To this day, I get physically sick when I remember the event that I will describe here. It lasted for only about half an hour, but it is the single most horrifying experience of my entire life.
One day in late summer when my daughter was three years old, I put my newborn son in the stroller, and took them both out to the park.
My daughter played with other kids, did her rounds on the swing, slides and other fun playground rides, and then it was time to go home. I needed to feed my little one, and the evening was slowly creeping in.
We went towards our apartment building, and my daughter was running around me, picking flowers and leaves, chatting about what some little girl said to her in the playground.
The entrance of the building is facing the playground. It stands on a wide plateau, next to a bank, a library, some weird workplace-injuries office, pizza place and a grocery store.
There are also pillars on the plateau, and my daughter loves to hide behind them, screaming with laughter when I look for her and finally find her.
She ran and disappeared.
There was a sudden jolt in my heart, but I dismissed it.
I called her name and started looking for her, saying the same silly things as every time:
"Where is my little girl?"
"Oh, no, the goblins stole her!"
"Or she is playing tricks on her mummy!"
"Ready or not, here I come!"
Whenever we played like this, I could hear her giggling behind one of the pillars.
Not this time.
Evening was coming, slowly turning the brightness of the day into heavy dusk.
My voice became strange as I called her name, half playing, half panicking.
Silence was loud with the complete lack of her reply.
I felt as if my heart was ripped out of my body.
I knew she was not there.
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I walked fast around the plateau, looking behind the pillars, now yelling her name loudly, trying to be strict and order her to come:
"Stop playing, and come here right now!"
But there was nothing.
I realised that I had a baby in a stroller and that I was not mobile enough to start running, in search of her.
I couldn’t leave my baby, but time was passing with my daughter gone, and I had none to lose.
I ran into my building, banging on the door of our apartment.
My mother opened it, startled by the look on my face. I pushed the stroller in and yelled besides myself:
"MUM, I LOST HER!"
And I ran outside.
As I ran out I saw a neighbour with her little son. I told her my daughter was gone, and she ran into the playground to inform the other parents, so they can look for her across the playground.
Then I ran through the plateau, down to the pavement next to a busy street, and towards the parking lot.
My brain became a battlefield.
I needed to stay collected and take action, so as I was running, I kept calling her name.
I was calling my husband at work, asking him to inform the police so I can keep searching, not wasting time on the phone.
At the same time, there was loud screaming inside my soul. It was filled with desperation.
A PARKING LOT! If someone threw her in their car, she could be at the other end of the city already, and I could run as much as I want, but she would be gone!
I saw her in someone’s car, scared, crying…
I saw her hurt, raped, sold…
I heard her cry for mummy and daddy and her little brother..
And I felt my womb empty, as death…
As I ran and called out for her, I saw an old woman in the distance, walking across the field next to my daughter’s kindergarten.
The woman was holding a little girl by the hand, and they were walking together.
It was my child.
It was my child, but I did not recognise her.
I was so scared, desperately needing to DO SOMETHING, that when I saw the woman and a little girl, I literally did not recognise my own daughter for a few moments.
I did not dare to hope.
And I could not waste time on some woman and her granddaughter, while I needed to search for my child!
And then I heard the most beautiful word in this universe:
As I heard this, I saw her running across the field towards me.
My knees buckled, and I went down.
She ran into my embrace, and it felt as if life returned into my blood. I grabbed her as a drowning man grabs a hand that offers salvation.
I collected myself so I would not scare her, and sat on the bench with her in my lap.
She had gone for a little walk!
She thought I was coming, too. She didn’t mean to.
She wanted to show me how grown up she was…
The old lady said my daughter came up to her and said:
"Hi, lady, I lost my mother. Her name is Iva and if you see her, can you please tell her that I am looking for her?"
And so the lady took her hand in search of mummy (or police).
I thanked the old woman profusely and invited her inside for coffee and cake, but she declined and went on.
I informed my husband and the neighbours that the little fugitive had been found.
Then I took my daughter inside.
I made her cocoa and we sat down on the couch together, wrapped in the blanket.
I told her about what she means to me.
I told her about the time she was in my belly.
I spoke about her birth and wonderful times when she was a baby.
I told her about illnesses, laughter, crying, about trips, about learning to crawl and walk.
I told her about her first words, dances, little accidents.
I told her I love her.
And then I explained to her how I felt when I thought that she was gone and that I might never see her again.
I told her how dangerous it can be to wander away like that.
She hugged me tightly and said:
"I will never do that again, Mummy."
Then the evening continued normally.
Her baby brother cooed.
I put them to sleep with stories, lullabies and kisses.
After they fell asleep, I sat down and met my own heart. It was bruised.
It is a horrible horrifying love, a love that a parent has for her child.
I never knew that I could love anything or anyone this much. My children are a part of my own being, my flesh, my blood, my heart, my breath, my all.
As I write about this, I remember the fear, desperation and hope that I felt that day, and tears stream down my face.
My dear readers, may all your little ones sleep safely in your arms tonight, and all the nights of their childhood.
May they grow up safely, to discover the world and their paths.
May no one and nothing ever take them from you.
Iva Izabela is a burning girl, fairy, mum, writer, dancer and psychotherapist. This post originally appeared on Quora and has been republished with full permission. You can read the original post here.