In 2009 Roper St. Francis Hospital mandated that parents watch a short educational video about proper sleeping and feeding techniques, with information about SIDS and Shaken Baby Syndrome, prior to being released from the Maternity Care Center. So, about 24 hours after our first child was born, I was wheeled into a small room with a giant TV/VCR and a small collection of bleary-eyed new parents. It was clearly a preventative measure, an obvious gesture to protect our babies before checking us out and sending us back into the wide open world.
I remember filling out forms as they were clearing us to leave. A nurse with a kind face asking me:
Are you having any feelings of sadness? Are you concerned that you might harm yourself or your baby?
I felt overwhelmed, emotional.
I don’t know. I don’t think so? But you’ve shown me this video and now I am scared to take her home. What if something happens? What will I do?
She took my hand and said something not very reassuring, but sincere and practical:
Things will happen. Good things, bad things, wonderful things and sad things. And sometimes, to some babies, really horrible things happen. But you can’t not go out there. You can’t not take her home. You can’t not at least try to be the best mother you can be for her. Because you can’t live being afraid of life and what might happen or what could happen. You just have to do the best that you can do and accept that there are things you don’t have any control over.
It has been seven years since our first baby was born. Since then we have had two more children, and I have thought of that conversation countless times. I have realized that my degree of comfort or uneasiness, at any given moment, is always directly related to how much control I believe I have over the uncontrollable elements of a situation.
How much I believe that I am able to protect them from, each prone to their own unique disasters.
The baby has been sick this week. Last night was an evening of weary relocations from the crib to our bed to the rocking chair and back again. After several somnolent hours of this madness, I finally got him to sleep, put him in his crib, gingerly shut the door to his room and crawled into bed with my husband. Wide awake.
Do you think we should bring him in here?
Well, what would that do?
I don’t know.
Well, don’t worry about it then.
But what if something happens? Will we hear him if he needs us?
I’m going back in there.
And so I sat outside his door and thought again about control. About life and taking care of people other than myself. How heavy and daunting it feels at times, and then other times completely light and free. Like swimming.
I know the world will pull them under, in one way another, it will pull us all under. But I also know that any life worth living has injuries, has parts that have been destroyed and rebuilt, sometimes more than once. This is what she meant. We are allowed to be afraid and at peace with what may be the truest truth about parenting: there is preparation, but there is no control, nothing known and nothing guaranteed.
To swim, you have to walk into the water. You have to go out to where it is deep enough that it could drown you. You have to take a breath and let yourself go under.