In March 2004, I went into labour after a very healthy, textbook pregnancy. 89 hours after her birth, my daughter Emily passed away due to damage to her body because of a lack of oxygen during delivery.
That experience cast a oversized shadow. We live in an era of antibiotics and ultrasound. Carseats save lives. The kids, generally, are okay. But I have a hard-coded understanding that really bad things do not just happen to other children, out there. They actually can happen to mine.
One of the questions I’ve gotten from women who have experienced similar losses, especially when it’s new and fresh and raw and awful, is how will I ever be okay again?
When my eldest son came home from the hospital I was so completely freaked out that he was alive, because I had to keep him that way. I sat on the floor with him in my arms, receiving blankets stacked in the underneath of the change table, cold air from the air conditioning on my thigh, feeling him breathe. Please breathe, please breathe, please breathe is a tough postpartum mantra. But we made it. We were okay, enough anyway. Okay had moved. Two years earlier, okay would have been counting diapers. That year, it was getting up off the floor.
Point awarded: Life.
On Monday, my youngest, Liam, age four, is having eye surgery at Sick Kids to remove a cataract. It’s a day surgery and as far as surgeries go, not a big deal. But he will have general anesthetic. It would be nice if he had a good shot at seeing things afterwards. And now I have to make that leap of faith over the gorge that was losing Emily that I can trust the medical team to look after him properly, because the last thing he needs is a parent who is a mess.
And it’s been all right. I have not asked the pre-anesthesia screening nurse to let the surgical team know I have filled my quota of coping with medical nastiness, so please would they keep in mind that the balance of good and evil for the entire universe depends on whether they do their jobs correctly. I haven’t even spent more than…well too many hours on Google.
But then this morning.
Grief rarely drops you a line saying Tuesday at camp drop off, you are going to watch your child launch himself at the stairs and then The Fear will arrive. That’s how I think of it, The Fear. There’s normal parenting fear. There’s the fear you feel the moment before the test results come back negative. And then there’s The Fear felt in that eternal second spent realizing the med tech was looking at your baby’s brain activity, and wiping a tear from his eye at the same time.
Once it knows your address, The Fear can be an over-persistent caller. It lodges in the reptilian brain: Fire is hot, don’t put your toes over the edge of the cliff, your child might die. Might die this week.
The Fear can be held at the threshold by logic, but logic won’t get it off the porch. It will wreck sleep, and concentration, and relationships. And I think, when people want to know if they will be okay, that’s one big part of it. How do we get The Fear to move on?
Here’s today’s answer out of a million possibilities.
I didn’t try to argue myself out my feelings. I didn’t head to emerg for a heart workup. I didn’t make a mimosa. Instead, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk, because it seemed like a better idea than even that protestant work ethic standard, Being Productive. And as I took the time to look at what was right there in front of me, everything behind me slowly shifted back into a manageable size. It was okay.
The pictures in this post are from that walk.