Sunday, July 26, 2009

To Worry or Not to Worry? And do we have a choice...?

Picture the scene - Olivia in her swing drifting off to sleep, clutching taggie blanket in one hand and Sophie the rubber teething giraffe in her other. I seize the opportunity for a bathroom break - it must be a good 4 hours since I last peed and 4 cups of coffee are now taking their toll on my recovering kegel muscles. No sooner am I out of the room than i hear her cough. Relax, just a cough. Then another, and another, and then some tears. I race back in and find Sophie's leg wedged deep in her mouth. I yank it out, pick her up and with her now calm, I remind myself to breathe. After 10 seconds she is smiling. Another 10 and she is asleep. Moments later I have emailed Tom at work banning Sophie. "She's a flipping giraffe - had it been her neck in there we could have been in real trouble!"  
Nothing actually why is my heart still pounding 20 minutes later? Why in those 5 seconds running from the bathroom to the living room had I already pictured Olivia blue and unresponsive? As a mother, am I ever going to stop worrying? Are those days gone? 

Before Olivia, two things would leave me in a cold sweat. The fear of losing my own mother and the fear of losing Tom. These are understandable emotions that most people can relate to. Fear of being left.  Since the gift of Olivia, the thought of losing her is paralysing. It goes without saying and how any parent comes through losing a child is beyond me. I know that death is a part of life but the loss of a child is surely death itself to the parent. I do not know and can only imagine. And, like many other new mothers, i think we spend a lot of time imagining. That is why we check our sleeping babies even after they are sleeping through the night. That is why the sound of silence is not quite as peaceful as it once was.
I think that this is something pregnancy gears us up for. We have 9 private months with our baby and we learn how strong that bond can be. Nine months where although by the end your bump can become public property, every movement, hiccup and contraction is happening solely between us. I could be standing on the A train at rush hour in Manhattan with people pushed far too close to me but only i was feeling my girl's first kicks. 
It took me 20 weeks to be comfortable with having a baby. Our wonderful surprise had left me terrified and feeling utterly lonely, despite the mountains of support i had surrounding me. I wanted to be a mother but not yet!! What would i be giving up? Had i thrown everything away? Gradually fear turned to nerves. How are we going to make this work? When I hit the home stretch I just felt primal. I need to get this baby cooked and out to me safe and sound. It took me 9 months to get a handle on the strength of emotion I was going to feel and even then when that tidal wave of emotion hit me when she was born I was utterly overwhelmed. Nine months. I painfully remember the Friday morning one week before Olivia came and I had stopped feeling her move inside me. I had woken up and had some orange juice, some sweet cereal and i still wasn't feeling her. I sent Tom and my mum out to get coffee and order me a hot chocolate and i promised that I would join them shortly. I hadn't told them what i was or rather wasn't feeling and to this day i do not know why. I just needed to be alone. I showered and kept talking to my tummy, kept drinking and eating sweets to try and invoke some movement but nothing. Tom returned having had a feeling that something wasn't right and when he walked in I dissolved into tears.  Within 20 minutes we were at the hospital as advised by our OB. It is safe to say that I have never been so terrified. My throat was thick with tears which i refused to let out. I remember thinking that this was to be some cruel joke. I hadn't wanted to be pregnant and now that I am so in love with my baby i will never get to meet her. I looked at Tom and knew that he was thinking similar things. I never want to see that look on his face again. They found the heartbeat and we sobbed in relief. For not having to experience everything that we had both imagined. A week later we were in the same ward holding our daughter.

Incidentally, since Olivia's arrival I have also become aware of my own mortality. Every day truly is a gift. Yesterday at Portland's Beer Festival (Yes, i went...with Olivia...terrible mother) I was talking with a friend who has suddenly developed a fear of flying. She and her husband are going away next week and although this is a common fear for many it has come out of left field for her. Interestingly enough, she attributes it to a fear of leaving her children should anything happen to her. I'd never thought about this but i immediately understood. I remember having those teen-angst fantasies about seeing your own funeral - who would be there, who would care, what music would I have, who would try speak barely unable to contain their own emotion... Now, the thought of my own early death terrifies me because for the first time i feel it has consequences.  I know that Olivia has an incredible father so it is not so much who would teach her this or show her that, it's just that I want to. I want to hear her first words, watch her discover her talents, teach her to play sports, watch her graduate college, see her get married. I want to hold my grandchildren. If I found out tomorrow that I had a week to live all that I could think that I would do would be to find ways that she would know me and know how much she was loved when she was older. 

Does the worry ever end?  Probably not. I suppose that it just changes. Last week my biggest worry was her runny poop, a day later I was concerned because she was congested. Today i will probably worry that i haven't given her enough tummy time. When will it get easier? Does it get easier? I think it must or else we would all be locked in asylums and who on earth would have a second child? Either that or the sheer joy outweighs the worry. I think that the worry when they are so young is more intense because so much of what happens to them is what we do - they are our responsibility. Our choices dictate their daily activities. When they are older, our worries are perhaps about whether we did a good enough job when they were growing up, so that when faced with choices they head in the right direction, the safe direction...the one without least for us, the parents. 

I suppose for me being a mum means experiencing a love that is cliched because it is so true. A love that comes easily but not without hardships. I'm learning that being a mum is non stop, demanding but rewarding.  And if worry is the currency of a mother's love then I am rich woman. 


  1. You are wonderful. Such a great mum! I love you.

  2. I don't think we ever stop worring, but it does egt easier. You get used to the little things and worry less about them, leaving you much more time to worry about the big things!!!! Loveing your blog! xx

  3. Great blog, Paula. You have captured the emotions perfectly in your writing. I'm right there in these trenches with you, as you know. Glad to be experiencing and sharing with an amazing person, YOU!

  4. all worry aside (i'm not *even* going to go there... the worry is so deep i'm on anti-anxiety meds);

    regarding taking sweet olive to the brew fest, GOOD FOR YOU. there are basically two types of parents.

    1) the kind who mold their life around the baby (may i present exhibit a: THE FOURTH OF JULY).

    2) the kind who make the baby a part of their already rich and full life.

    olive will be a better person for being included in almost all of what you do. just make some time for just you, and just you and tom... but she will have wonderful, diverse memories of being a part of your life, instead of living a childproof sheltered life.

  5. Ah, had me in tears! Couldn't have been put better. What an amazing mommy you are hon! Olivia is one lucky little girl! xo

  6. You have no idea how amazing you are, and how amazing this blog is. I'm so proud of you for writing it. I'm hanging on every word - and you know why, as I edge closer to the possibility of motherhood myself.

    You are my hero.

  7. great blog Paula! When I first heard that you and Tom had the baby, I thought, "what a lucky baby, shes gonna have some awesome parents." You both are amazing people.

    Unfortunately with motherhood comes worrying. My daughter just turned two and Ive already died a thousand deaths. But as I am sure you know its absolutely worth it.


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