It is late 2014, and I wake from another restless sleep. I am pregnant with my first surviving baby. I am having the same recurring dream in which I am running behind my daughter, who is just a toddler wobbling around on unsteady legs, but for some reason, I am unable to catch her. I can’t see her face clearly but I can make out the roundness of her face and hair that looks like mine. She is happy and content as she runs ahead of me, but I am anxious and uneasy.
Soon enough, the distance between us grows and I am now wild with panic. I try shouting her name, but she doesn’t hear me, and I can’t run fast enough to catch her. Right before I lose sight of her, I wake up. The dreams scare me enough that I usually have trouble falling back to sleep.
It is late 2019, and I am on the beach watching my husband, daughter, and son playing. They are no more than a few feet away from me, but that is already too far. I tell myself to relax, they are having fun, and I should too.
But as has become my custom, I can’t help but whisper a little prayer that nothing bad will happen to us on this sunny, breezy beach day.
Because as beautiful as the day is, I see countless ways for things to go wrong—a large body of water for drowning, cars driving on the beach possibly running them over, potential kidnappers, heatstroke, shark attacks. You name it and it runs through my mind.
When they were younger, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible would happen to them and, just like in my dream, I would not be able to get to them in time.
Before, I go on let me say this: Being a mother to rainbow babies is no easy task. We have already lived through any parent’s worst nightmare. So, I am not judging any parent for doing what they need to do to keep their children safe.
And yes, there will always be some degree of anxiety and nervousness built into our parenting skill set, but I am referring to those early days of my parenting when fear ruled my life and my parenting style. I am still not a chill parent, and I take my children’s safety very seriously, but in the years since, I have learned that being afraid of everything robs me of three crucial things:
1. The ability to plan effectively.
Sitting on the beach, I saw multiple things to be afraid of but trying to manage all those fears at the same time was ineffective. Trying to figure it all out would keep me locked in my head, never getting anything done. So rather than attend to every single fear my traumatized brain could think of, I sat my children down and came up with a plan. We spoke about the need for us to play safely and for them to listen carefully to any instructions given, and I showed them the lifeguard tower where they should go in case of an emergency. We now had a plan that covered most incidents.
2. Moments of enjoyment
Being afraid of everything has also cost me many moments of enjoyment. Most times, I could only appreciate how much fun we had when scrolling through the pictures my husband took. In most pictures, I was fussing or fretting over something or the other while my children blissfully ignore whatever was causing me so much stress. It also means there are numerous pictures of my beautiful, happy children with their frantic looking mama that will never see the light of social media.
3. Recognizing small victories
When I was pregnant with my children, I imagined medical emergencies that in mere seconds became life and death situations, and it terrified me. I didn’t know if I would be able to handle the demands of having sick children or if I would know the right thing to do in a case of emergency.
And yes, these are valid fears all parents have. But, being afraid of the absolute worst kinds of emergencies took my focus away from all the small emergencies that we as parents deal with quite capably. Both of my children were hospitalized for difficulty breathing, and each time we recognized the need and moved with precision, getting them the help they needed without hesitation.
Recognizing when my children were sad or frustrated or scared and moving in to comfort and help them work through the emotions. Being able to brighten a child’s mood with a silly song, or dance and imparting knowledge that your child uses to figure out their own situations.
These are all victories to be celebrated in parenthood.
The God-given initiative parents have that help them move to protect their children, within the scope of their control, lives in each of us and prepares us to act. But focusing on all my fears, left little time to count my blessings and victories.
I would never tell another parent how to cope with parenting after loss. We are all doing our best. I truly believe that. But there is life after loss, and I have missed a lot of it by being afraid and focusing on what can go wrong. I hope as we all move through our journey we can still see the beauty in the life we have been given.
Previously published on Pregnancy After Loss Support