There is no other fear like the fear a parent experiences when their child is in danger. In fact, this fear is driven so deep into a parent’s being that it leads to nightmares, daytime visions, and anxieties that push us to do things we swore we would never do. We resort to child safety locks, baby gates, furniture bumpers, remodeling our homes to prevent accidental injuries, even stickers identifying the presence of our little humans in our cars. But we cannot predict everything . . .
The first time I experienced super-mom powers driven by fear, was when my oldest, J, was about two years old. Just like your children, mine follow me into the bathroom every chance they get. At this time J was an only child. And my potty break was oddly not accompanied by a toddler. If it weren’t such a terrifying experience, I would find this next statement laughable. At the moment I was going to the bathroom, J learned how to unlock the front door. He already knew how to open the door, and the deadbolt was our only safeguard. I remember calling his name, because he didn’t follow me to the bathroom, and because he was quiet. Quiet is never good. I had this sense that something was wrong, and skipped washing my hands (a big deal for an obsessive, germ fearing nurse). I moved quickly, my instincts leading me to the front door, which stood wide open. My heart stopped, raced, and dropped to my stomach, all in the same moment. I screamed his name with such panic and purpose that my voice was unrecognizable to me. I moved with a precision and speed I’d never experienced before, straight out the door and into the front yard. All the while running through all the scenarios of what would happen next.
Would he be down the road? In a neighbor’s yard? Hit by a car? Wandering about to never be found again?
And just as quickly as my panic started, it ended. J was there, in the front yard. I broke down and sobbed, letting out all the tension and energy that filled me in the moment of fight or flight. I hugged J so tight, then mustered up the ability to be stern and tell him he could not go outside on his own.
I can relate now, to my parents. And the moments when they seemed panicked, relieved, sad, and yet, were capable of discipling us. What an incredible mix of emotions that are nearly impossible to interpret or understand; until you experience these emotions yourself.
I’ve caught J when running in front of a car in the parking lot. I’ve run around looking for his sister, A, because she was hiding in her closet quiet as a mouse. I’ve cringed as they have both fallen and scraped their knees. Jumped into action when they have tumbled down the stairs. Held pressure on a bleeding wound after falling face first into a coffee table, wall corner, or fireplace ledge.
And then came baby B. As you may recall in my previous post, When writing gets hard. . . And other matters of life, I talked about the anxiety I was experiencing over his upcoming surgery. The benefits outweighed the risks. But I had so much fear!
What if something goes wrong during surgery? What if they knick his throat and he needs to be intubated and put in the ICU? What if they find cancer? What if he’s allergic to anesthesia and dies on the table?
There were so many what if‘s! Needless to say, I barely slept the night before. In fact, the only reason I got any was because I was so exhausted from the anxiety driven lack of sleep the prior two nights.
We got up early on the day of his surgery. B was awake, and happy as could be as my husband drove the three of us the 35 miles to the children’s hospital. My husband and I tried drinking coffee, both of us ending up feeling nauseous instead of energized.
There was some confusion on where to check in as it was a Saturday, and the hospital did not typically perform scheduled surgeries on a weekend. Amongst the confusion we met another couple with their young daughter who would also be having surgery. We found some comfort in meeting them and knowing we were not alone.
When it was time to take B back to get prepped for his surgery, the nerves got worse, and the nausea morphed into something more than just coffee induced. He was placed in an adorable little gown, and different people from the team came in to assess him and answer our questions. The questions we could recall, that is.
I sat there holding B, trying not to let too many tears fall. Resisting the urge to sob. Avoiding eye contact with my husband because his eyes were red from fighting back his own tears. Fighting back the desire to rush to the bathroom, because I didn’t want to miss those last minutes for an upset stomach. My husband and I took turns holding B, trying to smile with him. He was so happy and content in our arms.
And then the nurse and anesthesiologist were ready. They told us to say our goodbyes. I knew the goodbyes were for us because baby B couldn’t understand. When I handed him to the nurse I quickly led my husband out of the room to the hall that led back to the waiting room. I could not stand there and watch him be carried away towards the operating suite. I definitely couldn’t be around anyone but my husband anymore. Then I sobbed. Big messy tears, with no resolution. No ability to know whether or not he would be okay. Just fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of relinquishing control. Fear of not knowing if we made the right choice. Fear of loss.
As a parent, the deepest, darkest feeling is the fear of loss. The only thing that exceeds the fear, is loss itself. A feeling no parent wants to experience, yet too many have. The fear alone is a horrible feeling, one that can creep up at any time and remind us that we don’t have control. That, at any moment, we could lose the humans that are our entire world.
The next hour was so very long. It wasn’t all sobbing. I composed myself, and we focused on the positive. He was in good hands. The entire facility only cares for children, so the experience and knowledge was definitely there. He needed this surgery. He was going to eat and breathe better when it was done. He is a force to be reckoned with and could make it through anything.
We reached out to all the friends and family that were waiting to be updated and let them know he went into surgery. And they tried to keep us distracted with other matters of life. My husband and I talked about our kids. We talked to the nice couple we met upon arrival. We tried to eat some croissants. And for a brief time the nerves were not as bad as the moment we said goodbye.
But as the hour approached its end, the nerves came back worse than ever. I feared the unknown so much more.
Where was B? How are things going? Why haven’t they told us he’s done with surgery yet? Did something go wrong? What’s taking so long?
Finally our pager went off and we were placed in a cubicle to wait for the surgeon to come out. We had expected this, a part of the what to expect information we were given. Still, waiting there for ten more minutes, I felt my stomach was so tangled it would never be free of knots again. You know the feeling you get when someone breaks your heart? The unforgettable heartache, and how it manifests in your stomach? How you feel like it will never end? These moments felt like this, but ten times worse. I kept saying positive things out loud, but kept picturing so many negative outcomes.
When the surgeon came out and told us B was doing well, the flood of relief was so amazing. Our smiles returned. Our fears subsided. He explained how badly B needed the procedure. That, because of his recessed chin and therefore a shift in his anatomy, he would have been nearly impossible to intubate before the procedure. The fear of not knowing if we made the right decision vanished. We were so relieved we made the choice to have surgery, and even more relieved we didn’t try to wait any longer.
B was a trooper. He had pain, and a bit of recovery from the anesthesia. But he managed well, on only Tylenol, IV fluids, sleep and nursing. We were both so thankful to be there, and be so lucky. He didn’t need anything too major, and he will likely recover with no memory of the struggles he had.
Fear is something we cannot avoid. It is human-nature. It’s engrained in us to fear the unknown. As parents, we take it to a whole new level. Fear can help protect us from things. Can help us protect our unknowing children from danger. But it is also our job to not let fear destroy us. We have to learn to accept what we do not know. To let our children live and experience life just as we did. Otherwise fear will destroy us and our children.
Remember, you are strong! And you are not alone! This, raising children thing we are doing, is scary. But we can do it!
Prequel to this post: When writing gets hard . . . And other matters of life