A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog entry about having a love affair with my new daughter. The overwhelming love that I feel every day as her expressions change, her face lights up, and she invades my heart more than I ever thought possible. I love talking about the love I have for her. It makes me happy – it makes me want to pretend I’m living in a musical, like I’m Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, and break into song. Honestly, it’s almost corny how much I love my little monkey.
What I don’t like to talk about – or think about- but can’t seem to get off my mind is the absolute terror that has come with having a child. Why didn’t someone warn me that I’d be laying in bed, wondering if Brianna was still breathing – getting up to check on her before I could go back to sleep. Sometimes more than once. Of course, with newborns, there’s the fear of SIDS. How do you concur a fear of something that you can’t fight, you can’t overcome – you can only accept that it may be and do a few things to prevent it.
But along with that, there’s the fear of illness, injury, accidents, falls, car accidents, something happening while another caregiver is watching baby… the list is endless really. There are horror stories every day of parents losing their child to some unimaginable event. No one told me that I’d worry about each and every one of these things happening. That I’d look at Brianna and wonder what I’d do if something happened to her, if I didn’t get a chance to know her as a young child, an adolescent, a teenager. As an adult raising a family of her own. Darn it, why didn’t someone tell me I’d feel this absolute terror of losing her?
And perhaps it’s normal, but I also have a fear of not being around to raise her. People say that having children makes you aware of your own mortality, but I can honestly say I was already aware of that. I lost my mom when I was 17 and she was 38. I lost a close friend when I was in high school. I know that people die and that today could be my last. But now, I look at Brianna and think of all the things I want to teach her and memories I want to make with her and I have a fear of something happening to myself and not getting to do those things. I realize how much I want to see her grow and I want to be the one to raise her, not some other “mom”. And she needs me so much right now – not even taking a bottle, just breastfeeding – how terrified would she be if something happened and I couldn’t feed her, comfort her, soothe her?
Part of my feelings of possibly dying are especially normal for a woman who has lost a mother. I read an excellent book, Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman, and she discussed the tendency of motherless daughters to have a subconscious belief that their lifespan might be similar to that of their mother- and therefore they too will die young. But I suspect that many new mothers go through these periods of fear for themselves – as it relates to not being able to care for their children.
I spoke with a woman at the CR conference several weeks ago, and we somehow got on this subject of absolute terror. She revealed to me that she was the most careful of mothers – monitoring every aspect of her daughter’s upbringing. But at the age of 14, through circumstances beyond her control, her daughter died. And she said to me “You get through it. You survive even though you don’t think you will and you don’t know if you want to. And you find God real quick.” Yes, I suppose you do. Could I survive it? Yes. Would I be the same person? Most assuredly not. But I hope like hell I never find out.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the fear isn’t going anywhere. It seems it’s one of the things that comes with being a parent. I think the trick is to not let it become overwhelming and all-consuming. To not let the terror overwhelm the love and take the joy out of every moment. But I’ll still be getting up to put my hand on Brianna’s back and feel the comfort of her warmth, her snuffly breaths, and the reassurance of her heartbeat.