedding dress, the exhalation of watching graduations, the nervous panting waiting for them to return from first solo drive in a car, and the euphoric cheers I will shout when meeting my grandchildren.

I will remember each breath in and each breath out. I will cherish every time my children took my breath away.

Because parenting is about the breaths we take. And I wish I could slow mine down.

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a freelance writer, and co-partner of the site parentingteensandtweens.com You can find her on Facebook at WhitneyFlemingWrites.

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