I was warned so many times about how once I became a parent I would spend my life weighed down by guilt. And a few people talked about the love that I would feel for my children. But I don’t remember a single person warning me about the fear.
So many things to do with a baby are potentially terrifying, it’s sometimes hard to know when to be genuinely scared. When Quibble was tiny, we used the phrase ‘danger of death!’ to refer to anything we weren’t supposed to do. It was a flippant phrase that we used to try and offset the unremitting anxiety.
Two weeks before Squeak was due to be born, I woke during the night to find I was bleeding. People later asked me if I was scared and I told them that I was mostly relieved to find I wasn’t incontinent. While this was partly true, there was a moment as I sat, having just been told by the hospital to come in immediately, by ambulance if necessary, when I allowed myself to think, ‘Please be okay,’. Just for a moment. I couldn’t articulate anything more than that, because to be really scared would have meant thinking about what the alternative might be.
Last weekend I found myself at the hospital again, this time at the Children’s Accident and Emergency department with Squeak. I had been referred by a nurse at the walk-in clinic because she had a temperature, had become lethargic and was having to put a lot of effort into breathing. The afternoon turned into evening; doctors mentioned sending us up to the ward; we were sent for an X-ray; she had a cannula for blood tests; still there were no answers. I found myself alone in the waiting area, the fresh aroma of sick on my jeans, holding a baby whose head leant pathetically against my shoulder. It was approaching ten o’clock at night and I hadn’t eaten or been to the toilet, or done anything at all since mid-afternoon except carry Squeak. I had been consoling myself that everyone was overreacting about what probably just another virus, but in a moment of weakness I began to glimpse the other possibility that she really was very ill. Exhausted as I was, I realised that if I was going to have to allow this possibility in, I wouldn’t be able to cope.
I called for Stanchion: I always feel stronger when we’re a team. He found an emergency babysitter for Quibble and drove to the hospital to bring me a bag of necessities and a hug. When the nurses came to carry out their obs on Squeak half an hour later, they found she had fallen asleep on me; her temperature, heart rate and breathing rate were all down. Happy that she was out of danger they let us finally go home.
When my friends ask about it, I will tell them about how I have now learnt how important it is to find the correct car park to avoid being sent on a ridiculously long route through the hospital. I will laugh with them about how I overheard that the boy in the next cubicle had a marble stuck up his nose. And I’ll complain that being forced to watch so much CBeebies melted my brain. But I won’t mention how scared I got, because I’d rather not remember.
Maybe that’s why no one mentions it. If we knew how scary it was to be a parent, would anyone ever do it?